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How to Boil Water While Camping: 9 Quick & Easy Ways

Last Updated: September 1, 2022
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Boiling water while camping or at a family campsite is something that you’re sure to do if you ever head out there. It’s necessary for rehydrating food, making hot coffee in the morning, and sometimes you’ll need it to have clean drinking water.

It’s a relatively simple task that can be accomplished with a variety of methods. Whatever works best for you will be your best choice when heating up water. 

Before you start trying to hold a pot of water over your car’s engine block or just a BIC lighter, check out some of these tried and true methods for boiling water. Outdoor enthusiasts have tried it all, believe me.

Here are the best options available for getting water to a rolling boil quickly.

Key Takeaways
  • Liquid fuel stoves are better than other screw-on stoves because you have better control over the flame and they work much better at high altitudes.
  • Internal flame kettles are great when you have an abundance of wood and no way to hold a kettle over a fire.
  • Solar water heating bags are perfect for camping showers and eco-friendly. 
  • Flameless ration heaters use chemical reactions inside of a pouch, kind of like hand warmers, to provide the heat you need to get the water hot.

Kettle Over a Campfire

A kettle over a campfire

Right here is the classic cowboy Western scene. There’s an old-school traditional kettle hanging from a rickety tripod over a blazing fire as people around it sit and share memories. This is one of the most historically used methods to heat water while camping. It worked for people before we had electricity and butane or propane technology put into a small portable camping stove. 

I love the smell and slightly smoky taste that you can get from water that’s been boiled over an open campfire. It makes it feel real, like a part of nature itself. Some people hate this taste and prefer other methods that will boil water quickly.

While the method is classic, there are drawbacks and reasons why some people stay away from it. First off, a kettle is a pretty big thing to lug around with you while camping, especially if you are backpacking. It can also be tricky to hang over the fire if you don’t know what you’re doing or have a tripod made for the job. I'd suggest keeping some burn cream on hand with this method. If you love the classics and want to feel like you’re kicking back with John Wayne and Clint Eastwood at the end of a long day, this is the method for you. 

Electric Kettle

A portable inverter generator is fired up to provide power to a campsite

The ability to bring electricity into campgrounds has really changed the game of how to boil water. Electric kettles are simple to use and will get water boiling quickly if you have the electric hookups to do it. 

The obvious drawback of this method is the need for wires and electrical plugs. It’s not meant to be an efficient way to heat water far in the backcountry but works great if you are car camping at a campground that has electric hookups. 

If you don’t have electric hookups, there are plenty of ways to draw power from your car and utilize that battery. Just be careful not to run it dry and be stranded in the middle of nowhere just because you wanted a cup of Yerba Mate. 

Propane Stove

A pot on a propane gas stove for cooking during camping

Propane stoves are the trademark of cooking while camping. If you’ve ever seen a Coleman stove, you know exactly what I’m talking about. They work great for campground use where you’re frying up eggs and bacon for everyone and boiling water for the morning coffee.

Coleman stoves have a stainless steel guard that protects the flame from wind and makes for a great lid when you aren't using it on your camping trip. In my opinion, this is a great addition to any camping trip for heating water for coffee, washing dishes, or just wanting to have a small pot on while cooking over the open fire.

These propane stoves should be reserved for car camping. They can be quite large and propane canisters are quite heavy to lug around in a backpack. It’s not impossible to do it, but it’s just not the best lightweight option for long trips. They’re great if you want to go camping with a baby, use a percolator, or just need to minimize your camping checklist so you can boil water and pull steaks out of the camping cooler, throw them straight on here, and be done. 

Canister Stove

Camper pours water into a metal mug on top of a canister stove

Canister stoves are similar to propane stoves, but they use a mixture of propane and isobutane. This allows for a smaller canister that can use a small camping stove that screws directly onto the canister. These are great options for boiling water quickly and they can be found for a decent price. These camp stoves reach a high heat and are definitely one of the best ways to boil water.

The biggest drawback to canister stoves is the need to carry fuel and a separate pot to boil water in. There’s no integrated pot, so you have to buy your own. Fortunately, these often have a very compact design with an integrated fuel knob so you can purify water from a natural source and not take up much space in your backpack to make hot drinks.

Jetboil System

Filling a Jetboil system to make coffee on a camping trip

Jetboil has taken over the entire outdoor industry as the way to boil water. These stoves reach the boiling point quicker than any other stoves on the market and have great designs to increase ergonomics. 

