Cooking in the Wilderness — An Introduction
courtesy of Laurie Ann March and Algonquin Outfitters
(this article appeared in the Muskoka Sun in the summer of 2007)

As an avid wilderness camper, author of a wilderness cookbook and cooking instructor, I get the chance to speak to many people who are new to outdoor adventure activities. One of the most asked questions is surrounding how to handle food on trips, especially longer trips. People are generally surprised at what they can do with a little planning. That said cooking on a wilderness trip is somewhat different from at home or on a car camping trip.

One of the first and most important things to consider on a canoe or backpacking trip is safe drinking water. There are many products available and what you use depends solely on personal preference. While a water filter, such as one made by Katadyn or MSR, is my preferred method. Pristine Water Treatment also works very well. While Pristine is not as fast as using a filter it is just as effective.

You may elect to take a small, soft-sided, collapsible cooler on shorter trips, which allows you the flexibility of fresh food. It is a good idea to wrap frozen meats in freezer paper or newspaper before placing them in a freezer bag. This will help keep the meat frozen for a longer period. Be sure to keep the cooler out of the direct sun whenever possible and refrain from opening the cooler too much.

For longer trips, you will want to take non-perishable food items. There are many options and our family uses some of each. Keep in mind that many areas have a can and bottle ban and that canned items can be heavy.

The simplest and easiest is to take a variety of freeze-dried fare made by companies such as Harvest Foodworks and Richmoor. There is a variety of meals available along with vegetarian selections. The taste is good and the ease of preparation is great for someone new to dining in the wilds.

Another option is to scan the grocery store for items that are shelf stable, cook in a single pot, and only require items like boiling water or milk. You can use powdered milk mixed with water in this case. Check the vegetarian and imported foods sections for items such as powdered hummus and other dishes.

Some people opt to dry their own foods using an oven or a food dehydrator. Drying foods has gone beyond the traditional jerky and fruit leathers but can be as simple as drying a jar of spaghetti sauce to creating a gourmet meal with a variety of dried ingredients. There are many excellent books available on the subject.

Stove selection is important as well. After all, you do not want to be lugging around a large two-burner stove if you are cooking one-pot meals. One of my absolute favorite single burner stoves is the MSR Dragonfly. It is lightweight, fast, stable and very reliable. It is also the best model for baking in the backcountry because it has a very good simmer control.

Since we are on the topic of baking, I should mention the Outback Oven. Just think about fresh baked pizza, sweet cinnamon buns or a nice batch of biscuits in the middle of a weeklong wilderness trip. The Outback Oven comes in two models. One is the Ultralight, which works with your pot set and the other is the Plus10, which comes with a non-stick pan. The Ultralight model is perfect for backpackers and the Plus10 better for larger groups. What is it? The Outback Oven consists of a convection dome that fits over top of your pot or pan, a thermometer, a riser and a heat shield. Never forget the riser or the sweet smell of Cinnamon Swirl Coffee Cake quickly becomes the smell of a burnt offering - we learned this the hard way.

One very important consideration is keeping a clean campsite. Our friend Brad dropped some noodles on the ground while serving up his Fettuccine Alfredo. A few minutes later, he remarked about how cute the deer mouse munching on the spillage was. The mouse decided to climb up the rock beside our friend. Brad was savoring his dinner when suddenly the tiny little mouse jumped toward his plate, missed and landed on Brad's shoulder. Noodles were flying! Cleanup was crucial and Brad's meal abruptly came to a halt. Keeping a clean camp kitchen is imperative. Those killer mice will get you every time! All kidding aside those critters can be an issue and the last thing you want to attract is a larger animal like a bear.

There are many resources for information about wilderness cooking. A good place to start is on the internet. A web search on wilderness cooking will give you many ideas. There is even an online course available at Remember that another wealth of information is the staff at your favorite outdoors store.

© 2007 Laurie Ann March
use without the author's written permission is prohibited.

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