If you head away camping, caravanning or travelling Australia, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll take gas bottles, and they’ll need filling at different intervals.
How often you need to refill your gas bottle depends on their size and your consumption, but its not uncommon for those on the road full time to be filling a bottle up every 2 – 4 weeks.
So, where do you go when you need to fill your gas bottles? What are your options for swapping gas cylinders over, instead of filling them back up?
In this post, we look at all of the options that you have regarding LPG on the road, how you can maximise the time between fills, and how you can save a bucket load of money.
How much gas do you use?
Everyone uses a different amount of gas, and your consumption will depend on what appliances you have that need LPG, and how much you use them.
The major consumers of gas are showers, gas heaters, (if you have one; most people end up with a diesel heater) grills and 3 way fridges.
Stoves will use a bit of LPG, and BBQ’s can too, but if you are only running those two you’ll get a long time out of a gas bottle.
3 way fridges are reasonably efficient, but as they run 24 hours a day it adds up, and quite quickly.
If you are just camping, with no fridges, Webers, grills, water heaters or anything fancy, you should comfortably get about 4 – 5 weeks out of a 4kg gas bottle; it goes a long way.
Gas bottle shapes and sizes
The most common gas bottle sizes are 4kg and 9kg. What is interesting to know though is that they aren’t always the same size, or shape, and for a lot of caravan or camper trailer owners this presents an interesting problem, as changing shape can mean it doesn’t fit.
When we swap our 4kg units, you can get a tall, skinny version, or a short, wide bottle. If I’m not on the ball and we get the latter, it doesn’t fit in our camper trailer LPG bottle clamp, which is a pain.
If you use a fair bit of gas, and are running on 4kg bottles it can be awfully annoying, with a refill needed regularly. Good friends of ours are living full time in a van with two kids and are refilling their gas bottle every 2 weeks!
Value for money
If you are building a caravan or camper trailer, seriously think about your consumption, how often you need to fill up and how much you are going to pay.
The cost to fill a smaller bottle is not proportionately less than a larger bottle, and it can add up pretty quickly.
For example, it might cost you $17 for a 4kg bottle refill, and $24 for a 9kg bottle. That’s $4.25 a kg for the small bottle, and $2.66 for the 9kg bottle.
Essentially you are paying 60% more for the privilege of using a smaller gas bottle, and if you can fit larger bottles it might be worth while doing so.
How many gas bottles do you have?
Most camper trailers and caravan parks come with dual gas bottles, so when one runs out you simply swap over and then fill up at your next possible stop.
However, if you only have one gas bottle then it changes things as you need to know how much is left, and fill up prior to running out.
How can you tell how full a gas bottle is?
The easiest way to tell how full a gas bottle is involves a scale, and you just weigh the bottle. For your information, the below photo is a full 4kg bottle, weighing in at 9.3kg.
When you are travelling this isn’t so easy, so you can pick it and swash it around and you’ll get a pretty good idea. Alternatively, you can buy gauges that screw on, or magnetic units that you put on the side.
The easiest, and cheapest way though is to take boiling water, and pour it onto the side of the gas bottle. You’ll end up with condensate forming at the level of the gas, which shows you very easily how much you have left!
If you run out of gas, what happens?
Depending on what you run, gas may be critical, or less important. If you run a 3 way fridge and run out of gas your food is going to spoil pretty quickly.
For us, if we run out of gas we have a small single burner to cook food on for a couple of days that uses the gas cannisters, and we’d be unable to have hot showers or use the BBQ.
A lot of people have induction cook tops that they could use if they ran out of gas too, which reduces the urgency. The more important gas is for you, the more careful you need to be that you don’t run out!
Filling your gas bottles
Swap n Go
Swap n Go is a system that was developed a long time ago, which allows you to take a bottle in, drop it off and pay for a new bottle, and walk out. You can only swap and go bottles that are in the system, and to get started you need to give them a gas bottle.
