Being Prepared: Storing and Carrying Fuel
We are utterly dependant on fuel. Green energy may be making leaps and bounds but 90% of our daily needs are met by fossil fuels. You probably wouldn't think twice about quickly plugging in your phone and getting a quick 20% charge before heading out in your gasoline (or diesel) powered car for a dinner-date. So what would happen if there was a disaster and the natural gas lines were burst, the power went down and your local gas station ran out? Scary thought, huh.
Here is a list of the Best Portable Fuel Storage and Accessories
During a disaster we're not dependant on fuel to fund our modern, comfortable lifestyles. We're dependant on it for our survival. Whether you're using it to heat your home, cook your food or power a generator; having a decent stockpile could make the difference between life or death.
Fuel types & additives
Choosing what fuel to store is difficult. Do you try and cover all the options, but in lower quantities, or do you follow the lead of a few other preppers and convert all your equipment to use one fuel? Then you can have far high quantities, but what happens if a batch goes bad?
Personally, I prefer having a range of options. However that's a decision only you can make. To help you I've listed the six most popular (and common) fuel choices below, from the easiest to store to the most difficult:
Basic, inexpensive and generally in plentiful supply; a good supply of dry, seasoned firewood will make your life significantly easier. One of the biggest advantages you can have when living off the grid, it can be used to warm your home, cook with and I've known people who use it as the heating-element in their boiler system (who doesn't love warm showers?!). There are also a few DIY'ers who have steam-powered generators, but they're all advanced, temperamental projects that require a lot of time, money, advanced ability and endless enthusiasm to keep running.
Firewood is also the only fuel that has reusable by-products: charcoal and ash (useful as a compost).
Propane & Butane
“And how does sir like his gas?”.
Coming in every shape and size, from tiny camping-gas bottles to huge cylinders that will last for years – propane and butane is cheap, plentiful, easy to use, versatile and has no shelf life. Seriously, I've got a 25 year old Camping Gaz lantern that's using a cartridge that has to be at least a decade old and is showing no signs of running out. Good value, or what.
After firewood, propane and butane are the most widely used fuels in off-grid homes and are excellent alternatives to natural gas and power lines. Powering your stove? Check. Running a generator? Check. Fuel for car? Awkward and finicky, but check.
Butane has a slightly higher calorific value, so it burns hotter. However it will turn to liquid and stop working, if left outside in near-freezing temperatures (around 37degrees F). Propane will keep working down to -45.4 degrees F. Most appliances can use both gases, but you'll need different regulators.
The easiest petroleum derivative to store, it's more versatile than you'd think. It doesn't require any special treatment (stabilizers) for storage, doesn't evaporate as easily as gasoline and can be used in a diesel engine. As-well as being used in heating systems, you can also buy kerosene stoves and fridges. Kerosene also has a similar auto-ignition temperature as gasoline - 536 degrees F.
If you've ever tried to light a puddle of diesel, you'll know it's almost impossible. That, the fact it's more stable than gasoline and it's efficiency make it a popular prepping choice.
Unless you treat the diesel, as soon as it's delivered, it will go bad. As it ages a fine sediment and sludge will form at the bottom and it'll absorb moisture from the air (hygroscopic). To prevent that, a biocide like methanol, diesel STA-BIL or PRI-D (D = diesel). #2 diesel/ heating oil is mixed with paraffin wax, which will settle out at about 20 degrees F. By adding 10% gasoline, 20% kerosene or a fuel supplement you can prevent the fuel from “freezing”.
Always use a filter when using stored diesel.
Due to the oxygenated additives in gasoline and it's high vapour point, it will go stale faster than diesel if left “virgin”. STA-BIL, PRI-G (G = gasoline), or an alternative supplement are compulsory if you want to store your fuel for any length of time. Even then, you'll be lucky if it's still good after a year.
A choice you may not have thought of, but with space and planning it can be excellent source of power. From personal experience (in our campervan) it's been absolutely fantastic and I couldn't imagine life without it now. Powering our ultra-efficient Waeco fridge, LED lights and water pumps and charging camera batteries, phones and laptops; it has even runs hair-dryers, straighteners and a fan heater. That's all on a small system too: 2 x 100w solar panels and a 300watt leisure battery.
There are two significant problems you have to overcome with solar. Storing the energy – leisure batteries are large, heavy, expensive, wear out, and you need lots of them– and converting the 12V charge into a usable 120V (if you're in the US). The more 12V devices you can use, the better. Our fridge, lights and pumps have an absolutely tiny power draw. On the other hand, the inverter is a black-hole. Two hours of that and our leisure battery will be flat.
