Planning food for longer canoe (or hiking) trips: Tips from an expert

If you want to take off into nature for several days at a time, you need to have some food and liquids for survival  I asked an expert to share her experience.  Mark and Lois Lund are found members of Ceyana Canoe  While Mark generally handles the logistics of paddling, Lois is usually the person who makes sure that everyone in the group has something to eat along the way.  Their family has taken several trips that lasted 3 weeks or more, and some of those trips were taken with 3 young/preschool aged children in tow!  Food is the fuel for the trip, and there are no grocery stores or hospitals along the way, so everything needs to be carefully planned.  Lois cooked a bannock and a pot of her camping hamburger soup, and she shared some of her main trip with a group of us on Sunday.

Chili that was cooked at home and frozen, tasted great in Lakeland Provincial Park.

Chili that was cooked at home and frozen, tasted great in Lakeland Provincial Park.

No set rules, except “don’t forget coffee”. You always need to consider water needs, for any trip. The Lunds start with city water for any trip that they do. They take 1 or 2 20-litre big blue water jugs for any trip. They always bring a water filter for any trip. You only need to get beaver fever once to avoid untreated or unfiltered water. Boiling water is ok too, and is recommended, even for campground water. Iodine and other chemical treatments are adequate, but the water filter is reliable, provided that none of the components are misplaced. A paddling trip with portages means that carrying a lot of water is less practical. Boiling OR filtering should be adequate. In the far north, the muskeg taste of water isn’t very good, so you should always carry some sort of flavour crystals, so that everyone keeps drinking. Bring extras to add to your tea and water because the flavour can be so bad: Crystal Lite is good because it is lightweight. Nuun tablets will also flavour water, as well as adding electrolytes. Paddlers carry drinking water a number of different ways on their trips, but you should always keep drinking water close at hand, to avoid dehydration. A Camelbak, or a water bottle are both convenient, and can be lashed to the canoe or kayak. Out in the middle of the lake or river is the best place to filter water, and you should always have extra drinking water available.

Beginning the portage into Lakeland

Beginning the portage into Lakeland

Washing and rinsing dishes is also really important. On one trip, the dishes weren’t rinsed, and everyone began to get “the runs. Camp hygiene can deteriorate really quickly, once group members have GI bugs/diarrhea. The Lunds usually use 2 hard, round dish pans that they can store all of their cooking pans inside. With a large group, use bleach for rinsing dishes, for the first rinse. Hand sanitizer is also really important for group cooking. Lois and her son both got “beaver fever” while eating meals at a group-use facility.

Early in trip planning, cooking plans need to be made. The meal organizer needs to be clear about which meals will be shared, and to find out what all of the food allergies are. Some people may need to prepare their meals individually, due to special needs. Carrying gear depends on trip length and logistics. Stacking plates and cups for everyone may be the most practical, for a large, shared trip. You need to stick with your meals and days, so that you don’t run out of food. Packing: can be arranged by the day, or by the meal, with a preference for dividing up each meal for each day. Everything needs to be separately bagged and labelled, but the bags can all be stored together, to be re-used later. Use new bags when packing for a trip – soggy crackers or pancake flour is not a treat!

Dehydrating: Lois doesn’t find that most meat dries very well, so she takes cans of flaked chicken or ham, and the cans get stomped and burned every night in the campfire. The used, burned cans are light, and easy to store to pack out. Drying veggies: it’s okay to just cut and dry onions. You can buy a giant bag and fill the dehydrator, when they’re on sale. All other veggies need to be blanched first. Frozen veggies dry very well, since they’ve been pre-blanched, particularly peas and “California mix” (cauliflower, broccoli, etc.). Pasta needs to be very small, or it won’t cook. Zucchini is very good sliced and dried. Kale is good with salt or soy sauce, dried in the oven. Use dried soy burger instead of meat, in a variety of meals. Lois often dries large batches of sauces, which can be rolled and cut, like fruit leather. Sauces may need to be blended, so that the drying time is consistent. Because of the fat content, Lois worries about regular hamburger going rancid, and causing food poisoning. Soy protein or canned meat is more reliable. Chicken dries quite badly.

