Thru-Hiker: Gear and Resources for Long Distance Hikers
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Bear Canister Bias

Thru-Fishing the JMT

5 x 8 Poncho as Shelter and Raingear

Esbit Stove Height vs Efficiency

Stoveweight vs Time Over 14 Days

Stoveweight vs Time Over 28 Days

Repairing Gear on the Trail

Washing Down Gear

Common Choices for Alcohol Fueled Stoves

Flying With Fuels

Resupply Options for Long Distance Hikers

MSR Pocket Rocket Tests

Pack Light Eat Right

Debunking Cookware Myths

For a Few Calories More: the Good, Bad, and Ugly of Trail Foods

Water Purification for Long Distance Hikers

Flying With Fuels

The backpacking aficionado loves to dream of exotic locations for their next tramp.  The reality of having to deal with flying with your backpacking stove may seem more like a nightmare, though.

Ok, I'll admit it: for a long time I was under the impression that you could fly with some fuels like denatured alcohol, Esbit, and butane canisters.  
Recently, though, a real saint of a backpacker waded though the government regulations database to set the record straight.   

You can neither carry on nor check any baggage containing backpacking fuels.  There is one exception made for less than 16 fluid ounces of alcohols containing 30% or more water.  This means that even potable alcohols like Everclear (100% ethanol) are prohibited.  While you could cut Everclear 30% with water to make it legal or use rubbing alcohol (70% isopropyl alcohol, 30% water), these fuels are less than satisfactory.

The airlines are required to post the following notice: 

Federal law forbids the carriage of hazardous materials aboard aircraft in your luggage or on your person. A violation can result in five years' imprisonment and penalties of $250,000 or more (49 U.S.C. 5124). Hazardous materials include explosives, compressed gases, flammable liquids and solids, oxidizers, poisons, corrosives and radioactive materials. Examples: Paints, lighter fluid, fireworks, tear gases, oxygen bottles, and radio-pharmaceuticals. There are special exceptions for small quantities (up to 70 ounces total) of medicinal and toilet articles carried in your luggage and certain smoking materials carried on your person.

The fine is more than enough to scare me off from trying to skirt the law.  But short of resorting to cooking over a fire (ugh), what can a backpacker do?

1)  Hazmat code does not prohibit the mailing of butane canisters, denatured alcohol, or esbit by USPS Parcel Post (ground).  You could mail your fuel to yourself a week in advance.  Address the package to Your Name c/o general delivery at the nearest PO to your destination.  Having your arrival date on the package and/or calling the PO helps to keep the clerks from getting confused.  The postal regulations require that they hold mail addressed to general delivery for at least 10 days. Make sure you follow the ORM-D code for shipping these items; see your local post office for details.

2)  You could track down the nearest outfitter or hardware store to your destination and pick up some fuel when you got there.  This is probably the easiest thing to do. 

3)  If traveling overseas, find out the local names for backpacking fuel.  There is a link to a comprehensive list of fuel names around the world in the blue sidebar on this page.


It's a real hassle to make arrangements for your fuel before heading to the airport, but it has to be done.

Carrying hazardous materials will subject you to a possible $250,000 fine and/or five years in prison. Don't take the chance.

The only acceptable fuel is 16 fluid ounces or less of not more than 70% alcohol by volume. Though this will work in a pinch, the high water content will significantly lower the heat output of an alcohol stove. You could demonstrate this at home by burning rubbing alcohol in your home made alcohol stove.
Related Links
Here's the FAA code from which this article was written.

Fuel Names Around the World