Tips For Great Backcountry Meals

How to eat well on wilderness adventures
Staff Writer

After a long day of hiking, paddling, climbing or any other outdoor activity, it’s time to settle into camp for a hearty and delicious meal.  If you’ve never had to cook in the wilderness, keep in mind that there can be a learning curve. Not only will you need to think about what food to pack, but also how to carry it and how to prepare it with limited resources. Theo Theobald, a course director and senior instructor for Outward Bound, has helped hundreds of students learn the basics of camp cooking. Here are her tips for preparing a meal in the wilderness.

Know Your Parameters
Choosing what to pack depends on your priorities, how you’ll be traveling and what you’re willing to carry. For instance, you can lug more food (and maybe even a cooler) on a canoe trip than on a 10-day backpacking excursion. This will also dictate what type of camping stove and pots you bring. While a Jetboil is a great lightweight cooking instrument, a bulkier camping stove with more power is a good option for those who aren't worried about weight or space.

Dried Spices Can Improve Any Meal
Whether you’re making recipes from scratch or simply adding hot water to freeze-dried camping food, carrying plastic bags full of basil, curry powder, oregano, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper can help you make meals even more appetizing. Theobald also likes to carry a few less common ingredients: dried coconut milk powder and dried mushrooms.

Avoid Packaging
By taking food out of glass jars or other containers and packing it into plastic bags, you can cut down on the amount you’ll have to carry when the food is gone (Remember whatever you pack in, you need to pack out).

Consider the Conditions
If it’s cold outside, you’ll not only need more calories, but probably crave foods higher in fat and protein. Great options include cheese, peanut butter, coconut milk and nuts. You can also add more butter or oil to meals to pack in more calories. To keep weight down on backpacking trips, try dried cheese tortellini.

Nutrition is Key
While pasta may fill you up, it doesn’t offer many nutrients. Instead try whole wheat pasta, lentils or quinoa (which is also great because it can cook faster). To add more nutrients to your meals, consider sprinkling nuts or sunflower seeds on top.

Don’t Forget the Libations!
While it’s not practical to carry bottles of wine, collapsible wine bladders or a flask will allow you to toast your day on the water or the trails. 


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