Wild camping basics (Part 2 Camp craft and cooking)

Camp craft is all about using your skills to live in the outdoors comfortably. Surviving the outdoors is the bare minimum you should aim for when going outside, you should thrive and grow and be able to sustain this for a long period of time not just make it out by the skin of your teeth. The following topics will cover the basics of finding water, cooking on the hill and what gas to use in cold weather!

Water is life

Water is an essential part of your camp but carrying all your water for two or more days is impractical. On a cool day (10-15c) I will typically require 4L of water for cooking and drinking per day, out for 2 days that’s a requirement of 8L which is 8Kg. You cant comfortably sustain multiple long days with this extra weight on your back.

Streams and rivers are your best option when searching for water sources. Its not advisable to drink water from ponds and pools as non flowing water is a breading ground for bacteria. I will normally undertake the following checks before using a water source.

  • Water Source – Where is the water coming from? if its from a mountain gully or hill then fine, if its coming from a stagnant pool then give it a wide berth.
  • Appearance  – Does the water look clear or is it full of particles? This will give you an idea of the purity of water but obviously bacteria are invisible to the human eye so it may be contaminated if its still clear.
  • Smell and taste – Water that is stagnant will have a certain smell to it and it will taste like peat or be bitter. I once filled a bottle full of clear water that tasted funny, I later found a dead sheep in the water source, didn’t make me ill but was a lesson learned.
Other methods of collecting water

If I have run out of options and I only have one water source that is questionable I will filter and sterilise the water. My Steripen has a filter that works with a Nalgene bottle. I use the filter first to remove any sediment and organic mater then use the Steripen UV filter. I have in the past filtered with a sock and used Chlorine dioxide tablets, however, the first option is the best. While I have only used the steripen and the questionable sock method their are many other options on the market so do some research.

NOTE: I am no Ray Mears or Bear Grylls so I wont be telling you that drinking a Herdwicks eyeball juices will keep you alive. My whole philosophy is that with the right planning and preparation you will never need to get into a survival situation.

Where to use the toilet!

Contamination of water sources is a growing problem in the natural environment. Individuals camping in the wild will have an impact on the environment and you must do everything in your power to reduce this to a minimum. Following the steps below will certainly help reduce your impact.

  • Always go 60m+ from any water source. but further if possible.
  • Dig a hole about 6-7 inches deep and cover over after use.
  • Don’t create a toilet near paths, use the 60m rule for this too.
  • Burn toilet paper or bring it out with you. (Don’t burn if the surroundings are dry as it may cause a fire)

I’ve noticed a large rise in bio toilet paper. This still needs to be buried, burnt or carried out. Don’t just leave it out on the side of the hill. I personally bring all toilet paper out as it agrees with my leave no trace ethos!


With so many cooking systems available what do you choose? I have given a quick summary of different systems and how they work.

Small gas stoves.

alp[kit MSRvango

These stoves are very light and can pack into small spaces. You can pick them up fairly cheap( £5 – £30) so they make a good option if on a budget. On the downside they don’t boil very efficiently and will blow out if not used with a suitable wind shield.

Multi fuel stoves.


The most popular stoves are MSR, Primus and Trangia. They all offer a multi fuel option for Petrol Diesel and Parrafin which can be ideal if your in a country where gas cans are harder to source. I personally used the Trangia and found it simple light and safe to use. They all work very well but do you research as to which will be best for your budget!

Burner Systems


Jetboil and MSR are the leaders in this field. I personally use the MSR Windboiler. They all work pretty much the same but MSR seems to be the quickest to boil water and also will work in much higher winds. The gas cartridge fits inside the burner but only the small ones, if your out for multi day trips then take more fuel.

What gas must I use?

If your taking gas out with you in the hills you will learn that certain gasses just wont work in certain conditions. Below is a quick run down as to why this happens and what is best for your needs.


Propane has the best vapor pressure of all the camping gasses. In short this means that it will vaporize and burn at very low tempratures (-44c) the downside to this gas is that it requires a much tougher(heavier) canister to withstand the pressures. Most gas canisters will use a mix in order to keep the canister lighter and give you a good mix for cold weather performance


While this has the same molecular formula as Butane its molecular shape makes gives it a higher vapor pressure which makes it burn at lower temperatures. Iso-butane is far more expensive to produce than its brother Butane so you will find its more expensive.


Butane is fine for a nice day in a campsite but having the lowest vapor pressure means that it will only perform in warmer temperatures. On my first venture up Snowdon I tried to use a Butane stove and it just froze up around the nozzle. Butane is very cheap to buy and as i said before only good for a sea level campsite in reasonable weather(Spring – Autumn)


For me the best gas to buy for winter use is a Propane/Iso-butane mix. These cartridges are manufactured by the likes of Primus, MSR, Jetboil and many others. You can purchase these for about £4-7 (Dependent on cartridge size). they burn very well in the winter and don’t weigh much. Definitely my gas of choice!

Further reading

MSR blog on best fuels for winter and performance.

Backpacking Lights article on light weight stoves and performance


When using any cooker system its worth remembering one thing. All cookers produce carbon monoxide and carbon monoxide kills. I know this sounds a little alarming but the danger of carbon monoxide in a tent cannot be stressed enough. Ensure that you always cook in a well ventilated area and never use your stove to heat the tent. If you ever feel unwell after using a stove seek medical help.

Read here for more details about Carbon Monoxide and its effects and dangers!


My next article will be all about food and cooking on the hill. The cooking side will be specifically aimed at high carb and nutritious meals that can be cooked using a boiler or stove system!

Hope you found this article useful and inspired you to undertaking your first wild camp. Feel free to email me with any comments or questions info@mountainmatt.co.uk




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