Hello and thanks for being here!
I have had some questions recently from some of you, asking about how I select gear and plan for extended outings in the back country, and it was suggested that I might address them here. Thanks for the great idea, Linda, here goes…
First, let me just say, being back country guy is not my day job. Although, I have been doing this for many years and have become comfortable with my way of doing things, I’m sure there are different ways to do just about anything out there; some may be better and some may not be. Please keep an open mind when reading and don’t be afraid to compare my ideas with someone else’s and maybe between them, come up with something that works even better for you.
Food and Water
It’s great to surf REI’s web pages for freeze dried meals. They have a pretty good selection, and the customer reviews are pretty accurate.
If you’ve never had any of the freeze dried meals, and you’re planning far enough in advance, pick up a few that sound good and try them out. They are very easy to prepare – just add two cups of boiling water to the pouch and wait a few minutes!
I like the Backpacker’s Pantry and Mountain House meals. The High Country meals, I wasn’t too fond of. I didn’t like the consistency and they just tasted way too bland. I tried a couple different meals and also adjusting the water and adding stuff… but still, bleh.
I always stock up on the Mountain House stuff before I go on longer trips. Some of my favorites are:
- Chicken and rice
- Chili Mac
- Spaghetti w meat sauce
- Beef stew – it’s good, but the potatoes can be grainy
- Chicken breast and mashed potatoes
- Raspberry crumble
Some of my favorite Backpacker’s Pantry meals:
- Mocha mousse pie – well…not a meal…unless you have more than one.
- Chili Macaroni with beef
- Jamaican BBQ rice with chicken
- Jamaican jerk chicken and rice
AlpineAire is a brand I’d like to try. Their reviews look pretty good.
I always get the meals for two and I almost always finish them. Hiking and carrying a pack for an extended period will drain a lot of energy that needs to be replaced, so the back country is not the place to cut calories…EAT UP!
If you’re just planning a weekend trip, you won’t have too much to worry about. But if your trip is planned for more than a weekend, then food can make or break a trip, so it’s imperative that you have food that you’re sure you like. If you’re like me and have to add something like salt and pepper or garlic to everything you eat, don’t forget to pack that as well. There are a number of different ways to carry spices, from little zip lock baggies to mini Tupperware containers.
Always have something for breakfast – Even if you have to drink it. When in the mountains, sometimes the altitude will mess with my stomach in the morning, and solid food just doesn’t agree with me. I always have Tang with me and it’s saved me on many occasions. Breakfast of some sort is a must when the second thing you’re going to do in the day is carry a loaded pack up a big hill.
Lunch usually consists of some sort of snack and energy food combination…and jerky. Jerky is always great, whether you buy it or make it yourself, which is very easy to do. …and the Peter Rabbit Organics drinkie, mushie thingies are pretty awesome too!
When I’m looking for GU or energy bars and gels, I tend to stay away from the ones with added caffeine. I’m not a big coffee drinker, and caffeine tends to make me more nervous than productive, which always leads me to, “See, Act, Think” syndrome… and if you’re, See, Act, Thinking, in the mountains…You’re gonna have a bad time!
When you’re prepping your snack foods…don’t prep only items that you think you should take…because it’s called trail mix. Prep stuff that you crave when you can’t have it. Reaching into a bag or a pocket and pulling out something like that will do wonders for lifting spirits when you realize that you still have 5 miles till camp…and it’s all uphill.
When packing food, I’ve found it helps to use different color stuff sacks. I usually have one for the meals and another for snacks and one more for anything powdered, like spices, tang, coffee and creamer, sugar, lemonade, my spoon…etc, and one for trash. Then put all of these smaller bags into a larger stuff sack or a bear canister. The stuff sacks are toilet paper thin and don’t really add that much weight, and the convenience that color coding adds makes it worth it. Also, pack a few extra zip lock bags and a small trash bag for backup, trash, and to portion out snacks for the day that you can keep in your front and cargo pockets on your shorts or pants.
To cook my food, I have used a Jet Boil cooking system for the past few years now. For going solo, I haven’t found anything I like better; when not in use, the cup holds the fuel canister and burner and it only takes about 2 ½ -3 minutes for two cups of water to boil. This system weighs just over a pound, packed.
MSR also offers some very well made stoves. I have used the Whisper Lite before and their stoves offer more versatility than my Jet Boil, but for someone going solo, the Jet Boil offers everything I need.
When you’re hiking, have snacks within easy reach so you don’t have to stop and take your pack off when you don’t really need to. Variety helps; I’ll have trail mix in one pocket and jerky in another, power and candy bars in another, my one liter Nalgene will have Tang in it and I’ll have plenty of water in my Camelbak.
Now, I’m definitely not the guy that’s going to get out his calorie/carb formulator and divide my body weight by the curvature of the Earth to determine what my caloric intake up to the minute should be…I’m just going to listen to my body. It will tell me exactly what it needs and when. But the most important thing to remember is, drink more water than you think you should. You can never get too much out there.
When choosing a water bladder for your large backpack, get the 3 liter size. No one says you have to fill it up to the top every time you use it, but it’s great to have that space if you need it. The 3 liter will add a little weight, but that can be shaved off when selecting other gear.
Choosing a water filtration system is also very important. I use a Katadyn Vario system that I’ve had for a few years. I liked my Katadyn/PUR Hiker better, though, and when I replace my current system, it will be with the Katadyn Hiker Pro. MSR makes some competitive filtration products… but PUR/Katadyn filters set the standard.
Know what types of animals live in the area you’re planning to go and safeguard your food accordingly. Most people think, if there are no bears in the area, then it’s okay… when squirrels, marmot, chipmunks, birds and raccoons do way more damage to food and gear than bears do.
Squirrels, chipmunks and marmot will chew through anything, like your backpack and straps, stuff sack or tent to get your food.
If a raccoon has it, it’s his…if he wants it…more than likely, it’s his. Crows are the same way, if you leave it out, one will distract you, and the other will be taking your stuff. Marmot will be inspecting your stuff as you unpack it…while you’re standing there!
I never shoo the animals or are loud or mean to them, I just make sure that before I sit down or climb in the sleeping bag, everything that needs to be, is secure. If it’s not and they get it… That’s my fault.
If you’re going to be camping in and out of bear country, then you can’t beat a Garcia Bear Resistant Container. These things are heavy and space killers in packs, but no animal can open it. Most ranger stations will rent these out for dirt cheap if you’re in an area where they are mandatory.
If you’re never going to venture into bear country, then one of the Bear Vault products should do fine, they come in different sizes… But…There are many areas in bear country and trails where Bear Vault products aren’t allowed… because the bears have figured out how to open them.
When storing food for the night in the field, I’ll try to find a place, away from the tent to put the canister, like between two boulders or someplace where it can’t be grabbed or swatted out. Just because a bear can’t open it, doesn’t mean he can’t play with it and move it a few yards down a hill… where you can’t find it.
I’ve never really been an advocate of hanging food. If you can reach the release rope, so can a bear, and a squirrel or raccoon would have no problem getting at whatever was hanging.
Lastly, when you’re planning and portioning, get an extra meal or two in case you need a little extra at lunch one day, and then get enough for at least a whole day extra after that. Just because you never know what can happen out there.
I think that about covers food and water. I hope this was helpful, and I’d be glad to answer anyone’s questions… because I know I have to have forgotten something…
I’ll be adding more to this series in the near future!