A Backcountry Cookbook

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One of my favorite moments from hiking Vermont’s Long Trail a few summers ago occurred when my trail partners and I crossed paths with a seasoned Appalachian Trail thru-hiker. Spotting AT’ers (as we called them) was not uncommon during our trek — the first 100 miles of the Long Trail follow that famous footpath, so while we spent the initial weeks of June slowly finding our trail legs, we often ended up getting passed by scruffy backpackers who had clearly been on their journey for months.

But one guy stood out from the pack. His mountain-man beard stretched down to his chest. His calves were shredded, deep blue veins bulging from their curves. He was squirting straight Mio Energy into his mouth, and his eyes were dilated like a meth addict in search of another hit. When he tore through our camp at 7:15 in the morning, he woke us from our slumbers to ask, curtly, “Where is the water source?” We pointed groggily down to the stream, and he was on his way. This guy had hiking down to a science — there was no time to spare.

Photo by Joshua Goldberg

We caught up to him later that day when we hitchhiked into town to resupply at a grocery store and found him wandering one of the aisles. As we surveyed the endless rows of Clif Bars and Kashi granola, my friend attempted the small talk we’d been robbed of that morning, asking the hiker, “So, what type of granola bars do you go for?”

“Bro,” he replied. “All I eat is ramen, Pop-Tarts, and candy.”

Of course, this is an extreme example, but it illustrates something all hikers come to realize at some point: trail food is boring. Sure, we get excited before each trip and stock up on some extravagant trail mix or a new flavor of beef jerky, but the longer you’re on the trail, the more likely you are to revert to the most convenient foods — the cheapest and lightest items that will deliver the most calories, sugar, and carbs per bite. Spend four months on the AT, and your diet could become the broke-college-student smorgasbord championed by our scraggly bearded friend.

This may be the most efficient way to hike, but there’s no reason not to break out of the monotony every once in awhile, to occasionally treat yourself to a more “gourmet” meal. Although filet mignon and pasta primavera are a little too complex for the backcountry, there are still some fancier dishes you can whip-up on the trail. If you’re looking to spice things up a bit on your next backpacking excursion, here are a few recipes to keep in your pack.

Chocolate Banana Oatmeal

If you’re the type of hiker who wakes up eager to hit the trail, you might settle for a granola bar and a cup of instant coffee for breakfast. But early mornings in the backcountry are beautiful, so why not take an hour or so to kick back and savor them? And, while you’re at it, throw together some of this delicious oatmeal to kickstart your day!

At home: Add ⅔ cup of instant oatmeal, 4 tablespoons of powdered milk, 4 teaspoons of brown sugar, 2 teaspoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, and ½ cup of crushed banana chips into a ziploc bag.

At camp: Boil 2 cups of water, add the oatmeal mix, and stir.

Photo by Simon Prochaska

Pepperoni and Peanut Butter Wraps

Not only is this the simplest meal on here, but it’s also the one you’re most likely to turn your nose up at. I can respect that. When you first hear it, peanut butter and pepperoni do not sound like a proper flavor match. That said, I’m not exaggerating when I say that 100 percent of the people I’ve recommended this to had that same reaction but, after giving it a shot, now swear by it. Something about the combination of the saltiness of the pepperoni and the savoriness of the peanut butter works just perfectly. Try it once, and this is sure to become a staple in your trail lunches.

At camp: Spread your preferred peanut butter on a large tortilla wrap. Place slices of pepperoni on the wrap until the peanut butter is covered. Roll it up and enjoy!

Photo by @g.q

Egg Ramen

Anyone who’s spent time on a backcountry trail knows the value of ramen. It’s unbelievably cheap, virtually weightless, and surprisingly nourishing. Even the bug-eyed AT hiker added it to his exclusive list of acceptable trail foods. But once you’ve exhausted the menu of available flavors (of which “creamy chicken” and “mushroom” are the best), you might start to grow tired of this bland noodle dish. But worry not — with just a few extra preparations, you can turn that crunchy brick into a delicious dinner in no time.

At home: Chop ⅓ cup of green onions. Wrap in a paper towel and seal in a ziploc bag.

At camp: Mix ⅔ cups of water into ½ cup of freeze-dried eggs. Add 1 tablespoon of oil into a pot and heat over a medium flame. Add the eggs and scramble. Prepare the ramen and pour into a bowl, topping it with the eggs, green onions, 2 packets of soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon of red chili flakes.

Photo by Kati Boden
Photo by Kati Boden

Thanksgiving Dinner

What’s the best part about Thanksgiving in the backcountry? Your racist uncle will be too tired at the end of the day to talk too much at camp. Well, that and this close-to-the-real-thing recipe for Thanksgiving dinner.

At home: Combine ½ cup of instant mashed potatoes and 1 tablespoon of powdered milk in a ziploc bag. Combine 1 cup of instant stuffing and 2 tablespoons of Craisins in a separate ziploc bag.

At camp: Boil 2 cups of water. Mix the potatoes and 1 cup of boiling water in one bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the stuffing and ½ cup of boiling water. Stir both. Mix 1 ounce of turkey gravy mix into the remaining boiling water. Add 7 ounces of pre-cooked chicken and heat over a low flame. Once it’s warmed up, spoon the chicken over the two bowls. To enjoy the meal, you can either pick at the two dishes separately or combine them to make a Thanksgiving casserole.

Photo by Berk Kir

Apple Crisp

After a long day on the trail, it feels great to kick back and indulge your sweet tooth a little before getting in your sleeping bag. Normally, this consists of a couple of Pop-Tarts, or maybe a spare fun-size Snickers you found in your jacket pocket, but if you want a hot, freshly prepared dessert to knock you out, look no further than this apple crisp — (sort of) like Mom used to make!

At home: In a ziploc bag, combine 1 ½ cups of dehydrated apples, 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon of cloves. In a separate ziploc bag, combine ⅓ cup of granola and ¼ cup of chopped walnuts.

At camp: Stir 3 ounces of water into the apple mix and heat over a low flame until the sugar dissolves and the liquid thickens. You can add more water if needed. Remove the pot from the heat and sprinkle the granola mixture on top.

Now you’re ready to impress all of your hiking partners next time you hit the trail. Of course, if you ever feel a little too overwhelmed, you can always revert back to the old reliables — ramen, Pop-Tarts, and candy. Happy trails!

Header image by @mikesoul

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