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Backcountry Gourmet: How to Make Your Own Ultralight Backpacking Meals

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

Logistics Guru and Backcountry Chef for the #BeSafeGannett Expedition, Chelsea Miller helped her team stay organized and well-fed for a week spent in the Wind River Range. Below, she gave us the inside scoop on making ultralight backpacking meals and cooking techniques, as well as some recipes you’ll be dying to hit the trail and try for yourself. 

Backpacking Meals: A Balance of Taste & Weight

For our meals in the Wind River Range, I only had to boil water to make a tasty, nutritious meal!

At home, I love cooking elaborate meals with fresh ingredients.  This means that I often get a little too excited about backpacking meals and cooking, lugging potatoes, cans of coconut milk, blocks of cheese, and large pots on backpacking trips.  Much to the chagrin of my team, I also end up weighing down their packs.

For our #BeSafeGannett Expedition, I knew our packs would already be weighed down with the gear required for glacier travel. I wanted to minimize the impact food would have on our packs while keeping dinner interesting and nutritious. To do this, I opted for freezer bag style cooking. All of our ingredients were essentially instant and only needed to soak in hot water for five minutes before eating.  This meant that we only needed to carry a stove and a small pot in order to have a hot meal every night.

With all the gear we had to carry, my goal was to make our meals as light as possible.

Every night, I would boil a pot of water (we used this pot set and this stove), pour the water into the freezer bag holding that night’s meal, put the freezer bag in an insulator (I can’t find the exact one we used, and this one is much fancier than what we used.  Honestly, you can use foil insulation and duct tape to make a workable cozy.), and then wait for a long five minutes until we were enjoying a delicious hot meal.  (While cooking directly in the freezer bag worked best for us because we only wanted to carry a small pot for the four of us and not need to clean it each night, you can also opt to cook this right in a pot or in your mess kit.)

I prepped and cooked our meals in freezer bags, which was super convenient.

This process worked really well for us on the trail, and it only took me an hour at home to assemble meals for four for a week.

The Basic Formula

Building these backpacking meals felt like an Iron Chef challenge where the secret ingredient was dehydrated chicken, which was in every meal I made.  I wanted our meals to be well balanced and calorie dense.  Therefore, I followed a basic formula for every recipe: protein, instant carbs, dehydrated vegetables and spices.

As I just mentioned, I opted for freeze dried chicken, but Mountain House has lots of different options if you want to mix it up even more.  For a carb base, I used couscous, instant rice, instant potatoes, and rice noodles (depending on the meal).  All of these only need to soak in hot water, rather than foods that need to cook such as pasta, quinoa, or rice.  To pick a carb base that will work, make sure the cooking instructions either tell you to “remove from heat and let sit” or to boil for less than 3 minutes.  (Note: for the rice noodles, we cooked them separately then added them to the spice and chicken mixture.  We wanted to soak them and then drain off the water to make sure our sauce wasn’t too watery.)

For the Thai Peanut Noodles dinner, I cooked the rice noodles separately to drain off the water.

To every meal, I added dehydrated vegetables and chia seeds for an added nutritional boost.  In order to “spice” things up, I added things like curry powder, parmesan cheese, and garlic to create different flavors.

Backcountry Test Kitchen

As this was my first time cooking this way, I wanted to make sure the backpacking meals were going to turn out OK before we headed off on the trip. My first attempt, which was tasted by the team after an evening of practicing our ice axe skills on the snow patches left on Cannon Mountain, did not pan out well.  I attempted to make a Fettucine Alfredo with noodles that cooked in 5 minutes, and we attempted to make the meal in our individual bowls by divvying up the mix ahead of time, instead of cooking it all together in the freezer bag.  We were left with watery, yet still crunchy noodles in a rapidly cooling sauce. This was the last thing we would want after a long day of hiking in the Wind River Range.

