The FlipFuel is a tiny device that is tackling one of backpacking’s most universal problems — the issue of half-full fuel canisters.
Eric Flottmann is a longtime outdoorsman and avid backpacker. He’s constantly setting out on adventures into Aravaipa Canyon, the Grand Canyon, or the Coconino National Forest in his home state of Arizona. And when he isn’t embarking on a trip of his own, he’s leading Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America on adventures, too.
After years of outdoor recreation, though, he started to notice that one camping supply in particular was building up. And it was starting to take up a lot of space.
“I had a growing collection of half-empty [fuel] canisters in my garage,” Flottmann said. “And I’m terrified to take one on the trail and have it run out on me halfway through the hike.”
It’s a problem that most outdoor enthusiasts can relate to. Rarely do I burn through an entire fuel canister in a single trip. But I also really don’t want to run out using one that isn’t full. So I bring two canisters on most trips: one that’s mostly full, and one I need to finish.
So Flottmann and his friend Frank Healy got together and started designing a solution to this ubiquitous problem. And the device they came up with is an elegant and effective solution: the FlipFuel — a gadget capable of consolidating cooking fuel, and freeing up space in your backpack and your garage.
The goal of their device is summed up by their hashtag: #dontpackahalfie
In short: The FlipFuel puts the power in your hands to move gas from one canister into another, safely, quickly, and reliably. And they’re affordable to boot. We tested it and came to the conclusion that every backpacker, camper, and hiker should keep one of these with their cooking gear. It will get used.
The FlipFuel Concept
The idea behind the device comes down to simple chemical physics, Flottman explained.
“All you need is a temperature differential between the two canisters,” he said. Cold fuel shrinks and condenses, while warm fuel expands. If you have one cold canister and one warm one, all that’s needed to move fuel from one into the other is a valve connecting them and controlling the flow.
“Then you just open up the valve and the fuel moves from one [canister] into the other,” Flottmann said. “We wanted something that was going to be affordable, something that’s going to be easy to use. We wanted something that was going to be safe. And the solution that we’ve got is minimally mechanical.“
The FlipFuel threads into standard blended fuel canisters (for iso-butane or N-butane). These are the most common canisters for MSR, Jetboil, and other comparable backpacking stoves.
They’ve got a small, threaded nozzle, surrounded by a metallic lip to protect it (pictured). The FlipFuel screws onto these canisters, easily transferring fuel between them.
“We want people to know they’re not the only ones to have this gas canister issue,” Flottmann said. “We want them to know that there is finally a solution for this problem so they can banish that box of half-empty canisters that they’ve got in their garage.”
Step 1: Prepare Your Canisters
Place one canister inside your freezer and the other squarely in direct sunlight. Wait 5 minutes to really build that heat differential.
By the time you pull the cold canister from the freezer, you should be able to hear the gas inside making snap-crackle-popping noises. The sunshine canister will be silent, but warm to the touch.
Step 2: Make the Transfer
The fuel will move from the warm canister into the cold one (because warm gas expands). Make sure the valve on your FlipFuel is closed shut and remove the red valve caps.
Then thread the cold canister onto the side that says “In” and the warm canister onto the side that says “Out.” There is also an arrow on the device indicating which direction the fuel will travel.
Once your canisters are threaded on, twist the FlipFuel’s valve open. You’ll hear the fuel rushing from one canister into the other. Let the chemicals do their thing, and when the transfer noise has stopped, tighten the valve shut again and remove the canisters.
The bottom one should be noticeably heavier than the top one — which should be empty at this point. Now, here’s the tricky part. The brand cautions users not to overfill fuel canisters. But there’s no reliable way to gauge exactly how full a canister is.
So, the best practice I found is to use half-empty to mostly empty canisters only, and avoid using any that are mostly full.
Step 3: Recycle
Now that you’ve got a fully empty fuel canister, you can recycle it and clear up some space in your camp equipment box. Simply punch a hole in the canister’s shell (it can’t be recycled without that step) and drop it in the nearest recycling bin.
There are fuel canister recycler devices out there as well (pictured above) that make a good companion to the FlipFuel.
“There’s no sorcery or mysticism required,” Flottmann said. “It’s approachable and it’s easy.“
The FlipFuel is now a staple of my camping/backcountry cooking gear. It’s not one of those devices that I need to carry with me in the field, nor is it a device I’ll be using every time I camp. But it’s one of those pieces of equipment that serves a very specific, very useful function. And, it does its job very well.
The only downside? It only works with backpacking fuel canisters (like those described above). For now. But on the FlipFuel website, it says that an attachment for those larger canisters (like the classic green Coleman propane canisters) is on its way.
I’d recommend the FlipFuel as a gift for every camper you know, including yourself. It’s cheap (at just $35), it’s functional, and it’s the kind of thing that outdoor enthusiasts will inevitably use.