Learning how to boil water while camping is an essential skill that all outdoor enthusiasts ought to know. But, while heating up water might seem like a relatively simple task, it turns out there are many different ways to boil water in the great outdoors.
Since each water boiling method has its own advantages and disadvantages, it’s important that you identify the right strategy for your needs.
Up next, we’ll introduce you to 13 great ways to heat water while outside. That way, you never have to sip on lukewarm water ever again.
13 Time-Honored Methods For Heating Water
1. Liquid Fuel Stove
First up on our list is the classic liquid fuel stove. Liquid stoves, like the uber-popular MSR Dragonfly, are a relatively eco-friendly, yet highly efficient option for boiling water on the trail.
Although there are different types of liquid fuels out there, white gas (usually naphtha) is what you’re most likely to find in an outdoor gear store. White gas is particularly great for camping because it burns cleanly and efficiently in nearly all conditions.
While liquid fuel stoves tend to be heavier than some of the alternatives (more on them in a bit), they are your best bet for winter use. That’s because liquid fuel stoves have pumps that allow you to regulate the pressure of your fuel. Therefore, they’re a solid choice for frequent adventures in harsh environments.
2. Propane Stove
Another popular option for heating up water, propane stoves are a great tool for campground use. Propane stoves, such as the Camp Chef Everest, use either 1lb or 20lb propane tanks as their fuel source, which you can find at most hardware stores.
However, since these stoves are quite big and bulky, they’re best for use in a car camping environment.
Furthermore, propane stoves tend to be best from a convenience point of view. That’s because they tend to come with a whole slew of extra features, like auto-ignition buttons and easy-to-use heat control dials.
The other major benefit of propane stoves is that they almost always come with 2 or more burners. While you can get a single burner propane-powered model, most of these stoves have 2 or 3 burners, which means you can boil water and cook a meal, all at the same time.
3. Canister Fuel Stove
A relative newcomer to the world of camping water boiling solutions, canister fuel stoves are tiny little stoves that run off of canned isopropyl or butane fuel.
These stoves, which include fan-favorite models like the MSR PocketRocket, tend to be exceptionally small and lightweight. They are designed to work with fuel canisters (usually iso/butane blends), which are also crafted with weight savings in mind.
As a result, canister fuel stoves are a popular choice for backcountry environments. However, their relatively small cooking area and lack of simmer control make it difficult to use these stoves for large groups.
Furthermore, canister stoves aren’t ideal in the winter because the iso-butane blend in fuel canisters becomes inefficient at cold temperatures. Nevertheless, these stoves are an excellent tool if you’re planning a summer backpacking trip.
4. Integrated Canister Fuel Stove System
Similar to the canister fuel stoves that we just discussed, integrated canister fuel stove systems also run off of iso-butane. The difference, however, is that these integrated models, like the Jetboil Flash, come with their own built-in windscreens and water boiling pots.
Therefore, they are often substantially more efficient, especially in windy climates. Stoves, like Jetboils, can often boil a liter of water in just a few minutes, making them a solid option for fast-and-light backpacking.
However, the main drawback to these stoves is that they’re not really useful for cooking elaborate meals. Nevertheless, they’re excellent boiling water, so they’re great for use with freeze-dried food.
That being said, these stoves can be tricky to use at first. So, check out this video from Jetboil with top tips for using your integrated stove safely:
5. Biofuel Stove
A nifty option for the more eco-conscious among us, biofuel stoves, such as the BioLite Campstove 2, are a perfect water-boiling method in woodland environments.
These stoves combine the energy-efficiency of a gas-powered camp stove with the environmental-friendliness of burning biofuels. Since they run off of burning twigs and other forest debris, you don’t have to worry about carrying fuel or running out of fuel while you camp.
Of course, since these stoves require wood and other woodland debris to operate, they’re not very helpful in icy, alpine environments. Furthermore, they’re a bit less efficient than their fossil-fuel counterparts and are slightly slower at boiling water.
