Mountain Education Resources
Concern 4: Cooking Within
For all of our summer, winter, and international backpacking, we have always cooked inside our double-walled tents (even when I was using a plastic tube tent from Ca. to Canada), unless the weather and sunrise/sunset were ideal, of course.
To us, the benefits are clear and multi-fold. When the body is tired, to get out of the wind and cold and have a hot meal, is relaxing, medicinal, and fun. When the bugs are thick as rain and you have to run to get away from them while setting up your tent, to dive in and close the door brings peace at the end of the day’s battles. When the weather turns damp, drizzly, or torrential, it is so comforting to know that you can find total shelter and warmth within the simple confines of a well designed and constructed tent. For us, this peace and comfort brings sound sleep, knowing that the world outside can rage and we’ll be just fine, the candle glowing, stove cooking, body restoring, and our dreams looking ahead to the glories of tomorrow.
Now, first, let me paint the realistic, daily picture of the conditions when and why we choose to cook. At the end of the day, we’re bushed and foot-sore, more than ready to drop the packs and create a nice, warm, cozy shelter in which to get out of the cool of early evening. Thus, we delegate duties to get water, pitch the tent, toss everything needed within, cover packs as necessary, and crawl in out of the wind, rain, and bugs.
Once inside, we place all the little items we want access to in their tent pockets, hang socks, put on down booties, roll out sleeping pads and bags to fluff up, and locate the stove, food, and water bag for the next two meals, dinner and breakfast. During all this, there is constant jabber about the day, the climbs, descents, creek crossings, dirt roads, and the day ahead. If it is late at night, the candle lantern is hung from the ceiling loop while the stove is started.
At this point, all the doors are dropped a few inches and the windows are opened the same to provide cross-ventilation. We position the stove in front of and off to one side of one of the main doors for reasons of ventilation, ease of access, and proximity for quick ejection should the thing decide to malfunction (this has happened to me, but was due to extreeme and prolonged use for a large group’s meal). Make sure that the stove’s base is firm and level–you don’t want any spills or for the stove and its hot contents to fall over! If you are cooking on snow, bring something hard and flat, like the guidebook or a frizbee, to put the stove on so it doesn’t tip over as the base warms up and starts melting the snow under the tent floor.
Do not place your stove too close to either the vertical sides of the tent or the descending, sloped ceiling. Stoves can sometimes flare tall, yellow flames up about two feet when warming up (based on brand, technique, outside temperatures, etc.), so anticipate these and put the stove toward the center of your tent. We have, also, seen little holes melted into the sidewalls of tents simply due to the stove’s side’s heat radiation. Occasionally, put your hand up against the tent wall beside the stove to feel if the fabric is warm at all. Lastly, have a mop-up rag nearby for those typical drips and spills that occur when pouring out of the pot. These rags perform double-duty as condensation drip mops if you have too many people in your tent on cold nights, have a single-wall tent, or worse yet, a plastic tube tent.
Somewhere along the line, while the stove is cooking away, we crawl into our bags and begin pre-viewing the route ahead, looking at the topos and reading the guide books. Sometimes we cook hot water for hot chocolate, first, then get the main meal going while we sip the mini-marshmellows with big grins on our faces because it feels so good going down! If it is dark, headlamps really help see what is going on when you lift the pot lid to stir the delicious contents.
When all is done and stomachs are quite full (we feel it is of vital importance to eat more than enough every night. It gives us the strength needed for the next day), we boil a little water to rinse out the pot, then put it away, out of the way of nocturnal trips out the door in the dark.
In the morning, the body usually insists in going outside right away. This is always something that couses a lot of complaining because who wants to get out of their nice, warm bag and trot barefoot across the damp and cold ground? Once piling back in the tent and sleepingbag (of course the bag has grown quite cold by then), the stove is started back up and the first rounds of hot chocolate or coffee is brewed before boiling water for oatmeal. With our stomachs warm and full, we begin corralling our gear from the corners of the tent, stuffing bags, rolling pads, getting dressed and heading out the door to start our day.
If it is raining or snowing, we stay inside. It is not a good idea to pack up wet, unless you know for certain that you can dry your gear at lunch in the sun. If the storm becomes a multi-day event, we carry cards and reading material to pass the time. Again, issues like hypothermia, exposure, and hurried, bad judgement (that can cause injury) are born out of forced or insisted travelling in adverse conditions. Don’t take any unnecessary risks. The point of visiting the High Country is to take the time to enjoy what it has to offer, the scenery, the water, the smells, the air. Most any schedule needs to adjust when storms hit; you’ll catch up.
This is why we choose to cook inside out tents. With ample ventilation, there is no fear of carbon monoxide poisoning. With adequate caution and an awareness of what can happen, there is little to be worried about. Nevertheless, enjoy your cooking within as you do your hiking without, with planning, preparation, a teaspoon of training, a dash of practice, and a whole lot of pleasure!