Jetboils can be great. If you’re looking to boil water, and only boil water, then you can spend the money on this system. If you want to ever do anything else with a stove, then you need to check out other models. These use an intense flame that can’t often be controlled or reduced to cook with. 

The Jetboil is also a quite expensive option. Although, it does come with both the stove portion and integrated pot with an insulated exterior so you can safely grab the pot once it boils. You’ll still need to buy the fuel for it any time you go out on the trail. 

Liquid Fuel Stove

A liquid fuel stove on an old stump in the forest

Liquid fuel stoves, such as the MSR Dragonfly or Whisperlite, use white gas as fuel rather than butane, propane, etc.  These are similar, but the stove connects to the fuel with a hose and you need to pump the canister to get pressure into the bottle.

This method can be more work than other screw-on stoves, but they do have their benefits. First, you have much better control over the flame and can use this to cook nice meals while camping as well. Second, liquid fuel stoves work much better and are much more reliable at high altitudes than any of their relatives. 

Internal Flame Kettle

A camper started a fire in a Kelly Kettle with some dry branches and small leaves
The Kelly Kettle in action! Source: James Boardwell

Internal flame kettles, like the Ghillie Camping Kettle, use a small area where you light a fire inside and then boil water over it. This is kind of like the condensed version of boiling water over a campfire. 

These internal flame kettles are great when you have an abundance of wood and no way to hold a kettle over a fire. You just need to light a small fire and it utilizes the heat efficiently to channel all the heat directly into the kettle. 

These can be difficult when you don’t have a large amount of biofuel available to light the fire with. You can always carry some with you, but that weight adds up quickly. They're great however because with this water boiling method you don't need a single fuel canister. On your next camping trip, try out this version of a camp stove and see how you think it compares.

Solar Water Heating Bag

On a campsite, two solar water heaters are hanging to provide hot water for showers
Solar water heating bags are perfect for camping showers. Source: Eli Duke

Solar water heating bags are an eco-friendly, fuel-free method of getting heated water for showers or washing dishes. You can't use a solar heating bag to purify water, but you don't need any power outlet, camping stoves, or portable generator. A solar shower is just a great way for heating water and making cold water into warm water. It will get it to the perfect desired temperature for taking solar showers.

If you need to cook or need something that boils water, go for a portable stove to make sure the water boils. Solar energy is great for showering on large family camping trips, but it isn't going to boil water camping.

Flameless Ration Heater

Operating instructions to activate a Flameless Ration Heater (FRH)
Flameless Ration Heater (FRH) details. Source: mr.smashy

Flameless ration heaters use chemical reactions inside of a pouch, kind of like hand warmers, to provide the heat you need to get the water hot. Some of the cooking-specific models can reach 200 degrees Fahrenheit, which almost gets you to a boil. 

If you’re looking to just warm water that’s already been filtered or treated, this is an okay method. Moreso, I would keep these on hand in an emergency kit rather than choose them as my primary source to heat water.  These are similar to solar water heating bags in the way that you can use them to get the water warm, but don't use them to purify anything.

How to Boil Water When Camping FAQs

Here are our answers to your most commonly asked questions about how to boil water when camping:

How Long Does It Take To Boil Water While Camping?

With the right stove, you can have water boiling in under five minutes. Jetboils tend to boil a liter of water around the 4 minute mark while other backpacking stoves take a bit longer. Boiling water over a fire will be a much longer process, but using an electric kettle is another quick option.

How Can I Heat My Shower Water While Camping?

A great camping tool to heat shower water is a solar shower. These bags use a thick black plastic to attract the sun and concentrate it into the water that’s in the bag. The process for heating the water in this manner can take a while unless you’re in the desert sun, but it’s efficient and doable anywhere you have sunshine.

How Do You Boil Water Without Fire?

Boiling water without fire will most likely require having an electricity source. With electric kettles or hot plates you can boil water quickly. There needs to be a source of heat somewhere and solar powered heaters don’t typically get hot enough for a full boil.

Ian Standard is an outdoor educator and wilderness guide based in Anchorage, Alaska. Most recently, he worked part-time at Alaska Crossings, a wilderness program for at-risk youth, and is currently studying for a Master of Science in Outdoor & Environmental Education at Alaska Pacific University.
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