DEC Announces Completion of $48,000 Rehab of Hunter Mountain Fire Tower

Celebration Planned Saturday, August 19, for 100th Anniversary of Tower

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) today announced the completion of $48,000 in improvements to the Hunter Mountain fire tower in the town of Hunter, Greene County. The improvements are part of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s Adventure NY initiative to connect more New Yorkers with nature. In honor of the 100-year anniversary of the fire tower, a celebration is planned for Saturday, August 19, at 12:00 p.m. at the tower atop Hunter Mountain. A plaque to commemorate the 100-year anniversary will be unveiled during the small ceremony.

“Fire towers not only represent the rich history and heritage within our forest preserves, but also offer great tourism potential and magnificent views of some of New York’s most prized natural areas and resources,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “These improvements, through Governor Cuomo’s Adventure NY initiative, are just a sample of the recreational upgrades that New York has underway to better serve everyone who wants to enjoy our state’s great outdoors.”

The rehabilitation of the tower included replacing the roof that was damaged by high winds over the winter, painting the entire tower, replacing the metal grates around fire tower landings, and repairing the tower windows.

At 4,040 feet, Hunter Mountain fire tower is the highest elevation fire tower in New York State. The original tower on Hunter Mountain-constructed of logs-was built in 1909, and was the first of three fire towers constructed in the Catskills that year. The original tower was replaced with the current steel tower in 1917.

“We are excited to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower,” said Gordon Hoekstra, Chairman of Friends of the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower. “With enthusiastic support from the DEC and the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, the Friends of the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower Committee runs the Volunteer Interpreter Program and performs minor maintenance on the tower and observer’s cabin. We are grateful to DEC for supporting and funding the Tower Rehab Project in time for today’s dedication. With continued cooperation we look forward to preserving this precious historic asset for visitors to enjoy for another 100 years.”

Under Governor Cuomo’s new Adventure NY initiative, DEC is making strategic investments to expand access to healthy, active outdoor recreation, connect more New Yorkers and visitors to nature and the outdoors, protect natural resources, and boost local economies. This initiative will support the completion of more than 75 projects over the next three years, ranging from improvements to youth camps and environmental education centers to new boat launches, duck blinds, and hiking trails. Read more about the Adventure NY initiative.

The Catskill Fire Tower Project is a joint initiative of The Catskill Center for Conservation & Development and DEC. Through the dedication of partner volunteers and DEC staff, the last of the five remaining Catskill towers was restored and reopened to the public in 2000. Since then, volunteer-based committees organized for each of the towers have continued to maintain the structures, and in many cases renovate the observers’ cabins as well. Today, a network of more than 100 volunteers also act as “summit stewards” by greeting visitors on weekends from May through October.

For more information on Fire Towers in the Catskills, visit DEC’s website.

Hikers & Campers Be Aware: High Bear Activity in Dix Mountain Wilderness

SAMANTHA TAILLON

DEC has alerted hikers and campers of high bear activity in the Dix Mountain Wilderness. Running into wildlife is inevitable while hiking, but bears are nothing to mess around with. Learn more about bears so you can be prepared for any encounter.black bear in the woods

Recent Bear Activity

Reports say black bears have been stealing food from hikers and campers, and have even been approaching humans in an attempt to get food.

Bears have approached hikers in the area around Gill Brook, Indian Pass, Mount Colvin, Elk Pass and Nippletop. Other bears have stolen food from campers and rock climbers in the Chapel Pond area.

As a result, the DEC has temporarily closed one of the Chapel Pond Outlet campsites while it attempts to capture the bears. Once the bears are captured and tagged, they will be released.

How To Avoid Conflict With Bears

The DEC reminds hikers and campers to keep all food, toiletries, and garbage in bear resistant canisters. Campers should prepare and eat food away from their tent sites and should not cook or eat after dark. Rock climbers should keep all food in their vehicle or carry it with them while climbing.

To report an encounter with a bear, call the DEC Regional Wildlife Office at 518-897-1291.

Black Bear Encounters

If you Encounter a Bear:

Never Approach, Surround, or Corner a Bear – Bears aggressively defend themselves when they feel threatened. Be especially cautious around cubs as mother bears are very protective.

