Aperitif: Eating Well in the Backcountry

When I was seventeen, I signed up for a 5-day backpacking trip into the wilds of the Colorado Rockies. The first day out, the guides passed around baggies of “gorp”, an energy-inducing homemade trail mix. By mid-afternoon, we started to feel the weight of our packs and the emptiness in our bellies, but our guides refused to tell us what was for dinner. Instead, they led us in yet another round of “Hey, Hey, We’re The Monkees.”

We arrived at the first night’s campsite well before sunset and immediately began pitching our tents. A couple of the staff had arrived before us and built a fire, where several Dutch ovens steamed among the already glowing coals. After taking care of chores and necessities, and singing a few more songs, the cast iron came out of the fire just as the sun was setting. My trail leader pulled off the first lid with a flourish, releasing a waft of baked bread, sizzling sausage, and melting cheese. I learned that night about all the wondrous foods you can make with a bag of biscuit mix, some clean water, and a few sturdy ingredients. I have been seeking out efficient and convenient ways to eat well and healthy on the trail ever since.

Delicious backcountry cooking is much more involved than setting up a propane grill next to an RV. You have to think of weight, keeping ingredients cold, prep capabilities on the trail, nutritional value, portion size, and access to water. Here are a few basics to keep in mind when packing food for the trail.


  • Buy a dehydrator.
  • Don’t be afraid of incorporating instant powders into dishes.
  • Bring an insulated cup and bowl.
  • If traveling where there’s cold water, store cold foods in a waterproof bag, firmly tie up and submerged in the water until needed.
  • Mix and match good fats, sturdy proteins, colorful veggies, and quick-cooking grains.
  • Pack good coffee.
  • Invest in a great portable water filter.
  • ALWAYS pack out what you pack in. Keep our wild places clean!
  • Lastly, save something special for the last night when you just want anything but gorp. //

[Feature photo: Jacob Rothrock]



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