Food, Glorious Food
When we head off on an outdoor adventure, whether it’s a picnic at the beach or a week in the mountains, food is a big part of the experience. So we worry about how to keep food cold, how to cook it, and how to make sure we have safe drinking water. Not to mention what we’ll eat. Here are some of our solutions:
Hot Stuff – Camping stoves and cookware:
If you’re car camping, we like the CampChef Rainier Camper’s Combo. This is a compact 2-burner design that runs on propane bottles but can easily be converted to a small propane tank. It features one 10,000 BTU Burner, one 8,000 BTU Burner (grill/griddle fits on top), a Non-stick coated aluminum grill and griddle, three-sided wind barrier and matchless ignition. Price is $62.50.
If you are constrained by size and weight, there are plenty of lightweight camping stoves out there. One that we like is the Optimus Crux Lite Solo Cook System from Katadyn, best known for its water filtration systems. The Optimus is small and ultralight, and includes the feather-light, precision-simmering Crux Lite stove and the Terra Solo Cook Set made for fast-and-light adventures. The bundle holds a pot with pour spout and a tough-as-nails fry pan (that doubles as a pot lid). Keep it neat in the mesh carry bag. Inside that, magically find room to also stash our folding spork and a 100-g gas cartridge too. Price is $59.95.
If you have a little more space, the Stryker 200 Multi-Fuel Compact Cooking System from CampChef may fit the bill. Among its features – the Multi-fuel version is compatible with propane and butane. Heat Ring technology increase efficiency by 30%, reducing fuel consumption. It has Matchless ignition. It will boil 0.5 liters of water in 2 minutes. It includes stove, insulated pot, folding tank stabilizer, lid, and mesh carry bag. It also has added wind protection. Price is $50.
Of course, you’re going to need something to cook in beyond the small pots in the stove kits. Over the years we’ve had some great luck with products from MSR so we feel confident in recommending two of their products here. The MSR Ceramic 2-Pot Set makes it easier than ever to cook like you do at home while in the backcountry thanks to its premium ceramic nonstick surface on aluminum. Together, the 2.5 liter and 1.5-liter pots handle a range of wilderness meals, and offer convenient, hassle-free clean-up. Tough and lightweight, this pack-friendly set has room for nesting mugs and plates, saving precious space in your pack. Price is $79.95
While lots of folks make pots, there aren’t as many choices when it comes to a packable skillet. The MSR Ceramic Flex Skillet also features nonstick ceramic coating on aluminum. This is an essential piece in any backcountry chef’s arsenal. Perfect for stir-fry, pancakes, bacon and other outdoor gourmet fare, the hard-anodized aluminum skillet handles high-temp cooking and keeps clean-up hassle-free. Conveniently nests inside the MSR Flex 4 System and outside a Flex 3 System. Price is $39.95.
If you are like me, one of the essentials to a night out in the woods is a morning with a great cup of coffee. We’re partial to the French Press style. Coffee tends to stay hotter and the process goes faster. The GSI Outdoors 30 ounce personal Java Press comes with both press and mug. Personal and portable, this 2-piece mug and press is lightweight and compact due to its unique nesting design. The insulated personal press brews two cups of fresh coffee (or tea), one to get you going and one for the road. Price is $27.95
One of the things I worry about on a camping trip is making sure that food is safely prepared. The Gerber Freescape Kitchen Kit provides a durable, easy-to-clean cutting board, with two kitchen knives that all tuck into a drawer which can store other utensils as well. It has a durable, dishwasher-safe polypropylene case/cutting board features a 10.1 x 8.2 in. cutting surface and drip channel to keep things tidy. The camp knife has a 3.8 in. Santoku blade and 9.1 in. overall length with full-tang construction. The paring knife has a 3 in. blade with 7 in. overall length and full-tang construction. It includes a built-in ceramic knife sharpener and nonslip rubber footing. We’ve seen it priced anywhere from $65.73 to $88.00.
There’s a good chance that in the great outdoors you’re going to need something tougher than a kitchen knife for routine and unexpected challenges. We like the Coast RX 395 Blade Assist. This is a useful rescue tool for professionals and casual users alike. Using Blade Assist Technology, the RX395 Knife is fast and easy to open so you can get to work on whatever task is at hand. It combines a liner lock with our Max Lock System to make sure you can comfortably use your knife without it accidentally closing or even opening in your pocket. It also has a textured nylon handle and stainless steel frame with a deep-carry pocket clip. For added safety, the RX395 comes equipped with a seat belt cutter and a glass breaker. Price is $47.00
Chill Out – Coolers Large and Small
It wasn’t all that long ago that you really needed to worry about how you were going to keep food cold in a traditional cooler beyond two days. That was about as long as your ice supply would last. But in recent years, tough, heavily insulated coolers led by Yeti have promoted portable cool that can keep things cold for a week (depending in large part on how often you open and close them). While Yeti has quickly become the big dog in the game, other companies are jumping in. But we warn you, you’re going to pay some pretty hot prices to keep your food cold. One of the biggest we’ve seen is the ROVR 80. This 80-quart behemoth RollR isn’t just a cooler. It’s an all-terrain attacking, 80-quart carrying, gear-hauling beast of burden that can go anywhere you can. The Campsite Edition comes equipped with the Prepping Board, Duel Cup Holder, and Dry Bin accessories. All in a single, bear-proof package. Price is $449.
