When it comes time to pack up for that next outing into the woods, be it for a day trip, an overnighter or even a multi-day trip, one of the most important things to consider in your preparations is what foods to pack. Obviously when we go afield, we need to pack shelf stable items that will not need refrigeration, that is if we are going without conveyance and leaving the ice chests behind. There are many different options for foods that are available that pack well and can keep us well fed without excessive weight. Let’s discuss some of the many options that I have found that work well for me and may serve you well also.
First off, there are the obvious choices of dehydrated camp meals such as Mountain House, Backpacker’s Pantry and the likes. I personally enjoy Mountain House brand and I cannot say that over the years I have ever eaten one of their products that I didn’t enjoy. Naturally, some of the meals are more preferred over others but that comes down to personal taste. Some of the top choices for me are teriyaki chicken, beef stroganoff, chili mac, eggs with bacon and the sausage gravy and biscuits are pretty good too. These meals are all lightweight to carry as they have no water content. As far as preparation, they are as simple as heating up the appropriate amount of water and then adding the water into the foil pouch. After 10 minutes or so you have a hot meal that is ready to enjoy. The added benefit with Mountain House meals is that you don’t have any extra containers to clean as you can simply eat out of the pouch. The only downside is that you have to properly dispose of those pouches afterwards or pack it out of the woods. For simplicity on the trail and reduction of weight, it is hard to beat these types of meals.
If you are looking for foods that do not have to be prepared in any way, there are many options available at your local grocery store. The are several brands of foil packed tuna and chicken that are pre-cooked and can be eaten right from the pouch. These packets somewhat remind me of the component packs from an MRE. These items are packaged to have a long shelf life, usually in excess of a year, so if you throw it in your pack and leave it for a while, chances are it will still be good when you get back to it within reason. Personally, I really enjoy the tuna fish packs from Starkist, especially the ones that are flavored with sauces such as; sweet and spicy, garlic and herb, lemon pepper and bacon ranch. All of these are quite enjoyable right out of the pouch if you like tuna fish. If you are not a fan of fish, you can always grab the foil pouches of chicken as they have both grilled breast strips and also chopped chicken breast. Once again, both of these are enjoyable to me personally and these chicken pouches make it very quick and easy to whip up a good hearty stew in a bush pot with a few other ingredients mixed together with it. If you like Spam, people usually love it or hate it, then there are also single serve Spam slices packed in these same foil pouches and these can be another alternative to carry along some fat and protein in your pack. These Spam slices can be cubed up and added to soups and stews for flavor and sustenance. None of these packaged meats are probably the most healthy options for daily living but they are very affordable and convenient and offer flexible, shelf stable options for protein while on your next outing in the woods.
Another staple that always offers many options is beef jerky. Beef Jerky should always have a place in every pack for the simple fact that it can be eaten as is while you are on the move. For me, I often use jerky in other recipes to make them more like home cooking. I have made vegetable beef soup, beef stew and even curry beef in a bush pot using jerky as the meat ingredient in all of these dishes. Each of these meals had the taste and texture of a good home cooked meal. The flexibility of beef jerky is really only limited by your imagination as an ingredient when making soups and stews in your bush pot. Keep in mind that jerky comes in different cuts so experiment with the different cuts and process them in the way that best fits your recipe.
Companies such as Knorr sale prepackaged rice and pasta sides that can be purchased very cheap at just about any grocery store and only require boiling in water to prepare. These items in addition to being very cost effective (usually $1.00 a pouch) offer lots of flexibility when combined with some type of protein and offer a good amount of carbohydrate to your diet. There are also other carb options such as the many offerings from Idahoan for different styles of dried potato flakes. These can be prepared for mashed potatoes as a side or even mixed into soups and stews as a thickener and additional ingredient for starches and carbs. All of these types of foods are prepackaged, lightweight and fairly simple to prepare over the fire or on a simple camp stove.
Thinking along more traditional lines, dry ingredients like rice, oatmeal, cornmeal, barley, quinoa, flour, dried beans, etc are all good pack ingredients and can give you lots of calories and sustenance for the weight and volume you carry. The main consideration is the preparation that these items will require. A delicious bowl of pintos and rice is a welcomed provision in any camp but it requires time and preparation for the woodsman who wants to enjoy such comforts. If I am going to be in camp for a few days, I will usually plan a more involved homestyle meal using these types of ingredients and it can be very enjoyable to prepare these types of foods in the field as long as you have the time and energy to dedicate to them.
There are honestly a multitude of great choices of foods for the woodsman to pack and enjoy when in the field. I have named a few that I use regularly but there are many others that I haven’t mentioned also. Staples such as trail mix can be added to items like oatmeal to create a more hearty and satisfying oatmeal, especially when the raisins, cranberries, dried apples or pineapples start to rehydrate in the dish. Cliff bars and other granola bars can be broken down to create a warm breakfast cereal very easily as well by simply adding hot water and even a little powdered milk if just eating the bars themselves gets monotonous. All of these options are really only limited by personal preferences and your palate.
As woodsmen, when we pack our kit items, we always consider the multi-functionality of these items and in what other ways they can serve us in the field. I have come to challenge myself to do the same with my food! I enjoy carrying foods that I can adapt in the field whether eating it right from the package or combining two or three items together to create a more satisfying meal. This makes my time in the woods just that much more enjoyable and keeps me fueled so that I can make the most of my precious time afield. I know there are so many more foods that could be added to those listed above but hopefully this at least gives a good starting point of items to pack and you can continue to expand on this as you see fit. There are few things that I can think of that are more satisfying than enjoying a hearty meal by the warm glow of a fire while recreating in God’s creation of the great outdoors!
Black Hat Bushcraft