I adjusted the cook time of my carbohydrate base and opted to cook in the freezer bag insulator, which led to more success. I sent Couscous Alfredo and Shepherd’s Pie along with Joe on his climb up Mt. Whitney in June, and Jenny and I sampled the Curried Couscous on a weekend trip through the White Mountains.  All of these test runs went smoothly; getting to test the recipes before we started on our trip helped me build confidence that these would actually work when we were on the trail.

Eating Our Way through the Winds

For our trip, I made each of the recipes below, opting to pack 2 nights worth of Couscous Alfredo, as it’s my favorite and I’ve never gotten complaints about packing more cheese and garlic.

Our first night on the trail, we eagerly tucked into the Couscous Alfredo.  Although we were starving, we all filled up quickly and struggled to finish the entire dinner. When packing our backpacking meals, I had split each night’s dinner into two freezer bags, as each freezer bag required a full liter of water, and our pot only has a 1.4 liter capacity. This ended up working to our favor, as after that first night, we had two dinners.  We had our first dinner mid-afternoon, around 4pm, and another a few hours later.  This worked really well for our team and allowed us to ration our snacks a little better.

Backpacking Meals

We enjoyed Couscous Alfredo our first night on the trail, with a great view of Little Seneca Lake.

Our final total food weight per person ended up being just over 15 lbs.  Altogether, the dinners I assembled came in at 12 lbs. total, meaning everyone only had to carry 3 lbs. worth of dinner foods.  Our breakfast/lunch/snack packs ended up weighing the most, coming it at around 11 lbs. per person. Our lunch/snacks included everything we would eat during the day, including: Clif bars, beef sticks, electrolyte gummies, Nuun tablets, and flavored tuna packets.

My teammate Jenny’s snacks laid out, ready to pack.

For breakfast, some of us opted for oatmeal while others had whole wheat English muffins with peanut butter and honey.  Next time, I’m going to pack a mix of breakfast options for myself, as I get very bored eating the same thing every day.  By our last morning, I couldn’t handle another peanut butter English muffin.

As we ended up hiking out a day early, we had an extra dinner that we were able to give to a pair of Continental Divide Trail thru-hikers who were thrilled by the lightweight meal and easy cooking instructions. All of the food prep for this trip went so smoothly, and all of our backpacking meals were so delicious, that I plan on packing food like this for all future adventures. This style of cooking also lent itself well to long days on the mountain. After our 21 hour summit day, it was so nice to only be a pot of boiling water way from our Thanksgiving-themed dinner.

Your Turn – Try Our Recipes or Give Them Your Own Spin

We were lucky that our team didn’t have any dietary restrictions, but all of these recipes should be adaptable for gluten free or vegetarian diets.  Many of my recipes were adapted from theyummylife – she also has a number of recipes for great instant soups! She also gave me the tip about adding Chia seeds to each recipe.

Feel free to be creative and mix it up! If you follow the simple formula above, the possibilities are endless. Let us know what your favorite combinations are so we can give them a try, or send us recipes for your favorite backpacking meals!

Couscous Alfredo

  • 1 cup couscous
  • ¾ cup dehydrated chicken
  • ½ cup dehydrated vegetables
  • 1 tsp chicken bouillon
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp Italian Seasoning
  • 1 tbs Chia Seeds

Fried Rice

 

Jenny’s favorite part of Fried Rice was the cashews!

  • 1 cup Instant Rice
  • ¾ cup dehydrated chicken
  • ½ pkg Fried Rice Seasoning
  • ½ cup dehydrated vegetables
  • 1 tsp dried ginger
  • ¼ cup nuts (Cashews or Peanuts)
  • 1 tbs Chia Seeds

Curried Couscous

  • 1 cup couscous
  • ¾ cup dehydrated chicken
  • ¼ cup cashews
  • ½ cup dried vegetables
  • 1 tbs onions
  • 1 tsp chicken bouillon
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tbs raisins
  • 1 tbs chia seeds
  • 2 tsp garlic powder

