Updated: Apr 29, 2021
"We all have incredible relationships to what we eat, to what we don't eat, to what we've eaten since childhood and what we were fed, to what food means to us. And so I find it a really powerful tool in storytelling and in opening people's hearts and their minds."
-Samin Nosrat, Author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
Getting out into the woods doesn't mean we have to skimp on a good meal. In fact, backcountry cooking is a great way to pass time in the woods, to fuel our bodies, and to use as a way to tell stories around the campfire.
Have you ever felt closer to someone after sharing a meal together? Food has that power. It's the "great uniter," pulling people by their noses to the kitchen, and gathering people together around the table or camp stove. Where there's food, there's people.
Food isn't just a basic human need, it's so much more.
Backcountry cooking brings us together
It wasn't until Megan and I backpacked together that we really got to know each other. It was during our shared moments together in the wilderness- reaching peaks, getting lost, squeezing in a tent with Pickles the dog, talking about our dreams and fears, and cooking elaborate meals- that our friendship deepened.
The outdoors provided a framework for us to relate to each other, break down barriers, and tell our stories.
This is the power of a shared experience.
For those involved, it can create those inside jokes that we love to retell together over and over while those around us roll their eyes, having heard the same story for the umpteenth time.
Here are some other cool things about shared experiences:
They can happen with those that you know or complete strangers.
They create a space for people to identify with each other.
They can have a profound effect on people experiencing them together.
They can increase our happiness as they bond us and make us feel part of something bigger than ourselves.
These experiences give us a common story that only those involved can truly appreciate.
The outdoors can be a particularly amazing tool for creating shared experiences with others. It can sneak up on us as we are exchanging stories about ourselves, encouraging and pushing each other along the trail, and also while cooking and sharing meals together.
As Megan and I struggled to create our elaborate dinner one evening in the backcountry, we had to laugh. Maybe we hadn't totally thought this out. We quickly realized the logistical complication of what we were attempting to make. We needed more pots and pans, so we had to get creative.
The details are not the important takeaway here. Megan and I had shared an experience that left us feeling more bonded (and our bellies satisfied).
A meal never tasted better.
It connects us to our environment
Where did my food go?! Have you ever been so wrapped up in scrolling on social media, watching a movie or working on your computer that you weren't paying attention to the food on your plate? You finally look down and there are only a few crumbs remaining.
Did I eat all that?
Many of us are so busy in our daily lives that we shovel food into our mouths without even thinking.
Next time, you tell yourself, I'll eat with more awareness.
The beauty of cooking and eating in the backcountry is that it provides the perfect backdrop for slowing down and creating that awareness. You'll notice after a day of hiking that the food you cooked never tasted better. You take the time to savor each sporkful.
You hear the birds chirping.
You see the leaves gently rustling in the breeze.
You feel the crispness of the air.
And you actually taste your food.
Being in nature allows us to really be present in our environment. We allow our minds to focus on the task at hand and savor each bite. We take the time to get to know those we are with and to tell our stories.
And it’s then you realize, we have all the time in the world!
The importance of cooking real food while backpacking
My backpacking friends laugh at me when I tell them about the meals I plan on preparing for our group.
On the menu for dinner tonight, we’ll have curry red lentil soup, socca (a garbanzo bean flatbread) and apple crumble for dessert.
Oh, and buckwheat pancakes for breakfast.
Going backpacking doesn’t mean you have to skimp on good food. In fact, I would argue that eating a real meal (i.e. not just trail mix or granola bars) is one of the most important things you can do for yourself when you're backpacking. Your body has to work hard to move those legs and carry that heavy backpack.
Do your body a favor after you've worked it - give it fuel!
Your body will thank you when you roll out of your tent the next day and you feel more energized. And trust me, there is nothing better than a cooked meal at the end of the day to warm your belly and nourish your tired body.
And whipping out those backcountry cooking skills can be a fun and creative experience. It just takes some careful planning.
Here are some tips on backcountry cooking:
Don't get overly complicated. Try to keep it simple with minimal ingredients.
Think about ingredients that are shelf stable and won't go bad.
Prepare what you can at home before you go.
Bring the appropriate equipment and enough fuel.
Make dishes that aren't overly time consuming. You'll be hungry and cooking will take longer than you think.
Error on the side of a little too much rather than too little. You burn more calories out on the trail!
Practice good hygiene and wash your hands well before touching the food.
Be mindful as you cook. Most backcountry injuries occur while cooking.
Be animal aware. Make sure you have a bear canister or bear hang to properly store your food.
If you feel more comfortable buying a freezer-dried meal where you "just add water," then by all means, do it! There are a lot of good options out there. You can even add your own touch to the meal. Spice it up, put it in a burrito.
You do you. But make sure you treat your body well and give it those calories it needs!
Food and culture in the backcountry
We all need to eat, but food extends way beyond what we put into our mouths.
Food intersects many aspects of our lives. It's wrapped up in identities, our cultures, and our stories.
What a person eats tells us about their habits and preferences. It gives us a glimpse of our past. Perhaps it tells us something about our philosophies and beliefs. It can certainly give us insight into other cultures.
What food you eat tells a story that’s uniquely your own.
There's a Swahili proverb that goes: Until you've eaten at my table, you cannot know me.
To share a meal is to put a piece of yourself on the table. It can be a vulnerable experience!
But how does the backcountry relate to food and culture?
It just so happens that you’re sharing an experience with others that you didn't know before today. You signed up for our two-day backpacking trip with a group of strangers. You've spent all day hoofing it up and down the mountainside. Your group has pushed and encouraged each other.
You feel accomplished.
It was a strenuous hike with a giant pack on your back. This was the first time you've ever backpacked!
Later, you're all sitting around the campfire with your hot bowl of food, indulging in this meal you're sharing together. You're mindful of your every bite you chew. You look around the circle and you feel like you've known these people a lot longer than just a day.
You each go around and you tell your story.
Join us on our LAAF Backpacking Basics Course!
At LAAF Travels we believe in the power of the shared experience. We’re all about getting women together in the outdoors and eating good food!
On our women's Backpacking Basics Course, we teach you the skills to get out and backpack on your own. We also bring our passion for food on the trails and do all the cooking for you!
Along the way, we'll give you recipe ideas, provide you with tips for meal planning, and likely talk your ear off about how much we love food.
We’d love to sit down and enjoy a meal with you. Come join us on the trail!