02 December 2008
Note: Many of these articles are very old, and although the technical information is still relevant the equipment mentioned may not be (for example a Stormy cooker was state of that art in 1995, but not in 2021).
Now I know Delia Smith got a slagging for telling us how to boil an egg, but it’s come to my attention that lots of people don’t know how to melt snow. Sure even an idiot can get the snow to turn to water, but doing so without putting out the stove with drips, making the most of your fuel and avoiding the water tasting of burnt tyres is an art.
First of all, DON’T JUST FILL THE PAN FULL OF SNOW. This is what most people do, they just fill it to the brim and stick it on the stove which is cranked up to ‘11’. Firstly, because the pan will instantly cool off you’ll get condensation forming on the bottom, which will put out the flame when it drips - wasting gas and generally being annoying. Secondly, if your pan’s a bit dirty, as it no doubt will be if it has been used for several days, then before that snow can melt, the heat will burn any food residue left on the pan, such as Cupasoup dregs and bits of porridge, generally making the water taste foul.
No, the best way to melt snow is to first get yourself a snow bag - which is simply a big stuff sack into which you can stuff as much snow as you can, meaning you won’t have to go outside to get new snow all the time, which is not only a pain but risks knocking over the stove if it’s in the porch of a cramped tent. Remember that the denser the snow the more water you’ll get out of it.
If at all possible you should add snow to water you already have, meaning if possible keep some water back from the day’s water bottle, bladder etc. Heat this up and slowly add the snow a bit at a time so the liquid always remains primarily that way (i.e. not too dense and slushy). Doing so you’ll make the most of the heat transfer between the water already melted and snow that must be melted. If you just dump in a big load of snow then you may lower the temperature so you’ll get condensation forming on the bottom of the pan. Personally I usually get about a cup’s worth, bring it to the boil, add some more and bring it to the boil, etc until I’ve got a pan of water. One other bit of advice - always agree on which area outside the tent everyone is going to wee and where the snow is coming from, otherwise your tea may end up tasting rather salty.