Recycling Backpacking Fuel Canisters

The easy and safe way to recycle backpacking fuel canisters without needing to buy extra tools.


Fuel canisters for backpacking can be convenient.  Screw on the stove, turn the nozzle, light and off you go.  Though not the stove I use for every trip I take, canister type stoves do come in handy for when I am doing lower mileage trips and/or sharing a stove with someone for backpacking trips we have done together.

A major downside to canister stoves is that they can not be refilled.

However, unlike the one pound steel propane canisters, the iso-butane backpacking fuel canisters are made of thin metal and can be easily recycled in most municipalities (call your local recycling center to double check).

So how to recycle backpacking fuel canisters?

You can puncture the sidewall of the canister with a hammer and a  screwdriver. However, that is not a slow and gradual puncture and leaves the (very) slight chance of sparking any residual gas in the canister. Not necessarily the best idea.  And, frankly, not needed when you can  use a safer and easier method.

Jetboil sells a Crunchit tool for safely emptying and puncturing a fuel canister.  But any tool that has a promotional video seems bit complicated and over engineered to me.  Alternatively you can buy something from Snopeak that costs $13  and is not much more advanced than the awl on your old Boy Scout Pocket Knife.   Also seems a bit overkill.

So how does a green friendly dirtbagger recycle iso-butane canisters?

With these simple steps!

Make sure you perform these steps in a well ventilated area.

  • Take the empty or near empty canister, attach to your stove, open the valve to full blast but do not light stove. Wait about 15 minutes.


  • Take a ‘church-key’ style can opener and place on bottom of canister with the pointy part against wall of canister



  • Gently make a puncture in the canister. You can also use a pocket knife or Leatherman can opener to make a puncture. Make punctures along the canister.


  • Let the canister air out a bit. When that is done,  not a bad idea to write EMPTY and/or USED on the canister with a permanent marker


  • Place canister in recycling.  Open a beer with your church key and finish unpacking the rest of your stinky and dirty gear! 🙂

UPDATE AUGUST 2016: Is it me, or do these steps from Snow Peak look a tad familiar? 😀

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 8.48.02 PM

UPDATE NOV 2016:  I’ve since become aware of a nifty little device for safely refilling canisters. Obviously, use the proper precautions.

UPDATE NOV 2018: And MSR gives instructions on their website, too! And the article is originally from 2013. Ha!


15 Replies to “Recycling Backpacking Fuel Canisters”

  1. hey, great pointers here, I’m sure they will be coming in handy when I’m out on my travels. many thanks 🙂

  2. Here in AZ in the spring and summer (dry season) I have resolved to use iso/butane stove instead of alcohol stoves to comply with fire regulations.
    I wish I would have seen this tip earlier LOL as I purchased the “crunch” tool.
    Thanks for the tip.

  3. Please read the label on the side of the MSR Canister by the Manufacture that States ” do not puncture the canister” , then it goes on to say failure to follow the instruction my result in death, serous burns or property damage. Yes you may be able to get away 99 times, but what about that one in a hundred times that you (or someone you convince this is safe) has something go wrong.
    So think seriously why the company that knows a hell of a lot more about risk management and product liability thinks this is a bad idea to recycle pennies worth of steel.

    1. Two companies that make fuel canisters disagree with with you:

      (both are PUNCTURING tools) does MSR! 😀
      “Recyclable: Consult your local recycling center for regulations.”

      And so does Backpacker Magazine:

      And REI:

      If you let out all the gas, there is nothing to burn. Do it safely first…and perhaps do more research before making comments. 😉


  4. Awesome. Finally a straightforward answer and explanation. You sir are my hero for the next… oh… say 15 minutes?

  5. Yes, Peter, I saw the “do not puncture” instruction on the side of the canister, along with absolutely zero instructions about what TO DO with the empties. If the company would like to help prevent these cans from ending up in garbage bins and landfills, then maybe they could provide some helpful hints about alternatives?

  6. To bad we have not progressed to refillable canisters. That is the true RECYCLE, but I guess the producers of isobutane canisters are more concerned with money, but pretend to be ecologically minded.

    1. You can refill containers. However, the manufacturers do not suggest it. Also, it can only be done with 100% butane..which does not work below 50F or so very well. You can Google if you are curious. For me, it is not worth it in terms of safety or performance. YMMV.

      1. I believe there are also lots of regulations about refillable containers. They need to be much heavier (not ideal for backbackers) and regularly inspected by a licensed third party. Any pressurized gas is somewhat dangerous and a flammable one at least doubly so. A reusable tank requires a certainty that the tank is still in reusable condition.

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