New Guy with Cooking Question

Posted by: Mdgtman

New Guy with Cooking Question - 12/29/17 03:41 PM

Allow me to preface this question with some background info.

I have only been on a couple short (2-5) mile hikes and loved every minute of it. I am looking to move to some 3 day hikes/camping in northern Georgia next year. In my researching (minor it may be) I have found that everyone either uses a stove or they opt for not cooking food at all. I can't seem to find info on cooking over a wood fire.

So the question is, why not ditch the stove and cook over a fire instead? I feel like I'm missing something as it is never mentioned as an option. (at least not by the dude guys in the videos that I'm watching)

The only downside that I could see is time which I am not too concerned about. I plan on taking my time, relaxing and enjoying nature.
Posted by: aimless

Re: New Guy with Cooking Question - 12/29/17 04:27 PM

I take a stove because most of my backpacks are at or near timberline or alpine conditions, where wood is scarce and fires create long-lasting adverse impacts. Oftentimes fires are prohibited, both because of those impacts, but also here in the West, backpacking season is wildfire season.

Nevertheless, I have cooked over fires in the distant past. There are a few drawbacks other than the time consumed by gathering wood and tending a fire. One drawback is soot. It will get onto the bottom of your cooking pot and it is hard to get off. Except onto your hands and clothes. frown

Another complication is heat control. You can place your pot directly onto coals, but this approach is very hot and can scorch food. On the other hand, suspending your pot above the coals or flames requires something like a wire grill, or else a bail to hang your pot from a tripod, or else just holding it over the fire in your hand. All these approaches are fussy and require your close attention.

On the good side of the ledger, wood is free and doesn't have to be carried. On the bad side, wood can be wet and hard to burn.

There's nothing stopping you from trying it to see how you like it. But it is not a no-brainer decision.
Posted by: Mdgtman

Re: New Guy with Cooking Question - 12/29/17 06:17 PM

Thank you. I didn't know that a fire can be prohibited in some places. Also I didn't think about heat control. With those in mind having a cook system sounds a bit easier so I will dig more into those and see what works best for me.

Thanks again for the helpful response.
Posted by: Glenn Roberts

Re: New Guy with Cooking Question - 12/29/17 09:42 PM

I’ve also cooked over fires, way back when - but soon gave them up for a stove. Much of my decision was based on convenience: stoves are quick and easy to use, and more reliable than wet wood. But the decision was mostly based on the impact of fires on the woods, and the evolution of Leave No Trace principles.

One of the main reasons (at least in the Eastern US) that fire-cooking is going out of fashion is that, compared to the western US, there are just too many backpackers in too small an area. The impact on the backcountry is just too large. (I’d refer you to LNT.ORG for a full discussion of Leave No Trace principles; if you’re going to be doing backpacking in your future, you absolutely need to understand and practice those principles.)

Fires leave a heavy mark on campsites, and ruin the sense of wildness found in the eastern woods. I hesitate to use the word “wilderness” here in the East; we just don’t have the large, untouched areas of the West. What we do have are pockets that were touched by settlement, then abandoned and allowed to revert to woods. Likewise, many of the woodlands we hike were logged in the 19th and early 20th centuries and allowed to revert later, or are parts of managed forests to supply lumber-related industries. There is a definite wildness about such places, but not the remote, untouched sense of wilderness that exists elsewhere.

Campsites are heavily used, and tend to proliferate as each person avoids previously-used sites in search of his or her own “pristine” site - then “improves” the site with his or her own fire ring and fire scar, thereby driving the next person in search of yet another pristine site. So, to preserve the sense of wildness, most of us have (with various degrees of reluctance) abandoned the practice of using fires - and the few who still do are resigned to using the beat-up sites that have existing fire rings rather than build new ones. (Not a perfect solution, but the “sacrifice” of these sites does help preserve that sense of wildness.)

There’s another, more practical problem, in using fires in the “sacrifice” sites: with their heavy usage, all of the down and dead, combustible wood has long since been completely depleted for a quarter mile or more all around. So, even when you practice LNT principles and use the “sacrifice” sites, gathering firewood is a time- and effort-consuming job.

There’s also the issue of dousing the fire - it needs to be cold out, which requires several quarts of water. So, if you’re not camping beside a creek or other plentiful source, you’ve got to carry it, at two pounds a quart.

For me, even when wood is readily available and it’s appropriate to have a fire, I simply find them to be too much like work - and I go into the woods to get away from work. Your choice may be different, and that’s OK. Just do me one kindness, and minimize your impact (don’t hack on standing trees, or build new fire-rings) so we’ll both have plenty of forest to enjoy.

Enjoy your future hikes, and - if you do decide fires are for you - enjoy some delicious dinners. And say hi to me, if we ever cross paths.
Posted by: Mdgtman

Re: New Guy with Cooking Question - 01/03/18 03:11 PM

Thanks Glenn, that was helpful information.

After researching stove options I have made myself a "fancy feast stove"

It turned out to be way easier and more efficient than I thought it would be. Also has the added benefit of being light weight and not impacting nature.

You guys have both been a tremendous help, thank you very much.
Posted by: PaHiker

Re: New Guy with Cooking Question - 01/09/18 01:44 PM

Alcohol stoves are great, and there are many plans out there for them. I used to use a woodburning stove but found that, as I expand out of my area, there are a lot of places where any type of wood fire is prohibited, or where wood simply isn't available.

When using "alcohol" to fuel your stove four things are important: ambient temperature, heat generated, cleanliness of the burn, and cost of the fuel.

