Category Archives: Camp Cooking

Dinner In The Woods

Forget candle-lit dinners in snooty restaurants, give me a slightly burnt steak in the woods.

A few days back, my boyfriend, dog, and I ventured into Pike’s National Forest for dinner. It was a decent drive on the dirt paths winding up the mountain, and one we’d taken before. We finally stopped near the top of one very high hilltop, deep in the woods, where few people go.

We set up camp, including a tent I purchased second-hand from Rocky Mountain Recyclers. Mostly, we wanted to test it out. It set up quickly (and later, came down quickly) and appeared as though it would serve us well. Boyfriend sprayed it down with a water-resistant coating to protect it, while it was up.

Although we brought the tent and set it up, we had no intention of actually staying the night. We only wanted to test out a few things, and see what we might need later. For one thing, we didn’t have a bear canister, or any means really of avoiding attracting animals. As a result, we didn’t bother to bring a number of things we’d typically need for an overnight stay (although we do have emergency packs, just in case.)

Setting up a fire was easy. The boyfriend had called the ranger station earlier that day to confirm that there was no fire ban and find out what rules were in effect. The woman on the phone said that it was preferable that we use an existing fire site (not necessarily an artificial fire pit, but somewhere people have burned before to avoid further environmental impact.) There was a large ash pile near where we set up. It looked like someone had a large bonfire there. But there was too much ash for that site to be any good for cooking, and it was full of shell casings and broken glass.

However, we quickly found another fire site nearby where it looked as though someone had buried a small fire pit. It was perfect. We cleared the layer of dead plant matter, made a rock circle, and collected dead, dry pine needles for tinder. There was some trouble getting the needles to stay lit. It was probably an oxygen issue. We’ll try making a teepee of small twigs and placing needles around it next time to encourage more air flow. This time, however, I took some dryer lint from my emergency kit (I had earlier poured a very small amount of lantern oil on the lint before packing it) and placed it under the needle bundle. It worked quiet well and we were off. We had no trouble keeping the fire going after that, as there was no shortage of dead, dry wood about. Boyfriend employed his ax, but I found little need for it.

Once the fire had been burning for a while and we had some good coals, we set up my small, metal, campfire grill. This was actually the first time that I’ve been able to use it since I bought it. It was sturdy where it stood, but next time, I think we’ll sink the legs into the dirt a bit more. The steaks cooked beautifully (the boyfriend saw to that.) I like mine juicy on the inside, and crispy on the outside, and that’s exactly what I got (my steak was even on fire a little bit.)

I tried a few experiments. Before we left home, we prepared two baked potatoes wrapped in heavy-duty tin foil. We placed these directly on the coals. It was taking forever to cook. At one point, we put the foil bundles on top of the grill, but then quickly moved them away from direct flame (a few sticks I placed earlier caught larger than I intended) when we remembered the relatively-low melting point of aluminum (about 1200F, if I recall.) It might have worked better if our tin foil bundles hadn’t leaked. I had to keep adding water. Next time, I think we’ll double-layer the foil. Still, what we eventually got was delicious even if the potatoes were a bit firm and bacon pieces a bit burnt.

The lazy bannock did not work so well. Somehow, I got it in my head that I could just use biscuit dough. I tried some wrapped around a stick, and some rolled into balls and placed on the grill. It all just melted.

My last experiment involved an aluminum water bottle from the dollar store. I wanted to see if I could boil water without melting a cheap water bottle. The outside of the container did blacken, but didn’t melt. I was able to safely boil water without any problem. Next time, I think I might be able to boil the water farther away from the fire to avoid charring the bottle. In any case, it’s nice to know that, in an emergency, I can boil water in a sturdy container that only cost me one dollar.