But, if you have time to spare and would rather avoid carrying fuel, these stoves are a great method for heating water.
However, it’s worth mentioning that these stoves can be a bit of a challenge to use the first few times. If you think that a biofuel stove might be right for you, check out this video which shows how to correctly use one of the most popular models:
6. Alcohol Stove
A fan favorite among thru-hikers and ultralight backpackers, alcohol stoves run off pretty much any type of alcohol fuel.
These fuels, which include ethanol, denatured alcohol, and methanol, are often readily available at gas stations. So, they’re a great choice if you’re thru-hiking and aren’t sure what facilities will be available at the next trail town.
Plus, alcohol stoves can be very, very efficient at boiling water, so you can usually heat up a liter of water in about 5 to 10 minutes with minimal fuel.
There are many different types of alcohol stoves out there, though the Swedish-made Trangia Storm Cooker 27-2 UL Stove Kit is among the most popular. With Trangia stoves, you can use the entire cook set or simply pack the tiny spirit burner and a small pot for a fast-and-light trip into the mountains.
Alternatively, you can actually make your own ultralight alcohol stove out of a soda can. Check out this video if you want to learn more about the process:
One word of caution with alcohol stoves: Since these stoves don’t have on/off valves, they can be a fire hazard when not used carefully. Furthermore, some land managers do not allow alcohol stoves because of their fire hazard, so check local regulations before leaving home.
7. Solid Fuel Stoves
One of the lesser-known methods for heating water while camping, solid fuel stoves are a great emergency water boiling option. These stoves, such as the Esbit Ultralight Folding Stove, pack down to impressively small sizes and can be used in nearly any weather conditions.
Unlike liquid fuel stoves, there’s no risk that the fuel tablets in an Esbit stove will leak all over your gear. Plus, these fuel tabs burn cleanly and efficiently at high elevations, so they’re a fantastic addition to your camping checklist.
Since the fuel tabs are fairly expensive, they’re not ideal for frequent use. But, if you’re looking for a way to boil water in an emergency while camping, it’s hard to top a solid fuel stove.
8. Ghillie Kettle
Perhaps the most unique option on our list, the British-made Ghillie Kettle Adventurer 1.5L is an all-in-one stove and water boiling kit for use in the mountains.
With the Ghillie Kettle, you can boil up to 1.5 liters of water in just a few minutes. The kettle is made from traditionally-spun aluminum and it can be heated using twigs or other forest debris.
To use a Ghillie Kettle, you simply need to start a small fire in the stove, place the kettle on top, and fill it with water. After a few minutes, the kettle will whistle, letting you know that your drink is ready for consumption.
Like other biofuel-powered stoves, the drawback to this water heating method is that you need some sort of wood to burn if you want to boil water. However, when it comes to convenience and durability in the backcountry, the Ghillie Kettle is hard to top.
For more information on how Ghillie Kettles work, check out this fun video:
9. Immersion Heater
If simplicity and ease of use are your top priorities, an immersion heater just might be what you need. Immersion heaters, like the Lewis N. Clark Portable Immersion Heater, are essentially metal heating devices that can be placed in a mug or pot in order to boil water.
Since these heaters require some sort of electrical energy source (usually an outlet), they’re best used at a campground with a hookup. However, if you want to heat up a single cup of water in just a few seconds, it’s hard to find something more efficient than an immersion heater.
Nevertheless, most immersion heaters are designed only for single cups of water. So, if you wanted to heat up a lot of water for dishwashing or bathing, we’d recommend checking out a bucket heater, instead. Bucket heaters are quite similar to immersion heaters (they work the same way), but they offer more power for boiling larger volumes of water.
10. Solar Heater
Another eco-friendly option for backcountry camping, a solar heater is an excellent, fuel-free way to heat water. These water heating bags, like the Sea to Summit Pocket Shower, tend to be very lightweight and portable, so they’re an easy thing to pack on remote adventures.
To use a solar heater, you simply need to fill the bag up with water and place it in the sun. After a few hours (the exact time frame depends on how much sun there is), your water should be pretty darn warm. It’s as easy as that!
