Backpacking Food to Drool Over!

If you’ve eaten much commercial backpacking food, you may consider the title of this post a contradiction. Not that there isn’t  some really tasty backpacking food out there, but much of it won’t make you drool in anticipation of eating it. I’ve found commercial backpacking food okay for a couple of days and nights in the wilderness, but after that the lack of variety can cause a loss of appetite just when you need nutrition the most. Even trail mix like GORP (Good Ol’ Raisins and Peanuts) gets old after a while. But because food is my friend, I found a solution to eating boring food in the bush.

Several years ago, I stumbled upon a book titled, Lipsmackin’ Backpackin’, now available in an updated third edition. It’s about how to make your own pack food and enjoy eating it. It’s full of recipes for the do-it-yourself backpacker, from pizza to burritos to tuna salad to breakfast bars to BMCS (Bagels, Meat, and Cheese Sandwiches). If you prefer, there’s a companion book titled, Lipsmackin’ Vegetarian Backpackin’ .

Because I enjoy preparing food, Lipsmackin’ Backpackin’ is perfect for me. Another bonus is that it extends my enjoyment of backpacking. As I prepare food for my pack, I dream of the trip I’ll be taking and how much I’ll enjoy eating tasty food in the toolies that I prepared myself.

A few caveats –

First, you’ll need a food dehydrator for the preparation of many of the recipes. When some of us think of dehydrated food, we might think first of fruit. But did you know you can dehydrate things like precooked pasta, onions, bell peppers, broccoli, and carrots? Liquids such as spaghetti sauce can also be dehydrated. Even extra lean hamburger can be dehydrated if done properly, and won’t require refrigeration.

Second, as you probably know, dehydrated food weighs more than freeze dried food (but not a lot more per serving), so if you jump into this do-it-yourself project you’ll have to figure on a little more weight in your pack. This is not for those who count every ounce in the pack. But the trade-off is that mealtime will be much more enjoyable.

Third, meal preparation will entail a bit more than just dumping some boiling water in a pouch of  freeze dried goop and telling yourself how good it is.

However, there’s one area where the commercial freeze dried backpack food has it all over the dehydrated stuff, and that area is ice cream. Did you know you can get freeze dried ice cream? Mountain House markets freeze dried ice cream that makes a wonderful desert. Food is my friend, but ice cream is my best friend.

Over the Mountains and Through the Woods

Some time ago I was watching some elk as they scampered up a 45 degree slope. They climbed that mountain as easy as I walk across my living room. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have 4WD like those elk?” Well, we can, or at least we can come close if we pick up a pair of trekking poles and learn to use them.

Copyright Mike L. Raether 2020

Trekking poles, for the uninitiated, are cousins to ski poles. Like ski poles, they’re used in tandem. And again like ski poles, they take strain off essential body parts like knees. I’ve used trekking poles for about 10 years, although I suppose I looked pretty silly in the beginning; back in the day very few people used them. A few of the other hikers I encountered at the time even smiled and asked about my use of “ski poles.” They can laugh if they want, but at 70 years of age I’m still tramping around the outback. And my knees are still holding up. Many are the problems that can afflict aging knees, but some of the relief I’ve experienced, I believe, can be attributed to my use of trekking poles.

I started using trekking poles when I reach The Big 6-0, and my knees were starting to complain. They stopped whining so much when I started using trekking poles. Although my primary purpose was to take some pressure off my aging knees, I’ve found lots of other benefits – 

  • They give me better balance.  I don’t have watch my feet all the time, which allows me to look around and enjoy the scenery (or spot more game if I am hunting).
  • They make ascending and descending slippery steep slopes safer and easier, especially when trekking off-trail. I look at trekking poles as preventative medicine.
  • If the brush is wet, a trekking pole makes a good bush whacker to knock off excess moisture before pressing through (another trick in this regard is to avoid being the first person in line when hiking with others. Let the other nimrod be the first to push through the brush and get soaked).
  • Trekking poles come in handy when crossing streams. When wade fishing, I remove the baskets and attach one of my trekking poles to a retractable tether and clip the tether to my wading belt. Bingo: a wading staff.
  • I’ve used mine on occasion as tent or tarp poles. Why pack extra weight? Comes back to the backpacker’s rallying cry: “Everything must have more than one use.”
  • My pair of carbon fiber trekking poles weighs in at less than 15 ounces. Accessories include rubber feet, mud, and snow baskets. I use the attached carbide tips for extra grip on the trail, but slip on the rubber feet for stealth when hunting. The mud baskets are good for, well, mud, and the snow baskets allow the use of trekking poles for snowshoeing.

At first the use of trekking poles might seem a little strange to some folks, but think about it: Hikers and backpackers have a long tradition of picking up a walking stick at a trailhead. In fact, I’ve often seen walking sticks stacked at trailheads as if to say, “Use me then return me here for someone else when you’re done.” Trekking poles are just the next step in the evolution of hiking, backpacking, and hunting aids. The final step is pack goats, but that’s another subject.

Interested? A good pair of carbon fiber trekking poles can be had for under $150. You can find trekking poles for sale online and at many outdoor recreation brick-and-mortar outlets. You can actually get into them pretty inexpensively, but like anything else you get what you pay for. Check out the standbys such as Amazon, Wally World, and REI. In my opinion you don’t need the kind with shock-absorbing springs that are designed to offer cushioning on downhill slopes. I think this feature is a nice touch, but in my view it just adds weight and another mechanical device that can fail.

Trekking poles? Try ‘em. You’ll might like ‘em. Mikey does.