Ambient Temperature Alcohol stoves, when the temps drop, can be a problem to light, depending on the design of the stove. If you do some research there are plans for stoves that light easily when the temps drop into the 30's. Much research seems to indicate that the problem is the temperature of the alcohol, as well as the type of alcohol used. Keeping the alcohol warm seems to alleviate the problem

Heat generated The amount of heat generated by the fuel is directly related to the percent of alcohol and the type of alcohol. Many people use rubbing alcohol (never less than 90%) from the drug store as it's cheap, but the heat generated isn't the best, so it ends up costing more in the end.

Cleanliness of the burn Unless you like cleaning the soot off of your pots this is also a concern. Many of the alcohols out there will leave some amount of soot, generally the lower the percentage of alcohol the more cleaning you'll have to do.

Cost of the fuel Cost of alcohol (to get a liter of water boiling) ranges anywhere from 9-cents to 24-cents. Big range.

A couple fellows over at did some testing and the overall winner was Heet (yellow bottle, not red). It came in relatively cheaply at about 15-cents, leaves no soot, boiled the water in the shortest period of time (~8 min), and works well even in cold temps.

I have been using the yellow heet for a few years now, what I like most about it is that it is readily available so if I fly across country I can always find it at almost any gas station. Also, when I am done backpacking and ready to head home I don't have to figure out what to do with the left over (can't take most fuels on a plane), I just dump it into the gas tank of a friend or a rental.
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: New Guy with Cooking Question - 01/09/18 05:38 PM

The stove (or campfire) you use should depend on the conditions where you are.

As Aimless pointed out, there are often altitude restrictions on fires--wood sources grow very slowly at high altitude, and those dead sticks are needed to rot and add nourishment to the very thin soils up there. In addition, it's pretty hard to find firewood in popular areas.

Out here in the west, in particular, we have a long summer dry season. often with high forest fire danger, which corresponds to backpacking season. There are often restrictions on what you can use to cook. Alcohol stoves have caused enough fires (due to careless users) that they are often banned in the dry (fire) season. More and more jurisdictions require a UL rated stove with an on-off switch, which means you are stuck with isobutane canister or liquid gas stoves.

I just read that the Los Angeles National Forest has now banned stoves--or any fire source--altogether, which means that "no-cook" is now the only option there. I can't blame them, not after seeing the results of last fall's firestorms in Sonoma and Napa counties (my daughter and son-in-law gave me the full fire tour over Christmas!). It's enough to make everyone extra paranoid, even though those particular fires had nothing to do with backpackers.

The eastern US is subject to dry spells with high fire danger, too, although fortunately not as regularly as on the west coast. During those times, you want to be extra careful, too--good time to experiment with the various no-cook options, ranging from living on Power Bars (ugh) to rehydrating freeze-dried with cold water.
Posted by: PaHiker

Re: New Guy with Cooking Question - 01/09/18 05:48 PM

Another option is to use MRE heaters. These work well where I'm at (SW Pa) 9 months out of the year (forget Dec-Feb) as they don't heat up enough in the cold months. We used these in Scouting to do stove-less cooking in prep for areas where we weren't allowed any open flames. They are not cheap (around $2 ea) but they do widen the range of foods you can take, and stave off cold meals.

They do require some pre-planning since they basically are reheating foods, not actually cooking, but if you combine them with the wide variety of pouch meals (not dried pouches), and meals you can pre-cook on your own, it's not a bad alternative.

MRE Heaters
Posted by: 4evrplan

Re: New Guy with Cooking Question - 01/10/18 11:01 AM

When I still used an alcohol stove (super cat & a v8 can stove), the yellow Heet is what I used. I can verify that it works well in the cold.
Posted by: Pika

Re: New Guy with Cooking Question - 01/10/18 11:52 AM

In my experience, the denatured alcohol one can buy in paint and hardware stores as shellac thinner is pretty much the same as yellow Heet. I think it is cheaper too. Make sure you are getting denatured ethanol and not isopropyl alcohol though. There is a big difference.
Posted by: PaHiker

Re: New Guy with Cooking Question - 01/13/18 09:21 PM

From the bottles, red heat is iso-propel, yellow heat is methanol.
Posted by: bob13bob

Re: New Guy with Cooking Question - 03/01/18 02:31 PM

I like fancier food when I go and it's usually with 2+ people. get etekcity stove on amazon, and the typical canisters that go with it. It's really nice to be able to control the heat. you spend weight on the stove, and canister but it's more efficient that cat can stove. Someone did the math before, the proper stove method is actually lighter over a certain amount of burns. trying to save tiny amounts of weight = a lot more hassle later unless you spartan backpacking. I like to do 5 burns /day = breakfast, coffee, dinner, desert, hot coco.
Posted by: PaHiker

Re: New Guy with Cooking Question - 03/01/18 02:40 PM

I have a similar stove, the problem is still with cold weather, gas stoves don't perform all that well.
Posted by: BZH

Re: New Guy with Cooking Question - 03/05/18 12:00 PM

I prefer a canister stove for its speed an simplicity. Most calculations I've seen show you need to be out almost a week and using a pot with heat exchanger fins to end up being lighter than an alcohol stove. The real challenge is having a canister with just the right amount of fuel. That is much easier to do with alcohol.

In terms of low temperature performance, check out a Moulder Strip. People are using them to run canister stoves far below the iso-butane freezing point. Know what you are doing though... using a Moulder Strip on a hot day is probably pretty dangerous.