The Three Essential Food Groups For Long Camping Trips

One of the many pleasures of camping out of a kayak — a boat that’s basically a floating cooler — is that for the first several days you can feast on fresh foods. But multi-week trips require provisions with reduced bulk and increased shelf life. For these, I carry a mix of what I consider the three essential food groups for extended camping: store-dried, freeze-dried and home-dried.


This category includes any dry foods that come from your regular grocery store – things like potato flakes, pastas and rices. The instant varieties take less time and fuel to prepare, but the regular slow-cook versions come out firmer, more al dente. Don’t overlook the “complete dish” packages, such as that old standby, mac-and-cheese, or Sidekicks and similar products. The addition of a can of tuna or chicken flakes turns most of these into a more-or-less complete meal.

spaghetti with tomato and pepperoni coinsUnder store-dried, I also include those little vacuum-packed pepperoni sticks that keep without refrigeration: cut into coins and added to tomato sauce in lieu of meatballs, they provide the fat and the chewy texture that’s missing from many dried entrées. A heaping plate of spaghetti with this topping is my go-to supper when I’m ravenous and want to feel comfortably full.


I’ve been camping long enough to remember when the only choices for freeze-dried main courses were stews or beanie-weenies. Today, thanks to the culinary influence of cultures that don’t consider ketchup to be a spice, we can choose from vindaloos, pad thais, and Kung Paos.

FD meals have their downsides: they’re expensive (especially as I invariably polish off a “2 servings” package by myself after a hard day’s paddling. It might be different if I was also having appies, soup, dessert and a cheese course.) The rices and pastas in FD foods also come out mushier than their non-FD counterparts.

preparing a freeze-dried dinnerStill, I always carry several pouches of FD on my longer trips. Their indefinite shelf-life means that if I don’t use’em on this trip I can bring’em home for the next one. Or the one after that. They’re ideal for days when weather and/or a lack of landing spots keep me on the water into late evening, and I make camp too exhausted to bother with any cooking more complicated than boiling water; that effortless access keeps me from tipping into a downward spiral of fatigue and hunger. And eating right out of the pouch limits dishwashing to licking the spoon clean.

On one such unintentionally long day, I boiled water and reconstituted my FD dinner while I set up the tent and blew up my bed mat. I happened to notice as I was falling asleep that it was less than an hour since I’d landed; it would have taken far longer if I hadn’t been able to make camp and “cook” simultaneously.


drying stew on a home dehydratorRoll-your-own meals made with a food dehydrator allow you to bring many of your home favourites into the backcountry, while tailoring spiciness and portion sizes to your personal preferences. I’ve found Laurie Ann March’s A Fork In The Trail to be an invaluable guide, with tips on dehydrating in general, great recipes, and suggestions on adapting your own dishes for successful dehydration.

home dehydrated stew vacuum-packedHome-dried meals take longer to reconstitute than freeze-dried ones, but you can get a head start by throwing dinner into a Nalgene bottle with the appropriate amount of water during your lunch stop or afternoon break. Or you can put it into a thermos with hot water on arrival, so it can pre-cook as you pitch camp.

No store-bought or freeze-dried meal delivers the sense of satisfaction and self-sufficiency you get from tucking into a zesty plateful of your own home cooking at the end of another great day on the water.

boiling up dinner on a woodstove






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