Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dealing with Wet Wood

A friend of mine and I are planning a long backpacking trip this summer, 70 or 80 miles in 6 days.  In thinking about the logistics of taking an extended backpacking trip I began to wonder how the backcounty boiler that I reviewed in my last post might work as a stove system for the trip.  It's appealing to think that I might not have to carry any fuel for my stove.  Fuel planning is a bit of a stress because there's always some uncertainty about how fast you will go through your fuel.  I've certainly had my fair share of accidentally spilled pots of hot water which have required me to boil again -- using twice as much fuel as I had planned for that meal.  Liquid fuels can also leak or spill (although I haven't had this happen yet) leaving you with less than you might need to finish your hike.

However if you take a wood stove and plan on collecting your fuel then you must face the possibility (especially in this part of the country) of rain, perhaps for extended periods, such that the only wood you will find will be wet.  I thought about carrying esbit solid fuel as a backup.  Initial tests using esbit in the boiler were a bit unsatisfactory.  Then it occurred to me that perhaps the best use of an esbit cube would be to dry out the wet wood.  So I performed the following test to see if that strategy might work.

After having done the test I'm now wondering if I could get away with less than I cube.  Also I'm wondering if there are other alternatives to use in the boiler when the wood is wet.  Any thoughts?


Devin Montgomery said...

Hi Heber,

These videos are great! I both laughed and cringed as you doused the already wet wood again before use. :)

To answer your question about using less than a full esbit - I tend to find that damp wood starts well with 1/2 or even 1/4 of a tab. I've never gone to your lengths to make sure it's wet, but do tend to get by with a bit less.

The other technique I use when I do find a rare bit of dry kindling (either before an approaching storm or under a rock ledge) is to pack it in the chimney of the Boiler for when I'm ready to start cooking. If I recall correctly, I've actually been able to fit enough wood in with the Boiler to fuel an entire boil. Even with less, a few dry sticks can really help to start the others.

Thanks again!

(full disclosure for others reading this - I make the Backcountry Boiler, so I'm unabashedly biased. :) )

Lybi said...

Sounds like a really good fuel solution. I was also surprised that you cheerily poured water right over the wood! I think that usually you can find some wood that is sheltered a little and not quite as wet, so this just shows that even in the worst of conditions, you will definitely be covered.

And Devin, this is a very cool invention! I love that it holds 2 cups, and the design really maximizes the heat dispersal. I kind of wish it had a little spout so it wouldn't spill when I pour it out.(Hehe, amd I allowed to say that?)

I must admit, though, that I am not a hiker/backpacker--but I do use dehydrated foods in my emergency preparedness kits, so that is another market that might be interested in your product.

Philip Werner said...

Have you considered witling down the wet outer part of the wood with a knife?

Other alternatives might be to use birch bark or smashed up pine cones that are high in resin but will probably catch good, even when wet (with the esbit helper).

Well done video.

Heber said...

I just got back from a backpacking trip where it rained a LOT. I did try using birch bark for the first time and I was really impressed.

Whittling away the wet bark might be a good idea also. I have noticed that much of the moisture seems to be in the bark. Thanks for the suggestion!

Jake Willits said...

Thanks for the video. I got to use my boiler for the first time with wet wood last weekend. I was using vaseline coated cotton balls as a fire starter. I was shocked when it failed, even with wet wood. Eventually, I reverted to my boy scout training and used a knife to whittle shavings and even to split small sticks. It was a bit slower, but just as with an open fire, worked well. The real problem for me is that once again, I need a legit knife, which weighs more. So again, developing my bushcraft is part of the fun of the BCB!

Heber said...

I tried a vaseline cotton ball with wet wood during my recent hike and it didn't work for me either. Esbit eventually did.

I wonder how big a knife is needed to make fuzz stick like you mention. I've never tried to make one with my Leatherman squirt (2oz) or my swiss army classic (1oz). I'll have to try that and see how it works for me.