Gourmet Meals Over a Campfire
If you equate backpacking with freeze-dried food and trail mix, it’s time to update your backcountry menu.
Lightweight fry pans, stoves that simmer, and innovative packaging all make it possible to cook diverse, nutritious meals without adding to your pack weight.
With the right equipment and a little planning, it’s even easy to make pizza and cinnamon rolls from scratch.
The foundation for every good backcountry kitchen is the stove. There are a wide variety of backcountry stoves, and choosing the right stove will give you more flexibility in terms of what you can cook.
Some stoves are optimized for boiling water, making them the best choice for when you want to travel really light and mainly rely on dehydrated meals and items that you can cook in hot water.
If you want to bake in the backcountry, invest in a stove that will accommodate a pan and that has an adjustable burner. Be sure to buy the right type of fuel when you get the stove.
Once you have the right stove, you’ll need to get a pan. In the past, people would carry cast-iron fry pans and pots into the backcountry.
Thankfully, much lighter pans designed specifically for backpacking are now widely available. If your pan doesn’t come with a handle, invest in a pair of pot grips, which clip onto the edge of a pan and allow you to handle it without getting burned.
In addition to a pan, you will need cookware. A spatula works well because you can use it for stirring, flipping, and even cutting. For a dish, a plastic sealable container is the most versatile choice because it can be used to carry leftovers during the day.
A pocket knife is really handy, especially if you bring vegetables that need to be chopped up.
Another lightweight item that makes cooking a lot easier is a plastic cutting board that you can roll up. The final item you will need is a spoon to eat with.
When it comes to packing food, plastic two-ounce containers with screw-on lids are perfect for small ingredients, such as spices, salt, and baking powder, because they are lightweight and reusable and they seal well.
The slightly larger versions are great for liquids such as honey and hot sauce. Pack flour and other dry ingredients in a sturdy plastic bag, which you can also use to mix dough and which won’t add a lot of weight to your pack.
In addition to measuring all your ingredients at home to ensure that you have the correct amounts, consider pre-chopping any vegetables you’re bringing.
If you're creative, it’s possible to make just about any of your favorite home meals on your next backcountry trip. Here are some ways to re-invigorate breakfast before your next trip.
Instead of cooking endless bowls of oatmeal, fry up a pan of fresh garlic, onion, and rehydrated hash browns. You can spice this meal up by adding green peppers, chunks of dried sausage, and hot sauce.
If packed in the correct container, eggs transport well and don’t need to be refrigerated. This opens the door to a number of filling breakfasts, including egg burritos, omelets, fried eggs, and hard-boiled eggs.
However you choose to cook them, eggs are a great way to ensure that you get plenty of protein before hitting the trail.
Granola bars and trail mix are standard fare for trail lunches, but if you’re looking for fresher options or new ideas, consider packing cheese and crackers.
Some crackers will crumble if packed in a backpack, but a few very sturdy cracker brands will withstand multiple repackings. Look for something thick, and repackage them in a plastic bag so you don’t have to pack a cardboard box.
If you’re packing cheese, make sure you don’t take it out of the package or it will begin to mold. Tortillas with peanut butter and honey are another easy option that pack well, although you should bring the honey in a tightly sealed container.
Although there are a lot of great granola bars on the market, don't overlook candy bars with nuts; they may have more sugar and fewer added nutritional elements, but they’re often cheaper, have comparable caloric totals, and have a better flavor.
Another item that gets overlooked is yogurt in tubes.
Though often marketed for children, the plastic tubes pack well and are high in protein, and even though it’s yogurt, it can survive at least three days in warm temperatures.
After a long day on the trail, a big pot of cheesy pasta can go a long way. But if that’s the only item on the evening menu for days on end, it may be time to diversify your dinner offerings.
Though they are a little heavier, potatoes and carrots are durable vegetables that will last for weeks when packed correctly. Some cheese, fried sausage, and sautéed root vegetables make a filling, nutritious dinner when you add the right spices.
If you’re interested in baking, another choice is corn bread. Corn bread mix is easy to find at any grocery store, and if you layer the dough with rehydrated beans and cheese, it becomes a satisfying casserole.
If you’re looking for a really easy meal with a different flavor profile, look for a line of Indian meals that come pre-cooked in bags that you just boil.
They’re a little heavier than dehydrated potato flakes, but the flavor is worth the weight.
Whatever food you choose to bring, try to make it varied with a good balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, and don’t skimp on flavor! Use your time on the trail to have fun thinking up new and exciting meals for your next trip.
Don’t be afraid to test out unique ingredients and to bring foods that seem to fall outside the norms for backpacking.
The worst thing that will happen is that you start off with a heavier pack, but that’s an easy problem to solve!