Backpacking Food: Beyond Noodles
The two most important characteristics of backpacking food are lightness and ease of preparation. After all, you have to carry everything you eat, and no one has patience to spend a lot of time on food preparation after a hard day of hiking. Sadly, this leads many backpackers to believe that their cooking choices are limited to commercial packets of noodles and sauce. Fortunately, this is not necessarily the case. Eating well while backpacking does not require a lot of extra effort or a lot of extra pack weight. You don’t have to purchase expensive freeze-dried meals from an outdoors supply store, either. All you need is a little bit of preparation and creativity. This article will show you how to quickly and easily prepare delicious and nourishing food on the trail.
To get started, take a trip to your local supermarket. Although there is no “backpacking foods” section, a trip through the aisles will reveal a variety of trail ready ingredients: oatmeal, soup mixes, dried fruits, nuts, dried pasta, envelopes of powdered sauces, sun dried tomatoes, tortillas and wraps, and ethnic foods such as couscous can all be the basis for wonderful trail recipes. In the frozen foods section, you’ll find bags of vegetables that you can take home and dry in your dehydrator or oven. Canned beans can also be dehydrated. If you’re a carnivore, look for envelopes of chicken, shelf stable bacon, shelf-stable packs of pepperoni, summer sausage, salmon, etc.
Basically, look for anything that is dry and/or lightweight. Packaging is important, too. For example, don’t get heavy cans of meat if you can buy the exact same product packaged in a lighter foil envelope.
Assembling a recipe
Use the ingredients that you’ve found to come up with some recipes. For example, chicken in a foil pouch, an envelope of dry pesto, and some pasta can add up to a gourmet pasta dish. Shelf-stable bacon, a packet of instant mashed potatoes, some powdered milk and some chicken broth can make a hearty bacon and potato chowder.
Use your imagination, and you can come up with a trail version of almost any dish that you enjoy eating. For chicken pot pie, try an envelope of vegetable soup mix (or some dehydrated vegetables), a packet of chicken, some bouillon, some powdered milk, and seasonings. You can use just-add-water baking mix for a crust.
Dehydrating without a dehydrator
Learning how to dehydrate foods opens up new worlds in terms of what you can bring on the trail. Dehydrating foods helps preserve them, and makes them lighter and easier to carry. A dehydrator is great for this, but if you don’t have one you can also use a regular oven. First, line a cookie sheet with some wax paper or parchment paper. Next, spread the food that you are trying to dehydrate out on the cookie sheet in a single later. You can dehydrate liquids, too-just spread them out in a thin layer so that they’ll dry out in a reasonable amount of time. Now, turn your oven on to the “Warm” setting. Set the cookie sheet in the oven, and use oven mitts or a potholder to prop the door open by an inch or two. This gives allows the liquid evaporating out of the food to escape from the oven.
Depending on what you are trying to dehydrate, the process may take hours or even a couple of days. Check the food periodically, and turn vegetables over on the cookie sheet so that they dry evenly. Vegetables are done when they are either leathery or crisp, without any pockets of moisture inside. Liquids and sauces usually dry to into “leathers,” with the consistency of one of those fruit roll-up snacks you used to eat as a child. Tear these leathers into small pieces for faster rehydrating. The only thing that you can’t dehydrate is fat. It becomes rancid quickly, so fatty foods like salmon, ground beef with fat, or sauces made with a lot of oil are a bad choice.
Spice It Up!
Spices are an essential part of cooking, even while backpacking. Of course, you won’t want to carry an entire spice rack in your pack, but you can pack some of your favorite spices in small plastic bags.
Many backpacking meals, such as soups, stews and pastas, can be cooked in a single pan, which makes clean up easy. Some meals can simply be rehydrated in a freezer bag or a steamer bag by using boiling water. Dry muffin mixes can be packaged with the appropriate amount of powdered milk and cooked at camp. You can bake small amounts of muffin mix or other types of quickbread using the following method: Add the correct amount water and baking mix into an oven bag. Combine the water and the mix by kneading the bag, then tie the oven bag closed and place it in boiling water. Whatever you decide to cook, remember to focus on foods that can be cooked with boiling water, as that is the easiest and most reliable way to cook over a fire.
Next time you go backpacking, try one of these easy, lightweight and delicious recipes:
Backpacker’s Chicken and Dumplings
1 foil pouch of chicken
1 envelope vegetable soup mix
1 cup powdered milk
2 cubes chicken bouillon
½ teaspoon parsley flakes
½ teaspoon of sage
¼ teaspoon of thyme
¼ teaspoon of black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 cup of just-add-water baking mix
2 tablespoons of powdered milk or buttermilk
In one bag, combine vegetable soup mix, 1 cup of powdered milk, chicken bouillon, herbs and pepper.
In another bag, combine baking mix and 2 tablespoons of powdered milk and buttermilk.
In a big pot, combine contents of soup mix bag and chicken with 6-8 cups of water. Heat the mixture on a stove or over a fire until the vegetables are tender.
Add approximately 1/2 cup of water to the bag with the baking mix in it. Combine the water and the baking mix by kneading the bag.
Drop baking mix into the chicken soup by spoonfuls. Let everything simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the dumplings are light and fluffy.
Bacon and Corn Chowder
1 package of precooked shelf-stable bacon
1 box of scalloped potatoes
1 envelope of instant mashed potatoes (3.8 oz)
1 cup of powdered milk
1 14.5 oz can of corn
2 cubes of chicken bouillon
1 bay leaf
½ tablespoon minced onions
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon parsley flakes
Dehydrate corn in an oven until it is dry. In one bag, combine dehydrated corn and scalloped potatoes with chicken bouillon, bay leaf, garlic, parsley and onions.
In another bag, combine the instant mashed potatoes, powdered milk, and the cheese sauce mix from the scalloped potatoes.
Tear bacon into small pieces. Combine bacon and contents of the first bag in a large pot. Add 6-8 cups of water and mix well. Cook for 20-30 minutes, until corn and potatoes are soft.
Add the contents of the second bag and stir well. Cook for 5 more minutes and then serve.