Many a hungry backpacker has arrived at camp to the dismal sight of an over-priced, freeze-dried meal..... and resolved immediately with intense conviction that the menu must be improved.
The outdoor experience provides a myriad of different satisfactions for participants, but there is a constant for us. If we are going to stay some duration in the wilderness, we must pack food with us (unless your friends will tolerate the sight of a llama’s backside all the way up the trail) that means, your food is on your back. And so the great debate is born. How much weight should we be willing to pack to enrich our high-elevation cuisine? Has any subject been hashed out more than this one over the ol' campfire?
The weight vs. taste argument is one old and worthy. Multi- day backpacking circumstances demand that people reasonably determine weather he or she shall either consume dehydrated muck, or pay dearly through the quads, hamstrings, and calves, etc., in order to dine well in the mountains. The author is among those of us who found himself at this same perplexing crossroads only to discover and admit that he is simply a prisoner to his very distinguished taste buds. This crossroad became the embarking of his odyssey of research and experimentation toward the medium between weight and flavor.
Some damaged cartilage and a few backpacks later, Stephen Weston has been successful in finding a number of combinations that explode with flavor and they won’t herniate you carrying to camp. (so successful, that some big name brands have paid him to come along on back-country ski filming excursions as a cook) His passion for simultaneously bagging peaks and eating like royalty outruns his logical ability to settle for one or the other- and our palates can be the beneficiaries of his efforts.
Friends and I have welcomed the sight of recipes prepared by the author on a snowy, windy slope or two. Especially that salmon dish! Weston has provided something wholesome to the people around him, and that's all any of us can try for. Eat well and climb high.
A local hero for the "good backpacking food" cause is Stephen Weston, author of In the Wild Chef: Recipes From Base Camp to Summit, a cookbook dedicated to good, lightweight food. I recently caught up with Weston and prodded him for advice on eating better while on the trail.
"For beginners, I recommend that you practice in your kitchen then take your kitchen outdoors," Weston said. "It seems like a good idea to figure out ways to cook backcountry food at home, when you can afford a mistake, and then make that food again on the trail. Have a killer stir-fry idea for the backcountry? Practice the recipes before your trip. Would you rather fail at home or at 9,000 feet on the side of a boulder?"
Weston advocates those little spice packs (stir-fry powder, taco seasoning, etc.) that you can grab at the grocery store as a flavor starter. Then, all a hiker has to do is find other lightweight alternative foods. Going through his book, I came across multiple recipes using Ramen noodles, powdered milk, Jello mix and even dehydrated potato mix--all lightweight options that I had never considered "trail" food before.
"I am a converter, that's all. I take recipes from the kitchen out on the trail," Weston said. "Why buy that prepackaged stuff? ... My recipes can save you money and taste a heck of a lot better."
"One of my favorites," Weston added, "is King Ludd's Phad Thai. ... It's so easy, quick and yummy."
Yeah, Thai food on the trail.