An ode to a meal on the trail.
If you’re like me and love to be outside and also love to eat, then you’re probably aware that food just tastes better on the trail. There’s something about getting your butt kicked from cardio activity, and then being able to enjoy a big, hearty meal afterwards where you can engorge yourself with food guilt-free. For a lot of those who enjoy venturing into the backcountry, they tend to think lightweight and efficient when packing their food. This usually means repetitive meals that are filling but not entirely satisfying (think oatmeal and dehydrated meals in a bag). For those of you who like this system, that’s great and I will tip my hat to you as you pass me on the trail. I’ve taken a different approach when it comes to trail food, and it’s one that involves more weight, more time, but oh so much more tummy satisfaction.
My argument for not slimming down food weight
Personally, I get so much joy from having a good meal after a long and grueling day that I don’t mind carrying the extra weight. Plus, it’s actually one of my favorite parts of the day. Being able to sit and cook with your trail buddies, and then eat a well-made meal is the cherry on top to being in the backcountry.
I also like the extra challenge of trying to find recipes that work well on the trail, and trying to reduce the weight of the ingredients as much as I can. Pro tip: Try dehydrating your ingredients to make them lighter. Dehydrating your own veggies like onions, bell peppers, carrots, and peas are a great way to lighten the load while not compromising on your ingredients. Dehydrating fruits like pineapple, watermelon, and apricots make a perfect trail snack, plus you get the added bonus of less waste from snack wrappers!
What does a fancy trail meal actually mean?
The best part about this is it can mean whatever you want it to! If you’re used to having the pre-packaged dehydrated meals (i.e Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry) but want to experiment with making your own meal I encourage you to start small and be creative. For example, if you have a favorite meal that you make at home with lots of sauces and ingredients try brainstorming how you can prep everything before you leave to then pack it on the trail. Pro tip: For sauces and condiments, I recommend ransacking restaurants and grocery stores to create your own stash of packets that are really useful on the trail. Obviously you don’t want to grab the whole bin, but if you snag a few soy sauce packets here or a few hot sauce packets there, they come in handy when trying to cook lightweight on the trail.
Here are a few ideas for you to brainstorm with to up your food game on the trail:
I like to bring soy sauce packets and a few spices from home (like red peppers, chili oil, garlic powder) to add to my ramen. You can also bring lightweight ingredients that add protein like textured vegetable protein (TVP), jerky, dried seaweed, dried mushrooms, or bone broth powder.
I’ll admit, this one might take some experimenting to figure out what works best for you and how much weight you want to carry. My go-to ingredients for this are: canned beans, dehydrated veggies, taco seasoning, and tortillas. If I’m feeling extra fancy and if I’m making this on the first night, sometimes I’ll bring cheese and a tomato too.
“Baked” Apple Crumble
Though this recipe isn’t actually baked, it replicates a dessert you may have tried at home. With this recipe, you can use fresh apples or dehydrated ones. I recommend packing in a small ziplock bag with cinnamon, brown sugar, and granola. For added protein, you can also add a bit of peanut/almond butter, or whole nuts. The great thing about this recipe is you can get a really yummy dessert for minimal effort! Just add everything but the granola with a bit of water in a pan, once it's warm or rehydrated you add the granola on top. For an added challenge you can make this recipe a cobbler instead of a crumble, but keep in mind you’ll need to create a make-shift dutch oven on the trail using a second pan and some rocks.
Don't get discouraged!
I’ll admit, this method is not always easy nor is it always successful and it will take some experimenting with what works best for you. I’ve had my fair share of failed meals on the trail, like the first time I made peach cobbler and it overflowed/burned on the sides of my pan while the middle was still raw. This extra challenge is all part of the fun!