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Eating Better in the Backcountry: Equipment

September 18, 2009

As with everything backpacking, cooking in the outdoors is a balance between bringing enough of what you need to have an enjoyable and healthy experience, and carrying as little weight as possible so you can hike at a reasonable pace without your knees exploding. While cooking from scratch definitely requires more weight than using those unsavory dehydrated meal packets, it’s still possible to carry a minimum of extra weight while maximizing the variety of what you can eat on the trail.

The following is a list of what I carry and how I use it. You could get by with less, but this is the collection of things I’ve found to be most useful on my trips.

Pot

Your basic lightweight pot. For boiling water, making soup, beans and rice, pasta, you name it. It, or a pot like it, will be available at any well-stocked outdoors store.

fry-bake 1

This wonderful invention is called a FryBake. Yes, it’s a little pricey, but so worth it! The FryBake is lightweight, has a low-stick surface, and can be used for all manner of culinary purposes, from simply sauteing garlic and spices to pancakes, biscuits, pizzas and breads. I will tell you right now: backpacking is a lot more fun with fresh, hot baked goods.

The smaller size is perfect for one or two backpackers.

pot grips in action

These handy little things are pot grips. They’ll allow you to handle your hot pots and pans when you’re without the luxury of handles and oven mitts.

spatula

A plastic spatula. You can both stir and flip with this (or you can bring an equivalent plastic spoon, like I do – not pictured.)

tupperware

You’ll need something to eat out of. REI and other outdoors stores sell Lexan bowls, but I prefer a simple, sturdy Tupperware from the grocery store. Deep enough for soups and wide enough for pancakes and pizza. Make sure you get one with a lid so you can use it to carry your lunches.

silverware

And something to eat with, too. Hardcore backpackers will sputter when they see my metal silverware. But really, it’s not that heavy! Of course, plastic silverware is a great option. Just don’t bring one of those backpacking sporks. A spork is really just a defective spoon.

spice bag

You’ll need a ditty bag to use as a spice kit.

spices

These little plastic bottles are available at REI. I bring things like salt, chile powder, cumin, basil, oregano, vanilla or almond extract, and hot sauce. The big bottles contain olive oil, for general use, and coconut oil for sweeter foods (butter is a good option, too.) I often will include a few cloves of garlic, a small onion, and a dried hot pepper or two.

knife

The classic Swiss army knife. Good for cutting up garlic and onion, and for all sorts of non-culinary outdoor purposes.

A stove. Not pictured, because it was in my totaled car during this photo shoot (we’ve since been happily reunited.) We use an MSR dragonfly stove, which is a bit heavier-duty than we strictly need, but I like that it’s powerful and boils water more quickly than a Whisperlite, which is my other stove recommendation – quite lightweight and serviceable.

Fuel

…and, of course, fuel. How much you’ll need will depend on your stove, your meal plan, and the length of your trip, but I find that with our Dragonfly we can get five or six meals (plus hot drinks) out of a medium-sized bottle. One tip: be sure to carry your fuel bottles in a different part of your pack than your food, clothing, and other sundries! In the event that the bottles leak, you don’t want your things contaminated with gas.

With these items, you’ll be surprised at the variety and quality of meals you’ll be able to create. In my next post in this series, I’ll discuss nutritional needs in the outdoors, and share some meal ideas.

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