Never Run from a Bear– stay calm, speak in a loud and calm voice, slowly back away and leave the area.

Use Noise to Scare away Bears from Your Campsite– yell, clap, or bang pots immediately upon sighting a bear near your campsite.

Do Not Throw Your Backpack or Food Bag at an Approaching Bear

  • Doing so will only encourage bears to approach and “bully” people to get food.
  • By teaching a bear to approach humans for food, you are endangering yourself, other campers/residents, and the bears.
A black bear in the forest.
Most black bears prefer to avoid humans.

In Your Yard:

  • From a safe distance, make loud noises by shouting or banging pots to scare the bear away.
  • Once the bear leaves, remove all attractants such as bird seed, garbage, and pet food.
  • Ask neighbors to remove attractants.

In a Building:

  • Give the bear a clear escape route.
  • Leave any doors open as you back away from the bear.
  • Do not lock the bear in a room.

If a Bear Becomes Aggressive and:

Approaches you:

  • Raise your arms and speak in a loud, calm voice while backing away.

Charges you:

  • Stand your ground.
  • If you have bear spray, dispense directly at the bear. Please follow the link leaving the DEC’s website to learn about the proper use of bear spray.

Follows you:

  • Stay together.
  • Do not run, but continue to back away while speaking loudly.
  • If the bear continues to follow you:
    • Stand your ground.
    • Intimidate by making yourself look bigger by waving arms, clapping, shouting, banging sticks.
    • Prepare to fight or use bear spray.
  • If the bear makes contact with you:
    • Fight back with anything at hand (knife, stick, rocks, fists).

Lyme Disease: Inside America’s Mysterious Epidemic

In 2004, Kelly Osbourne was bitten by a tick. Her dad burned it off with a match and that, she thought, was the end of that.

But in the years that followed, she suffered from persistent body aches, headaches, stomach pain and trouble sleeping. In 2013, she had a seizure on the set of her show, Fashion Police. As her symptoms piled up, so did the prescriptions: Ambien, Trazodone, anti-seizure medications, even painkillers, despite her past addiction issues. The pills robbed her of her energy and emotions. “You know in movies where a mental patient sits in a rocking chair in a cardigan and nightgown and stares at a wall all day?” Osbourne wrote in her new memoir, There Is No F*cking Secret: Letters From a Badass Bitch. “That was me.”

As a last resort, Osbourne consulted an alternative medicine practitioner and asked to be tested for Lyme disease. The test came back positive: she had stage III neurological Lyme. Osbourne immediately flew to Germany to receive stem cell therapy. She kept her diagnosis private, she writes, “not only for fear of pharmaceutical companies coming after me because of the cure I found in Germany but also because it seems like the trendy disease to have right now.”

As unlikely as it seems that a tick-borne illness could ever be deemed “trendy,” Osbourne is right: Lyme disease is having a moment.

In recent years, a growing list of celebrities have gone public with their Lyme diagnoses. In the 2013 documentary The Punk Singer, Kathleen Hanna emerged from a nearly decade-long hiatus to reveal her excruciating battle with Lyme disease. “I didn’t want to face the fact that I was really sick,” she told the camera, tearing up. “I wanted to tell everybody I chose to stop [performing], but I didn’t choose.” Then there was Avril Lavigne on the cover of People magazine in 2015, gazing out pensively over the headline, “I thought I was dying.” In 2016, there was the news that Kris Kristofferson’s tragic memory loss wasn’t due to Alzheimer’s after all; it was Lyme. There was the multiple season storyline on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills about Yolanda Hadid’s battle with Lyme, the accusations she was faking it, and then the shocking news that her supermodel daughter Bella and son Anwar had Lyme, too.

Lyme has been a known disease for several decades, but only in the past five years has it forced its way into cultural and medical relevance and become something that’s widely discussed. Lyme is now the focus of A-list fundraising galas and E! News headlines. Unfortunately, the increased attention hasn’t translated to a more hopeful prognosis for Lyme sufferers. Roughly 329,000 new infections occur annually, and scientists are projecting a historic spike in infections around the country this summer. For a disease that’s been studied for 40 years, with many prominent people pushing for answers, the truly shocking thing about Lyme disease is how much of a mystery it still is.

