Top Tips for Cooking While Backpacking
Originally written for and published by Wilderness Culture
Good food is necessary outdoors. I’m not sure I’d camp if I couldn’t eat well, so you can consider me an expert. Below are my top tips for amazing cooking (and eating) while backpacking.
P.S. you will have to get used to longing glances from strangers as they admire your food after integrating these tips!
1. Incorporate Fresh Food
Although dried and rehydrated food has come a long way, I save them for week-long hikes or more. Fresh food is more cost efficient and means that I’m not going to burn out on the few really good rehydrated meal options! Fresh vegetables can make a meal as good as something home cooked in a full kitchen. Let’s agree that dried or rehydrated vegetables just aren’t the same. Whether you are out for four days or ten, the first few meals can always incorporate something fresh.
My favorite is to buy a stir fry sauce packets with instant rice and bring some broccoli and carrots (they keep well). I also love to bring a package of gnocchi with baby tomatoes and olive tapenade. I always get comments on the “luxury” of fresh food as I am chopping up the vegetables. It may be the only time vegetables feel luxurious and special- take advantage!
2. Make Your Own Oatmeal Packets
After two years of constant consumption of either apple cinnamon or maple brown sugar oatmeal (no matter the brand), I felt like I couldn’t continue eating oats. However, I am hard pressed to think of a better breakfast food that provides long-lasting energy and good fiber!
The solution I came up with was homemade oatmeal packets with flavor profiles that I enjoy. Get inspiration from a bulk foods store or try some of my favorites:
Blueberry Maple (using dried blueberries and maple sugar)
Chocolate Cherry (using dark chocolate chips and dried cherries)
Peanut Butter Chocolate (using PB2 powder and chocolate chips)
Mocha (using instant coffee and chocolate chips)
I found the variety really helpful for longer hikes and was able to sneak in lots of healthy ingredients other than the instant oats, including hemp hearts, chia seeds, and coconut sugar for sweetener.
3. Have The Right Gear
For gourmet cooking outdoors (i.e. anything more than boiling water), I recommend the MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set. With two nice sized pots that all fit into each other, it allows me to enjoy getting creative because I know the pots can handle it. I also keep my mug, utensils, and stove in the cooking set so it doesn’t take up too much additional space in my backpack. Plus, it is great for cooking for more than one person, which makes the meal more fun.
4. Get Creative With Staples
Mac and cheese and instant soups are commonplace in the backcountry and since I would never recommend getting rid of a good thing, I believe spicing it up with creative additions are going to make it that much better at the end of a long hiking day.
For example, I enjoy Daiya’s Mac and Cheese- the ingredients are good and it tastes great. However, some of my best work was adding:
BBQ Jackfruit to Daiya’s Cheddar Mac and Cheese
Cauliflower Grounds to Daiya’s Alfredo Mac and Cheese
Vegan Chorizo to Daiya’s White Cheddar Mac and Cheese.
Don’t think you have to be vegan to eat these options from the “free-from” section- they keep well and taste great, I promise.
For soups, Taste Adventure creates delicious and hearty soups that are lightweight and much more nutritious than instant ramen noodles. Plus, they are common at bulk food stores so you can make your own portions and reduce packaging. I’ll always go for their Black Bean Soup, Split Pea Soup, and Corn Chowder.
5. Remember Leave No Trace Principles
Good food makes camping and being outdoors WAY better, especially if you are a foodie like me. However, there is no way to rationalize or justify putting a wild animal at risk for the sake of a good meal in their home. Practices, like washing a plate full of food into the river or washing a plate in or near a water source at all, are not acceptable.
Proper etiquette involves scraping all food scraps into your trash bag (to be packed out), bringing water from the water source at least 200 ft away from the source before washing dishes with biodegradable soap, and finally, putting the grey water into a hole.
We hold so much power to keep the animals in these places safe and wild, so let’s do our part!
I hope, from one foodie to another, you have gotten some inspiration for your next adventure outdoors.