We have picked our destination, did a good map survey, know how long we are going be gone, and are super pumped that we will soon be on the trail.
The next thing that we need to plan is our food.
Why do I plan food second? Food is an important part of your backpacking trek. It is the nourishment that will keep you on the trail, it takes up space in your pack, it has weight, and it requires preparation before you leave and while on the trail. How are you going to cook it? What type of foods are you taking? What do you like?
To many people think that trail food is trail food, but you can eat pretty much what ever you like on the trail. You just need to plan and prepare it.
Freeze Dried meals and quick, easy and light and are a good option on the trail. Dehydrating your own food is another great way to eat well and enjoy your meals on the trail.
Of course you can also pack in fresh foods or prepackaged meals. All of these are good options. I thought I would take a few minutes and discuss some thoughts I have on meal options.
When I plan for meals on the trail I take into consideration a few things.
1. How long am I going to be out. This is a big consideration as it will determine whether or not I can take fresher foods out with me. Taking a nice steak out for dinner works if it is going to be cooked in the first day or two. It requires a little more cold storage, which in turn becomes more weight. I like a steak in the woods every now and then, but knowing how long I am going to be out is a consideration that I need to add to my decision-making.
2. What are the conditions going to be. The weather plays a large role in my decision-making. Do I need to take more “warming foods” because of the cold, or can I get away with meals that are just filling. That steak I mentioned. Great winter camping food. It will keep longer and the smell and taste are great motivators on a snowy night. Along with the food, beverages need to be planned for due to conditions. I like my coffee in the morning no matter what, but I may not take coco in the summer and drink water instead.
Hot beverages are a morale builder in the cold. They do not really do much to warm the body, but you feel like it anyway. They need to be planned for.
If it is real rainy, you will want to plan for foods that can be eaten on the move, or provide quick nutrition. Same goes for winter camping. You want food that is quickly prepared and consumed. You may not want to wait around in the rain to long for your meal to cook. Then when you get to camp and get shelter set up, a longer prep time meal is in order.
3. Hot meals and Cold meals. How many hot meals do you want to eat on the trail. Hot meals require cooking. Cooking requires fuel and time and pots or pans. Decide how many hot meals you need for your trip. Typically one hot meal is good enough for a day, and typically that meal is your evening meal or dinner. This gives you something warm and solid in your belly for a good nights sleep. Eating a quick non cook breakfast and trail lunch are great options to reduce the amount of fuel you need to carry and make you day on the trail fun and easy.
I love the cinnamon toast crunch bars for breakfast, throw in a pop tart and you have a feast.
Breakfast. They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. On the trail, some quick energy to get you going is essential. But it need not be complicated or big. Breakfast bars or breakfast drinks are fantastic means of protein and energy to get you going. This is where planning is important for your day on the trail. A quick breakfast before you hit the trail for the day is enough when you know that your lunch is only hours away. In most cases lunch is on the go, so if mid morning hunger strikes, there is always a pouch of nuts or granola just a hip pocket away. It is also important to plan for how you going to eat your breakfast meal. On colder mornings, an idea is to pack up and hit the trail. Hike for about an hour or so, then stop and eat. This allows for the body to warm on its own, the temperature to rise and you get a quick jump on the day. If you get to a camp site that will require a climb first thing in the morning, climb and then eat breakfast. Putting your face in the sun and eating a nice cup of oatmeal is a nice way to start a day on the trail.
Lunch. I am not a big fan of “lunch” on the trail. The mid day meal should be quick and easy. More like snacking along the way. Trail mix, Jerky, and powdered sports drink are good. Throw in some cheese sticks and you have a nice “lunch” on the trail. I was over the course of the day. Eating when we take longer breaks or at a point of interest. I plan for enough snacks to get me about three servings over the course of a day.
Dinner. The evening meal for me is the big one. This is the meal that marks the end of a great day. It is tasty and filling. I am a big fan of dehydrating my own food. There are lots of resources out there to help you with recipes and dehydrating tips. My favorite site is the Hungry Hammock Hanger. This guy has got it going on for back country cooking, specializing in dehydrating your meals. The thing that I really love about it is that I cook it all, eat some, dehydrate some and get to eat it again on the trail. This method is great for portion control and taste.
Prepackaged meals like Mountain House and Pack it Gourmet are also great options and can be prepared to cook in groups also.
Plan and Prepare.
Preparing your meals are an important part of your outdoor adventure. Repackage everything. No cans, No boxes, no extra wrapping. Get in your mind to reduce your trash to 1 zip lock quart bag. Everything needs to be reduces to be packed out in that bag. I am not a fan of eating out of bags, some folks like the idea so they do not have to clean pots and bowls. There is just something about it that I don’t like. So even Mountain House meals get repackaged into a smaller zip lock bag and re-hydrated in my pot on the trail.
Reducing the amount of trash you have and marking the food makes life easy on the trail. I have seen a numbering system or just writing the day for the meal on the bag. This works great when planning for group cooking.
Water plays a major role in meal planning, preparation, and clean up. Know how much you will have available when planning your meals. If you are boiling water for your meals, there is no need to filter, or at a minimum running the water through a coffee filter to get the sticks and rocks out is all you need. Save filtered water for drinking. Same goes for cleaning. There is no need to filter if you are going to boil your dishes clean. A small amount of camp suds goes a long way too when clean up is concerned. Do not skimp on water. You need it to stay hydrated and you need it to re-hydrate. Make sure that when you re-hydrate your meals that they are completely re-hydrated. Eating partially re-hydrated meals is not good for you and will lead to issues on the trail.
You need to protect your food. First from spoiling and then from critters. Get in the habit of preparing your meals so they will have the least amount of chance of going bad. Be careful not to cross contaminate your food when you prepare. Then get in the habit of using a bear bag and hanging it. No matter what the conditions or circumstance, get your food away from your camp area and get it high. Bears are typically the least concern, but protecting your food is important. If your food is robbed by critters, your trip is over. Check local ranger stations or land managers for regulations. A lot of areas are starting to require bear canisters. They are a nice way to protect your food. Waterproof, odor resistant, and nice to have in camp. It is work having a few in your group for smell-able items that need to be protected.
Remember that when you protect your food, you are also protecting you. Getting the food away from camp keeps you out of harms way.
Meals are a big part of your backpacking adventure. Do not take this process lightly.
We will talk about planning for problems in our next post.
What are your favorite trail meals?
Have a Great Scouting Day!