Taste of the Wilderness: Luxurious Backcountry Meals

If you are a certain kind of person, you find it very fun to pack all your necessities up in a backpack, hike many miles away from civilization, set up your tent / sleeping bag / hammock / etc, and chill the fuck out far, far away from everyone else. We call these kinds of people “outdoorsy” or “nature divas” or “absolutely bananas,” depending on your perspective, but the fact of the matter is if you are a queer person, you probably know a lot of folks for whom this rings true. I’m sorry, I don’t make up the stereotypes, I just lean heavily into them.

All of which is to say – many of us who write for and read Autostraddle dot com enjoy going camping! Some of us like car camping, some of us like long backpacking trips, and some of us actually hate this shit but get forced against their will because their dearly beloved friend / spouse / hot date / etc convinced them it would be fun. Personally, I am a person who used to hate being outside and now fucking loves hiking, backpacking, and camping, and I especially love doing all those things with fellow queers. One of the best parts of spending time in the backcountry, in my opinion, is preparing a delicious meal. It’s good for morale, you need a lot of fuel to keep your body up and running through your adventure, and it’s really fun figuring out how to edit your favorite meals and make them suitable for the backcountry.

At A-Camp this week, Taylor and I are leading a very cute workshop called Taste of the Wilderness, wherein we’ll be preparing some basic yet very luxurious backcountry meals for our campers, and we’ll also be talking about tips and tricks to making your backcountry meals as delicious and decadent as can be, without compromising your pack weight (too much). Below, please feast your eyes on some of our tips, a couple of simple recipes, and some nature photos that don’t include food at all, because I’m usually too busy ravenously eating my backcountry meals to photograph them first, oops.


Simple Tips To Make Basic Camping Food More Luxurious

1. Fresh produce

One of the biggest myths about backpacking food is that it has to all be dehydrated. Another big myth is that it can’t be healthy and filled with nutrients. While there’s a place for cheap ramen and instant potatoes in every camper’s pack (duh, yum), don’t deny yourself fresh produce just because you’re worried it might go bad or will add too much extra weight to your pack. There are many hardy options that can handle a few days hanging out in a food bag: apples, avocados, carrots, peppers, green onions, blueberries…the list goes on. And while you may not be making an entire stir-fry from scratch at the end of a 20 mile hiking day (or maybe you are, I don’t know your life), it is so, so nice to be able to add fresh sliced avocado to your dehydrated chili, or sprinkle some real green onions into your miso soup, or bite into a juicy apple as opposed to a dehydrated slice. As for weight: yes, carrying whole fresh food will often be heavier than carrying all dehydrated products. But the nutrients and the joy your slightly heavier fresh food will bring you will be worth the few extra pounds on your back, I promise.

2. Cheese

YOU CAN BRING CHEESE INTO THE BACKCOUNTRY!!! Sorry I didn’t mean to yell, it’s just like, extremely exciting. A lot of people assume cheese needs to be refrigerated and like yeah, kind of, but also it’s fine. Obviously this is a little bit dependent on the climate you’re hiking and camping in – I wouldn’t suggest bringing a block of cheese to the California desert, for example – but if you’re in a more moderate or downright cold climate, bring your cheese in your pack! Pick a harder variety, like cheddar or gruyere. Then prepare yourself for the magic that is dairy at your finger tips. Wanna add some cheese to your salami and tortilla lunch? Cool, now it’s The Best Tortilla Ever. Wanna throw some cheese chunks into your otherwise very basic instant pasta dish? Neat, now you’re eating Glorious Pasta With Cheese Chunks In It Holy Shit! Just wanna nibble on something delicious during your mid-afternoon break? Cool, allow me to introduce my good friend CHEESE! Fucking yum.

3. Olive oil

If you’re looking to up your caloric intake on a camping trip and want to do so in a delicious way, olive oil is an amazing addition to almost any savory meal. Carry a small bottle of it and add a couple of tablespoons to literally anything you might eat: pastas, soups, chilis, potatoes, tortilla wraps, beans…olive oil is perfect. Make sure you carry it in a tightly sealed container, because the only time olive oil is not perfect is when it has leaked all over the inside of your pack.

