Those of us who have gone on extended backcountry hiking or canoeing trips already know the most important fuel is not the stuff you use to get your stove burning, rather it is the fuel you need to keep your body going. If you run out of butane, or white gas to keep your stove lit, you can make a fire, however, if you run out of food it doesn’t matter how big your fire is, you’ll have to work hard to find the fuel to move on.
Food requires a fine balance between nutrition, weight and personal taste. With a little creativity, you can complete your outdoor adventures with an adequate supply of food. Not only can it taste great and have all the required nutrition but you could also minimize the amount of weight in your pack or food barrel.
Car campers have the luxury of bringing almost whatever they want. They have plenty of room in their vehicle, access to coolers and ice, barbecues, large stoves and almost no weight restrictions. Backcountry campers on the other hand have to limit their luxuries to reduce weight and bulk. I don’t want to imply that backcountry campers will have to sacrifice everything, because with some smart planning and a little preparation, you can enjoy delicious food to keep spirits up and energy levels high.
One of the largest contributors to food weight in your pack is water. I’m not only referring to the water in your bottle or hydration pack, but the water that is found in food as well. Meats, fruits, vegetables, soups and sauces all contain large amounts of water. If you can reduce the amount of water, you can drastically minimize the amount of weight in your pack.
Dehydrated food is easily accessible at many grocery and bulk food stores, however they tend to have added sugar and preservatives. An alternate option is to dehydrate your own food. This can be achieved using various methods, but the easiest is to use a food dehydrator made specifically for that purpose. Food dehydrators come in many shapes and sizes, but generally they all work in the same manner. With a little heat and circulated air, it slowly strips food of its moisture leaving all the nutrition.
Many foods can be enjoyed in their dehydrated state. Dried fruit is a great snack and an excellent source of energy. Dehydrating fruit concentrates the natural sugars so your pineapples and bananas will taste extra sweet on the trail. It can take from 6 to 36 hours to completely dehydrate fruit. Some fruit becomes brittle and will snap when ready, others will become leathery and pliable. No matter how long the wait, the results will be well worth it. Favorite dried fruit here at TwoCanoe include pineapple and kiwi, these tend to be very sweet and reduce well when dehydrated.
Tip: A natural way to keep fruit from browning when sliced, add a little lemon juice which helps to prevent discoloration. The result is fresher looking dried fruit with little to no impact on taste.
Dried meats, like beef jerky which can be seasoned to personal preference, are a great snack. It can also be rehydrated and added to a stir fry with dehydrated vegetables and rice. I purchased a dehydrator a few years back at Canadian Tire for $50, with the intent on making only beef jerky, but since I have successfully made multiple batches of dried fruit and even dehydrated ground beef. Dried ground beef, or hamburger can be rehydrated and added to sauces or cooked into a shepherds pie.
Ground beef rehydrates well, and if you’re like me, then you know that even ground beef can be considered a luxury on the trail. Dehydrated ground beef, also known as gravel, can take anywhere from 2-8 hours depending on how much you start with. It dries to a crumble and 5 lbs of meat can reduce to less than 1 lb of gravel. It is important that you dry meats with the least amount of fat as possible, as the fat tends to make the meat go rancid.
Tip: A quick solution to this is to fry your meat first, until most of the fat melts away, and then using some hot water, you soak the beef letting all the fat rise to the surface. These steps repeated before dehydrating can result in very lean beef, which is not only good for preservation but a healthier choice as well.
Yet another option is to dehydrate your favorite sauces. You can dehydrate tomato sauce and combine this with a serving of gravel and a few spices. Even kilometers away from civilization you can enjoy homemade spaghetti.
There are many great recipes that can be enjoyed with dehydrated foods, but always make sure you follow your dehydrators instructions on proper drying times and methods.
The important thing is that you bring the foods you like, which will make your time in the backcountry the most pleasurable.
If you have any great camp food ideas and would like to share with readers here at TwoCanoe, or if you’re looking for suggestions on what to take on your next trip, then leave a comment on this post.