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December 2007

The Menu: Be an Ultralight Gourmet

No, it's not an oxymoron. You, too, can say buh-bye to endless energy bars and instant rice glop--and eat like royalty for less than two pounds a day.

It’s a question that vexes many a backpacker: How can you make a decent trail dinner without carrying the kitchen sink? And the freezer? And the Cuisinart? If you’re anything like us, your primal desire for good eats doesn’t evaporate when you head off on a backpacking trip–but there’s no way you’re hauling in filet mignon and molten chocolate cake. And, like us, you already know the guiding principles and procedures for ultralight cooking: Minimize fuel. Eliminate superfluous kitchen gear. Dehydrate. Add boiling water. Stir. Let sit. Eat. Unfortunately, you usually end up with a woeful variation on gloppy carbs.

So how can you follow the rules and still make a gourmet meal that doesn’t weigh you down like too much foie gras? We’ve found the Holy Grail, and it comes in the form of a freezer bag–or, rather, on The website, and its companion cookbook, Freezer Bag Cooking: Trail Food Made Simple, is the brainchild of Sarah Kirkconnel, an avid backpacker, cook, ultralighter, and frequent contributor to our online chat rooms ( Her premise is simple: Pack single portions of dehydrated meals into quart size freezer bags. In camp, add boiling water, stir (with a spoon, to avoid fork punctures), insulate your baggie, let sit, then chow down.

Since you “cook” and eat right out of the bag, there’s no dish duty (just add the baggies to your garbage) and no need to pack anything other than one boiling vessel. There’s no simmering. No watched pots. Kirkconnel’s technique, combined with the right gear and your favorite trail-adapted recipes, could slash your food weight by about half (depending on how you originally pack). All you need to know is how to dehydrate your grub (see The Method, right), what meals to put on your menu, and which ounces to count. In fact, in the following pages, we’ve laid out everything you need to know to do ultralight cooking right. Once you bag it, you’ll never turn back.

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