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The DAILY DIRT - The nitty and the gritty of outdoor news

Trail Chef: Trailside Dining Manners

One of the greatest things about eating in the wilderness is that a lot of the traditional dining rules are abandoned. But it's still nice to wash your hands...

A recent article on (yes, even the Trail Chef needs inspiration at times) about restaurant etiquette got me thinking about the rules of on-the-trail dining etiquette. Certainly one of the greatest things about eating in the wilderness is that a lot of the traditional eating rules are abandoned. Pants become excellent napkins. Almost anything is finger food. And cheese doesn't have to be refrigerated.*

But there is the little problem of bears and rodents in the woods that requires backwoods dining due diligence. And then there's the matter of sharing tight quarters with close, or not-so-close, friends. So below are several dining rules to consider on your next outing:

1. Be Realistic About How Much/What You Eat
On the trail is not the time to push the lettuce around the plate, so to speak. If you know that tuna in the woods will make your stomach turn don't agree to nightly meals of tuna mac 'n cheese. Or if you know that only a six-pound bag of peanut M&Ms will get you to the top of a Fourteener, bring it. Not having enough fuel on the trail can make even the shortest hike miserable and hauling food you know you won't eat is just a waste of space and energy.

2. Be Aware of the Beasts in the Backwoods
If you're traveling to bear country, look into the food storage requirements for the region and plan accordingly. Have you ever tried to fit a ten-pound Christmas ham in a bear canister? It's not pretty. And it's not just the big beasts that are looking for food. Mice are an issue in some areas, so maybe you need an Ursack Minor. Then there's washing dishes and food scents on clothes...but we're getting away from the etiquette here...

3. Don't Siphon M&M's from the Trail Mix

If you don't like nuts and raisins you don't like trail mix. 'Nuf said.

4. "Drink Your Dishwater. It's the Ultimate Leave No Trace."
-Shannon Davis, Senior Editor (And the same person who peed on his shoes for the sake of "gear testing" so his etiquette generally leaves something to be desired, but he's right this is the ultimate LNT way. He skips the dishsoap, by the way.) Also from Shannon:

5. Cover Your Own A** for Coffee
Never good to hork in on someone’s personal caffeine stash.

6. Share the Duties
Everyone's tired at the end of a long day on the trail so divide and conquer the cooking and cleaning for the quickest way to campfire lounging.

7. Don't litter.

Not even a little bit.

What else? Let us know in the comments below. Anecdotes welcome.

--Trail Chef

*This is not a hard and fast non-rule by any means.


Mar 04, 2010

I would add, eat everything you cook. So don't cook too much. Plan you food needs to the ounce. Clean food from your bowl/plate/mug COMPLETELY before washing it. Nobody wants to see leftover rice or macaroni floating at the edge of a waterway.

Mar 02, 2010

Drink your dishwater. Yup. I often have the main meal then put hot water in the empty but still dirty pot and put the lid on. If you leave it somewhere cool, the water will condense on the sides and underlid of the pot and soften the food left remnants. A bit of shaking will help then you can reheat it and add it to your instant soup mix.

If you're short of water, you can then wipe the pot out with toilet paper and it should be hygenic as dry pots don't breed germs. I often boil up more water in it and use it for milo (malt chocolate drink) as milo disguises any savoury flavours.

I did this for 3 months on a north/south traverse of the South Island of New Zealand and never had to wash the pot.

Regarding fires...on a few occasions I've witnessed people who started a fire killing it through ignorance of the triad of heat/oxygen/fuel e.g. insufficient air gaps between sticks of wood or rearranging the base layer of embered wood which means loss of heat, even blowing on embers can blow away some of the heat source. Also having a wet base can suffocate the fire with water vapour after the fire is going.

Sometimes I've intervened just to get the fire going properly. Novices are generally appreciative. Of course our New Zealand wood doesn't burn as readily as your sappy conifers.

However with skilled firemakers, yes - leave them to it especially at the starting phase. It is nice to provide the fuel at hand for them to select if you want to be helpful. I leave the one person who got the fire going to stoke it.