Drying fruit: easiest to just buy most of it already dried, since the flavour and consistency is very good. Pineapple is really good dried, if you buy a giant can of unsweetened pineapple rings. Apple is also really good dried. Homegrown apples make good chips. Add cardamom and cinnamon with a little bit of salt in the oven. Granny Smith and other green apples are especially tasty. They can be sliced by hand, with the skin on, no problem. Lois likes drying yogurt. She used it for a long trip with the kids, using flavoured yogurt. It tastes like candy. It’s quite sticky. There needs to be fat in the yogurt, or else it just disappears. It can be rolled with Saran wrap, and then it can be cut up. Plain yogurt is good, rehydrated, but you need to use filtered water. The plain yogurt is good for various sauces or dips. Start rehydrating everything at the beginning of the day and then start cooking as soon as you arrive in camp in the evening.

Stoves: Kim often uses campfire, since it’s available. Jetboil can be used for boiling water as quickly as possible. You shouldn’t depend on fire in a lot of areas, because there are often fire bans, and you may not always be able to light fires. A 2-burner propane or white gas stove is most convenient with a family or larger group. Always keep a kettle at the edge of the campfire, so that water’s available for cleaning. The Dutch oven is used for campfire cooking, with a trivet under the baking tin, inside the Dutch oven. Cut a circle of parchment or wax paper to go in the bottom of the pan, and it’s good for baking a cake. It works much better, buried on the fire, and with coals or briquettes on top. The Lunds got many aluminum Dutch ovens made in a foundry. Always bring a cooking glove (can be packed inside the Dutch oven). Lois ties a bright tag on the cooking glove, so that it doesn’t get lost.

Leftovers from regular home meals can be frozen or dried. When there are leftovers from several different meals, they can all be dried at the same time in the dehydrator, from the freezer. All of the instructions need to be written on the outside of each package. Carry some staples, like cooking oil. You should bring a small strainer, for dishwater, and then burn or carry out the strained food, to avoid attracting animals, and leaving a mess.

Foothills whipped butter or ghee will keep long-term for tripping.

Breakfast: porridge: Red River or Sunny Boy cereal is good in the morning. Porridge can be varied a lot, with only a few different ingredients. Travelling on a 24-day trip, one paddler had 3 different porridge blends in large buckets. Powdered eggs are really ugly, but they are convenient for baking. You can keep powdered egg substitute in the freezer for a long time. Most cake mixes need some extra ingredients, so read the package closely. Lois often adds milk powder and occasionally egg powder to baked goods.

Lunches: Most trips recommend that everyone bring their own lunch food, such as tortillas and peanut butter. Waxed cheese will last for a long time without refrigeration. Jerky needs to have all the moisture removed, or it will go mouldy. If you want to make your own jerky, ask the butcher to cut the meat for you for making jerky. You can add soy sauce and seasonings like ginger and chili.

Fresh oranges and cabbage will last a long time on your trip.

Most of what the group members pack for trips, comes from the grocery store, not from an outdoor store. Commercial dehydrated meals are often full of sodium, and very expensive.

My camp cooking is usually for 2-3 day trips, so I can often bring fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as frozen meat. Eggs don’t require refrigeration, but need to be protected from breakage. I usually prefer hearty pancakes for breakfast, using the Bulk Barn multigrain mix, some nuts, and fresh fruit. I prefer to use a camping French press to make coffee, and bought a separate press to keep with my camping supplies, since I left it at home on one trip. Starbucks Via coffee also tastes good, but not as good as freshly made coffee. For lunch, I often buy a sandwich from the Italian Centre, which I freeze before leaving. This will make 2 good lunches for a day of hiking or paddling, and it packs very well. For supper, there are many low-cost side dishes that can be prepared quickly with fresh meat and vegetables (Side Kicks, Bistro, Hamburger Helper). The meal is satisfying and quick to clean up.

I found some good meal packing and preparation ideas at these locations:

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