For most, meal options are hardly something to look forward to when heading out in the backcountry. The name of the game is substance and liquids to get you through (and maybe a few peanut M&M’s to get you past that sweet tooth craving).
When you’re surrounded by the mountains and miles from civilization, “just-add-water” mac and cheese becomes a delicacy and tomato paste tastes like a professional Italian chef’s spaghetti fresh out of the kitchen.
Whatever the reason, it’s not hard to be satisfied with your choice of cuisine when in the backcountry. As camping season nears the halfway mark, if you’re like us, we’re getting bored of our basic recipes for around the campfire.
It’s only August and there’s still plenty of camping season left so we asked our friends and ambassadors what they like to cook in the backcountry. You’d be shocked to learn that most are much more exquisite than mac and cheese or the quintessential beans and rice.
Here are a few tips from some of our best backcountry-able friends:
"My favorite camp meal is what I call ‘Pita Pizza’. It’s basically a fancy, DIY hot pocket that leaves you much more satisfied than a microwave meat sleeve. This is a simple, easy to clean up meal that you can customize and cook in about 15 minutes. First, get your fire going well ahead of time so you’ve got a good base of coals to work off of. This makes it easier to control the heat level since direct flame will burn your pita bread pretty quickly.
Next you’ll need the basics: mozzarella cheese, pizza sauce or marinara, Italian seasoning and pita bread. From here, you can add your favorite pizza toppings. I like pepperonis, jalapeños and red or green peppers. Depending on what ingredients you choose, it’s sometimes best to cook veggies in their own foil pocket so they cook all the way through.
If it’s not already, cut your pita bread in half. Then, sprinkle in some Italian seasoning, a couple spoonfuls of sauce, a bit of cheese and the pepperonis. Rip off a decent size of aluminum foil and seal up your pita pizza tight. I’ve learned the hard way that too much heat will cause the pita bread to stick to the foil, so if you’re car camping, bring some cooking spray and spray the foil before you wrap up the pita pizza.
Throw the packet on the grate or over coals and let it cook on each side for 7 or 8 minutes. Once the cheese is melty your good to go!" - Andrew Miller, @AndrewMillerStudio
“My favorite backcountry recipe is soba buckwheat ramen noodles with all sorts of dried veggie goodies (corn, peas, mushrooms), soy sauce, sesame oil and green onion. It’s super easy and packable and portable with minimal cleaning. It’s a way better option than the prepackaged ones that you see around; cheaper, healthier, fresher, etc. It just takes five minutes of prep time before your trip! And the great thing is you don’t really need a recipe, you can kind of find a base one online and adapt it until you are happy with it. That’s what I’ve done!” - Joey Schusler, @JoeySchusler
“I like to make a hobo packet filled with real food. I layer the bottom with sliced onion and whole cloves of peeled garlic. Then I roughly slice up whatever vegetables I packed along, sweet potato, carrots, zucchini, cauliflower. It's so nice to eat real food and vegetables when I'm camping instead of salty, dehydrated foods. I wrap up the tin foil and throw it in the fire for 30 - 45 minutes depending on how hot the fire is.” - Sierra Quitiquit, @Sierra
“I don't always have energy to cook something right after a really long hike. When I did my first fourteener a few years ago, I brought cut up summer sausage, cheese, mustard packs and a pita and left them in a cooler in the car back at the parking lot. After coming down from the mountain totally exhausted and hungrier than I've ever been, that combination was like heaven! It was enough to hold me over until we could find a place to eat dinner and now it's my go-to hiking snack.” - Johnie Gall, @dirtbagdarling
“Before every trip, whether it's a week long backpacking trip or a night of car camping, I lay out all of my gear on my front porch and organize everything into stuff sacks and bins. As you might expect, the food stash is one of the most important bins I'll pack.
My food essentials vary quite a bit. On a long road trip, I'll bring food that I can cook on the Coleman stove in my truck camper. If that's the case, one of my favorite meals to make is a breakfast of coffee, scrambled eggs, thick cut bacon, and a side of beans + avocado. Dress it up with a little Tapatio hot sauce and you'll be charged for the day.
If I'm living out of my backpack, I tend to eat a pretty simple string of meals. One of my favorites has to be a dehydrated curry lentil stew with a few fresh slices of avocado layered on top. You can buy it in bulk at a lot of natural food stores for just about two dollars a pound, so when you're a broke young scientist 10 pounds of soup goes a long way! Believe it or not, during the three years I lived in the backcountry studying songbirds, I lived off this soup (and a few beers + coffee) almost exclusively. Occasionally, I'd harvest some abalone, turkey or cod, but those were the exceptional days.” - Charles Post, @Charles_post
“My favorite camping recipe isn't really a recipe, it’s really just a snack that is great for the trail, super simple to make, and something that will keep you going. I call it a Praco. It’s just a flour tortilla, with your choice of tuna, avocado, and your favorite hot sauce. I like mine with Cholula hot sauce. The name has nothing to do with the snack nor does it really make sense. But when I was on a surfing trip along the California coast, this was all we ate for about ten days and we just ended up calling it a Praco.” - Sam Matthews, @samjmatthews
“I have a strict ‘cooking is not to be any more complicated than boiling water’ policy. Believe it or not, I actually eat the same exact stuff every time I head out into the backcountry to maximize caloric efficiency and minimize my load.
Breakfast: Starbuck's Via coffee, Instant Oatmeal (2 packets of Maple/Brown Sugar flavor) and Justin's Nut Butter (Honey Peanut Butter mixed in with oatmeal).
Lunch (snacks while on the go): Bobo's Granola Bars (all flavors!), Clif Shot Bloks (Cherry Flavor with caffeine), King's Hawaiian Rolls stuffed with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter and rolled/compressed into little ‘Power Nuggets.’
Dinner: Mountain House or Backpacker's Pantry dehydrated meals (2-person serving).
Dessert: whiskey and Snickers bar.
I'd rather be fishing, photographing, or hiking than preparing food or cleaning dishes, so my cooking never gets more complicated than that!” - Jason Fitzgibbon, @jasonfitzgibbon
“When camping, we like to eat as close to our typical diet as possible - which is: a lot of fresh, minimally processed whole foods with limited amounts of meat and lots of vegetables. However, when we're camping we have to make some modifications to adapt to our cooking environment (i.e. no refrigerator, no oven, etc.). So for the most part, we cook outdoors-friendly versions of the type of meals we would want to eat on a daily basis. We hate dealing with a cooler full of ice, so we don't camp with one, which does make managing fresh produce, cheeses, and meat a challenge - especially during the heat of the summer. So we've adapted to make more frequent runs to the grocery store and stock up on heartier vegetables and shelf stable pantry items.
Our whole philosophy to camp cooking is that if you get creative, almost any style of meal is possible at a campsite. Just because you're going camping doesn't mean you have to throw your whole healthy diet out the window and binge on hot dogs and easy mac. (You can if you want, that's totally fine, too!) But you don't have to. And what we're trying to do on Fresh Off the Grid is provide people with the option to cook simple, healthy, camping-ready meals instead.” - Megan and Michael, @Freshoffthegrid
Lastly, check out our ambassador Sam Noll’s favorite campfire recipe on her website. Hint: it’s the perfect combo of honey, lavender, flank steak and goat cheese. Sam Noll, @Waywardbelle
Photography Credits: (1-2) Andrew Miller, (3) Jason Fitzgibbon, (4) Johnie Gall
(5-7) Samantha Noll, (8) Fresh Off The Grid