When I first started long distance hiking, food was an afterthought. The items I brought along to eat were chosen based on convenience and cost, so my diet was full of junk. Ramen noodles, instant potatoes, candy bars; all traditional backpacking foods which are still in common use today. These foods are cheap and excite the tastebuds with their weird chemical slurry, but are mostly devoid of nutrition. With the exception of dried fruit and nuts, most edibles hikers tend to bring aren’t really food at all.
I’m still guilty of faux-food on occasions, but over the past couple years I’ve been experimenting with more wholesome items. Back when I still used a stove I liked to cook up kasha (aka buckwheat groats) and top it off with dehydrated chili or lentils from the bulk bins at the local hippie food store. Kasha is a quick cooking gluten free whole grain that serves as a base for whatever you wish to top it with, and the bulk bins at Whole Foods or your local co-op (and online!) offer a variety of dehydrated health foods.
Lately I’ve been drawn towards stoveless cooking, or the “soaking method” as it’s sometimes called. To soak my foods I use a 2 cup plastic Ziplock container commonly found in any grocery store. You’ve seen them, and probably even have some in your house! They have a blue screw-on lid and are pretty darn solid. Instead of carrying a pot, stove, and fuel (often the heaviest of the 3) I allow my dehydrated foods to gently soak for a few hours as I hike, and when I’m ready to eat my dinner, its the ambient temperature of my surroundings. Stove aficionados, this isn’t as horrible as it sounds, especially when I’m eating dank foods like butternut squash curry with peanut sauce, served over a bed of rice noodles! Or perhaps lentil dal with spinach and brown rice. Sound intriguing? Well, unfortunately you’re gonna have to do a little work before your adventure to eat this good, but it’s worth it.
The secret to my mouth watering meals is a simple food dehydrator. My Excalibur dehydrator was a costly investment, but it’s paid for itself ten times over in a single year. Granted I do have a vegan chef partner at home preparing my meals, but as I watched her prepare all these goodies from a safe distance, I can safely say it isn’t beyond the capabilities of anyone who is willing to learn. Cook yourself dinner…but make that recipe for 20 people, and then dehydrate the leftovers! A dehydrator is easy to use, and with a bit of experimentation you can create simple, wholesome meals at home to bring on your next adventure. After nonchalantly teasing countless hikers on the PCT with my food, and promising to add a recipe section on my website, this is the first step towards making that a reality.