How much and where?
As much as you can. In a real emergency, you'll want to have as much as you can possibly buy/carry/store. Ultimately, though, it depends on the scenario. Want to have some fuel for your generator if the power goes down for a few days? 500 gallons is probably overkill. Preparing for the apocalypse? It will get you started, but it won't last forever.
A good rule of thumb is the 50% rule. Work out how much fuel you think you'll need, then add 50% more. For example: if you need 3 tanks (say 16 gallons per tank) of fuel to get to your bug-out location, have 72 gallons of fuel stored.
I tend to have three separate stores:
1. Around 20 gallons of gasoline for my campervan – about one tank.
2. 15 gallons of diesel for my generator – around one week's use.
3. 10 gallons of gasoline and 2-stroke oil for various tools.
When storing your fuel you want to keep it somewhere cool, dark, covered and isolated. Keeping gas stored in your house is just an accident waiting to happen.
Carrying your Fuel
This section will concentrate on storing gas, diesel and kerosene; as propane & butane is already bottled, firewood is easily bagged, and we'll need to devote a whole article to the nuances of solar power.
When choosing the storage cans to recommend in this article, I had a few key criteria:
1. Be ergonomic. The most important factor when choosing a can is it's functionality, simplicity and ease of use. The three handles on most cans, for example, are there so you can hold two empty cans in one hand and pass them off to another person, without having to faff around.
2. Be sturdy. There's no point paying for all that fuel if your cans are made of sub-par materials and leak.
3. Pour smoothly. A pouring vent allows the fuel to pour smoothly, without gurgling or pulsing. The last thing you want to do, if fuel is at a premium, is waste some.
4. Be compatible with common accessories and have easily sourced spare parts . I.e. the military can holder, pour spouts, caps and gaskets.
5. Float. Jerry cans are designed to have a small air pocket, so will float even when full. But why does that matter? If you carry your fuel outside of your truck or van (like I do) and one falls off whilst fording. Well, you can say goodbye to five – possibly essentially – gallons of fuel.
Essentially that leaves us with a few, easily sourced, military jerry can's – especially now that there is Government legislation that has ruined the plastic fuel canisters you used to buy at home depot, Wal-mart, etc. You heard right. In order to “protect” us, the EPA have pushed out new regulations that insist that new fuel canisters have to have an automatically closing top and have banned separate vents – which is frankly ridiculous. Have you ever tried to pour something without a vent? It gurgles, it splutters, it goes everywhere. In other words “it creates needless waste”. The new and “improved” canisters also have a habit of blowing up like balloons on hot days. Then when you release the top, fuel goes everywhere.
All of the recommended cans can also be bought in 10L (2.5gallon) and 20L (5.2gallons) sizes. Both have identical footprints, so they fit the holders, just the height of them is different.
USGI Plastic Military Fuel Can (MFC)
The current US military standard issue: the plastic fuel can is tough, durable and is lighter, quieter and doesn't suffer from rust when compared to it's metal counterpart. Almost identical to the USGI plastic Military Water Can (MWC) there are a couple of key differences. The MWC features only one handle vs. the MFC's three, and the caps aren't interchangeable due to the differing size and thread.
The can has a 3.4” external (male) thread for the cap and uses a female threaded pour spout – which isn't compatible with other jerry cans. You can choose between three different pour spouts and two different gaskets, depending on whether you want to store gasoline or diesel. In the U.S. you'll need the smallest 3/4” spout if you want to re-fuel an unleaded gasoline vehicle.
The cans are manufactured by Spectre of Canada and you can buy them new from Brigade Quartermaster, Davidson Products or Generator Joe for around $45 for the can and spout, or $39 for just the can. You can also buy second-hand, army surplus MFC's at Major Surplus for around $10.
Lastly, Davidson Products sells a kit that will convert the fuel can into a spare fuel tank for your vehicle. The adapter cap assembly (with hoses) costs $80. Pretty neat, eh.
NATO Jerry Can
A perfect example of “If it ain't broke, don't fix it”, the NATO jerry can has remained essentially unchanged since WW2. Formed by 2 sheets of steel welded together in a seam down the middle, it has a trapezoidal shaped, locking-cam cap and spout. Assuming the gasket is in good shape, and you haven't let rust get to the can, it should last for years without leaking.
