Gear Guy

Q:

How Can I Eat Well While Backpacking?

I'm burned out on pasta and trail mix. What easy-to-make food should I take backpacking this summer?

How Can I Eat Well While Backpacking?
(Warren Goldswain via Shutterstoc)
A:

I totally understand. It’s tough to pack food that tastes good and keeps you on the go. For a lot of people, the simplest, most economical options get boring.

One solution is to pack freeze-dried meals. I'd recommend Mountain House’s Lasagna with Meat Sauce ($6.50 for two servings) or AlpineAire's Western Tamale Pie with Beef ($8 for two servings). Freeze-dried meals are simple—just boil some water, pour it in, stir, and wait five minutes—and  I don’t buy the argument that they're expensive. Throw in some dried soup and crackers and you can feed two people for under $10 each, easily.

And make sure to pack a spice kit, either from the bulk area at your local food co-op or the spice aisle at the grocery store. Look for the following: onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, oregano, rosemary, and thyme. Try a couple different combinations— it'll go a long way in taking the “blah” out of an otherwise basic meal.

How to Eat Well in the Backcountry: 'Lipsmackin’ Backpackin’'

Lipsmackin' Backpackin'
Lipsmackin' Backpackin' (Courtesy of Lipsmackin' Backpackin')

Next, you'll want to expand your outdoors cooking skills beyond just boiling up some rice or pasta. Buy a copy of Lipsmackin’ Backpackin’ ($16) and the NOLS Cookery book ($15). These books are full of recipes that taste good, have a lot of variety, and are relatively easy to make, as long as you have basic cooking skills. The dishes you'll make here work best on group trips when you can share cooking chores and the load. But even a solo hiker will get some great ideas.

How to Eat Well in the Backcountry: Backpacker’s Pantry Outback Oven

Outback Oven
Outback Oven (Courtesy of Backpacker's Pantry)

Complement your improving culinary skills with a Backpacker’s Pantry Outback Oven ($80). It's a fiendishly clever device that combines a non-stick skillet with a lid, heat shield, and reflective canopy. That lets you turn nearly any stove into a convection oven. (Do note that you must use a stove with a fuel source that attaches via a hose, not one where the stove sits atop fuel. That's a good recipe for an explosion!)

An Outback Oven opens up the door to serious cooking: brownies, scones, pizza, frittatas, even apple pie. It takes a bit of finesse, but the potential is huge. I hauled mine up to 14,000 feet and baked fresh bread when I climbed Denali.

That said, these days I use my Outback Oven mostly on bike tours and kayak trips, when the load isn't all on my back. The same goes for Outback Oven’s heavier cousin, the Lodge Dutch Oven ($55 for the five-quart version). With a Dutch Oven, you can begin to add dishes like Mexican rice and pot roast to your repertoire. But it’s a tool to use only when weight is no concern at all.

Bon appetit!

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