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Insulating White Gas Fuel Bottles in Winter

MSR White Gas - Liquid Fuel Bottle and Stove
MSR White Gas – Liquid Fuel Bottle and Stove

In cold weather, the temperature of white gas, or liquid fuel as it is also known, can dip below freezing (0 centigrade) but still remain in liquid form. If it touches your skin, it will evaporate immediately, causing frostnip or a more severe frostbite. In fact, simply touching an uninsulated MSR Fuel Bottle with the bare skin of your hand in sub zero temperatures can cause a cold injury.

To prevent the latter, I wrap all of my fuel bottles with a layer of duct tape to insulate them and protect my hands. Some Appalachian Mountain Club leader taught me this and I’ve done it ever since. It works.

To protect my hands from direct contact with stove fuel, I am very careful when I unscrew my liquid fuel bottle, insert my MSR Whisperlite stove fuel pump into it, being careful to screw it down firmly. In cold weather, I can do this while wearing a thin pair of gloves.

The the key to doing it safely is to carefully set up all of your gear on stable surfaces before you assemble your stove and to pay close attention to what you are doing.

You need to be equally careful when you disassemble your stove because the outside of the pump will probably be wet with fuel or contain some residual liquid. This should evaporate quickly when exposed to air, but you still need to be careful when handling it.

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12 comments

  1. Nice tip!

    Evaporation can really suck the heat out of your fingers. Even handling drinking water can be bad.

  2. Nice tip! The arctic travel system I use is a tad different (we have a cooker box where stoves, pumps and bottles are assembled all the time) but occasionally you have to grip the cold bottle anyway. Some tape would give extra safety margins for those times when you just want the stove going and don't want to search for a glove to hold the bottle to to pump the pressure…

    I have also used some 3mm CCF stripes and sticky sports tape on my steel thermos so I can handle them easily in cold without gloves. Though it might be overkill for fuel bottles.

  3. Wouldn't have thought of that as an issue, but it is exactly what people who freeze tissues in biology labs do to get good heat transfer and avoid damage(though they actually use lower temperatures and liquid propane).

  4. Here's kind of a funny counterexample for you. My for my old SVEA 123 (still going strong after over 30 years) it is suggested that you hold the brass fuel container in your bare hand to build up the pressure inside necessary for priming. I typically do this first thing in the morning when my hands are toasty warm after coming out of my sleeping bag.

    I've only used this method down to the teens. Perhaps it might be dangerous at lower temps or with hands that aren't warm. I don't know. But all of us familiar with the characteristic roar of the SVEA 123 use this trick I think.

  5. Actually, without room for evaporation, the bottles themselves become a closed system and no worse than a solid object. The evaporation really takes the heat away. But, that said, a coating of duct tape over a metal bottle sure makes it conduct a lot less.

    At 0F, it will help.

    Yeah, I use a SVEA myself, since 1971 I think…can't quite remember, whenever they released the R version. Cost me $5 more for that. Both were available. I still use it. Solid, reliable, efficient, stove. Heavy for a weekend outing, though.

    The 1.75oz mini-pump is a real good option. It saves fuel, generally and is far easier to light. 5 strokes is all it takes.

  6. "I’ve only used this method down to the teens. Perhaps it might be dangerous at lower temps or with hands that aren’t warm. I don’t know."

    Wouldn't wan't to try that in -30 Celcius or so. For example the flash shoe in camera causes easily a frost nip to the nose in those temperatures… Same is true with aluminium tent poles if you have to take your gloves off to get a good grip. And a bottle full of fuel has a lot more mass than those have.

  7. I'm repeatedly amazed at how cold my hands get stuffing my down bag even so pair of thin gloves will multitask but imo athletic tape is better insulation and grip and lighter than duct tape.

  8. It may well. I just have a lot of duct tape around.

  9. I had a fuel bottle stick to my bare hand at 12 below. Fortunately, there was little fuel in it so my hand quickly warmed it enough to let go of it. Ever since, I keep my fuel bottle stuffed into a ragg sock. Problem solved.

  10. Great tip. One of the ways that I keep from making contact with my liquid fuel (I use the MSR Whisperlite) is after I fill the bottle with fuel at home, I put the pump on the bottle. I have never had an issue with leaking or dripping. Then I never have to make contact with the fuel. It has worked in extreme cold temps.

    I also make sure to put the fuel bottle on a piece of CCF when cooking just to add a layer of insulation.

    Anyway, great tip, like the site.

    Jerry

  11. Drinking alcohol in the winter is dangerous for similar reasons.

  12. I also wrap my gas can in an old rag sock and keep it my boot during the night.cold weather affects performance and delays my much needed morning coffee.

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