“There’s an incredible amount of detail and nuance to the Lyme disease story,” says Taal Levi, assistant professor of quantitative wildlife ecology at Oregon State University. “Anyone who tells you there’s a simple answer is lying to you.”

The history of Lyme disease in the United States is as eerie as it is complicated. In 1975, something strange started happening to people in the town of Lyme, Connecticut. Children and adults reported skin rashes, swollen joints, severe fatigue and even partial paralysis. Health officials suspected the disease was caused by a biting insect due to the frequency of infections appearing in the summer months and the locations of the victims. “Cases tended to occur among persons living near heavily wooded and sparsely settled areas,” Connecticut’s commissioner of health wrote in a letter to state health directors a year after the initial outbreak. “On some roads as many as one in 10 children were affected.”

Despite health officials’ suspicions, the first group of Lyme disease sufferers went years without concrete answers about their illness. Finally, in 1981, a scientist named Willy Burgdorfer discovered that Lyme was caused by bacteria carried in mice and deer and transmitted by deer ticks. The spirochete bacteria in question, borrelia burgdorferi, was named in his honor. Once it was established that Lyme disease was a bacterial infection, the course of treatment seemed obvious: antibiotics. Doctors began treating patients with a six- or 12-week dose. Some people got better, but not all of them. Cut to 36 years later, and not much has changed.

When patients go to the doctor immediately after infection, most of them (about 80 percent) fully recover. For the people who don’t get immediate treatment or don’t respond well to the antibiotics, the prognosis can be much more grim. In these patients, a range of horrific symptoms – muscle aches, fatigue, fever, malaise, joint pain, digestive problems, foggy brain, anxiety, headaches, twitching, memory loss, seizures, depression and paranoia, among many, many others – can persist for a lifetime. The split is so dramatic that Lyme researchers and patient advocates began differentiating between two types of Lyme disease: acute and chronic.

“Acute Lyme refers to the disease that occurs right after initial exposure. That’s when people show up with a fever, muscle pain, rash, flu-like symptoms,” says Mark Soloski, co-director of research at Johns Hopkins’ Lyme Disease Research Center. Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome, more commonly known as “chronic Lyme,” is different. “We define it as a set of persistent symptoms that are happening six to 12 months after their acute disease. These are folks who have not only symptoms, but loss of functioning. In simple terms, you can’t get out of bed in the morning.”

Of the celebrities who have gone public with their Lyme diagnosis, most fall into the chronic Lyme category: persistent, debilitating symptoms that last for years and are extremely difficult to treat effectively, let alone cure. Still, the CDC has been hesitant to embrace the popular narrative about chronic Lyme. “There’s been some antagonism between the Center for Disease Control and advocacy groups,” says Levi, “particularly in regards to chronic Lyme and if it even exists.”

According to a CDC spokesperson, “the term ‘chronic Lyme disease’ is confusing and misleading because it is used to describe patients with and without Lyme disease.” Instead, the CDC makes a distinction between Lyme disease and Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS), which they describe as “a condition of persistent symptoms that exists in some patients with Lyme disease after treatment.” In other words, if you were bitten by a tick, exhibited symptoms of Lyme disease (including the telltale bull’s-eye rash), received treatment, and didn’t get better, your condition would match the CDC’s description of PTLDS. If you went to the doctor reporting lingering symptoms consistent with Lyme (like fatigue and muscle aches) but hadn’t been diagnosed with Lyme in the past, you could be diagnosed with “chronic Lyme,” and that’s what the CDC takes issue with. Says the spokesperson: “While the term [chronic Lyme] is sometimes used to describe patients with PTLDS, in many occasions it has been used to describe symptoms in people who have no evidence of a current or past infection with Lyme disease. People who have an illness with symptoms compatible with Lyme disease need to be diagnosed correctly and treated properly as quickly as possible. We want people to get the right diagnosis and the appropriate care.”

Unfortunately, getting the right diagnosis can be extremely difficult. Borrelia burgdorferi is nearly impossible to detect in the bloodstream. Without evidence of a tick bite or rash in the days following initial infection, there is still not a reliable diagnostic test for Lyme. The CDC’s definition of PTLDS hinges on a Lyme diagnosis – and for good reason – but without a direct way to test for infection, many patients suffering from lingering Lyme symptoms are left in the medical lurch.

