As an avid backpacker, a problem had started to wear on FlipFuel Co-Founder Eric Flottmann — what to do with all these half-empty fuel canisters laying around?
Eric had a box of them in his garage, and so did his friends. There’s a point with these containers where you don’t have quite enough gas in there to trust it for your trip, so you leave it at home and bring a full one instead.
These isobutane canisters are the most popular backcountry cooking method, so why don’t we have a solution for the leftover can?
Eric had even heard some horrific stories about people just tossing these pressurized canisters into the trash, pretending nothing bad would happen. But the reality is throwing fuel canisters into the trash while they're still pressurized can be dangerous. When overheated, punctured, or crushed in a garbage truck, they can explode, which is dangerous for waste management workers. The proper disposal method is to empty them, punch a hole in them, and then recycle.
So, Eric and his business partner Frank Healy made their own solution: FlipFuel is a simple product that fits a specific need. It allows you to transfer fuel from one partially filled canister to another, making it possible to consolidate your leftover containers and recycle the ones you empty.
FlipFuel launched on September 17, 2021, which just so happened to be Eric’s daughter’s birthday.
Eric has nothing but love for his home state of Arizona. He and his wife were both born and raised there, having met in high school. Their kids were born in the same hospital Eric was, and he went to summer camp up on the Mogollon Rim, where he now takes his son every summer as well. “I’m crazy about this state. I’m not in a place where I’m interested in leaving at all,” he told me, even as the thermometer read 113 degrees. He’s proud to be a scoutmaster and to be helping the next generation fall in love with Arizona’s wilderness.
As a scoutmaster, he’s very backpacking-focused, which encourages a few vital lessons for the young folks involved. A big part of backpacking and its related gear is taking care of what you have. You have to prepare appropriately for your trip, because once you get out there, the consequences of carelessness or inadequate planning are very real. Your resources are limited, and when they’re gone they’re gone.
These lessons fit rather well into the ethos of FlipFuel, actually. By its nature, FlipFuel’s transfer device reduces waste, encouraging users to make the most of what they have. It enables you to empty that half-filled canister so that you can punch a hole and more easily recycle it. Each small act of conservation makes up the larger effort we have to make as citizens of the world.
Eric comes from a long line of entrepreneurs, too. His grandfather opened a watch repair store in Mesa, part of the Phoenix area, back in 1975. Eric’s family still runs that shop, and it’s something of a fixture in the local community. To this day, Eric will run into some acquaintance or stranger on the street, and they’ll find out he’s a part of that family, and they’ll say something like, “Oh, I’ve been going there forever, my grandmother or great grandmother still pop in there to talk to your mom.”
FlipFuel is a part of that tradition as well. As a small business, if you reach out to them for any sort of customer service, you’re going to talk to one of three people: Eric, Frank, or Mary McWilliams, who's the director of marketing.
As a company, they’re focused specifically on solving that one original problem, the half-canister problem, so customer service is a part of that process too. If a customer reaches out to them, “and it’s happened occasionally, where there’s a manufacturing defect or something like that,” Eric told me, “well that’s not gonna help you solve the problem, so we’re all over that.”
They have a slogan that encapsulates this mission: “Don't Pack a Halfie.” I thought it was such a catchy slogan that I had to ask where it came from, and of course it comes from Eric and Frank just riffing off each other as they drove to grab a bite. FlipFuel’s slogan and the company as a whole has that feeling behind it — the feeling of two old friends, sitting in a car, brainstorming the perfect solution to this one specific problem.
Having set out to solve that problem, it’s now fun to see further applications for FlipFuel reveal themselves. The small brand has found themselves lovingly embraced by thru-hikers. If you’ve ever been on a long trail and seen those hiker boxes absolutely packed with mostly empty fuel canisters, you know how useful it would be to pack a FlipFuel. You might be able to finish a long trail without ever buying a single canister.
Plus, you can fly with it. If you find yourself on the way to a location where fuel canisters might not be so plentiful, you’ll be able to lean on your hiking buddies and make the most of whatever you can find when you get there.
Also, when it comes to disposing of fuel canisters, FlipFuel helps you empty them without waste. You'll still need to puncture them afterward to make sure they're empty. You can bring them to your local recycling center, or some outdoor retailers may even take care of them for you.
At heart, FlipFuel is really a simple product. It’s basically a valve, but it’s a valve that fits perfectly into an issue the outdoor community has had for a while.
To use FlipFuel, place the receiving canister in a freezer, ice chest, or a cool shaded area, and place the sending canister in the sun. Wait 5 to 10 minutes. This allows the fuel canisters to create a temperature differential that facilitates the transfer. Then, thread the canisters onto the FlipFuel® device. Put the sending canister on top side, and the receiving canister on the bottom. Hand tighten. Finally, open the valve to transfer fuel. Once fuel transfer is complete, close the valve and detach isobutane fuel canisters.
FlipFuel a light addition to your pack that can offer endless utility on long hikes and beyond. It’s a masterclass in effective problem-solving. It’s a few proud Arizona residents making sure you “Don’t Pack a Halfie.”
Matthew Kok is an essayist, a poet, a traveler, and absolutely in love with the world outside. They are currently operating out of Manapouri, a little town in Aotearoa–South Island, New Zealand. You can find them curled up with Stormy the housecat or cooking up big, elaborate breakfasts late in the morning. You can also find them on Instagram at @matt.kok