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Gear Reviews

What Do Beginners Need to Know About Camp Cooking in Winter?

Get ready to get fed on winter adventures with these cold-weather cooking tips.

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Winter backpacking comes with its host of challenges, from navigating through deep snow to managing weather to figuring out how to sleep warm. One especially difficult one for hikers new to the fourth season: cooking in the cold. Melting snow for water, keeping the pot boiling when the weather outside is too frigid to stay still, and figuring out just what to cook to fuel winter adventures are all challenges cold-weather hikers need to learn their ways around. Get started with this advice from Kristin Hostetter, Outside’s current Head of Sustainability and former Backpacker gear editor.

First: Keep it simple. Winter is not the time for elaborate, fancy-pants menus. Winter is the time for shoveling hot, nourishing, easy-to-prepare food into your face, then crawling into your sleeping bag with a headlamp and a good book.

As far as setting up your kitchen, just make sure you have a stove that can handle cold temps. Go with a liquid fuel stove or a cold-weather-proven canister stove like the Soto Windmaster. A tip: If you’re camping on deep snow, it can be tough to get a stable cooking platform, because the heat melts the surface and the stove sinks into the snow. Make yourself a lightweight stable stove platform using scavenged household items.

As for cooking in a tent, for the most part (see exception, below), we don’t recommend it, for reasons that should be fairly obvious. It is perfectly common to cook inside a tent vestibule, however, where you don’t have to worry about toxic fumes or flammable fabric under your stove.

Should you find yourself high up on a mountain in the midst of an epic storm, then you have no choice but to cook in your tent. Hopefully you’ve packed one that can be hung from the tent ceiling, like the Jetboil Stash and this Hanging Kit. By keeping the stove off the fabric floor, you’re minimizing fireball potential. Just make sure you vent the space well, or you could fall asleep and never wake up.

One more tip: If you have a canister stove and want to boost its performance in colder weather, keep the canister warm—in a pocket or your bag. You can even duct tape a chemical hand warmer packet to the bottom. A warm canister is a happy canister. You can also set the canister in a plate or shallow bowl of water (don’t do this if you taped a hand warmer to the bottom).

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