That being said, it’s worth noting that you’ll struggle to get truly hot water with a solar shower, even if you’re camping in a very warm and sunny locale. As a result, solar heaters are best for heating water for showering and or doing the dishes, not for drinking.
Indeed, if you want hot water for drinking, we recommend using one of the other options on this list, instead. But, if warm water for doing the dishes is your goal, a solar heater is a sure bet. It’s an incredible luxury item you could include in your camping care package to someone, a gift to an avid camper in your life.
11. Electric Kettle
While most of us probably think of electric kettles as something we use for making tea at home, we’re happy to say that there are some great electric kettles out there for outdoor use.
In fact, when it comes to convenience and ease of use, electric kettles should be toward the top of your list. That’s because they can boil water with the push of a button in just a few minutes.
Of course, since all of these kettles require electricity, they’re best for campground adventures. Nevertheless, some new, innovative models, like the Spardar 12V Car Kettle, can be plugged into the 12V outlet in your car. Therefore, they’re a fantastic option for boiling water on car-based adventures like camping with your RV.
12. Portable Water Heater
If you’re looking for a quick, reliable way to heat water for doing the dishes or showering, a portable water heater is likely what you need.
Portable water heaters, such as the Hike Crew Portable Water Heater, can be a nifty tool while at the campground. Most can operate off of either propane or electricity, making them a practical tool for car camping, even when hook-ups aren’t available.
To use one of these portable water heaters, you simply need to turn the device on, set your desired water temperature, and turn on the faucet. Models like the Hike Crew Portable Water Heater offer options for both hand and dishwashing as well as showering, which is helpful when amenities are limited.
Of course, these portable water heaters are not designed to boil water for drinking purposes, so they’re best for washing and bathing, this product is handy for staying clean throughout your camping trip. But, if you’re looking for a way to heat water for camp chores, they’re one of the more efficient options available.
13. Over A Fire
Last but not least, we couldn’t possibly forget about boiling water the old fashioned way: over a fire.
Boiling water over a fire can be as simple or as complex of a process as you’d like to make it. The simplest way to do so is to make a fire and to place a pot or kettle directly on top of the coals. However, doing so is likely to turn your pot or kettle all black with coal dust, so it’s not recommended.
Alternatively, you could prop your pot up on a large rock within the coals. Doing so allows the pot to get all the heat from the fire without directly touching the coals. Or, if you want to get fancy, you can invest in a campfire tripod system or a grill, which can be used to prop your pots and kettles up above the fire for ease of use.
However, if you’re making a fire to boil water outside of a designated campground, it’s worth considering ways to minimize the environmental impacts of your campfires. For some guidance on how to make an environmentally-friendly campfire, check out this video from Leave No Trace about how to build a mound fire:
Frequently Asked Questions
How Can We Heat Up Water Without Fire?
There are many different ways to heat up water without a fire while camping. Perhaps the easiest way to do so is to use a dedicated camp stove.
You can get camp stoves that run off of propane, white gas, butane, biofuels, and alcohol, so there are plenty of options to choose from. The important thing, however, is that they’re all super efficient at bringing your water to a rolling boil in the great outdoors.
How Many Minutes Do You Boil Water For Drinking?
Since water boiling times vary based on the altitude of your campsite, your boiling method, and the type of heat source that you’re using, there’s no fixed length of time that you should boil water.
Instead, the CDC recommends that you first bring water to a roiling boil. Then, continue boiling for another minute (or 3 minutes if you’re above 6,500ft/1,980m in elevation) before drinking. Doing so will help ensure that the water is thoroughly heated above 212 degrees F (100 degrees C) to kill off any potential pathogens.
What Is The Best Way To Boil Water While Camping?
Every water boiling method has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s hard to say that any of them are the best option. However, the most efficient choice is to use a camping stove, particularly a canister stove, for heating water. Doing so will provide you with boiled water in just a few minutes, regardless of the conditions outside.