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.
STORE-DRIED CAMPING FOODS
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.
Under 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.
FREEZE-DRIED CAMPING FOODS
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.
Still, 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.
HOME-DRIED CAMPING FOODS
Roll-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-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.