If you’ve been in the military, chances are you have seen the Scepter fuel can. In our experience, these are the best and safest fuel containers available in the general-use market. They are far superior to both the ordinary red-plastic and red-metal gas cans widely in use, as well as the off-road-sports and maritime fuel containers.
In the last decade, plastic gas cans are almost the only type of fuel container you can find in retail stores. The old-style steel “Jerry-can” has become too costly to produce. Chinese made Jerry-can knock-offs are available, but these are generally substandard in quality– and you don’t want to skimp when it comes to the storage of an explosive liquid such as gasoline.
In addition to lower manufacturing cost for plastic fuel cans, they have also become popular because they are less prone to leak over time and exposure to abuse. The red-plastic fuel cans available today, with semi-rigid sides, are generally better than the old Jerry-cans for this reason.
What to Buy: A fuel can which is labeled with a U.S. Department of Defense number, indicating that it qualifies as “ mil-spec” is generally your best bet. The U.S. military has very high standards. Of course, many products claim to be mil-spec when they are not, so be sure to look for a procurement number stamped into the side of the can. This is the best validation. (By the way, there is even a brand name “Mil-Spec” which tries to capitalize on the mil-spec reputation of quality, and most of their goods are definitely not mil-spec).
Specter Fuel Container: U.S. military-surplus 20-liter (approximately 5.3-gallons) plastic-looking fuel cans are by far the best choice. New ones are available, too, but they are oftentimes staggeringly expensive.
Positive Features: 1. Far more durable than consumer-grade fuel containers; 2. They don’t leak fuel or fumes, even when exposed to temperature fluctuation; 3. They are reasonably lightweight; 4. They have an internal vent mechanism which provides a smooth flow when fuel is poured from the container; 5. They are far safer in a fire, and in a traffic accident than consumer-grade fuel containers.
The U.S. military gas cans are made by Specter, a company based in Canada. A genuine Specter fuel container will have the “Specter” brand name, and “Made in Canada,” molded into the plastic on the side of the can. (It will also say “U.S. Government Property” or “Military Use Only,” but don’t let that put you off. With the winding-down of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the government auctioned thousands of these cans.)
Scepter Military Fuel Containers (Gas Cans) are made out of tough injection molded polyethylene, not just ordinary plastic. Though Specter cans may look heavy in appearance, they are actually relatively lightweight due to the advanced materials and manufacturing method used.
U.S military-surplus Scepter fuel cans are usually sand-color (tan) or olive drab (green), but occasionally you will find them in yellow. The Specter cans made for the civilian market are similar in appearance but have a high-visibility yellow check-strap attached to the lid.
Caution: Blue plastic cans, including those made by Specter, are for water-only. They do not have the same safety features as the Specter fuel cans. Also, Specter water cans can be found in the same colors as the fuel cans. These do not offer the same design features and safety as the containers made for transporting fuel. You can quickly tell the difference between a Specter fuel can and a Specter water can, by the distinctive small-spout built into the larger cap of the water can.
Negative Feature: Lack of Availability of Dispensing Spouts. The only downside of purchasing Specter fuel cans is that it may be difficult to find a spout for pouring fuel from the container. (And, they are apparently illegal for use in the State of California. Go figure.) In any case, it’s easy enough to make a spout for the Specter if you can’t find one to purchase.
Another option is to buy a flexible metal gas-can spout at an auto supply store which may fit the inside threads of the Specter can. (Unfortunately, this is a trial and error process). Or, there are various after-market spouts made by small manufacturing companies.
If you find a good deal on Specter fuel cans, but can’t get a spout from the same vendor, it is still worth buying the gas cans. They are extremely popular and getting hard to find, so don’t delay.
Cleaning a Used Fuel Container: If you purchase a used military-surplus fuel container, be sure to rinse it with gasoline before filling it with fuel. On a sunny day, let it sit outside for a day or two, with the lid off, so fuel vapors and liquid can fully evaporate. Make sure your container is clean before you refill it with fuel. Contaminated fuel is a prime cause of vehicle failure during an emergency situation.
