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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.

The Gear
This five-piece kitchen weighs only 13.3 ounces and cranks out gourmet eats.

Antigravity Gear Caldera Kitchen
This alcohol stove system has it all: utter simplicity. Wispy weight. An ingenious packing system. It’s a tiny burner, made from a V-8 can nestled inside a Pepsi can, that burns denatured alcohol. But what makes the Caldera unique is the way the system is integrated: The aluminum windscreen forms a rigid cone, which holds the 3-cup non-stick aluminum pot perfectly suspended over the burner–and efficiently captures the alcohol’s BTUs. (We used less than 16 ounces of fuel on a five-day trip for two.) Boil times averaged about 8 minutes, and the whole system packs away into an insulated 1-quart, lidded plastic container, which doubles as a bowl, coffee cup, and cooking cozy. As tested, it weighs a scant 10 ounces. $73; (910) 794-3308;

FBC Fabric Cozies
These pouches, made from Mylar and polyester, weigh just 1.5 ounces, are sized perfectly for a quart-sized zipperlock bag, and act like a portable oven. Just add hot water to the bag and snuggle it into the cozy, which cooks a dehydrated meal in under 10 minutes. $14,

Jetboil Jetset Spoon
There are lots of spoons and sporks out there, but this 0.4-ouncer is in a league of its own. The handle is long enough for eating out of a zip-top bag without getting gunked up, but it collapses into a neat 5 inches. $20 for the set of three, which includes fork and spatula. (888) 611-9905;

Fozzil Thinkflat Bowl
This clever item–it packs flat, but morphs into a bowl with four corner snaps–pulled triple duty on a recent trip in Colorado’s Holy Cross Wilderness. First, it provided a handy receptacle for our soft-sided bag cozies. Second, it made a great cutting board for slicing cheddar at lunchtime. And third, it became a functional butt pad on wet, cold logs. Just rinse before you eat (or sit). 1.3 oz. $5.

32-ounce Gatorade bottle
Skip the Nalgene bottle and reach into your recycle bin for one of these. One bottle weighs only 0.11 ounces empty–that’s 2 ounces less than a regular Lexan Nalgene. Gatorade bottle are impressively strong: You’ll get at least three months of use out of them, and then you can recycle them.

Because most food weight is water weight, it’s impossible to really go ultralight gourmet without investing in a basic food dehydrator, which won’t set you back more than 50 bucks. With these tips, you can transform your favorite at-home meals into featherweight, just-add-water trail delicacies.

The Method
Sucking all the moisture out of your food is the key to eating well and eating light.

  • Precook and dry your pasta. You’ll save substantial cooking time in camp, not to mention fuel and weight. Simply cook your pasta al dente at home, then spread it on dehydrator trays and let it go for a couple of hours until brittle. In camp, add boiling water, then cover and let sit for a few minutes.
  • Feed your inner carnivore. Start with lean ground beef, turkey or chicken. Brown it along with any seasoning you like. Suggestions: Asian (curry, cumin, coriander) or Italian (oregano, basil, thyme). When the mixture is browned, rinse it under hot water to remove residual fat, then dehydrate until the nuggets are very hard (about five hours). Break the meat up into fine particles for easier rehydrating.
  • Get saucy. Maybe it’s your famous red pepper and Vidalia onion sauce. Or grandma’s Bolognese. Whatever the condiment, you can probably dehydrate it. All you need are plastic tray liners and a dehydrator. Spread the sauce in a very thin layer and let it rip for 8-10 hours, until it becomes a featherweight leather. Add hot water, and eat.
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