Backcountry Food Introduction

Through the years I’ve totally upgraded how I feed myself in the backcountry. From prepackaged freeze-dried stuff to homegrown stuff lovingly dehydrated in my kitchen, then reconstituted in the backcountry.

If my main adventure partner Tim was in charge of planning our trips, we would eat a lot of protein bars, nuts and dried fruit. I’m too “picky” to eat that way – even in the backcountry I want to enjoy my meals and snacks. There’s nothing wrong with protein bars, nuts, and dried fruit. In fact, I bring them along on every trip and this tends to be what we eat throughout the day, instead of a lunch, we snack on those items at portages along our route. But I want a nice breakfast and dinner to bookend each day.

We used to eat mostly pre-packaged freeze-dried meal packs that can be purchased at your favorite local gear shop (or mine, check it out.)

There are several disadvantages to prepackaged freeze-dried meals:

  • They take up a lot of space
  • They create a lot of garbage that you need to pack out
  • They’re packed full of weird ingredients
  • They’re REALLY expensive

I mean, they’re what we ate for many years. They’re convenient and tasty enough, but the packaging alone was something that always bothered me. I always knew I would *eventually* learn to prepare my own backcountry food.

I started by dehydrating leftovers from all the stews, chilis, and other such meals that I prepared. I found that I had a hard time dehydrating them properly, and they were difficult to rehydrate in the field as well. I’d put the dehydrated meal in the pot, add water, bring to boil, and let boil a while. Not ideal if you are trying to preserve or conserve fuel. Also, some parts of the stew would invariably not rehydrate properly, and it would be unpleasant to have to eat rock solid black beans, no matter how tasty the rest of the meal was.

With experience, I realized a few things. It’s okay to dehydrate completed meals if all the ingredients in the stew or chili are the same, and ideally small, size. So, a lentil chili with tiny-cut veggies might rehydrate well, whereas a chickpea curry with cauliflower chunks might not. Also, whatever I dehydrate needs to be very low in fat. Anything fatty won’t dehydrate very well. (Vegetable korma, you’re delicious, but too fatty to dehydrate properly. Sorry, but I just can’t take you on the trip.)

Ultimately, I learned a lot from experience, but I also have to give a lot of credit to Glenn McAllister and his Recipes for Adventure books. Go check out his site and BUY HIS BOOKS! Really they are totally worth it. I just so happen to have the dehydrator that Glenn uses, which is the Excalibur 9-tray, so that works out perfectly!

Ok, so in order to eat like I do in the backcountry, you’ll need a few things:

  • A dehydrator. I highly recommend the Excalibur. I’ve been using it for 10+ years and it has served me well.
  • Thermos Food Jar. I highly recommend the 24 ounce size. It is big enough to rehydrate large meals, and after a day in the backcountry, I need a large meal! You’ll need as many as the number of people you’re cooking up food for.
  • Any stove/pot/kettle combo to boil water. Mine is an old MSR Pocket Rocket and I use an old pot with a lid.

Usually, I dehydrate single ingredients at home. Then I mix single ingredients in specified ratios, which I package together. In the field, each person gets a packet of dehydrated ingredients in their Thermos. I add the specified amount of boiling water, put the lid back on, and let it sit for 20-30 minutes. Then voila, you have a homecooked backcountry feast ready to go. After we eat, we rinse out our Thermos with filtered water, drink the water for extra hydration and electrolytes, and then store away the Thermos until the next meal.

Once you’ve got everything you need, check out some of my featured recipes and get cooking!

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