Winter camping in New England usually means forever boiling water. Hot liquids and food is not just a luxury in the winter woods, its a necessity. There is no quicker way to heat up one’s “core” than a steaming cup of cocoa or a hot plate of grub. A way to heat up water quickly is a valuable survival skill and a dedicated water boiling system is an essential piece of gear.
Water purification can only be guaranteed with a hard boil. Since rehydration is very important to the winter hiker, a reliable and fast way to “make drinking water” is key. One may even be forced to use snow and/or ice as a water source. Using the same pot to cook meals AND melt snow for drinking means having to clean that cookpot. Let me add here that chunks of Hamburger Helper in drinking water does not add to the wilderness experience and should be avoided. Yet another reason to have a dedicated water boiler system in the pack.
We know boiling water while winter hiking is a task that needs to be efficient and fast. Additionally, the tools to heat the water must be easy to handle, light in the pack and durable enough to depend on. This concept is so important, outdoor equipment manufacturers have created a number of water boilers for the adventurous consumer. One product that comes to mind is the “Jetboil”, an all-in-one system that integrates stove, pot and insulated cup into a super efficient hot water machine.
These water boiler systems just won’t work for the HAE style winter hiker. First, the fuel is all wrong. HAE does not use gas canisters when out in the woods. Those canisters don’t perform well under extreme cold contitions and the concept of a non refillable fuel container is not at all appealing. While the insulated cup/pot built into the system and the featured fuel saving “flux ring” attached to the pot earn this stove lots of points for efficiency, this design falls short when the fuel runs out and a fire is needed. HAE would definitely drop this rig on the “gomer gear” pile.
A close contender for the HAE “Seal of Approval” is the Kelly Kettle. Another self contained boiling system like the Jetboil, the Kelly Kettle takes a technological step backward and uses wood as it fuel. While this backwoods furnace performed flawlessly for HAE, it was not approved as standard issue gear for their expeditions because of its larger size and the inability to be used in a shelter. You can read HAE’s review of the Kelly Kettle HERE
Years of winter hiking, fussing with camp stoves and trail cooking have led HAE to develop a system of their own. Nothing more than a stainless steel water bottle with some “pre-shaped” sheet aluminum wrapped around the base, HAE’s Backwoods Boiler provided the Team with hot water throughout the expedition this winter on our MSR campstove AND the campfire.
The stainless steel bottle we found was a discounted water bottle with an all plastic cap. The aluminum “ring” at the base was scrap pulled from the endless pile of junk in Timur’s basement. A couple of pop rivets later and the boiler was born. The aluminum ring was key in concentrating and distributing heat along the sides as well as the bottom of the bottle. Also, the aluminum ring made the bottle much more stable both on the MSR campstove and on coals from our fire.
Another benefit of having a stainless steel bottle as a boiler is the ability to transport water easily. If you’ve ever tried to carry a pot full of water from the source with snowshoes on at -10 you know that you’ll not have a full pot when you set it on the stove. The convenient bottle (with a stopper) is much easier to handle. Because the bottle is stainless steel, water freezing inside is not a problem. Within minutes, a frozen bottle on the stove becomes liquid. The aluminum ring can be slid down the bottle an inch or so beyond the base when sitting on the burner. Slots filed on the bottom edge fit over the stove’s pot rests and stablize the boiler. Amazingly, the bottle never spilled, even under the raucous conditions usually associated with an HAE Happy Hour. Countless bottles of Maine’s finest water were processed with this newest innovation.
The Backwoods Boiler does have some issues to address. The first being an easy way to handle the bottle when hot. A wire loop around the top of the bottle may be enough. HAE will whip up some clever solution, to be sure. Another issue was the plastic stopper. HAE feared the stopper left on by some inexperienced gomer would turn the Backwoods Boiler into a Backwoods Bomb. A valve in the stopper perhaps…? The solution is probably more like a printed disclaimer on the bottle warning the gomers to remove the cap before boiling.
Deemed a complete success, the HAE Backwoods Boiler was added to the Half Ass Expeditions permanent gear list in 2014.
Total weight: 260 g. Bottle weight: 150.8 g. Ring weight: 71.7 Stopper weight: 31.1