Gear Guy

How can I fly with a stove and fuel bottle?

Airlines have regulations prohibiting travel with fuel bottles and stoves, even if they're empty and purged. How can you fly to backpacking destinations with white gas stoves and fuel bottles? Do the rules make such equipment obsolete for travel where flights are involved? Fun Walled Lake, Michigan

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This question comes up fairly often, and with the peak travel season upon us it’s worth re-visiting. You’re right—as a general rule, airlines prohibit fuel bottles or used stoves in luggage, even if empty. But, there’s considerable variation in how that “rule” is applied, and I think a prudent traveler can circumvent it.

For starters, make certain your cooking gear is truly clean. Wash the stove in soapy water, towel and air dry, and spray a little silicon lubricant onto moving parts if needs be. Do the same for a fuel bottle. One Gear Guy reader suggested filling a thoroughly cleaned fuel bottle with water and taking it on board as your beverage container. I’ve heard worse ideas.

Next, check with the airline. Call ahead—don’t wait until you get to the airport before discovering there’ll be a problem. If someone over the phone tells you, “Sure, if you do X, then you can take a stove on board,” get his or her name and details if you can. Besides, if you find that the airline absolutely, positively won’t take stoves, then you can begin making a backup plan. Plan B: Buy a brand-new stove and leave it in the packing carton. OK, that’s $50 or more, but you’re probably spending many times more than that for the trip, so big deal. Keep in mind that white gas stoves typically are test-burned, container-fuel ones are not—that may have a bearing on the success of taking one aboard.

The bottom line: be proactive, prudent, and flexible. If your stove ends up confiscated, at least it can be replaced.