The CDC counts “the need for improved diagnostic tests” among its goals for addressing the growing Lyme disease problem, but researchers on the ground say the government has been loath to support its promises with resources. “It’s a difficult thing to study,” says Levi. “It takes a lot of money and there’s very little money for Lyme disease research, which means there’s a lot of competition. You’ve got to keep money flowing for researchers to remain engaged. We need more field studies, more data, but who’s going to fund a 10-year field project?”

The answer to that question may lie at the curious intersection of celebrity and Lyme disease. Celebrities using their platform to raise funds and awareness for Lyme is “essential,” says Scott Santarella, CEO of the Global Lyme Alliance, a private nonprofit that has partnered with Yolanda and Bella Hadid, Ally Hilfiger and Rob Thomas, whose wife Marisol suffers from Lyme, for fundraising galas, auctions and education initiatives. With government funding for Lyme research nearly nonexistent, private organizations like the GLA are tasked with raising massive amounts of money to fill the gaps. Famous people and their wealthy social circles are a crucial part of that equation. Kelly Osbourne may have been hesitant to join the ranks of those suffering from a “trendy” disease, but there are many people working hard around the clock to keep Lyme culturally relevant.

“We are a society built around celebrity and entertainment,” says Santarella. “When you have someone like Yolanda or Bella Hadid out there talking about the disease and putting a face to it, you tend to have a bump up in understanding and acceptance. As people become more aware of the disease and become more connected to people who have the disease, fundraising increases.”

Glamorous spokespeople get more press, and lavish fundraisers with A-list red carpets bring in serious money, but relying on celebrities to tell the story of a complex disease has its downsides. Most of the celebrities who have been vocal about their chronic Lyme disease diagnoses (or at least the voices that have been most amplified) are rich white women. With public perception of the disease still relatively malleable, organizations like the GLA must be careful not to pigeonhole chronic Lyme as a plight of the wealthy. “We’re incredibly conscious of the messaging around it and try to work with individuals to tell their story in a way that people can relate,” says Santarella. “We take great pains and strategic thought in how we present things and promote things.”

No matter how hard celebrities work to be relatable, the fact is their experiences don’t accurately portray the reality of a disease that’s spreading rapidly and affecting all demographics. For every Avril, Bella, and Kelly, there are thousands of Lyme sufferers who don’t have access to basic healthcare, let alone the financial means to take months off work and fly to Europe to try new treatments.

“What I say to that is when you have people who have the means to get themselves better and they can’t, they become a loud voice for change,” says Santarella. “At the end of the day, many will benefit from wealthy people who can’t get themselves or their children better. Anyone and everyone can get Lyme. No one is immune. If people knew that, they’d be much more willing to accept and support the efforts of people who are suffering from it and organizations like ours trying to solve the problem.”

Ask researchers for their outlook on the future of Lyme, and you’ll get a wide array of answers, ranging from “dire” to “cautious optimism.” Most agree, however, that many more people are going to get sick before things get better.

The recent surge of Lyme cases and this summer’s predicted outbreak represent a confluence of factors, many of which are manmade. Forest fragmentation is often cited as a primary reason. “A lot of houses and schools and athletic facilities are being built in places that are surrounded by woods,” says Soloski. “That interface between grassy areas, like a manicured lawn, and the forest is a great tick habitat.” As suburban neighborhoods continue to creep into rural environments, the increased mingling of ticks and humans means more Lyme disease.

Fragmentation also interrupts fragile ecosystems, says Levi, which “makes it difficult for some of the predators of these [Lyme-carrying] animals to persist.” Cougar, bear and bobcat numbers have plummeted, while deer and rodent populations have exploded. “The host species we most care about are rodents and deer,” says Levi. “That’s what we need to keep at low levels to see fewer ticks.” In fact, the most ominous predictor of this summer’s imminent outbreak is the widespread mouse infestation that struck the Hudson River Valley last year. Mice are such effective Lyme carriers that scientists have been able to accurately forecast Lyme cases by tracking their populations.

