Some time back, I discussed an introduction to hiking. Now, I intend to expand on the topic to cover an essential skill for long hikes and backpacking: cooking.
Cooking in the wilderness might sound intimidating. As a beginner, you might feel tempted to bring only items ready to eat without any sort of preparation or cooking. However, on longer trips, this can quickly turn into something dull and not appetizing. But fear not, cooking outdoors can be as easy or intricate as you would like it to be. Let’s get started.
To succeed at cooking in the wilderness, you will need a few essentials. Most major outdoor brands such as MSR, Sea to Summit, or SnowPeak sell backpacking cookware at various prices. But if you intend to spend your money wisely, you should look for the following characteristics:
- Balance out lightweight and heat conduction; this also applies to regular cookware. If your pans don’t retain heat well, then your food might cook unevenly. However, if it’s too heavy, it could make your pack heavier than ideal.
- Non-stick cookware is fantastic to both make the cooking more straightforward and clean up. Similarly, as with regular cookware, avoid ceramic because it loses its non-stick properties quickly.
- Think of versatility: could your pot double down as a bowl or a container to place your ingredients? Can you use your bowl also to cut your ingredients?
- Keep it simple. There are as many backpacking gadgets as there are for your kitchen; keeping it light and minimal will help with the weight of your pack.
With these points in mind, I present you with two setups, one minimal and my typical setup for backpacking. Of course, I have multiple configurations for different occasions, and I encourage you to explore what works for you. However, the rationale might help you think about your setup from a different perspective.
- 1 Jetboil MiniMo, which works fantastic for boiling water and cooking.
- 1 Spork to scoop meals out of your Jetboil or your “Mountain House” package.
- 1 Knife to prep your ingredients or cut through tough packaging.
- 1 Water filter to clear out water from ponds or rivers and make it suitable for cooking.
- Ziplock or dry bags to carry your ingredients and trash.
My typical setup:
- 1 Set of Snowpeak non-stick pot and fry pan. This setup allows me to prepare two different ingredients with different temperatures (boiling noodles and frying eggs) and boiling water, containing my cut ingredients and doubling down as a serving bowl.
- 1 Snowpeak backpacking stove. This simple gadget can be screwed directly into the isobutane gas canister and takes almost no space in the backpack.
- 1 Snowpeak single-wall titanium mug. I use this mug to warm up my hands while drinking hot coffee or tea. Snowpeak offers a double wall that doesn’t conduct the heat too much to the outside of the mug, but you can’t use it to boil water in it directly, so I chose the single wall.
- I use one small and sharp camping knife to prep all my ingredients and open the packages.
- 1 titanium camping spork. What is better than a spoon and a fork at the same time?
- 1 ‘Sea to Summit’ silicone bowl. This bowl is unnecessary, but the base serves as a cutting board. I also use it to place my cut ingredients.
- 1 MSR backpacking spice rack. This item is also unnecessary, but as a gourmet backpacker, I need some spices.
- I bring two generic leakproof containers for olive oil and some form of vinegar.
- One bottle of ‘Sea to Summit’ wilderness wash; this biodegradable soap works for cookware, your hair and body, your clothes, and keeps mosquitoes away.
- Two ‘Sea to Summit’ dry bags of different sizes; It’s always a good idea to carry your ingredients and trash into bags that don’t let odors out, especially if you will camp near vicious wildlife like squirrels and raccoons.
- Last but not least, one platypus gravity water filter. Always remember, most cooking requires clean water.
This list might seem like a lot, but only a few items on this list are expensive.
Now we can turn our focus to cooking. With the simple setup, you can easily make instant ramen noodles, oatmeal, or “Mountain House” freeze-dried items, but there’s more to backcountry cooking. Preparing something delicious in the middle of nowhere demands some creativity from the chef. So here are some bullet points on how I think about my ingredients.
- Think about shelf stability. Dried items like pasta, grains, and meat are particularly well suited for the task.
- Many vegetables and aromatics like onions, potatoes, garlic, and tomatoes keep well at room temperature. The same is true for some hard cheeses like parmesan.
- Preserves packed in oil can double down as cooking oil and an ingredient.
- Condiment packages from the restaurants are excellent. These packages are generally shelf-stable and of a convenient size for backpacking. There always should be space in your bag for salt, pepper, and sugar packets.
- Save gas by bringing quick-cook items. As an example, fonio or couscous are superior to quinoa or regular pasta in that they require less cooking and thus less gas from your canister. This consideration is vital for multi-day trips.
- Think of individual packaging versus larger bags of ingredients; sometimes, you can re-pack separate packages of instant oatmeal to use less space in your pack and produce less trash. Avoid heavy packaging (like glass) as much as possible.
- Buy cans with easy-open. The last thing you want is to realize you forgot your can-opener when you are miles away from civilization.
- Pack your trash and remember to leave no trace. We don’t like people who leave waste behind in nature.
Finally, we can put everything together through one of my favorite camping recipes: Fonio with dates and pistachios.
Fonio with Dates and Pistachios
- 1 cup water.
- 1 tsp chicken or vegetable bouillon.
- 1 tsp olive oil.
- 1 Shallot, minced.
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely.
- 1/2 tsp cardamom.
- 1/2 cup fonio.
- 3 or 4 dates, chopped finely.
- 1/4 cup pistachios, shelled and chopped.
- 1 tsp dried mint.
- Salt and pepper, to taste.
- One tablespoon of Kaskh
- In a titanium mug, boil 1 cup of water, mix in and dissolve the chicken bouillon. It will add most of the saltiness to our meal.
- In a frying pan, heat the oil, stir in the shallots, and cook until softened, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cardamom and cook until fragrant.
- Stir in the Fonio and toast for about 2 minutes.
- Stir in the water, let everything come back to a boil, turn off the gas, cover with a lid, and let it cook for about 3 minutes.
- Stir in the dates, pistachios, and dried mint.
- Adjust the seasoning and enjoy.
I close the post with this, and I hope these tips will help you bring your outdoor cooking to the next level. If there is anything you do that I didn’t mention or have any questions, please share in the comments section below. Bon Appetit!