Molly was pleased with the whole trip, it seemed. I placed a blanket on the ground for her, and put food in water in her folding doggy dishes. She was more than happy to take our leftover potatoes and steak. A few times, she wandered a little ways into the woods, which worries us as there could be dangerous animals around, but she always returned to us quickly when called. She doesn’t much like to be alone anyway, and was probably just following a smell and didn’t realize how far she’d gotten. Eventually, she happily settled on her blanket.

As it grew later, the temperature began to drop. My boyfriend wandered over to where he’d rested his gear against a tree, and retrieved his sweater. Just as he pulled the sweater over his head, Molly stood and growled. She lowered he head and body slightly and her hair stood on end. She crept forward slowly, towards the direction where my boyfriend was standing. Immediately, my boyfriend grabbed his shotgun and aimed it into the woods. I flipped the knife I was holding. We still aren’t sure if Molly saw or heard something threatening in that direction, or if she was just growling at the boyfriend because something about the sweater bothered her (she once threw a barking fit the first time she saw the boyfriend with shaving cream on.) We assumed the worst and were on high alert for a bear or mountain lion or possibly a hostile human, possibly attracted by the food or by us. However, we never saw anything.

As it began to grow dark and cloudy, with the temperature dropping and with starting, followed by some light rain, we packed up quickly, fearing a storm. I was amazed at how quickly we got everything back together, even though we didn’t really have much. The fire was thoroughly out (Boyfriend poured something like two gallons of water on it, and it was never a big fire anyway,) and our tent was down, our food and chairs were stowed in the Pathfinder in no time. Then we drove down the mountain, pleased with how well the roof lights my boyfriend had installed were working.

It was a smoky, dirty, a bit of work, a bit out of the way, imperfect, exciting, and fun outing. It was a great way to enjoy dinner.

Fire Safety Lesson

Yesterday, I drove up to Rainbow Falls, where my BF and I sometimes go offroading, to visit some friends who were camping there. These friends of mine are soldiers that are also getting out of the Army on medical discharge, who were there with their significant others. One of the soldiers, who was having a birthday this week, had asked me to camp out with them. As my boyfriend was working and could not come and I would have felt bad camping without him, I answered that while I would not stay overnight, I would come and visit.

As I was driving my Aveo, one of the soldiers picked me up in the staging area. It was a fun ride in his jeep to where they were camping out. Once there, I was introduced to the SOs and regaled in the tales of what had missed. Apparently, the soldier who picked me up had to be rushed to the hospital last night after severely cutting his hand on a piece of metal he’d found on the ground, which caused squirting arterial bleeding. As this soldier was, apparently, the camp chef, breakfast the next day wasn’t that great. At some point, someone tried to fry beacon on a machete.

That’s something else that I noticed right away, the group was very well armed. The one who cut himself had with him a machete, an axe, countless knives, and probably a few firearms. Other soldiers in the group were also packing. Before lunch, the man with the cut hand tried to cut wood with his axe one-handed, much to the amusement of his companions who cracked jokes but didn’t help. Eventually, he got the wood split and made some nice steaks.

I asked them if they were allowed to have a fire, as there had been a fire restriction and there’d been a major fire north of the Springs lately, but they said it had been lifted. Of of the SOs was a firefighter and said she’d checked with the appropriate service.

Later, the one-handed soldier and I, and later a few others, searched the forest for more dead vegetation to burn. They’d decided to have a bonfire. I gathered a few large sticks while they cut up a dead, fallen tree. I helped built a tepee style burn pile, at the location they selected. I was very proud of our work and excited to light it. Although I didn’t think it needed it, one soldier sprinkled some gasoline around the base of the pile. He told me to light it by throwing in some paper, miming a trowing motion towards the fire as he spoke. As he flicked his wrist, the whole pile suddenly caught ablaze to the surprise of both of us. Apparently, the fumes from the gas caught from the nearby cooking fire.

