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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

How Cold Can You Be?

Today, with the temperature not expected to reach twenty, and with several inches of snow on the ground, I think it would be ideal weather to build a campfire, toast marshmallows, make s'mores, roast hot dogs, and try out the campfire popcorn popper. A nice big fire would certainly warm up one's spirits nicely, too. No, I'm not talking about liquid spirits, but rather that warm emotional glow that campfires seem to invoke. The fragrance of burning wood helps, too. Unfortunately, I am out and about today, with only and hour or two to spare here and there.

Despite the snowy roads and the slick conditions, I had to get out and bring my mother eight and a half miles into town to work. Even though we live just a block from a paved state highway, it always drifts shut when the winds are high. Blowing snow makes it slick, and it entails traveling over two miles of roller-coaster-type hills to reach the main highway. I headed in to town prepared to spend the day.

bokeh photography of snowman figurineI knew I would be waiting most of the day and I planned to spend it at the public library. However, it was closed due to bad weather. I tried settling down at a local restaurant, with a cold drink in my hand, looking forward to some writing time. Unfortunately, it turned out to be colder inside than out. So, I left. I drove around and finished up a couple of necessary errands. The streets in town were in good shape. The city road crew does a good job. I then decided to put the last five hours of wait time to good use. There was a new novel to be edited and some questions, related to cold-weather camping, that needed to be answered. So, I parked in a level spot with the sun streaming through the non-tinted front window, and made myself comfortable on the bench seat in the back. I have a van. It has comfy seats. Once I was set up, I picked a few questions to answer.

  • How long can my laptop battery go before I have to recharge?
  • Will the 100-watt inverter I carry in the van be enough to recharge my laptop? 
  • How long does it take for the van to lose all its stored heat after I shut it off? 
  • And, how do I add some gentle heat back into my mobile environment without having to idle the van?
  • How well will the sun, alone, keep the van warm?
There were other questions, too, but I'm saving those for a future post, ones dealing with more delicate issues like using the restroom, taking a shower, and how to eat the tuna fish sandwich you made for lunch without dropping it all over your floorboard. That last one is a real challenge. 

The questions above will, ultimately, affect how the van is modified for the upcoming camping trip. And. it will affect how much and what type of gear is taken along and what types of cabinets will be installed to house all the stuff not already in tote bags and tubs. 

Let's tackle the first question, well, first. The laptop battery information says it will hold a charge for three hours. A lot depends on how many programs you have running at a single time. Even though I was in the van for five hours, I finished editing the manuscript faster than expected and I didn't need to recharge. The battery was still over 92% when I turned it off to focus on something else.

As for the second question, about the inverter, yes. It is a 100-watt inverter and the laptop requires 45 watts to power it, so therefore it will be sufficient for recharge. The van, however, has to be running to do that. I'll be checking on a solar pack to provide an alternate, cleaner, renewable power source for recharging. But, at least I know it works if I need some power for the computer or to recharge phones or the Kindle.

Questions three and five were answered around the same time. The sun alone is, while it's shining, effective enough to heat the van and keep one warm for several hours. But, when it disappears for the day, or just goes to hide behind a cloud for a long time, the van cools down in about an hour. So, I had to restart my vehicle toward the end of the day, or move to a sunnier spot, and let it idle for about twenty minutes to warm things up again. However, I was able to run the van's heater on low and at a lower temperature to stay comfortable. The van's heater can cook you to a medium-well in not time.

So, finally, once all your heat evaporates, what are your alternative choices for heating your van, or your tent, without the need for electricity? There are several tools out there that can help. 

To heat the inside of your van or tent, you could invest in a My Buddy heater, which runs off propane. Propane can be dangerous, if not handled properly, so be sure to read and follow the instructions carefully. It can also be expensive. and it's a nonrenewable source. Be sure to reuse or recycle those little green disposable propane bottles as you empty them out. I prefer to avoid propane, when I can.

Another good way to heat is with an alcohol stove. These heaters, although a bit expensive (as is the fuel for them) use denatured alcohol. You can explore different ones online and choose one that best suits you and your mobile heating needs. Again, as it's expensive and nonrenewable I probably won't be opting for that.

Finally, the heat source that offers the least expensive, cleanest, and most renewable is the terracotta pot and tea-light-candle method. There are several YouTube videos on how to make one. A healthy dose of common sense needs to accompany their use. The first, make sure the homemade heater is sitting on top of a heat-resistant, flame resistant, stable, non-moving surface when in use, and that the heater is unreachable both to children and small pets. Although, pets tend to sense danger and steer clear. The terracotta pots heat up to several hundred degrees, with only a few tea lights inside providing the burn. The outside cannot and should not be touched, if it can be avoided, but the stove certainly shouldn't be handled without heat-resistant mitts. And you should never sleep with the candles lit.

Terracotta pot stoves are very inexpensive to make. It certainly shouldn't take a very large one to heat a small space to a comfortable degree. Keep in mind, they have an open flame inside and will, when the wax in the candles melts, contain a hot liquid. Therefore they should not be moved until cool and even then you want to make sure all the hot wax has gelled again.

I could add a ton of solar (900+ watts) and batteries and use a very small heater too, but that's more complicated than I want to go for just an occasional camping excursion. Let's keep it simple, shall we?

Whichever method you choose to heat up your space, you do so at your own risk. I'm still trying to find the best method for me. As a final, and extremely important note, be sure to have a working carbon monoxide detector on hand in the vehicle or tent to alert you to any problem that develops. Ventilate the space well.

So, the question remains. How cold can you be? You can be very cold and uncomfortable if you don't prepare for the environment into which you will be traveling and camping. With some advance planning and the right tools, and clothing, you should be able to remain fairly comfortable in cooler temperatures. And, don't forget the hot beverages. Tea, coffee, or hot chocolate?

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