Ryan Jordan

Simplifying Water Management in the Mountains

Parable of the Pot

There once was a pot.

It could be dipped in a stream while stopped at a rest stop, and because the pot was big enough, it could be passed around, filled to the brim, amongst its cooperative of masters, and they could drink their fill with one scoop.

The pot was light enough, that any one of them would carry it without complaint.

This was a hardy, and versatile pot.

In the evenings, upon arrival to the pitch, it would settle into the fire to heat enough water for dinner.

Once empty, it would receive a refill, and another visit to the fire, for hot drinks that would give the crew cheer well into the darker hours of the evening.

This was a hallowed pot.

Because in the morning, the pot would visit the fire again to brew cowboy coffee, and thus achieve its highest calling.

This was a versatile pot.

In the pack, that pot would hold various sundries. One day, the tarp. Another day, a jacket. Most days, extra food.


Other than those little bits of “personal items” that we all toss into a single stuff sack and at times, number into the dozens (what a nightmare to keep track of these bits!), cooking and water carry/treatment gear is ripe for commercialization (by manufacturers), suckerization (by consumers), and burdenization (by trekkers).

But there are two things that neither manufacturers nor suckers can fight: fire and water.

Burn bans and riparian troughs aside, most mountain trekkers can enjoy the aesthetic of a wood fire and clean(ish) mountain water and thus vastly increase the simplicity of their kit.

If you have these resources available to you, and you are traveling as a group, consider some of these strategies:

  • Carry 4L pots and cook over fire. Figure on about 2-5 persons per 4 liter pot, and you’ll be in good shape. A $20 aluminum 4L pot weighs 16 oz, and you can use your PossumDown wool gloves to retrieve the pot from the fire, and to pour it, without scarring your hands.
  • Each expedition member could carry a spoon and a Big Mug, but the mug would be optional. My early Scouting career involved only a Big Pot, and spoons. This violates health codes but keeps mealtime simple, light, and full of relational intimacy. I opt for the mug nowadays, because I like holding a Big Mug and warming my hands on it. Plus, my coffee is MY COFFEE.
  • To round out cooking, you only need a Firestarting Kit. Skip matches, lighters, and other accoutrements that give false security, because at some point or another, you’ll have to start a big fire in the pouring rain with numb fingers.
  • For water stowage, I try to avoid water bottles when I can. An entire industry ($B’s, not $M’s) has been built on water storage containers, and it’s pretty fun to be able to walk away from all that and just say, “Nahhh, don’t need it.” This requries good water management strategy (tanking up at water sources), and a reasonably short distance between water sources. The areas where you can do this are more prevalent than you think, and aren’t limited to the high lake plateaus of the Wild West.
  • For water treatment, when traveling solo, I really like the option of the Big Mug and the Steri-Pen, but the Steri-Pen is not foolproof and requires extra batteries for a little bit of security. For treating large pots of water, the Steri-Pen is pure misery and it’s best to hike with folks who’ve all had giardia and are thus a bit resistant to it, and are willing to suffer a little risk for dipping and drinking on the go. But even in big groups, a few Steri-Pens and a bunch of Big Mugs work OK and get everyone hydrated in a matter of minutes, and not dozens of minutes, like filter and chemical systems.

My favorite solo cook and water kit:

My favorite group (e.g., 4-person) cook and water kit: