Stoves

As with winter tents, a stove suitable for winter must be tougher and more capable than a stove relegated to summer use. In addition to heating food, it is used to melt pots full of snow, providing your only reliable source of water. The stove must have a high heat output in order to melt snow quickly, stability so that it supports a full pot of snow, and relative ease of repairing when this becomes necessary. It also must operate well at low temperatures (which pretty much rules out self-pressurizing white gas stoves, which do not have a pump).

The most popular stove fuels are white gas, kerosene, or pressurized butane cartridges (see Chapter 3 for more details on stoves and fuels). White gas or its close equivalents, such as Coleman fuel or Chevron Blazo, are readily available in the United States, while kerosene is usually more common in other countries. Both fuels are inexpensive and efficient. Kerosene's lower volatility is both a virtue and a drawback. It necessitates priming your stove with something more volatile, such as alcohol or stove preheating paste. On the other hand, it lessens the chance of stove flare-up, a serious hazard if you're cooking in the tent.

A multifuel stove is useful for foreign travel, letting you burn such fuels as Stoddard solvent, stove oil, and alcohol when white gas or kerosene aren't available. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for using the selected fuel, as it may require changing fuel jets or burner heads.

Stoves that use pressurized gas cartridges are easy to use—just turn the valve and light—and there is less chance of a fuel flare-up. But these cartridges react to the lower temperatures of winter by putting out less heat, because the butane then does not vaporize as well. You can help out by prewarming the cartridge next to your body. Newer models burn a mixture of butane and propane, or isomers of butane, and do somewhat better at low temperatures. The problem is not as bad at greater altitudes, where lower atmospheric pressures mean higher relative pressure inside the cartridge to help vaporize the fuel. The disposable gas cartridges are expensive and heavy, and spent cartridges must be packed out. Another disadvantage of some cartridge stoves is poor stability because of a high stance and relatively narrow base. A cook set that suspends the stove and pot combination from the tent ceiling can solve this problem.

The snow that you melt for drinking water should come from a "drinking snow" pit, well away from the designated toilet and cleaning areas. Be sure everyone understands where it is and what it is for. Collect the snow as small pot-size chunks rather than as loose snow in order to make stoking the melting pot simpler and neater. If you are cooking in the tent, the process also is easier and cleaner if you collect the snow in a sack and then just bring the sack into the tent.

Cooking in the tent

Cooking in the tent is risky; it's also a convenience and at times a necessity. The risks go from the relatively minor ones of spilling pots onto sleeping bags or increasing condensation inside the tent, to the deadly dangers of tent fires or carbon monoxide poisoning. Nevertheless, cooking inside may be required if it's so windy the stove will not operate outside, or if it's so cold the cook risks frostbite. A tent vestibule is a big advantage because it provides the protection of cooking inside, with fewer risks.

Inside or out, your stove must be set on a stable platform to insulate the tent floor or snow from the heat of the stove, and to keep it from tipping over. A fallen stove is more than a nuisance, as it may spill fuel over gear or even set a tent on fire. Also, some stoves work significantly better if the fuel is insulated from the snow. A piece of V4-tnch plywood is a good stove pad. A snow shovel or snow fluke also may be pressed into service as a platform.

Here are some additional tips on inside cooking:

• Light the stove outside (or near an opening so it can be tossed outside if it flares) and bring it inside only after it is running smoothly.

• Cook near the tent door or in the tent vestibule. This puts the stove near the best ventilation and lets you throw the stove outside quickly in an emergency.

• Provide plenty of ventilation. This is critical. Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless, so you can't detect it. It is better to err on the conservative side by cooling off the tent with too large a ventilation hole rather than risk carbon monoxide poisoning with too small an opening.

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