Thanksgiving Dinner

  • ¼ pkg Instant Potatoes
  • ½ cup instant stuffing
  • ¾ cup dehydrated chicken
  • ½ pkg instant gravy
  • ½ cup dried vegetables
  • 2 Tbs dried cranberries
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp chicken bouillon
  • 1 tbs chia seeds

Shepherd’s Pie

  • ½ pkg instant loaded potatoes
  • ¾ cup dehydrated chicken
  • ½ cup dehydrated vegetables
  • 2 tbs onions
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbs Chia Seeds

Thai Peanut Noodles

  • ¼ pkg rice noodles
  • ¾ cup dehydrated chicken
  • ½ cup dehydrated vegetables
  • 1 tsp chicken bouillon
  • 2 Tbs dehydrated peanut butter
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dried ginger
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbs chia seeds

About the Author

Chelsea Miller grew up hiking and skiing in the White Mountains, which have always held a special place in her heart. She started working at Tender Corporation in 2015 in order to make the Whites her home. When she’s not hiking, rock climbing, or mountain biking throughout New England, you can find her day dreaming about her next big adventure. Recently she’s traveled to Thailand, Western Canada, and Germany, as well as deep into the Wind River Range of Wyoming as part of the #BeSafeGannett Expedition.

SheJumps: Teaching Outdoor Safety with Adventure Medical Kits

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

We’re excited to partner with SheJumps in their efforts to get more women and girls involved in the outdoors and educated about outdoor safety. They used gear from Adventure® Medical Kits and Survive Outdoors Longer® at many of their events in 2017, including their Junior Ski Patrol. Check out this review to learn more about their mission, see photos from their events, and hear about their favorite gear! – Adventure® Medical Kits

Getting Girls Outdoors

SheJumps is a non-profit whose mission is to increase the participation of women and girls in outdoor activities. We do that through helping women of all ages Jump In, Jump Up, and Jump Out. And what we mean by that is:

JUMP IN: Never-evers

We create activities and events that directly help those who might never otherwise have the chance to experience the benefits of challenging oneself in the outdoors.

JUMP UP: Already Active

We provide opportunities for women looking for a supportive community to try new things, get better at what they already do, and give back and share what they know and love.

JUMP OUT: Elite athletes who are positive female role models and are looking to give back through sharing their skills and stories

We are a voice for the up-and-coming athletes and a place to share with the community. These athletes have the opportunity to be directly involved in encouraging other women to take a ‘jump,’ with the goal of offering young girls real role models through story and action.

We believe in the Girafficorn- half giraffe, half unicorn, all magic. This mystical creature represents preserving and keeping your head held high above all chaos and drama while keeping your feet grounded. She’s there to remind us to follow our dreams in the outdoors and beyond… with the support of a hint of magic that helps us to lighten up and play along the journey.

Unique Initiatives to Help Get Girls Outdoors

SheJumps is unique in that our programs are designed to fulfill our promise to not only increase female participation in outdoor activities, but also to ensure that younger generations have the resources they need to get outside through adventure, education, and community building. We have:

Youth Initiatives: SheJumps’ Youth Initiatives are geared towards building life skills and empowering ownership and confidence through exposure to positive female role models, supportive communities, and the outdoors .

Outdoor Education: Our Outdoor Education programs focus on providing technical skills for all abilities and endeavors in the outdoors.

Get The Girls Out: Our ‘Get the Girls Out!’ Program focuses on connecting girls and women in our communities with inspiring and dedicated female outdoor enthusiasts.

Wild Skills: SheJumps’ Wild Skills youth events teach young girls the survival and technical skills they need for outdoor adventuring.

Community Initiatives: Our Community Initiatives are social events that focus on the SheJumps mission and team building.

Every single program looks at safety. We spend anywhere from 3 months to a year planning programs, depending on the program, so we are always preparing and looking to make sure we cover all of our bases.