Diesel and gasoline cans are made in all various military colors, so if it is important to you to get a can that has only held your type of fuel, follow the link at the end of this post to view a look-up table of model numbers.
Other Fuel-Storage Containers If you can’t find a Specter fuel can, NATO fuel cans can be an acceptable alternative. However, other types of “mil-spec” gas cans are a mixed bag. In our experience, none of them come even close to the quality of Specter fuel container. But whether you purchase a mil-spec NATO gas can or a genuine Specter, be sure to inspect it closely before making your purchase.
These military containers for fuel are far more durable than gas cans made for the consumer market, but they are not indestructible. But, worn-looking Specter fuels cans can still be serviceable and superior to a new civilian-market gas can.
New or used, a fuel can that leaks is not a bargain. After you fill your container with fuel, wait a few days and see if you can smell gas. If you can smell gasoline, your container is not safe. If it is not leaking liquid, just fuel vapor (as determined by smell), it’s an unsafe fuel storage container.
Beat-up Scepter Containers: Keep in mind that a faded, painted, or heavily scratched Scepter fuel container may still be very serviceable. A faded exterior can often be restored to like-new appearance using rubbing-compound purchased from an auto supply store.
Used NATO Gas Cans – Caution: Most of the surplus mil-spec NATO fuel cans are metal, and used metal cans have a tendency to leak due to internal corrosion, damage, or rust along the seams. It’s not unusual for unscrupulous vendors to repaint a used fuel container to make it look newer, thereby concealing rust.
Photo: The NATO fuel container on the left is new, whereas the one on the right has been repainted the same “stock” color. (Note, too, that the rubber gasket is missing from the used container on the right.)
With these potential problems in mind, if you will be making an online purchase or are otherwise not able to inspect the container before making your purchase, only buy from a highly-rated vendor which will let you return the item if it is defective.
Military-surplus NATO fuel containers can be a risky online purchase. Keep in mind, too, that militaries often get rid of items such as this because they are damaged or defective. You can mend a torn military-surplus army tent, but repairing a damaged fuel container is not worth the effort.
Civilian-Market Gas Cans / Fuel Containers: Used fuel containers made by Specter generally cost between $50-100, and this is considerably more expensive than a new civilian-market gas can available at Walmart. But even the civilian-market gas cans made by Specter for the civilian market, are far inferior to a military fuel container.
Fuel-Storage Safety: There is no comparison in quality between military fuel containers and the typical, plastic fuel cans made for the civilian market. And, there is no comparison in regard to safety, either.
This safety issue is a very real concern if you intend to store gasoline, not just temporarily transport it. Gasoline and diesel fuel can be stored much more safely in a Specter fuel can than a standard red-plastic or metal gas can.
Never transport fuel inside the cab of a vehicle. Previously unnoticed fumes can be deadly, and in a traffic accident, the container can dislodge and become a missile causing injury. Or, it can rupture and incinerate the vehicle’s occupants.
Only transport gasoline or diesel fuel in a container made for this purpose. It is too dangerous to store or transport fuel in a container that is not specifically designed for this purpose. Even fuel containers transported on the exterior of a vehicle, such as in the bed of a truck, must be strongly secured. The concern is not simply shifting cargo, but the impact caused by a traffic accident.
Fuel Transport and Dispensing: When transporting fuel, the container needs to be strongly secured. Bungee cord attachment is not enough. The container needs to be held securely so that even in a traffic accident it will not become dislodged.
In most areas, you can receive a traffic citation if a fuel container is inadequately secured. But that’s not the main concern. What is important is that whether traveling on-road or off-road, a loose fuel container may become a deadly missile and cause injury or death. Gasoline weighs 6-1/2 pounds (3.9 kg) per gallon, so a 5-gallon gas can that is full of fuel weighs 35-pounds (16 kg) or more. So, a dislodged gas container can become more dangerous than a duffer with a sledgehammer.
If you store fuel for more than a couple of months, it needs to be conditioned with either PRI-G (gasoline) or PRI-D (diesel) fuel stabilizer. Be sure to purchase the correct PRI product for the type of fuel you are storing. In our tests, other brands of fuel stabilizer are not nearly as effective as PRI.