Pre-loved cans are prone to the internal coating flaking off, though. If your can(s) have started to do that, you'll have to remove and replace the lining, and/or use a filter to stop the flaking paint contaminating your fuel tank.
A common method used to remove rust/flaking inside the can is to: pour pea-gravel into it, swish it around and then pour all the gravel and detritus out. You can then pour in some rust primer, swirl that around, pour out the excess and leave it to cure.
You can buy used NATO jerry cans from several places, including Major Surplus and Cheaper Than Dirt for around $10 - $15. Major Surplus also stocks pour spouts ($7) and gaskets ($0.95). If you want to buy new, CDT sells surplus Israeli cans for 4 for $60 and Wedco make a canister that is almost identical to the NATO one (the Wedco can has an unnecessary locking pin) that goes for around $40.
Avoid: USGI Steel Military Fuel Can (or “Blitz” can)
The former US standard issue fuel can, the Blitz cans have a habit of leaking. They leak when you have the cap on, they leak when you refuel, frankly the only time they don't leak is when they're empty. You can also buy a civilian version which is painted a different color, uses thinner steel and still leaks.
The Blitz pour spout will fit the MFC, but not visa versa. It's also too large to refill an unleaded gas vehicle.
They don't even have the benefit of being cheap. Used (read: old and worn-out) cans are going for at least $15 each, with some going for as high as $60!
Avoid: French Military Fuel Can
Available at Cheaper Than Dirt, I only included the French Military fuel can so you know what not to buy. Poorly built with no known pour spout, cap or gasket available don't bother with one even if the $6 - $15 price is tempting.
Note: they are not compatible with NATO can parts.
Fuel Can Accessories
I consider a holder and siphon to be compulsory items, alongside a few spare parts, whenever I carry fuel. I don't want the cans to be kept inside my campervan and holding them up for any length of time gets old, fast.
Jerry Can Holders
Designed to safely carry both fuel and water jerry cans, the civilian holder is painted red (rather than olive drab) and is made out of a thinner metal. Despite that, I have yet to notice any difference in wear and tear between my holders. Major Surplus sells them, as do several other tool, hardware, auto-parts and off-roading stores for around $15-$20.
There is a Blitz-only holder that is frequently featured in Jeep adverts. If you've ever gone “I want that one”. Don't bother. They're designed to grab onto the edges of the Blitz can and can't carry any other style of fuel or water can.
You can also buy (or make) a cage-type holder. Popular with overlanders and 4x4 enthusiasts, they tend to be larger, heavier and more expensive. Depending on the design, they can also be more secure (from theft) and protect the cans from damage if you were to crash.
No need to keep track of the different spouts, less chance of spilling fuel everywhere and not having to hold up 45lbs whilst refuelling. Yes please. The Super Siphon is cheaper than most spouts, will transfer 5gallons in 90 seconds and has a 6' hose – so if you're nifty and place your holders close enough to your fuel flap, you won't even have to move the jerry can. Unfortunately the flap on my campervan is near the front and something tells me that having fuel mounted on the bonnet isn't a very good idea…
Useful Tips 'n' Tricks
Relevant to any tool, item or vehicle that runs off diesel or gasoline:
• Look after it and it will look after you. By keeping your tools, items or vehicles well-maintained they will run more smoothly, efficiently and last longer. Speeding up your work, using less fuel and taking less time.
• Clean or new spark plugs will run more efficiently and reduce your fuel consumption.
• Avoid idling. Unless it's very cold and you need the tool, item or vehicle to warm-up you want to avoid just leaving the engine on. Leaving it to idle for anything over 10 seconds uses more fuel than just shutting the engine off and restarting it.
• Keep the tank full. Having less than a quarter of a tank can, in extremely cold conditions, destroy your electric fuel pump as condensation builds up.
• Keep the tires at the correct pressure. Low, or uneven tire pressure increases wear on the vehicle and reduces efficiency. Check your manual for the correct pressure.
• Drive efficiently and avoid being heavy footed. Quick acceleration and heavy braking wastes fuel. When on the highway, the optimum cruising speed is 55mph (90km/h). Driving at 75mph (120kmh) can use up to 20% more fuel!
• Avoid using your air-con and open a window. You're just sucking up fuel and turning it into cold air.
• Know where you're going. It may seem obvious, but you want to avoid driving in circles. Plan the most efficient route out on a map or with your GPS.
Lastly, don't fill 'n' forget. Gasoline, in particular, will go bad even if you add a stabilizer. By rotating through your store: you can use up old fuel and replace it with a fresh batch that you know will be in good condition.