One of the biggest challenges of going backpacking is knowing what food to bring. The first time I went backpacking, those expensive bags of dehydrated meals you buy at your local outdoor supply store seemed like the obvious solution. We headed out into the wilderness armed with a small bag designated for each meal; eating Mexican omelets for breakfast, chicken enchiladas for lunch and spaghetti with mushrooms for dinner. These meals left a lot to be desired -- and that's putting it mildly.
Since then the world of backpacking food has opened up. It dawned on us once that those fancy dehydrated meals are the same thing as many store-bought packaged foods with just a little water added. Then a local grocery store employee informed us that most cheese can go unrefrigerated for a couple of days. Cheese camping? Delicious.
I'm certain there will be as many food discoveries as there will be delectable journeys out into the backcountry, but for now these are my top 10 favorite foods to take there with me:
1. Mac 'n' Cheese
This is certainly a guilty pleasure. You can buy packaged Macaroni and Cheese with the Velveeta-type cheese sauce at any grocery store. Imagine: You've been hiking all day. Your feet hurt, your legs ache, the sun is sinking and it's starting to get cold. You pull out your little gas stove and scoop a pot full of river water, and boil it for at least three minutes. Cook the pasta, drain it using the lid into another pan to be used as dishwashing water later and squeeze that sauce into the pasta and mix. Top it off with your favorite seasoning (ours is Rocket Fuel - a spicy seasoning mix we buy at Rosauers) and eat right out of the pan. Heaven!
2. Beef Jerky
These salty protein strips do not require refrigeration and are great snacks to keep you powered through those long hikes. Eat them with some trail mix to give yourself a real boost.
3. Energy bars
I really hate energy bars, but in saying so both my husband and I love Luna "The whole nutrition bar for women" (he has gotten over the embarrassment of eating a woman's energy bar long ago). Luna bars supply more vitamins and minerals and less sugar than any of their competitors while still tasting wonderful. I prefer the citrus varieties: lemon, orange and kiwi lime.
4. Dried soups
There are tons of dried soups out on the market that only require water and a heat source. Try out a few and see for yourself which are most tasty while affordable. Once we were camping in an area where we found wild onions. What a delicious addition that was to our modest Potato Leek soup!
5. Cheese and sausage with hard rolls
For every trip, we buy a block of cheese like Gouda or cheddar, a small summer sausage, and a few hard rolls. They provide lunch for at least two days and lots of protein and fat to fuel those long hikes. We find that in our packs they get a bit warm but overnight they cool down considerably hanging in the food bag from a tree in the cold mountain air.
6. MaryJanes Farm
Mary Jane knows how to make some delicious backpacking food. While her food can be somewhat expensive, it is quite gourmet and good for you. She carries a fantastic Chili Mac, soups and breads. (You can buy some of her products in bulk at Huckleberry's.) Her options seem endless. On our last trip we had a meal of Cajun beans and rice (not MJFarms) with some Organic Garlic Pesto Fry Bread from MaryJanes. You add water to the plastic bag of mix and knead it in the bag. Cut off a corner and squeeze small rounds into a hot pan and cook. The intoxicating smell of hot bread with basil really made our meal. You can buy her products online at www.maryjanesfarm.org
7. Instant pancakes with fresh picked huckleberries
Dry instant pancake mix can be prepared in the same way as the fry bread's mix. Although a bit time-consuming, eating pancakes with fresh huckleberries that you can pick yourself when in season feels enticingly decadent.
8. Indian food and rice
Huckleberry's carries a brand of Indian food called Tasty Bite. They have Kashmir Spinach, Jaipur Vegetables, Jodhpur Lentils and many more. At Huckleberry's they run from $3-$4, but can be purchased also online at www.tastybite.com for $2.29 a package. They are mostly vegetarian -- with some vegan options -- and are very good. The food comes prepared in its own foil envelope. It's easy to cook - you just immerse it in boiling water -- and we bring rice to cook and eat with it.
9. Small trout caught from an alpine lake fried in cornmeal to such a crisp that you can eat the bones Say no more.
10. French press coffee
This may seem extravagant, but there's nothing like freshly made French-press coffee in the cool mountain morning. We bought an unbreakable standard size French Press at Four Seasons. Although it takes up a bit of room in the pack, you can store your coffee grounds inside of it to make use of that empty space, and it's really light in weight.