You read all about the right shoes and backpack to take you into the woods. It is sure to be an epic adventure, but what about the fuel to keep you powering up those mountains and through those gnarly canyons? The kitchen often sinks to the bottom of a backpacker’s planning list, but when you’re in the wild a good meal can save a horrible day and destroy a great one.
With these tips you won’t be stuck eating freeze-dried dog food that costs an arm and a leg because you’re too scared to do anything else but boil water on your MSR.
Just imagine sitting under those beautiful blue skies surround by a crown of mountains, finding solace with the purity of nature, and eating a delicious meal cooked in harmony with the woods. Sounds epic because it is so read on:
- No More Cold Oatmeal: Carefully plan the amount of food that you carry into the woods. Packing extra food may seem like a good idea, but trust me you will regret it when the time comes to climb 3,000 feet over a pass. Don’t cook more than you will be able to eat either. We always make too much oatmeal in the morning. Now you’re stuck carrying solidified grey mush that you can force feed yourself for lunch or carry out – not fun. You get the idea… over pack snacks not meals.
Get that Quinoa Naked: Those wrappers and bags might be colorful and interesting nutrition reads if you get that bored in the woods (if so we have other problems to talk about), but cold hands don’t like tearing open packaging. Nothing is more frustrating than spending five minutes trying to just open dinner while hangry cold compatriots glare at you. Plus you are guaranteed to litter micro trash into the nature, also not cool. So instead premix and re-bag all your dinners and breakfasts into Ziplocs or produce bags.
- Get to Know Your Stove … Really Well: That time I spent two days sleeping in a snowy Canyonlands without a working stove – the gas hose simply popped out of the pump into the fuel bottle – would have been way more enjoyable if I simply understood my stove. Learn your lessons before you go. Experiential learning is great but don’t make that gamble with something as necessary as food and hot drinks. Test your stove before you leave, memorize its parts, and even test cook with it. Lighting stoves seems easy in theory, but each stove is a beast to its own. Taming the beast is an art to learn before you leave. Peanut butter sandwiches and trail mix just won’t cut it.
- Respect the Kitchen: I know you’re exhausted after an unexpected turn became a bushwhacking adventure that barely landed you at camp before dark, but take a breath and treat your kitchen with the respect it deserves. A carelessly set up cooking area – one that is not flat – and a rushed cooking job will result in dinner being tipped over and served to ground. Contrary to popular belief pasta and dirt are not a good combination. Even worse than toppling dinner over, you might knock boiling water onto a foot or hand. Burns land are one of the most common backcountry injuries and most avoidable. They usually force an early end to trips: it’s hard to care for burns in the woods, and you cannot stick a blistered foot into a leather boot.
- Wash Your DAMN Hands: Gastrointestinal infections are one of the most common backcountry illnesses – they are also one of the most preventable. Wash your hands before you touch food, cook food, eat food, serve food, or go within 10 feet of the kitchen: basically wash your hands at any chance. Suds up with water and soap – hand sanitizer doesn’t get rid of the poop particles that hang on to you. You do not want to be responsible for every single one of your friends dropping like stones, furiously digging cat holes or projectile vomiting into the beautiful woods. Trust me they aren’t enjoying the trip. They probably regret ever coming, ever meeting you, and ever being born. So everyone, just wash your hands.
- Think About It: Cook in the right order to minimize dishes. Instead of cooking the dehydrated beans cook the brown rice first and then throw the beans in with the rice for the last 5 minutes. The fewer dishes, the less cleanup. Boil water at the end of every dinner to sanitize pots and bowls. Keeping dishes clean will deter animals and decrease chances of sickness in case someone doesn’t wash their hands. If you boil enough hot water everyone might even get a hot drink to help warm up the sleeping bag.
Treat Your Gear Right: Do not explode the kitchen while unpacking. You will lose things because the forest likes to eat things that you treat like you don’t care about. Stove parts and lighters in the dirt will clog as revenge for being carelessly strewn, delivering a fine headache in repair. Being nice to all your backpacking gear is always a good idea. I mean, it is your only life line of comfort and survival in a place where Wal-Mart is not down the street.
- Know Where You Are: If you’re going into the wilderness there probably will be animals. We stomp through their home so research what types of animals live in wilderness you decide to explore. Take the proper precautions to keep you and the animals safe. It could be a bear hang – 10 feet high and 4 feet away from the tree trunk – or a bear canister if you dive into the Rocky Mountains, or you might sleep with your food bags in the Himalaya’s to keep stray dogs from stealing your bagels. Make sure to close your food up, rodents and birds pride themselves in being able to devour all your granola in an hour. Even if you catch them you probably shouldn’t eat that food – you know disease and such.
- Don’t Take Short Cuts: Take the time to research the LNT principles for the environment you adventure into, grey water might be broadcast or dumped into sump holes. It is easy to quickly dump small food crumbs onto the ground instead of taking the time to put them in a trash bag, but this attracts animals to your camp and damages the environment. Carry your leftover food out. You cannot bury leftovers in a cat hole, don’t do it. Wash your dishes (everything for that matter) away from the water source – at least 200 feet. Don’t make those poor fish deal with your nasty soap and food, they already have a hard enough time with the dams.
- Put It to Bed: Before you take that delicious tea and a full stomach to that beautiful sleeping bag, storm proof your kitchen. You don’t know what crazy storm might come a drench your stove or blow away your lighter. After you properly store the food, stick your stove in a sheltered area – still away from your tent – and cover it with the pot. Top off your sculpture with a large rock. It looks like this: