You know the drill. You are getting ready for your backpacking trip this weekend and you are all ready except for the food. You have a few options. First you could go the easy route and get oatmeal for breakfast, 2 pounds of GORP for lunch and a few freeze-dried meals for dinner. Yes, you would survive, but it would be expensive and the taste would be so-so. I have found that some of those freeze dried meals taste pretty good, but others I hate. How do you know before you leave for your trip? They are very expensive, so it is hard to buy an extra one of each kind to eat in the front country. Option 2 you could create a meal plan and buy all the individual pieces for each meal and put it all together yourself. This is a great way to go and was my main method for about 20 years of backpacking, but it was time consuming. I was always shocked at just how long it took to put together (I know, I am a slow learner). I loved the idea of the NOLS system, where you brought with you a bunch of different ingredients and you built your meals on the trial with what you have, but it just was not practical to do that for a weekend trip. Even a one-week trip was hard to make that system work. Then a few years ago I realized that I could use a basic formula to build my meals. As I looked through dozens of recipe books they all had some common food types. Every meal I made had some starch (pasta, rice, cous cous etc.), some vegetables, some kind of protein and some kind of flavoring that made it more interesting. So I did some experimenting and found a formula that works for almost every meal I make. It is really quiet simple.
½ cup dried starch,
¼ cup dried vegetable,
¼ cup dried protein,
¼ cup dried flavoring per serving.
1 ½ cups water
This is the perfect amount for me (a big eater) without feeling stuffed, but certainly full. Most meals made using this formula weigh in at around 4-5 oz. If you have two people in your group, just double it. Three people, triple it. You get the point.
I keep stocked on hand several items that make it quick and easy to prep meals. I have come to call it my “Back Country Pantry”. I have a container of instant rice, dried quinoa, and pasta (ramen) all ready to go. I also keep a container of mixed vegetables and a few containers of different types of protein. And last but certainly not least I have a collection of sauce powders that I can use to add flavor. Every month or so I spend time building up my stores. I might dry some chicken or cook and dry some quinoa, but I do it in large quantities so I can have it for multiple trips. If I make a cream of mushroom soup sauce, I don’t just make enough for one meal, I make enough for 10 meals and store it in a container to be used later. With that basic formula I can make 10 different meals in 20 minutes! No joke. Yes, this requires that I have all my ingredients ready to go and you have to put some time up front, but when it comes down to the wire and you need food for the trial, you won’t be up until midnight putting together you meals. If leftovers are not available for my lunch at work, I will go to my pantry and make a quick meal for myself in less then two minutes. When I put a meal together it sounds something like this: “Let’s see I think I want a curry meal today. I will make it with rice and chicken, and for vegetables I want mushrooms, pineapple and green peas. 2-minutes, done. So not only do these meals help me prep quickly for the backcountry, but they also allow me to try different combinations at work. If I don’t like it at work, I don’t make it for the backcountry. It keeps my meals new all the time and VERY tasty. We all know that food always tastes better in the backcountry, so if I like it in the front country, it is going to be REALLY good in the backcountry.
“But how do I get started?“ Here are a couple ways to set up your pantry. The starter pantry is the simplest, cheapest and quickest pantry. Perfect for anyone who goes on 10 or fewer nights of backpacking each year and does NOT want to use the dried food for a quick meal at home.
Starter Pantry (Dinner only):
72oz box minute rice (Amazon or your local grocery store) $18*
12 oz vegetable soup mix (Harmony House) $12.95*
16 oz TVP flavored meat. Your choice of beef, chicken or ham (Harmony House) $12.95*
A variety of dried soup packets and/or bouillon from your local grocery store for flavoring.
Your variety will not be great, but this will make you about 16 single serving meals all for about $50-$60*. You can easily add some variety to this setup in a number of ways. First you could get some other starch products. Maybe some angle hair pasta that you break up into little pieces or cous cous. Another option is to get the TVP sampler pack from harmony house. This has all six different types of TVP products with four different flavors. It only adds $4* to your cost and it gives you an additional 4 servings worth. If you have a dehydrator you could buy some canned chicken and/or tuna and dry that yourself. The dried chicken is much better tasting then the TVP chicken, but you have to put in the work, and you have to store the dried chicken in the freezer (unless you are going to use it within a month or two). You could also go down to your local Asian market and get a bag of dried mushrooms. My favorite is the shitake. I got a 12 oz bag for $8 at my market. That is a lot of mushrooms! Lastly you could invest in making a few dried sauce mixes. This has really changed the way I eat in the backcountry. It is all in the sauce!
Saucy Starter Pantry
Include everything from the starter pantry above except the dried soup packets. Check out my sauces page for recipes. The three I would start with are Pesto(easy method, Marinara/Pizza Sauce and Parmesan Cheese Sauce Mix. These are the easiest sauces that I make and they still taste great.
Looking for more?
What if I want more then just the starter pantry? Check out Harmony House Foods and go to town. In my pantry I always have on hand, mixed vegetables, dried mushrooms, dried peas, dried carrots and dried sweet potatoes. Dried fruit like pineapple can be really good in many dishes as well. Below find a few recommendations:
What's for Dinner?
|Instant Cook (1-2 minutes)|
Angel hair pasta
Dried/foil pouch tuna
Dried/foil pouch chicken
Curry sauce mix
Enchilada sauce mix
Cheese sauce mix
Alfredo sauce mix
Marinara sauce mix
Cream of whatever sauce mix
|Short Cook (5 minutes)|
|Long Cook (10 minutes)|
Where do you store all this stuff for your pantry? You can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. I go all out because I am trying new meals all the time and I want quick access to all my materials.
The simplest system would use gallon zip lock bags for all the individual ingredients labeled with the name of the food inside and the date you put it into the bag. I like Ziplocs as I can take out most of the air each time I seal it up, keeping my food fresh for longer. Then put all your Ziplocs into a plastic tote bin to keep mice from getting to it and keep it in a cool dark place. Whenever you want to make a few meals, just pull out your bin and lay it out all your ingredients out on the counter and go for it. Simple!
I hope you find success in the pantry method. Please let me know if you have additional questions or have other ideas that would be good for the panty.