Let’s Talk Boiling Water:
A popular topic within the world of outdoors, not just hiking, is whether or not to boil water, and if so for how long.
Most long distance hikers, and those of us who are sub 2268 hikes, that I know do not bring our water to a full boil.
While exact temperatures means next to little out on the trail, after all, who the hell takes a water/liquid thermometer with them while hiking, it is important to at least understand the basics, such as how elevations can affect water temperatures, and thus how long it will take water to reach a higher temperature.
Realistic Water Temps For Hikers:
I tend to feel that the C71° – C82° (F160° – F180°) is the ideal temperature range needed for your food rehydration, and coffee/tea, when out on the trail.
It is, absolutely, important to understand that I share this with the understand that my water has already been filtered or purified (do your homework on the differences between those two important words!) such as with a Sawyer Mini water filter or Sawyer Squeeze water filter, or for those serious adventures the MSR Guardian water purifier. In those very rare situation where you need to boil for water filtration/purification purposes, obviously allowing the water to reach a ‘hard/full/rolling boil‘ is imperative.
I read somewhere a few years back that the last 25-30 degrees that it takes for water to go from “hot enough” to “hard/full boil” results in an additional 20% of fuel being used.
For long distance hikers that results in a significant amount of weight over the course of the hiking season, all for something that is just not necessary – except for that very rare situation where you might need to boil for filtration/purification purposes.
Fun Classifications Of Water Temperatures:
Over the years there have been a few different methods that folks have used to term, or describe, different water temperatures, and here are two of my favorite methods:
about 70-80 °C (155–175 °F) – separate bubbles, rising to top
about 80 °C (175 °F) – streams of bubbles
about 80-90 °C (175–195 °F) – larger bubbles
Rope of Pearls
about 90-95 °C (195–205 °F) – steady streams of large bubbles
rolling boil, swirling and roiling
85 to 105°F. The water is comparable to the temperature of the human body.
115 to 120°F. The water is touchable but not hot.
130 to 135°F. The water is too hot to touch without injury.
160 to 180°F. The water is beginning to move, to shiver.
185 to 200°F. There is movement, and little bubbles appear in the water.
205°F. There is more movement and noticeably larger bubbles.
212°F. The water is rolling, vigorously bubbling, and steaming.
Again, it is important to remember that if you have water that has not been filtered/purified, bringing the water to a full/rolling boiling is the safest thing you can do.
If you have the means, and legal permission within your area to do so, using wood stoves/fires to boil large quantities of water is ideal, saving you fuel that you have to carry in.
But, if you have the means to filter/purify your water, there is very little, to absolutely no need to waste your carried-in-fuel bringing your water to a full/rolling boil.