Way back in the day we had to purchase a new gas bottle, and then hand it in to get a swap n go unit. Once you have swap n go bottles, you own them, and you can swap them at participating stores.
This is usually Caltex service stations, Bunnings and other hardware stores. They don’t always carry the 4kg bottles though, so watch out.
Now, its important to know that you can also refill a swap and go gas bottle, and we’ve done it a number of times where we didn’t have a choice. You simply take it to any store or caravan park that does the refills, and get them to do it.
Gas bottle refills
If you own the gas bottle, you can easily get it refilled at a heap of different stores (BBQ’s galore, BCF, Caravan parks etc). You just pay your money, leave the gas bottle and collect it later on, or wait a few minutes for them to do it.
One thing to know is that the gas bottle has to be tested, and in date. You’ll see this stamped on the bottle, and after 10 years since new they need to be re-tested and stamped.
If its out of date, you’ll find a lot of places will refuse to fill the bottle, as technically its no longer legal.
If its out of date, you need to take it to an engineering place that will inspect and re-stamp it, or you can even give it in for a Swap N Go bottle.
Finding gas bottle refill locations
If you want to know where you can fill gas bottles up, there’s a website at gasbottlerefills.com, or an app called Gas Finder, which will give you a range of options.
This was made by the same company that built Wikicamps, and works on a similar system. It’s pretty good.
What quantity of gas are you getting?
Now, I want to let you in on something not too many people know. When you get gas bottles filled, or swapped, you will not always get the same amount of gas, and at the end of the day, that’s what you really need, so its pretty important.
Swap N Go gas bottles are filled to 8.5kg of gas for the 9kg bottles, and 3.7kg of gas for the 4kg bottles. They do this by weight, and not when the bottles are full.
When you take your gas bottles (Swap N Go, or your own bottles) to a service station, BCF or another place that fills the gas bottles up, they don’t weigh them. They just fill them until the gas starts coming out the top, and you cannot put any more in than that.
Which do you think yields more gas? It’s pretty obvious, and many people who fill their own bottles report much longer usage periods than the Swap N Go options, and I fully believe it.
Is Swap N Go better than refills?
If you want maximum gas, get the largest bottle (they aren’t all the same) and get it filled manually, where you see the gas coming out the top.
If you just want convenience, and care less about how much gas you’re getting, the Swap n Go is much faster (as you don’t have to wait for people to fill your bottles), and you always have a bottle that is tested and in date.
On the flip side, there’s a chance you’ll get a bottle that’s a different size and swap n go’s are less common than refill stations.
That said, you can refill your swap n go gas bottle anyway, so it works out OK. I suspect Swap N Go is more expensive than refills (because they cost more, but also because you get less gas), but only if you are clever with where you refill, and you don’t pay $53 for a 9kg bottle!
Also, if you own the bottles you’ll have to pay for an inspection and test at some stage too, or replacement of the bottle.
Either way works, and like I said, it really depends on how you want to use your gas bottles; both options work just fine. We run Swap and Go bottles, and will get them filled where we can, and swap them the rest of the time.
How much do gas bottle refills cost?
Somewhere between $16 and $23 for a 4kg bottle is normal, and $22 – $28 for a 9kg bottle in a big city.
The moment you travel outside, to a more remote location the prices skyrocket, and I’ve seen 9kg bottle refills for $85, and that hurts the hip pocket a lot.
The moral of the story then is to ensure you fill your bottles up in the cheap, big towns or cities where possible!
Gas bottle refills are a part of life
If you are camping off grid, you soon learn that gas bottles are just a part of life.
Much like needing to fill your water tanks and fuel up, without gas you’ll probably find it quite hard to live off grid (unless you have a big lithium setup and use an induction cook top!).
We’ve stuck with Swap N Go bottles for now, and just refill them at various points along the way where possible. If the bottles get old, we’ll swap them for new ones, as needed, but its pretty clear that refilling gas bottles is cheaper and better than swap n go.
What do you do for gas bottle refills?