Backcountry Cooking for Dummies

Every fourth Wednesday you’re bound to find frenzied Colorado College students in every aisle of King Soopers, loading up on cheap wares before heading off on various adventures. Over-caffeinated and reeling from my morning final, I often find myself frozen in the peanut butter aisle—JIF or Skippy? Crunchy or creamy? Normal jar or bowling ball-sized tub? I’m paralyzed by indecision, so what would be a quick jaunt into the store turns into an hour-long endeavor.

Junior Miles Lowe prepares backcountry macaroni and cheese on a trip to the Weminuche Wilderness. Courtesy of Jason Edelstein

From shopping to eating, cooking takes a bit more forethought when you’re going to be in the backcountry, but many CC students have a wealth of backcountry cooking knowledge that I have been lucky to learn. If you’re still an outdoor neophyte like myself, here are a few tips for how to shop, pack, and cook successfully in the backcountry.

First, be mindful of weight. Rice and beans are filling and cheap but it’s best to use dehydrated beans rather than canned whole beans. You can load up on said legumes at the Outdoor Recreation Center’s bulk bin for a good price. Additionally, the plastic bag can be used afterwards as a place to put trash, whereas metal cans are bulky and can lead to bean-water spillage (yum). Senior Michael Greenberger said his go-to backcountry meal is burritos “because dehydrated beans, rice, and tortillas are all light and last forever. Plus, you can throw in whatever veggies are leftover.”

If you want to get even fancier, you can whip up a tinfoil-pocket feast. Junior Talia Worth’s favorite camping dinner consists of “a bunch of veggies, seasonings, and ground beef in tinfoil.” She wraps the food up and twists the tinfoil into fun shapes like “a swan or a Hershey’s kiss,” and throws it on the fire until the veggies steam and the meat cooks. This meal is also a good one to have in your back pocket if you run out of fuel and need to cook on an open fire.

While cooking on a fire is often more pleasant than using a stove, many areas—like National Parks and Protected Wilderness areas—are under fire bans, or wood may not be readily available. Perhaps the most common backcountry stove is the MSR Whisperlite, which you can rent from the ORC. Additionally, the Jetboil is becoming increasingly popular. Lucy McMath, a first-year living in the Outdoor Education LLC, opts for the “pocket rocket.” In addition to stoves, it’s helpful to have a sharp, foldable knife and a pot. Greenberger usually only brings a pot. McMath supports this “because you can fry in a pot but it’s mighty tough to boil in a pan,” she said.

People typically keep it simple for breakfast and lunch, but don’t be afraid to embellish your oatmeal. Powdered milk makes for a thicker consistency and peanut butter adds calories if you’re having an active day. Pro tip: bring a green take-out box to Rastall breakfast and load up on raisins, cranberries, nuts, and seeds for a fancy oatmeal creation.

If you plan ahead and keep it simple, you can save yourself from the fourth Wednesday grocery whirlwind and still make some easy, tasty backcountry meals. The most important things to keep in mind are minimizing packaging, bringing things that won’t get smashed or spill in your bag, and making sure you have enough caloric food to keep your energy up throughout the day. No matter what you end up cooking, everything tastes better when you’re dirty, tired, and munching under a star-speckled, western sky.

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