Top pilgrim tip: The Boil Coil

The Boil Coil, or electric coil, cup boiler, immersion heater, travel kettle element … whatever you call it, it deserves a big round of applause. You know the thing I mean, right? No? Here’s one.


Ignore the plug, these come in US, UK, EU and even USB versions, and probably others too. And what can they do? Well, you can read about it at length in this discussion on the forum.

Basically, the Boil Coil can boil clean water. Don’t ever try to use them for anything other than boiling water. But the water, when it has boiled, can be used to make tea, coffee, bouillon/stock/broth, miso soup, instant pasta dishes, noodles and cup-a-soups, you can even boil an egg! And you don’t need to find an albergue with a kitchen and pans (not always easy). All you need is a Boil Coil and a cup or mug of your choice, as long as it is dishwasher safe and big enough to hold an amount of water that covers the coily boily bit.

The reason I have decided to bring mine this time is because of the way I walk and the way Spain works:

I tend to get up late in pilgrim terms, which means I am normally on the road at about eight in the morning. Then there are things like breakfast … second breakfast … elevenses … lunch … All this takes time, and I am in no hurry. Sometime in the late afternoon I will arrive at my albergue for the night, have a shower and do laundry, then wait for my dinner – normally a pilgrim meal in a local bar or restaurant which starts serving Menú Peregrino from seven.

Spain opens her kitchens in the early afternoon to serve lunch or comida until about three, three thirty. Everything closes for the siesta so people can eat and rest during the hottest hours of the day, and when the kitchen closes again it doesn’t normally open until seven at the earliest – and that is mainly for pilgrims who have to be in bed early – and normally as late as nine. The Spanish have their cena or evening meal from nine til midnight … by which time pilgrims are in bed.

It’s not unusual for me to arrive somewhere after the kitchens are closed and I am hungry. Being hungry for hours when your body is screaming for food is not pleasant, and in many small villages and towns there will not be a lot of food available until seven. Tapas, maybe, or bocadillos, or maybe a shop will be open. But a proper meal? Nope.

Enter the Boil Coil! With a cup-a-soup type snack the waiting time will be less bad, and if it has been a windy, rainy or cold day (or all of three), what better than a big warm mug of steaming and tasty soup? Or even a cocoa, or coffee, or tea, or a blackcurrant drink? That will surely defrost a chilled pilgrim! Others would use it to make tea or coffee before they set out in the morning, or have a cuppa last thing at night. Or to make a cheap and filling meal in the albergue because they don’t fancy leaving the house on a rainy night, or because they are too tired, or just fancy soup for their evening meal because they went all Spanish and had a big lunch mid day. With a minimum of forethought you could also buy bread to dunk into the soup, or bisquits to go with the coffee/tea/cocoa, or spring onions to add to the stock, or something yummy to add to a noodle soup, or cheese to blend into the instant pasta … The possibilities are, as they say, endless.

To boil an egg you drop it into the freshly boiled water, leave it for a few minutes then re-boil the water. The coil should not be used continuously for long enough to hardboil an egg, but with a re-boil it should get there. Read the instructions and try it at home before you go to make sure you have your timings right.

My Boil Coil was bought in Portugal in 2000, when I lived in a room with no kitchen for a while and used it to make cups of tea. Coffee – as in café com leite – I would buy at the bar downstairs. I can’t remember how much it cost at the time but they are cheap. I have just weighed it and it comes in at 134 g, so with my mug of choice, my travel kitchen adds up to about 200 g. Not bad! I will also take 2 bags of green tea per day and three or four packets of instant soup and I will still be carrying less than 300 g for the lot. OK then, there is the spork too … but it’s not a major burden. Not for the use I – and others? – will have out of it.

A word of warning though, read and follow the instructions! It’s easy:

Fill the cup or mug with water, then put the coil in and slip the hook over the lip of the mug so it doesn’t touch the bottom. Then – and only then! – do you plug it into the socket. The coil has to be in the water when you plug it in and unplug it, so when the water is boiling (and don’t stick your finger in the water to check, would you do that in your kettle at home?) you unplug the Boil Coil first and then remove it from the water. Take care, it will be very hot, so leave it on something ceramic or metal and don’t let any fingers get burnt. Then add whatever you want to the hot water and enjoy.

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