Another company that has recently entered the space is Pelican. It’s not really surprising given the company’s long history making nearly impervious shipping cases for all sorts of sensitive gear such as television cameras and electronics. The Pelican Elite 20 is a relatively small size cooler, great for an overnight or a day at the beach. It is capable of holding up to 15 beverage cans or carrying 3 upright wine bottles. It boasts up to 3 days of ice retention, so beverages and snacks stay cold all weekend. Press and pull latches make for easy opening and secure closing of the lid—the cooler won’t pop open until you want it to. It’s designed with a contoured cooler side and easy-carry handle for maximum carrying comfort. And it’s guaranteed for life by Pelican. Best price we’ve seen is just about $200.
Sometimes a big cooler is not the thing you want. Yeti’s soft-sided Hopper Two-20 is ideal for concerts, a day at the beach, or a picnic since you can use the shoulder strap or handles to grab it and still have one or both of your hands-free. This year it’s been redesigned with a wider opening to make it easier to get things in and out. It still has Yeti’s famous keep cold technology so you’ll be able to assure yourself that no matter how hot the day, your food stays cool. Price is just about $300.
Now that you know how to cook it and how to keep it cool, what are you actually going to eat? If you’re on a backpacking trip, the chances are that your main staples will be freeze dried foods to which you can simply add water and cook up. These are not your father’s freeze-dried tasteless meals. There are breakfasts, dinners, desserts, and some great snacks. One up and coming brand that we’ve tried is AlpineAire Foods – This company makes a huge variety of meals from breakfast smoothies to main courses with meat or poultry to desserts. We particularly like their Toffee Break snack mix. Try it and you may never go back to nuts and berries. Most of their meals range from about $5 – $9.
Bannock Packaged Foods – Bannock Outdoors is a division of the same company that creates Preparewise disaster preparedness food packs. Only Bannock Outdoors makes smaller packages specifically for backpacking, generally with 2½ servings per pouch. Bannock Outdoor Meals provide convenient, well-balanced meals that you can quickly cook in the pouch. For a variety, you might consider their Mega Sample Pack, which contains a 2½ serving pouch of all 10 Bannock Meals, from Peach & Berry Cobbler to filling Cast Iron Chili Macaroni. There are meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Price for the ten pouch sample pack is $90 on Amazon.com. Individual 2½-serving pouches run between about $8 and $12.
Water, Water, Anywhere?
Water is essential to life. And clean water isn’t always easy to find in the woods. Even the clearest mountain stream can be carrying microbes and viruses that you really don’t want to be ingesting or adding to your food. Fortunately, there are a number of solutions that make it easier than ever to carry clean water with you without complex pumping filtration systems.
LifeStraw Steel – This little filter system is small enough to fit almost anywhere. Instead of requiring a water bottle, you simply stick the LifeStraw into a water source such as a stream. By sucking on it, you draw the water through a replaceable filter than gets rid of 99.9999 of microbes and protozoa. Each filter is good for about 100 liters of water. This is a great camping companion and a good fallback device to keep with you no matter where you’re traveling, whether into the woods or a third world country. Price is $54.95.
Fixt Water Bottle – Fixt makes a variety of water solutions from survival straws to home water pitchers. You pour the source water, from a lake, stream, or pond into the bottle. When you squeeze it out, the water is forced through a filter and you have potable water. The Fixt removes bacteria and lasts for 100 gallons. It filters chlorine, lead, radon 222 and 68 other contaminants. The soft water bottle fits into a backpack or cupholder. Price is $39.95 but there are discount promotions available.
BeFree Collapsible Water Filtration Bottle by Katadyn – With the BeFree™ Filter, you no longer have to worry about where your next drink will come from. Just fill up the flask. The EZ-Clean Membrane™ does the work. Gently squeeze the flask for instant refreshment. The filter is easy to maintain and is good for 1000 liters. It filters out 99.9999% of bacteria and 99.9% of protozoa. To clean it you just rinse and shake to get rid of the debris. When you’re done drinking it collapses into next to nothing. Price is $39.95.
If you are getting your water from a safe source but you’d like to save some space, the Platypus Duolock Soft Bottle will flatten down to a small form that will fit in a backpack or even your pocket. It has a carabiner so you can clip it to your belt or pack. It features a dual-locking cap for double the leak protection. This flexible bottle is easy to fill and carry, making it great for day hikes or any adventure. It easily flattens and rolls up when empty, saving space. The wide mouth opening eases filling and cleaning; bottle is dishwasher safe. The bottle is shaped to make it easy to grip, tip, sip or pour. Full or empty, the bottle stays upright on its own. It is BPA-, BPS-, and phthalate-free. It comes in a variety of colors and three sizes: .75L, 1 L, and 2 L priced from $11.95 to $15.95.