Feb 24, 2010

I have been hiking with a group that has varied some over the last 25 years but retained the same core. Meals are simple and basically group served. Breakfast is hot water with a side of hot water. Whatever you want that "cooks" with hot water is your choice. Lunch is whatever your heart desires and you carry. Dinner is slightly more industrious with again large quantities of hot water for the individual’s choice of soup, noodles, instant potatoes, coffee, tea, etc., before the main courses. Main courses are Lipton rice or noodle meals with some meat added (foil pouches mostly). One rice/pasta pouch feeds about two people. Our groups usually vary from 4 to 8 people. We cook two entrees each night and stagger the starting time so that one is finished just as the other is done. This process of appetizers and main course can easily take two hours of leisurely comradery punctuated with the occasional question “Got Hot”? There are two of us that would prefer to do the cooking as a matter of self preservation. We cooks take the effort to run a clean kitchen regarding leftover attractions and definitely clean cooking utensils. Cooks usually carry a half ration of the group food and it is eaten first since they are carrying the cooking gear for the entire trip. Experimenting with the options for the packaged rice/pasta and meat combinations has led to some really great meals. And occasionally someone gets a wild hair and tries to cook something else. It usually reminds us of why we developed this simple but well enjoyed routine.

Feb 23, 2010

Take spices and use them. They are light weight but can add lots of flavor to a bland meal. Also try sugar free jello, put it in a zip lock bag and place in the water. Fun dessert little mess and light weight. Great for kids on a hike.

Feb 14, 2010

those who eat well and sleep well, walk much better in the day after.
- carry some seasoning small pack in your cooking set. i use old film cases for pepper, salt, and some cardemon {ye, i'm a pervert}.
- eat heavy stuff first.
- dont take heavy frouts and veggeis for long trips.
- rice, rice, rice. and your spork does not leave your hands dirty.
- forgot it? go to the nearest bush \ wood, and curve uorself a couple of chopsticks.

Feb 14, 2010

those who eat well and sleep well, walk much better in the day after.
- carry some seasoning small pack in your cooking set. i use old film cases for pepper, salt, and some cardemon {ye, i'm a pervert}.
- eat heavy stuff first.
- dont take heavy frouts and veggeis for long trips.
- rice, rice, rice. and your spork does not leave your hands dirty.
- forgot it? go to the nearest bush \ wood, and curve uorself a couple of chopsticks.

Feb 14, 2010

1. watch trail hygeen. if no soap and water arround, clean hands in sand \ dirt, and water.
2. always try to camp and eat near water source. a stream or a tap, both make life much easier.
3. clean ém. try to keep your dieshes clean, if no soup then use weed, leaf, whatever. leaving food residents on your dishes is a good source for troubels later.
4. as a habbit, hang your food, if u can. better.
5. if u're short in water, very little water can be used for hands and dishes cleaning. dont spill them: clean one dish, spill the resoults to
6. drinking your dishwater?, it's horribal!!!

Feb 12, 2010

Don't fool with someone else's fire. If they started it, it's theirs. You are usually not helping. Ask first, and then add to or tend only if you are positive that it's fine with them.

John P.
Feb 11, 2010

No need to wait until everything is done to eat. Eat in stages to reduce dirty utinsils. Foods can touch each other. And dessert can be eaten any time. In short, being tolerant can make kitchen chores much much easier.

Feb 11, 2010

Don't bring food on the trip that will make you or your friends gassy--beans and some freeze dried food for instance. 'Nuff said.
Aside--I have had more trouble with mice and chipmunks than larger critters. Do Not Feed Them.

Feb 11, 2010

When offered a bag of gorp. etc., don't reach in. Pour some into your hand. You know where your hands have been, but others don't.

Feb 11, 2010

Cigarette butts are rude also!

Feb 07, 2010

Add Orange peels to the list of things to pack out.

A kitchen tarp can be useful to identify areas away from sleeping areas.

Walking over someone's kitchen area only adds dirt or spills in the meal.

Sharing can be good. So if you make a special dish, allow some taste testing to go on.

Feb 05, 2010

Cassi- I agree whole-heartedly! If I need to eat, let me eat! Not only do I get grumpy, but I also tend to stumble, which could lead to an injury. Another etiquette tip: Don't pitch the apple cores, peach pits, and banana skins with the assumption that they are "organic material" and "will break down anyway". In semi-arid climates (and I suspect a few others), they just don't do anything but lay there. It's still litter to a lot of folks.

Feb 04, 2010

Know thyself/Don't be stubborn/Do unto others

Don't put off eating if your the type to get grumpy or lightheaded when hungry. Trying to force another mile or reach the top before lunch might seem like a good motivator to you, but not to the person next to you. I'm a grumpy hungry person so I need to eat before I bit anyones head off. And for those hiking with people like me: When we say we need to eat, we need to eat. Stop for your companions needs even if you want to push forward yourself.


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