And of course, climate change plays a role. “Any insect-borne disease is very sensitive to climate conditions,” says Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute University of Wisconsin. “Warmer temperatures speed up the development of tick larvae and nymphs, and that can influence transmission dynamics. Modeling studies of climate change effects on Lyme disease show a northward expansion of the disease,” says Patz. “Lyme is already moving north into Canada.”

While President Trump and his closest advisors maintain that climate change is a myth, and science and research funding face massive cuts in the federal budget, people in the trenches of Lyme disease research struggle to garner a sense of urgency about their work. “Because it’s treatable by antibiotics and it doesn’t kill you, there’s a sense that it’s not as big as a problem as the people on the ground believe it is,” says Levi. “Nobody’s treating this like a really big problem.”

Meanwhile, advocacy groups like the GLA will continue raising funds and awareness through every possible avenue. Despite the obstacles, advancements are being made (including promising immunotherapy research), and Santarella says the disease’s current place in pop culture is an achievement in itself. “It’s a good thing in that people are aware, but it’s much more of an epidemic than we realized. Lyme is very real and very scary – and not going away anytime soon.”

HOW TO NOT HIKE LIKE AN ASSHOLE

Hiking is a beloved activity in many places around the world and can be enjoyed by all ages, given a certain level of fitness. The problem is that hiking trails these days are being inundated by assholes, which in this case is a designation made for the users of shared outdoor spaces who betray the unspoken contract between all users of the outdoors. Not only are these assholes unpleasant to other hikers, they put the sustainability of trails at risk in the future and can affect ecosystems and wildlife for generations to come.

Recently in Colorado, the Hanging Lake Trail has received an unusual amount of attention because of the amount of abuse it has taken from hikers disobeying signs and defacing natural rocks. These are asshole hikers. The infamous @trailtrashco, an instagram vigilante shaming hikers who abuse the outdoors (read the 303 Magazine article here) is purely dedicated to calling out assholes like those on the trails. The unspoken contract has always been fairly simple but since it seems to be necessary, it has been written out in many places. 303 decided to outline the contract in five short sections, explained below.

Stay Safe

Personal safety is an essential aspect of avoiding the “asshole hiker” designation. If each hiker takes on his or her own responsibility in preparing for a hike, the chances of endangering themselves or others is greatly reduced. This especially includes saving valuable time and resources from rescue crews who often volunteer for the positions and put their lives at risk to save people in the backcountry. Even if a situation does not warrant a rescue crew, someone who is unprepared may have to rely on other hikers, putting unnecessary and unexpected strain on their journey and supplies.

Staying safe is primarily about being prepared. Hiking is a fun activity, but it is also one to participate in with an understanding of the possible risks. Especially in Colorado, packing for various weather, conditions and situations should always be part of the adventure and adequate footwear is a must. An ideal daypack for a half or full day hike should consist of: a rain coat, hat, lighter or matches, compass (or fully charged phone with a compass app), plenty of water, tissues, a basic first aid kit with some kind of water filtration, snacks, sunscreen or sunglasses and a flashlight. These items might feel cumbersome — especially when a hike goes uneventfully — but in the event that something goes wrong, these items are usually the bottom line for survival.

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace ideals are all about minimizing the impact a hiker has on the environment. @trailtrashco, the vigilante Instagrammer, consistently posts photos of assholes leaving trash on the trail — and it usually is in the form of dog poop in plastic bags. The main principles of Leave No Trace revolve around keeping the ecosystem healthy and in balance while maintaining the public space for the future. Part of the joy of hiking is escaping the impacts humans have on their surroundings, and that can only be enjoyed if humans are not negatively impacting the trails, open spaces and other wilderness areas. To ensure minimal impact, hikers need to always follow these guidelines:

  • Leave what you find. Even though rocks, flowers, pinecones and other items on hikes might seem like perfect souvenirs, those items belong in their natural environments.
  • Pack it in, pack it out. Anything that’s brought into wilderness areas needs to be taken back out. That especially means wrappers, water bottles, cigarette butts, beer cans and dog poop. Dog owners have extra responsibilities while hiking with their furry companions (see 303’s article about dog hiking etiquette here.)
  • Know where to pee. Though we pee in clean water at home in our toilets, in the backcountry any water source should be avoided by 200 feet while urinating. Keep this in mind for any furry companions as well.
  • Look but don’t touch. A common phrase in Leave No Trace literature is “take only pictures.” This encapsulates the idea that hikers do not need to make their own personal mark upon a place to prove they’ve been there. For instance, in many aspen tree groves in the mountains of Colorado, one can see the carved initials and markings of asshole hikers. Don’t be like those hikers.

