Boiling water is an essential wilderness survival skill, allowing you to safely consume any water you find. A campfire is an excellent source of heat, but how easy is it to boil water on it?
A campfire will effectively boil water, provided the fire is sustained with ample fuel until the water reaches 212°F (100 °C). A wood fire won’t even ignite until it has reached at least 356°F (180 °C), so there is sufficient heat energy available to transfer to boil water.
Using a campfire to boil water can be tricky for a novice, and there are some tricks to make the process easier. Remember, boiling water while camping is essential for your health, especially if you are obtaining your water from local sources. There are, of course, also alternatives to using a campfire to boil water while outdoors.
Effective Methods for Boiling Water on a Campfire
You want to efficiently use the heat from the fire to boil your water. Obviously, the proximity between your vessel and the fire is going to be crucial. The closer your water container is to the flame, the faster the water will reach 100. If your fire is small, it’s best to place the container directly on top of the fire.
You may, however, have a large fire that you’ve made to provide a source of heat. In this instance, it is best to suspend the water-containing vessel above the fire pit. This can be achieved by making a tripod from large sticks and hanging your container over the flame.
A final option is to have a metallic rack that sits above the flame. This is essentially your “stovetop,” and you can place your pot or bottle directly on it.
The material of your container also has a large impact on water boiling time. You want to use metallic pots, cans, or bottles, as this material is an excellent conductor of heat. Copper is the best option due to its thermodynamic properties, and aluminum is an excellent alternative. While stainless steel is the most common cookware available, it has, relatively speaking, poor thermal conductivity. Therefore, it isn’t the best material for boiling water quickly on a campfire.
The size and shape of your container should also be considered. A large metallic surface area will decrease the boiling time, as will the ability to enclose the water with a lid, trapping the heat inside.
Pro Tip: if your water level is too shallow in a large bottomed pot, for example, your water will evaporate very quickly once it starts to boil. If time is of the essence, or your fuel supply is low, don’t boil more water than you need.
When Camping, You Need to Boil Your Water
When camping, you need water for cooking, drinking, and personal hygiene. You also need clean water to drink.
It is vital to your health to boil any water you get from a natural source before consumption. Even though flowing water from a river or spring appears clean and fresh to the naked eye, it can contain bacteria, viruses, or parasites. These dangers mainly emanate from deceased or infected animals, contamination by animal or human waste, or infested plant life. If ingested, these harmful agents can lead to health issues like diarrhea, nausea, fever, and the flu. The best way to stay healthy is to purify, i.e., boil, your water first.
Apart from a few exceptions, most life dies when it reaches boiling temperatures. This is due to the protein structure that built the life forms denaturing or breaking apart. To be sure everything in your water has been inactivated or killed, boil your water for a minimum of one minute (3 minutes at high altitude).
In addition to safety, many cooking practices need boiling water. Without it, you can’t prepare pasta, rice, or a decent hot beverage. These foods might not be essential for survival, but having a varied diet and a cup of coffee can vastly improve the enjoyment of your camping trip.
Alternatives to Campfires
Sometimes, it’s not always possible to make a campfire. It may be there isn’t sufficient firewood around, e.g., you might be in the desert. Or, it’s been raining, and you don’t have the time or patience to make a fire from damp wood. Conversely, the risk of wildfire is too high, and fires aren’t permitted. Luckily, there are alternatives to a campfire to boil your water outdoors.
You can purchase a portable stove that uses propane or butane as the fuel source. These items operate under the same principles as a gas ring in your home. The major disadvantage of this method is the weight and space required. Although the stove itself is only 4-5 pounds, the fuel canisters weigh 5-6 ounces each, and they only last for 1-2 hours. This is a limiting drawback if you are going on a long hike. If you’re driving to your campsite, then a portable stove is an excellent choice.
With the backpacker in mind, compact systems that use a propane/butane blend are available. These are designed specifically to boil water in a small cooking pot affixed to the fuel source. These fuel canisters are smaller, and the whole system is compact and weighs less than two pounds. This makes them an ideal way to boil water on the go.
Now you know that water can be boiled on a campfire, you are better prepared to survive the wilderness. Thanks for stopping by!
How to make a campfire? First, clear the site of all flammable material, and lay down sand or gravel. Surround this with rocks. Gather fuel in the form of tinder (small twigs, dry leaves, etc.), kindling (small sticks), and firewood. Start the fire with a cone of kindling and a few handfuls of tinder underneath. Light tinder and blow lightly at the base of the fire to increase the oxygen supply. Once the fire is sustainable, add the firewood.
What are the benefits of a campfire? Campfires are useful for keeping warm, providing light, cooking food, and preparing drinking water. They are also a great social focal point for groups to spend their evenings. They also don’t require carrying additional materials with you a hike, as everything you need for a fire can be found at your campsite.
For more, check out 8 Practical Ways to Purify Water Without Boiling It.
Anne James has a wealth of expertise in a wide array of interests, including quilting, cooking, gardening, camping, and making jelly.
She has a professional canning business and has been featured in the local newspaper, and has been her family canner for decades. Anyone growing up in the South knows that there is always a person in the family who has knowledge of the “old ways,” and this is exactly what Anne is.
With over 55 years of experience in these endeavors, she brings a level of hands-on knowledge that is hard to surpass.
Lovingly known as “Jelly Grandma” by her grandkids, Anne hopes your visit here has been a sweet one.