She Jumps & Adventure® Medical Kits: Teaching Outdoor Safety

Adventure® Medical Kits is a good fit for SheJumps because we both have missions to encourage preparedness. The Adventure® Medical Kits mission is to provide innovative, high quality first aid and preparedness products for work, home, and your next adventure. SheJumps is creating the same sort of preparedness in women for all adventure in life at home, at work, and in the outdoors. Both organizations have similar goals, and when they combine forces, the preparedness through education speaks volumes and brings confidence.

Product Review

Building Skills with Adventure® Medical Kits and Survive Outdoors Longer®

Some of our favorite products are the Survive Outdoors Longer® Scout, the Ultralight/Watertight .5, and the Mountain Series Day Tripper.

These products are essential for our Wild Skills Program because SheJumps’ Wild Skills youth events teach young girls the survival and technical skills they need for outdoor adventuring. These skills can be applied in any season or region and include first aid, navigation, leave no trace, 10 essentials, shelter building, and more.

With the help of these different kits, we are able to introduce and encourage more girls to take on new and exciting challenges. The Wild Skills youth initiative is now in its 3rd year of providing outdoor education to girls ages 6-12 from across the country. In 2016, we hosted 5 events serving 222 girls with the help of 190 mentors. And every new opportunity to introduce young girls to a variety of skills and products to use with the skills only increases their confidence in the outdoors.

Easy to Use Medical Kits

Our favorite features of the products are the simplicity and ease of use. Each product comes in its own storage, allowing for everything to always stay more organized. It’s everything you need and nothing you don’t to be prepared. We work a lot with day trips, so that is mostly what we are working with, but having these kits for girls to look at and see and open up to discover what is in them and why is crucial to getting more people exposed to not only the product, but introducing them to how to use it properly.

Gear that Provides Peace of Mind

Our trips are easier knowing that we have the ease of mind from having all of our bases covered. You can never be too prepared for any event. I never travel without a first aid kit of some sort for any adventure – It could be a 30 minute stroll up a mountain in town or a full multi-day trip. I will always have something, because it is better to be prepared than not, and just to always avoid any issues.

Overall: Would You Recommend?

YES! It’s the same as the question before – everyone (and I mean everyone!) should have a first aid kit of sorts for every single adventure! There are no questions- just be prepared for the worst, and the best should typically happen.

What’s the Best Medical Kit for Disaster Preparedness?

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Q: I live in an Earthquake Zone, and I was wondering which medical kit would you advise for me if a quake hits and I need to help some people, as well as a kit I can keep in my home?

A: If you are planning on administering care to other victims, you will want a kit with enough contents to treat a large group and an organization system that is easy to use in an emergency. For this reason, I recommend ourMountain Series Comprehensive kit, which contains a wide range of wound care supplies for trauma scenarios like those encountered during an earthquake, as well as our Easy Care organization system that organizes contents in injury-specific pockets with quick-reference instruction cards. The Comprehensive makes a great home preparedness kit as well, since it contains a number of specialized medical instruments that are difficult to improvise and might be impossible to obtain during an extended disaster scenario.

Why Carrying a Sterile Suture Kit is a Good Idea…

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Hello,

I am a fan of your medical kits and just saw that the one of your Travel Kits had a suture kit in it, good idea. I just got back from a few months in Colombia with a smaller  Travel Kit that did not have the sutures. Went on a hike and about two days in, I gashed open my shin. Some Colombian military guys came by and stitched me up with a sewing needle, needless to say it was not pleasant.

Getting Stitched up in Columbia

Getting Stitched up in Columbia

I think an upgrade is necessary for my next trip. Anyway thought you guys might get a kick out of that, I sent a picture of it as well. Keep up the good work your kits have saved my butt in more than one country!

W. Gatchell

AMK Response:  Thanks for the feedback!  Just to clarify, our Suture/Syringe Medic is now sold separately and can be added to any Travel or other line of medical kits that we offer.  Always a good idea to add some QuikClot to your first aid kit as well, just in case you need to stop the bleeding and don’t have a professional around to stitch you up.