Respect the Wildlife

Don’t feed the wildlife. Don’t touch the wildlife. Don’t aggravate the wildlife. Just don’t f*** with the wildlife. Hiking is not a trip to the zoo, and even then, animals deserve respect. Out on a hike in the wilderness, wildlife are more at home than a typical hiker, which also means that hikers are more often than not trespassing on wildlife territory. Some animals display warning signs — like rattlesnakes vibrating their tails before striking — while others may not display much aggression until the last minute — like moose who charge out of fear of sudden noise or movement.

The more popular trails are destined to have less animals, especially large animals, but lesser traveled trails should be used with more caution. In many places, hiking at dawn and dusk should be met with even more cautionbecause that is often the time for predatory animals to be out and about. Know what kind of animals might be encountered on a hike and know what kind of tactics are best to avoid them and avoid confrontation.

Respecting wildlife is a double responsibility for dog owners, who must keep tabs on their dogs interactions with wildlife as well as their own. Keeping a dog on leash, even if it is a long leash, is better than letting it off leash. Not only does it keep the owner closer to protect the dog, it keeps the dog closer to warn the owner of any unusual activity.

Respect Other Hikers

Asshole hikers are notorious for disrespecting other trail users. In order to have the best time and help others have a good time, hikers are encouraged to conduct themselves in ways that will not take away from other people’s experience. There are some basic guidelines that apply to any public shared space — like trying to keep your voice down when sharing the trail, not playing loud music and keeping it PG rated.

Some of the other etiquette tips are more particular. When hiking inclines, the person hiking downhill should yield to anyone coming uphill, unless the people coming uphill are wanting a break. When taking a break, move your belongings and yourself off the trail without putting yourself in danger — i.e. not stepping down a steep hill side. If someone is hiking faster than you from behind, stop and let them pass. If you are hiking faster than another person, do not try to take shortcuts or maneuver ahead of them without asking. This kind of behavior can have unintended consequences — like dislodging rocks or debris that can hit other people on the trail or abusing the structure of the trail itself.

Know the Trail

Before setting out on any hike, do some simple Google searching about the trail and the area around it. These kinds of searches can bring up information regarding wildlife danger, weather patterns, possible closures and other important tidbits regarding the hike. These are invaluable when looking to hike less-traveled routes, as they will usually explain areas where trail markers are sparse or a detour has been made that may go unnoticed otherwise. There are numerous sites and forums for hikers, like AllTrails and ProTrails, which have all the information about a given trail, as well as user reviews, photos and suggestions.

Knowing a trail before hiking it will prevent many hikers from being surprised about terrain or getting lost. In this day and age, not many hikers seem to be carrying around topographical maps, so at the very least looking before going will help with orientation. During the hike, know the trail refers, pay attention to all posted signs, follow the trail markers and have awareness to natural landmarks along the way.


Even though hiking can often feel like an activity that is separate from other people, the actions of every hiker affect the environment, wildlife and other hikers tremendously. Enjoying the activity comes hand-in-hand with understanding the possible risks and the recommended etiquette to participate.

GUIDE TO COOKING ON THE TRAIL

Most backpackers want to eat a hot meal at least once per day while on the trail. This requires carrying a portable backpacking stove to boil water and reconstituting the dried foods in it. Here we’ll cover strategies to help you conserve your stove fuel, cook efficiently, and improve your overall trail cooking skills.

Tips for cooking with a portable backpacking stove

Check the Cooking Pot & Stove Support Arms

  • The last thing you want on the trail is to waste water, fuel or food. At home, check if the bottom surface of your cooking pot is smooth. If it feels smooth, check the roughness of the pot support arms on your stove. A boiling pot can vibrate off the stove and hit the ground if both the bottom of the pot and the stove support arms are overly smooth, and the ground is not completely level. Roughen up the supports with a metal file if needed.

