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December 1998

Protect Your Pack Food

The inside of a pack is a rough place for poorly packaged food. Protect your grub so it emerges intact.

Packing It Up

1. Start stripping: The foods we get at supermarkets are encased in plastic and cardboard that will add bulk and weight to your pack, so strip away excess packaging and get down to the barest essentials. Or buy as much of your trip food as possible in bulk at health food stores or other outlets.

2. Twist and tie: To separate ingredients going into the same pot but at different times, first pour into a zipper-lock the ingredient that’s cooked last, then twist and tie off the corner. Then add the ingredient that goes in the cookpot first.

3. Write directions: Note cooking directions on the bag’s write-on strip or on a slip of paper tucked into every meal bag. Label everything, even if you think you’ll remember it.

4. Make meal bags: Pack every meal into its own zipper-lock bag. Preplanning, measuring, and packing complete meals consumes the better part of an evening at home, but it frees you from kitchen chores on the trail. Single bag each meal if you’re using high-quality freezer bags and they’re going into a nylon duffel before being packed in your backpack. Double bag meals to stave off leaks or rips if you’re stuffing them directly into your pack.

5. Fill the food duffel: Spare yourself a lot of aggravation on long trips with a group by bringing at least three duffels of different colors. Load the breakfast food in one duffel, lunch/snacks in another and dinners in the third.

6. Loading into your pack: Because food is one of the heaviest and densest items you’re likely to carry, it should be packed at shoulder blade level or higher in your backpack and close to your back if you’ll be walking strictly on maintained trail, slightly lower if going off-trail (see Technique, October).

Cheeses and other perishable items should be tucked deep down in the pack (1/2 to 1/3 of the way from the top) to stay cool.

Snack items go in outer pockets for easy access during the day, but don’t forget to include them with the rest of the food when hanging your bear bag or filling a bear canister. If you’re packing a bear canister, position it about two-thirds of the way from the bottom of your pack and closest to your back for better balance. This position also puts the food in a relatively cool spot.

Ilo Gassoway lives in Tucson, Arizona.

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