The fire was much larger and hotter than we expected. We had to move some the the vehicles and a tent. As for ourselves, we all stood far back, about 20ft as it was too hot to get any closer. “Great, how are we going to cook now?” The laughing birthday soldier asked. The flames were so high that when the breeze blew, the flames can disturbingly close the to branches of a pine tree we thought we were far enough away from. We watched intently as the fire died down a bit to a more manageable size after about half an hour, relieved that no significant incident had occurred. Colorado is highly flammable.

Pop Can Stove

Last night, my boyfriend and I tried a fun project. Out of four empty soda cans, we made two methanol-burning stoves, and it only took us a few minutes each. I became interested in the project while researching backpacking, an activity I’d very much like to get in to. Some backpackers use the pop can stove, and similar small stoves like tea-light stoves to cut weight from their packs.

I version we made required two empty soda cans, a wad of fiberglass insulation, methanol, silicon sealant, and a coin. Tools used were a safety pin, a hammer, scissors, and needle-nosed pliers. Instructions are easy to find, I got mine from a YouTube video (see helpful sources at the bottom.)

Lessons Learned:

  • Wind is a problem and one that the mountains of Colorado doesn’t help.
  • Use a towel or washcloth that you no longer care about as a mat to avoid getting safety pins, bits of soda can, fiberglass, safety pins, and silicon on your floor or desk.
  • Use gloves to handle silicon.
  • Feel free to modify the design to your liking.
  • As fuel, I used methanol. Specifically, I used Heet, a fuel-line antifreeze which I found in the auto section of Walmart.
  • I got the silicon sealant near home-improvement an paint .
  • The fiberglass insulation is the only item I could not find at Walmart. I had to go to Lowes. At first I was discouraged to only find large bales of insulation in the home construction area (what was I expecting?) and nearly gave up. A tip for anyone looking for small amounts of insulation, go to the plumbing area.

Advantages:

  • Easy to make. Going from memory after watching an instructional video on Youtube once, I was able to make the stove in a matter of minutes. After simply seeing my finished product, my boyfriend was able to quickly figure it out on his own.
  • Cheap. You probably already have most of the supplies and tools needed to make this laying around your house and garage, and if not, they’re inexpensive to purchase.
  • Recycling is a stonking great idea.
  • Small. This thing is seriously tiny. It’s only the circumference of a soda can and a few inches tall. It won’t take up much room in your pack or your pocket, and could easily be stored inside another container such as your thermos or a cooking pot.
  • Lightweight. Can be less than 30 g.
  • Works great in cold and high altitude environments where propane and butane canisters might fail.
  • Denatured alcohol, a fuel source, is relatively environmentally friendly to burn, however it’s poisonous if swallowed.
  • Variant design. There are a few different versions of the pop-can stove, the design can be adapted to personal preference. For instance, most versions require a potstand (easy to make, btw) to hold the pot above the stove, but the side-burner variation serves as its own potstand. You can even design your stove to have larger flames by making it shorter, although doing so reduces fuel capacity.
  • Reliable. According to one survey, if properly designed, this stove has a zero percent failure rate.
  • Nearly silent operation.
  • Just plain fun to make, a great thing to do with friends. Also, feeling like MacGyver is awesome.
Disadvantages:
  • Easily blown out by wind. A windscreen is recommended.
  • Most variations will require a pot stand, although some versions double as their own.
  • Popular fuel sources are toxic and may be clear like water. Fuel containers should be clearly marked.
  • Due to small size, it’s not recommended for cooking for more than two people, unless, of course, you wish to use multiple burners.
  • Since alcohol has less energy per weight as other stove fuels, it’s not great for long trips. This stove will burn about twice the weight of fuel as other stoves. Buns one ounce of fuel about every five minutes.
  • Not great for cooking in a hurry as it takes about five minutes to boil two cups of water.
  • Prohibited by Boy Scouts of America policy of disallowing the use of homemade or modified stoves.
  • May spill fuel. Never use it near anything flammable.
  • Some components used to build it, such as silicon sealant and fiberglass insulation can irritate bare skin if touched.

Helpful Sources:

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