Presoak Longer Cooking Foods in Water First

  • You may wish to save cost by cooking packaged food purchased from the grocery store. Often these foods are partially cooked rather than instant, and simply soaking in boiling water won’t soften them enough. For tough-to-cook foods, such as parboiled rice and whole grain pasta, you need to presoak in cold water first.
    • Presoak food in cold water for 5 – 10 minutes. If you are using store-bought packages of pasta or grains that require excess water for draining, obviously you do not want to use the amount of water stated on the package. You do not want to waste water, or drain cooking water near your campsite. Reduce the quantity of water stated. Add enough water to cover the food for soaking. There is no harm in eating the same water your pasta is cooked in. In fact, it is beneficial because it contains calories (released from the starch in the pasta) and adds richness to the sauce. The dried food should appear plumper and soften as it absorbs some of the water. Add a little extra water just before boiling. Ignite your stove and turn the dial up. Bring the ingredients to a boil in your cookpot. Turn off the flame and allow the meal to soak in the boiling water per the amount of the “cook” or “simmer” time specified on the package. Not simmering will significantly save on fuel.
    • Instead of presoaking, another option is to boil the water, add the ingredients, and then bring it back to a slight boil (30 seconds – 1 minute). The caveat: you have to be vigilant when boiling food (versus water) with a covered lid. It can splatter, boil over and create a mess.

Fuel & Cooking Efficiency

  • Always set-up the camp stove on a hard and level surface in a sheltered spot – preferably on the ground, or nearest the ground behind a rock, large log, or yourself to shelter it from the wind.
  • Turn the knob on the stove to the highest setting so that the flame burns straight, directly focused underneath the pot. This does not mean you should open the valve on the stove to the maximum setting. A medium-high setting, or about 75% of max, is generally the most efficient. The flame should be a bluish color, and no portion of the flame should flare out and go over the sides of the pot.
  • Your cook pot size matters. Use a pot that is similar in size or slightly wider than the width of your backpacking stove. A tall and narrow pot may result in the flame spilling over the sides of the pot which will waste fuel. Broad bottomed, shallow cooking pots tend to be the most energy efficient.
  • Always check that the pot of water is rapidly boiling before adding dried ingredients and cutting off the flame. But refrain from checking if the water has reached a boil by opening up the lid and losing heat from the escaping steam. You want as little temperature drop as possible from the second you open the lid to add the ingredients. If you have a transparent lid, look down at it – rapidly boiling water is indicated by steam building on the top and sides of your lid from bubbles rising and moving vigorously to the top of the water surface.
  • To prevent burning food and to save fuel, use the boil-soak method of cooking rather than cooking or simmering over a sustained flame.

 

  • Always cover the pot with a tight fitting lid. Covering foods during cooking will help hold in moisture, reduce your fuel consumption and time-to-boil. If you do not have a lid, you can easily make one using an aluminum pie tray from the supermarket. The DIY lid will be light and will not seal perfectly, but is better than wasting fuel from evaporation. Place your pot grips on top of the lid to prevent the lid from popping up and allowing steam to escape if needed.
  • Stir the food thoroughly before simmering or soaking. Some of the lightweight camp pots, such as stainless steel and titanium, have extremely thin walls and tend to develop hot spots. This causes food to stick, brown or even burn if not stirred. Open the lid at least once and stir while it is soaking to help uniformly distribute the heat.

 

  • The wind can blow the flame sideways and waste fuel. Maximize the thermal efficiency of your stove by enclosing it with a metallic shield, typically made from firm aluminum and fold-up for storage. The shield acts as both a wind guard and reflector both of which prevent heat loss, by keeping the flame focused on the bottom of the pot and capturing the radiant heat off the stove and directing it back. Warning: Never completely enclose the stove. Otherwise, the reflected heat can overheat the fuel tank/canister and cause injury. Keep part of the windscreen open or ventilated if you’re using an “upright” stove (where the burner is attached directly above the fuel tank or canister).
  • A good insulator can mean the difference between a hot meal and a warm meal, which is especially useful during winter. If the air is cold, add an insulator (cozy) around the pot to keep the food hot while it is soaking. A pot cozy retains heat and saves on fuel, eliminating the need for simmering on a stove. The cozy should not be put on the pot while it is boiling. Add the insulator after the water has boiled and the pot removed from the stove. Most camping pots (i.e. titanium, aluminum), are decent insulators by themselves and are certainly superior to the plastic bags you might pour boiling water into. A pot cozy can be made using reflective flexible material (in USA look for “Insul-Bright” a mylar/polyester fabric that sells for $5.99 per yard). They can also be made from an auto windshield sun shade. See how to make your own cozy using a reflective sunshade. You can also insulate your pot with items you already have with you, such as your jacket, hat, etc. Clothing won’t work as well, but is still better than no insulator at all.
  • Worried about running out of backpacking fuel while on the trail? Conserving fuel greatly depends on the efficiency of the cooking process as outlined in strategies to conserve stove fuel.