If you know you will be storing the fuel for more than a few months, be sure to add PRI to the fuel storage container before you fill it. The filling action will help to thoroughly mix the PRI treatment compound with the fuel.
Similarly, if you plan to store a vehicle or fuel-powered equipment, add the PRI to the tank and then top it off with additional fresh fuel. This will not only help the PRI mix with the fuel that was already in the tank, it’s also a safer way to store the equipment. Full fuel tanks are safer.
In our tests, gasoline treated with STA-BIL (a competitor to PRI) was marginal after just 18-months, and completely unusable after 24-months. Whereas with PRI, our tests and other independently conducted tests, indicate that PRI-treated fuel can be stored for 5-6 years if it is re-treated annually. Consumers have reported the successful use of PRI-treated fuel after 12-years of storage.
Another advantage of PRI is that old fuel can sometimes be brought back to life. Just give it a double-dose of the appropriate PRI product, and make sure it is well mixed with the fuel before trying to use it. If the fuel is in a vehicle, the fuel lines need to be purged of the old fuel before trying to start the engine.
The PRI fuel-treatment product itself it will remain fresh for decades, as long as it is properly stored and the container remains unopened. Once opened, PRI should be used within three years.
Dispensing Fuel, or Acquiring Fuel from a Car’s Gas Tank:
Dispensing: Be sure to test your fuel-can and nozzle, together. Don’t assume it’s going to work, nor that you can handle the weight of a full can of fuel. Even if you can handle the weight and you are able to pour the fuel into your vehicle, you may want to use a siphon instead of a spout.
Simple Tools for Acquiring and Dispensing Fuel
Self-Priming Fuel Siphons (with an anti-static hose), such as the one illustrated here, are an easy solution for fuel transfer. The model which uses a 1/2-inch (inside diameter) hose can transfer 3-1/2 gallons of fuel in 1-minute. With minimal training, even a young child can manage this task, but they should be supervised as fuel transfer can be dangerous.
Operation of a Fuel-Syphon Hose: For the siphoning process to work, the container with the fuel must be higher than the tank of the vehicle. The siphoning process depends on gravity to work.
Safety: Only use a siphon device which is actually made for the transfer of gasoline, as other siphons may have parts which can cause a fire or explosion-creating spark. Not all self-priming siphons perform the same. We recommend that you purchase a siphon with a semi-rigid hose that has a large diameter, as it will transfer fuel much faster, and copper or another metal that is not magnetic as these are less likely to create a spark.
Plastic Fuel Funnel: A funnel with a long neck (illustrated in the photo on the left) is also a handy addition to your fuel-transfer kit. The long neck of the funnel simulates a gas station’s fuel-pump nozzle, and this can help un-restrict the flow of fuel into the tank during the transfer process. (The neck of the fuel-filler pipe on some vehicles will collapse a plastic hose. This was implemented to help defeat fuel theft.) Though some siphon hoses may be rigid enough to bypass this anti-theft device, it may worth having one of these long-neck funnels, just in case.
Test Your Equipment: Practice with your fuel container, fuel-transfer equipment, and methods-of-use before you actually need to use them.
Preparing for an Emergency Situation: Even if you don’t store containers pre-filled with fuel, it is prudent to have a number of fuel containers on hand, along with spouts and fuel transfer equipment such as a siphon and siphon hose. Every vehicle should have an emergency kit, and this should include a siphon hose and plastic long-neck funnel.
During an emergency situation, stores quickly sell out of gas cans and of these fuel-transfer products. If possible and safe, store a sufficient quantity of fuel, plus 20% additional (or more), in case it becomes necessary to take an alternate route to your evacuation destination. You should have sufficient fuel to drive to your safe-haven retreat location without stopping for fuel. During disasters and other emergency situations, gas stations often run out of fuel. Plan for it.
Links to Manufacturers and Additional Information:
Specter Military Fuel Containers
Manufacturer’s Website: http://www.sceptermilitary.com/
Specter Fuel Can Look-Up Table by Part #: http://www.sceptermilitary.com/fuel_containers/product_table_1/
PRI Fuel Treatment Products: http://www.priproducts.com/preparedness.cfm