By: Hope Gately
Stay tuned until the end of the article for an accompanying video from our friends at BackpackingTV.
Cooking in the backcountry may seem daunting or burdensome to many backpackers. Some people approach this necessary undertaking as yet another mundane task that must be accomplished at the end of a long day. MYSTERY RANCH and our ambassadors prefer to think of cooking in the backcountry as something fun, creative and rewarding. Chef and outdoorsman Eduardo Garcia and Lindsey Browne Davis, outdoorswoman, writer and ecologist, team up to share their love of foraging and cooking in wild places with the hope that these tips will inspire your inner backcountry chef.
Seasonings and Sauces Go a Long Way
Cooking outdoors doesn’t have to be difficult. Simple seasonings and sauces that you would use at home can be applied to a variety of freeze-dried and scratch meals to spice things up.
Here are our ambassador’s favorites:
“MONTANA MEX SEASONING is essential for curing dull freeze-dried meals and creating from scratch with seasonal mountain wild foods.” – Eduardo Garcia
“It’s always great to have hot sauce as an option! Sometimes I also carry coconut oil packets to add calories, fat and flavor to a meal, especially in the colder times of year to help me stay warm.” – Lindsey Browne Davis
Other seasonings, sauces and oils to consider include dried lemon and dill for fish and, of course, ketchup for backcountry french fries. Instead of canola oil or coconut oil, try avocado oil for a light and non-greasy taste. Don’t wanna pack in too many potatoes? Just half the recipe and enjoy!
Don’t Be Afraid to Leave Your Comfort Zone
Packing in and spicing up freeze-dried meals is typically within most backpackers’ wheelhouse and comfort zone. But to truly enjoy cooking outdoors, making meals from scratch is an excellent goal for any avid adventurer.
Our ambassadors provide their advice when it comes to ditching freeze-dried meals and getting creative with your cooking:“If you want Paella, then make Paella. If you want a huckleberry pie, then go for it. The same intention given to the other aspects of your backcountry trip should also be afforded to your meals.”
“My favorite meal to have in the backcountry is a freshly prepared trout. I love the simplicity and satisfaction of eating a fish I just caught in the wilderness. I typically carry in a bit of butter or oil, a small frying pan or a bit of foil, and sometimes a bit of pancake batter to bread and fry a fish along with a lightweight Tenkara rod.” – Lindsey Browne Davis
Fearful that you might fail at your first from-scratch cooking attempt? Eduardo has some words of wisdom:
“You can fail trying, or you can fail not trying. I’d say it’s better to fail trying with the faith that each session spent cooking is like a workout for your inner chef. Eventually, you’ll stick that landing and move on to the next challenge.”
Packing in and Preparing Food Safely
Every backpacking season there are stories of campers or backpackers in various regions of the country who did not pack in, prepare or pack out food or trash properly. This can result in disruption of our wild places and can endanger wildlife. Bears are a reality in the backcountry and can be a delight when treated with the respect they deserve. These animals are opportunistic feeders and will approach camps and even ransack tents and backpacks if food is left unsecured. Investing in a bear canister is a safe and effective way to ensure that your food cannot be accessed by bears and other critters. In fact, they are a requirement in some U.S. national parks and wilderness areas.
When preparing food in the wilderness, it is always wise to wash dishes and utensils thoroughly to remove as much odor as possible. Safely burning food scraps and waste can also eliminate odors that may attract wildlife.
When packing in food and packing out trash/food waste, Lindsey’s packs of choice include the MYSTERY RANCH STEIN 65 for backpacking and the POP UP 28 for hunting. Both packs provide excellent load carriage and plenty of room for a bear canister and all other cooking tools.
Remember: Cooking in the backcountry is an art and a privilege, so cook responsibly.
Keeping it Simple with Simple Tools
In the age of “glamping”, there are numerous backcountry cooking accouterments for purchase that all claim to improve your cooking experience. Eduardo and Lindsey prefer a more straightforward, simple approach.
When asked what was needed to be a successful chef in the backcountry, Eduardo makes it look easy:
“A sharp, sturdy knife followed by clean water, basic fire-building ability and a desire to search without needing to be rewarded.”
And, while flash cooking systems ( small, fuel-powered cylinders that boil water and other liquids) can be great for instant coffee or hot chocolate, Lindsey prefers a pan for her backcountry meals:
“Never try to cook anything in a flash cooking cylinder. The bottom of the contents will burn and the rest will be uncooked, and you’ll never have a clean cookpot again.”
Unleash Your Inner Forager
Freeze-dried meals can be an easy go-to while backpacking, but if you really want to connect with your surroundings and challenge yourself, foraging is an incredibly rewarding alternative to packing in pre-made meals.
For Eduardo, nothing beats hunting for alpine strawberries:
“They are not as abundant in my region of Montana, and to catch a patch that is fruiting seems to only occur every so often. I always look, and when I come across a perfectly ripe one, that excitement for such a small bite is noteworthy.”
This amazing strawberry recipe from MONTANA MEX is a go-to for anyone lucky enough to stumble across a strawberry patch in the wild.
Lindsey recalls setting up camp and then foraging for days:
“I’ve been on longer trips where I set up basecamps with fellow backpackers. With a bit more time to explore and roam around without heavy packs, it can be awesome to find the wild food around you. I’ve harvested and eaten muscles from the ocean, greens from the forest, fish from the rivers, and meat from animals. Getting to eat wild food in the wilderness is always a wonderfully intimate and fun experience on a backcountry trip!”
When hunting and gathering, remember that it’s important to positively identify edible plants and make sure the animal being harvested is healthy. Also, be sure to check regulations in your area regarding foraging and hunting/fishing practices. Cooking with edibles harvested by your own hands in the wilderness may seem “next level,” but with the proper knowledge and willingness to try, any adventurer can create delicious foraged backcountry meals.