Backpacking in the winter is a lot of fun, but presents a lot of challenges. Its cold. Trails are tough to follow. Fire wood is buried in snow. One of the things I actually find easier about backpacking in the winter is finding water. In the summer, I often have to walk some distance from camp to find water in a spring or stream. In the winter, however, there is water everywhere. This article is about how to melt snow for water, which is actually pretty easy.
How to Melt Snow for Water
First of all, you want to find pure snow that hasn’t been trampled over. Snow that has been walked on may be mixed with soil and contain contaminants. You should inspect the snow carefully for signs of urine or other contaminants that may have been let behind by other campers or their pets.
Once you’ve found good snow for melting, add a small amount of water to your pot. Never put an empty pot on your lit stove, as it will burn and warp. Now light the stove and set it to simmer. It helps to use a windscreen which protects the flame and preserves energy. Now add a small amount of snow to the pot, but don’t pack it down. As the snow melts, keep adding more until the pot is full.
I believe it is best to allow the water to come to a boil, which will kill any pathogens which may be present. Since you’ve only had the stove set to simmer, increase the flame to maximum until the water boils, and then turn it off.
Thawing Frozen Drinking Bottles
On a related note, if you leave your water bottles out on a sub-freezing night, you will wake up to find frozen water bottles. You can avoid this by storing a tightly sealed bottle in your sleeping bag. If you didn’t have the foresight to protect your water, you’ll need to thaw it, which is easy, but you will need some liquid water. If you don’t have any water, place a small amount of snow into your pot and hold it a few inches of the stove or a fire until it melts. Keep the stove set to simmer to prevent damage to your pot. Once you have some liquid water, place your bottle into the water. Be careful not to allow the bottle to touch the dry edges of the pot. For best results, add a little more snow so that the bottle is as submersed as the size of your pot allows.
This double boiling method is also a good way to warm your food in winter. If you’re cooking food in a freezer bag or trying to re-hydrate a freeze-dried meal, simply put the bag into a pot of water and place it on the simmering stove for a few minutes.