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Backpacker Magazine – January 2009

Dinner Party: Cooking for a Group

Plan and cook for a group with these time-tested tips.

by: Berne Broudy

(Photo by Matt Hage)
(Photo by Matt Hage)

Group Snacks:
Serve simple appetizers, like apple slices with cheese or pitas with hummus.

Drew chef duty for a dozen hungry hikers? Planning meals for a group isn't quite as simple as tripling the ramen supply. Ellie Mulder, kitchen manager at Yamnuska Guide Service in Canmore, British Columbia, has prepared trail meals for hundreds of hikers and mountaineers with the help of a restaurant computer program and a decade's worth of notes from fellow chefs. Here's how she does it–plus one of her favorite crowd-pleasing recipes.

Estimating quantities
Use these guidelines to determine how much food and fuel you'll need (on a day of moderate-intensity backpacking, most people burn 2,500 to 4,000 calories). Mulder recommends upping the serving size by one third to one half for big eaters, on strenuous trips, and in cold weather. You'll also need more fuel in the winter to prepare extra food, make warm drinks, and melt snow for water.

Planning & Packing

  • Choose quick-cooking, one-pot meals. Avoid anything that's greasy, complicated, or requires frying; such foods make clean-up harder and can attract animals.
  • Buy in bulk whenever possible. If your grocery store doesn't have a bulk section, check a natural foods store or buy online (try or
  • Prep food at home to speed cooking time. For example, chop the first night's dinner veggies before you leave and pack them in a zip-top bag.
  • Save pack space and minimize the trash you'll have to pack out by unwrapping store-bought sauces and mixes and consolidating them in one bag.
  • Stay organized (and cook faster) by pre-measuring and pre-mixing ingredients. Pack each meal's ingredients together in one zip-top bag.

  • Plan on one stove and two cook pots (one for boiling water) for every four people. Using one pot for eight or more people means cooking will take longer–or worse, meals will cook unevenly or burn.
  • Add a special touch. Lightweight extras like dried cilantro or crushed peanut garnishes go a long way toward upping your chef cred.
Easy Pesto Pasta for Eight 32 ounces whole-wheat or rice pasta
8 ounces pesto
16 ounces summer sausage, sliced into chunks
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
6 ounces pine nuts

At Home
Toast pine nuts in the oven at 350° until browned (about 2 minutes). Let cool and place in a zip-top bag.

In Camp
Prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain, then toss with pesto, sausage, and cheese. Sprinkle with pine nuts and serve.

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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star


Apr 18, 2011

I like whole wheat pasta boiled in bullion cubes with 8c of water then dump in 4 bags of foil packed chicken and 2 bags of California Blend Veggies good big meal and serve with WASA multi grain crackers which pack well.

Aug 06, 2010

What about camp baking I am planing a trip and we are going to have lasagna for dinner and pizza for lunch. We use the Bemco Backpacker Oven 9".

Beth Hynes-Ciernia
Jun 14, 2010

I'm confused by the article. It talks about guidelines but doesn't appear to give any except a large range of calories. I was hoping for more details such as how much salami per average person, etc. The article also mentions fuel guidelines yet the only advice is use more in winter. That rates a "duh". More details please. Thanks!

Beth Hynes-Ciernia
Jun 13, 2010

I'm confused by the article. It talks about guidelines but doesn't appear to give any except a large range of calories. I was hoping for more details such as how much salami per average person, etc. The article also mentions fuel guidelines yet the only advice is use more in winter. That rates a "duh". More details please. Thanks!

Mar 31, 2010

I enjoy finding out how other people organize food for group backpacking trips. New recipes are always fun to try at home first.

Mar 30, 2010

Thanks for the article. I am planning a backpacking trip for 4, for 4 days. Am training to be a Wilderness Volunteer leader, so am trying out my organizing skills. This recipe does sound easy and good. I may incorporate it into my meal plan.

Eric Nelson
Mar 30, 2010

I organized a five - day backpacking trip in the Tetons this summer for 4 adults and 6 teens. We averaged about 7 miles per day. One day w/o packs. Climbed South Teton from back side. I planned 1.5 servings per person of Mountain House and Backpacker's Pantry freeze-dried foods for dinners. I also purchased and spread around a couple packs of Idahoan potatoes for those who wanted a bit extra. When we pulled into camp about 4:00 two of use got about 4 qts of hot water going while the rest set up tents. Following the meal, another two cleaned up. Not much to do but stuff everything into one or two of the zippered freeze-dried pouches and wash big serving spoons and plates/bowls. We brought three stoves for 10 people (one coleman exponent, one MSR and one Jetboil) we use the Jetboil maily for coffee/tea.

Dennis Schmitt
Feb 28, 2009

Find out the likes and dislikes of the people in the group; and if there is any special dietary needs. Picky eaters can be found anywhere and are not just because of vegetarian or religious grounds.

Reuben austin
Feb 16, 2009

Very informative. The hiking that I do is usualy with my wife and I we our the team however in the last few years more poeple have been willing to come and try backpacking with us. I enjoy knowing some useful tips on cooking for a groupe.


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