One of my most fond memories is heading out in the Canadian backcountry on a multi-day canoeing trip. We were exploring the boundary waters over two weeks. My friends and I had packed all of the food that was necessary in order to survive the whole time. I can still remember the taste of the canned foods and limited fresh ingredients. While not completely disappointing in flavor, it certainly left a little to be desired. At the time I was young and didn’t care. However, the older I get the more I realize that enjoying delicious food while camping is possible. Really it isn’t even hard. Especially when you follow these 4 Outdoor Cooking Tips.
My Outdoor Cooking Tips Failure
As I was reminiscing about my boundary water canoe trip I couldn’t pass up sharing this story. Being an avid fisherperson I love trying my hand at catching fish in new areas. To the chagrin of my friends, I added weight to our packs by carrying along a fishing pole. It isn’t necessary weight, but it was one of those things that just makes me feel calm at the end of the day. The mental release that comes when I fish after a day of paddling and portaging was necessary for me.
There I sat on the edge of a lake soaking in the scenery and the gentle breeze that rolled across the water. It was all very pleasant. I hadn’t had any luck up till now in the fishing department which was fine. At this point, we were about a week into the trip and we had been eating some pretty bland packaged items and I was really looking forward to having something fresher. I succeeded in landing a few fish that were big enough for us to eat. Thank goodness since it finally justified me bringing the pole! We cooked up those fish over the fire that night. While it was good they were still bland.
You see we had not prepared any way to properly cook or season our food. We had forgotten even a basic tenant of cooking, add salt. Why had we not realized that we could enjoy our camping food just like we did at home? We hadn’t prepared, packed, or really done the things we should have to be ready to enjoy our food on a long trip.
Tip 1: Plan for your Outdoor Cooking
It is not enough to just plan for picking the right campsite or taking the right sleeping bag. If you want to eat well while outdoors you need to figure out the type of trip you are taking and the food that will be most beneficial on that trip. Food comes as more weight in your pack. If you are car camping it may not matter but get canoeing or backpacking and the weight will start to bring you down. As one of the outdoor cooking tips it is important to plan for weight, your necessary caloric intake, and your mental reward food.
Planning for Weight
Weight becomes very critical when it comes to planning for food. It is not just the weight of the food you have to consider but the weight of the cooking apparatus you choose. You can outweigh your pack and body very quickly. As you are thinking about the types of food that you want to eat take a look at how much each of the food items weighs. Consider making meals that rely on the same ingredient used multiple times to save space and to use leftovers up. Additionally, choose meals that align with the cooking you can do. For instance, if you are backcountry camping don’t plan Dutch Oven meals!
Planning for Caloric Intake
While weight is an important factor you still need to make sure that you have food that gives you the energy that you need. There are many rules of thumb out there for how many calories you need while being active.
I like to stick with the general rule from the Mayo Clinic which says that for hiking 160 pounds human general burns about 438 calories an hour. To quickly estimate based on those numbers you should expect about 20-30 calories per pound of weight. At my weight (le sigh 155) and using 25 calories/pound I would need 3,875 calories for an eight-hour day of hiking. That is just to cover the hiking! My body still needs to function to tear down the tent and pitch it at night. So I like to add another 500 – 1000 calories to make sure I have enough. This is a good rule of thumb for you as well.
Plan for a mental reward
Long trail hikes can get really monotonous when you feel hungry. While it is important to stop often to rest it is just as important to reward yourself as you go. Some people may feel rewarded with the trail mix they have been eating all day. For me, I like to have something special that I can look forward to when I make it to a certain point along the trail. It is complete junk but I really like having a bag of Gardetto’s along with me. It helps to break up the beef jerky trail food or the protein bars. If I can admit I sometimes even like to pack Gushers because I am ten! In any case, the reward of having something mid-hike to look forward to can provide you with some motivation to keep going.
Tip 2 – Eat Often and Prepare Food Early
Sometimes your outdoor cooking doesn’t need to happen when you are outdoors. In fact, with my second tip on the outdoor cooking tips list, you should know that you can cook at home! Why is this so critical? Well, we all know that they say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. When you are hiking and burning lots of calories every meal is important. However, you need to replenish calories in between meals as well. So having foods at hand that can help you eat often is key.
Now you can stick with a standard granola bar or jerky. These are easy to pack and purchase. However, will you really be satisfied after the fourth day of the same granola bar? Likely not. So to eat often do some cooking at home first. Make your own trail snacks like the Blazing Trail Mix or try making your own granola. You can customize it just like you want or even make a few different flavors. Having a quick and handy snack on the trail is important and making it before you head out means you can control exactly what you eat!
Tip 3 – Pack the Right Camping Gear
There are so many options that are available for camping cookware. You can go too far without enough if you don’t plan right. However, you can also over plan and over-buy your camping gear. This is especially the case if weight isn’t an option. The fact is that you really don’t need every gizmo and contraption to be an expert camping cook! Really you only need your field knife, something to cook in, a way to boil water, and a method for keeping your food out of animal’s reach.
Anyone can cook over a fire as long as you know how to build a fire and your cooking gear can handle the heat. However, you may want to consider taking along a camp stove or backpacking stove. Either of those links can help you find what works best for your situation. There are so many options out there that you won’t want to get bogged down. Consider your use, backpacking or car camping, as this will determine the weight you want to plan for.
A couple of utensils are all you need
There are many fancy utensils that are out there as well. Find a few that help protect your hands when cooking. Remember metal gets hot! Also, remember that you don’t need an entire kitchen utensil drawer when out camping! Unless you are cooking for multiple people the spoon you cook with can be the spoon you eat with. In general, I pack a spoon, a knife, and a fork when camping. The knife pulls double duty as it is my field knife as well.
You will also need to consider storage. Do you remember that canoeing story from earlier? What I didn’t tell you was that I had not planned for storing food, or clothes that smelled like food. I had a nice bear visitor looking for my cooked fish!
Tip 4 – Bring Flavor to the Trip
As I mentioned before, I used to just eat whatever when camping because I was young and didn’t care. Now that I know these outdoor cooking tips I know that I don’t have to eat bland food. I can eat nearly gourmet while on the trail. In fact, I now supplement my meals with freeze-dried just to be lazy instead of being my main source of sustenance. What takes food to the next level? Spice of course!
Spice is the spice of life. That isn’t right, I know it is variety but how do you get that variety when cooking. Spices of course! Spices are easy to pack and carry and can add tons of flavor to what would have been a bland meal. At the very least you should consider carrying salt and pepper.
Branch out on your spices
Don’t think of spices just as the dry kind either. Many grocery stores are starting to sell more unique pre-made sauce mixes which are great for camping. I am sure you are familiar with the ranch packets which go into making this Roasted Ranch Brocolli. However, did you know that you can now buy tubes of curry paste, packages of pot roast gravy, and don’t forget bullion? Each of these can take a bland dish to the next level or at least change things up from a hot dog!
Final Thoughts on Outdoor Cooking Tips
While there are certainly many things to consider when cooking in the outdoors, these outdoor cooking tips will help set you off on the right path. You have learned the importance of planning, eating frequently, packing the right gear, and spicing up your life. Food when camping in the backcountry or car camping doesn’t have to be bland and boring. It can be just as exciting as what you eat at home. So don’t let the food adventure stop just because you are in an outdoor adventure. Instead, embrace these tips and bring variety into your life.