Cooking at Extreme Altitudes

  • At extreme altitudes (above 18,000 ft), a typical backpacking cook-set is not going to reach a temperature high enough to cook a hot meal. To compensate for the lower boiling point of water, the cooking time must be increased to such an extent that it is impractical. And turning up the heat will not help cook food faster. No matter how high the cooking temperature, water cannot exceed its own boiling point — unless a pressure cooker is used. Portable pressure cookers boil water at a temperature high enough to soften dried foods and a hot meal can be enjoyed. A pressure cooker works by trapping the steam that escapes from the boiling water, thereby raising the pressure so that the water boils at a higher temperature. A typical pressure cooker applies 15 pounds of pressure, which rises the boiling point of water to 250 degrees F (121 degrees C) at sea level. Look for small, lightweight pressure cookers that are designed for mountain climbers.
  • Can adding salt speed up water boil time? Salt can help shorten cooking time, but only minimally. In fact, salt, sugar, and practically any other water-soluble substance increases density, which elevates the boiling point (so it boils at a higher temperature) and, therefore, shortens cooking time. This may seem like a solution for elevating the boil temperature at higher elevations, but the effect of salt is negligible. The difference in temperature between unsalted and salted water at culinary concentrations (i.e. one teaspoon of salt per quart of water) is about 1°, which is barely noticeable or beneficial at high altitudes.

Freeze Dried vs. Dehydrated Backpacking Meals and Ingredients

Freeze-drying removes 98% of the water in foods while dehydration removes about 80% giving freeze-dried products a much longer shelf-life. Freeze-dried food is flash frozen and then exposed to a vacuum, which causes all the water in it to vaporize. This requires expensive equipment and isn’t something you can do at home, but it makes it possible to store freeze-dried foods for 20 to 30 years, compared to dehydrated ones, which typically last one to five years.

But the biggest difference between freeze-dried and dehydrated foods is nutritional. Freeze-dried foods retain all of taste, smell, texture, and nutritional value they has in their original form before the freeze-drying process. Dehydrated foods lose about 50% of their nutritional value because they’re subject to heating during the drying process and can become somewhat chewier, since the heating process “cooks” them over a long period of time as they dry.

Freeze-dried foods also rehydrate more quickly, usually in 5 minutes or less (dried berries, almost instantly), in hot or cold water. Dehydrated foods usually take 10-20 minutes to rehydrate, provided you use boiling water, requiring a longer wait and more stove fuel, which are both anathemas for backpackers!

Mix and Match

I don’t dehydrate my own meals anymore, but I still eat commercial dehydrated backpacking meals (mainly dinners) made by Outdoor Herbivore because they taste good and are easy to prepare, even though I’m not a vegetarian. If you have the ability to make meals that taste as good as theirs, more power to you. But dehydrating and making my own dinners at home before each trip is not how I want to spend my free time. Being dehydrated, they do go off after about two years though, so I make a point to eat them all up in the calendar year that I buy them.

I still pack up my own ingredients on trips, but mainly as additives to the one pot breakfasts and some dinners I make myself,  based around quick cooking grains and pasta like wheat cereal, oatmeal, ramen noodles, and angel hair spaghetti. But I’ve switched to freeze-dried ingredients out of convenience because they last longer without requiring refrigeration or going bad in our pantry if they’re not used promptly. I really hate throwing out food that’s expired and hasn’t been eaten, so the longer it can be stored and remain fresh, the better.