Finding trail food that packs up light and is inexpensive, tasty, easy to prepare, and simple to clean up has always been a challenge for backpackers. Jim Parham found a solution he’s been using for years.
It’s been decades since backpacking gear included frying pans, large pots, and other heavy, bulky cooking paraphernalia. These days, most experienced backpackers on multi-day trips have menus in which dehydrated food plays a large part. Prepackaged meals are readily available in outfitter stores, but they have their drawbacks, the two biggest being high price and high sodium/additive content.
Several years ago, a friend told me about Freezer Bag Cooking, which lets you assemble all of your meals ahead of time at home, packaging them in individual zip-top freezer bags. To prepare them on the trail, all you do is place the bag in a homemade insulated pouch called a cozy, add boiling water, seal the bag, and wait about ten minutes. You can then eat your meal straight out of the pouch. Cleanup is fast and easy—just wipe off your spoon and tuck the empty zip-top into your trash.
It’s true that this method requires time and effort on the front end, plus some cash for the meal ingredients you need. But isn’t planning and anticipating a backpacking trip a good part of the fun? Yes, you’ll spend to stock your backpacking pantry, but that initial investment will last you quite a while—and in the long run save you money over those expensive commercially prepared meals. As someone who is sensitive to MSG, I appreciate knowing just what goes into my trail food. Once I got the hang of how freezer bag cooking meals are put together, I learned a lot about how to tweak recipes to my liking, and even create my own. My current favorite: almond cranberry chicken with brown rice. I’ve never eaten so well on the trail. What’s more, you can use these pre-made meals for activities other than hiking. Once on a bike trip abroad, we arrived in a village at dusk in the rain, and all the restaurants were closed. Luckily we’d brought along a set of freezer bag dinners, just in case. We fired up the tea kettle in our deserted hostel and less than half an hour later were sitting down to a satisfying hot supper.
For those who’ve struggled for years to find a cost-efficient and easy way to fix appealing meals in the backcountry, this method is a revelation. Learn more from Sara Svien Kirkconnell’s book, Freezer Bag Cooking, or visit her website at www.trailcooking.com, where you can find delicious and inexpensive recipes.
Jim Parham is the author of Backpacking Overnights: North Carolina Mountains, South Carolina Upstate, where you can read more about trail food and lightweight backpacking.