4. Spice Kit

Listen, I know they say hunger is the best spice, and they’re not wrong, but also: spices are the best spice. Ideally many spices! I know a lot of backpackers only bring salt, if any seasoning at all, because they don’t want to increase the weight of their pack with needless things but if I may be so bold – spices are extremely necessary. You’re making oatmeal in the morning and it tastes like nothing? Add some cinnamon, or better yet, a cinnamon sugar nutmeg mix you pre-made at home to your oats, and suddenly you’re in seasoned heaven! Add some garlic salt and paprika to instant mashed potatoes (and dump in some olive oil too!) and suddenly they’re like, Very Good, as opposed to exceedingly mediocre. Make yourself a robust little spice kit and feel your backcountry culinary world open up.

5. Warm Beverages

I know. You don’t want to carry extra water to your campground just to make something as decadent and unnecessary as a cup of tea. You’re very hardcore and you don’t even use a stove, you cold soak all your meals, and you’re not gonna bring a stove on trail just so you can have hot chocolate in your tent like some kind of baby. You’re fine. And okay, cool, I’m sure you are fine! I’m happy for you! But also…have you ever been trapped in your tent during a downpour, damp or totally wet or cold or just sad, and then treated yourself to a warm cup of anything? Seriously, this warm beverage trick is very versatile! In dire morale situations, a cup of hot water versus a cup of miso versus a cup of hot chocolate versus a cup of instant coffee is sort of a moot point. You just have this cup of warmth, ya know? And it’s so warm. And your body is so wet and so cold. And your brain is so sad. But this warm beverage in your pot? This warm beverage is like gold, if gold could warm up your insides and boost your spirits and taste really fucking good, no matter what it is. Just take my advice on this, no matter how cool you think you are: don’t leave your gold at home.


Some Simple Yet Luxurious Backcountry Meals

This is the worksheet Taylor and Vanessa are handing out at their A-Camp workshop!


Feel free to share your favorite luxurious backcountry meal in the comments! And remember: don’t head out on a backcountry trip or even a simple day hike without preparing appropriately. Make sure you review the 10 essentials you should always have on your person while backpacking, and go over Leave No Trace principles, too.

Happy trails, happy camping, and bon appetite!

Vanessa is a queer feminist writer and photographer currently based in New York. She really misses Portland. Find her on twitter and instagram.

Vanessa has written 255 articles for us.

13 Comments

  1. Spices are essential, but I also bring cornmeal and a fishing rod. There is nothing like catching your evening meal.

    Also, if you’re in California, you can pick your lettuce as you hike! They don’t call it miner’s lettuce for nothing.

  2. Wow I don’t have occasion to backpack anymore but this sure makes me dreammmmmm.

    I like the methods outlined, seems to me they could apply to my I-hate-to-make-lunch days.

    Also I heard some astronaut saying that Parmesan was his favourite cheese while in the space station.
    That got me thinking that a block of parmesan seems pretty indistructible. If nothing else you could use it to hammer in a tent peg (kidding !!)

    Have fun at Camp !

  3. Mint is really good when hiking or camping. I’ve seen some non-native wild mint(along with native edibles, like sage & fennel) actually growing in the Santa Monica mountains. Just wash them with water if you can, but fennel and mint could add some extra flavor and pairs well with cheese.

  4. I like to bring something frozen for the first night. It just slowly defrosts as you hike.

    But also. Things cooked on an open fire are the tastiest. Especially spuds. (worth carrying some butter just for this)

  5. Backpacking is not my scene at all but if wheat and therefore ramen noodles are a problem for anybody out there consider rice noodles especially pho noodles, takes about a minute in hot water to cook them and very light weight.

    Also
    Basic American and Idahoan do have some gluten free instant potato stuff.

    Garlic salt > garlic powder in terms of flavour

  6. First: tea is an essential, not a luxury.

    Something I like to do is put olive oil in a small spray bottle for easy use and less risky packing.

    And if you know something about botany you can find ingredients for dinner or tea on the way! (Don’t go about snacking on some endangered flower or some toxic mushroom – be smart.) I like to pick stuff like camomille or mint for tea, berries and in the autumn nuts or chestnuts (roasted on an open fire?) for snacks.

    (Fun fact: in northern Europe the Romans planted chestnuts on their campains to sustain their armies.)

    I’m going to Scotland in august for a campervan trip and we will also be doing some hiking and I can’t wait to go!

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