Uncool Foods

In which we examine the unseemly link between backpacking and nasty junk food.

Of course, we usually overcompensate totally for our trail exercise. It's easy to convince yourself that you've just burned off 5,000 calories a day, but those calculations are usually optimistic, and an order of fries is enough, cellulite-wise, to make up for most weekend epics. Besides, that still doesn't explain why you salivate at stuff you'd gag on in daily life, like hot dogs, or Pop Tarts, or (gawd forbid) sport gel blocks.

Granted, wilderness sports are all about contrast: Without civilization to escape from, living in the woods would quickly get boring. Without the daily safety of society, adrenalin wouldn't be a novelty. Without the appetite enhancers of exercise and fresh air, kipper snacks and smoked oysters would just be cat-food gross, not mouth-watering. At home, the thought of using butter and cream cheese might cause paroxysms of guilt; In the woods you can slather that stuff on guiltlessly.

Delusion is comforting, which is why people engage in it so freely. This raises the possibility that our human fore brains might actually be an evolutionary dead end, simply because our imaginations create more dissatisfactions and justifications than they solve. But such dizzying issues diminish next to the more burning question: How the hell could I stuff lunch meat product into my mouth and actually like it?' Sorry, starvation isn't a strong enough reason.

Personally, I've got a weakness for off-brand brown sugar/cinnamon toaster pastries and Little Debbie snack cakes. (eeeew!) And to my retrograde horror I once cooked Spam by simply puncturing the can and tossing it into campfire coals - and discovered it to be a heavenly melange of salt, fat and undetermined anatomical byproducts. The memory may induce gagging, but at the time I chowed that stuff down faster than Jeffrey Dahmer would an ex-boyfriend.

So: What's your favorite guilty-pleasure trail food? Step up and confess in the comments section below. And the next time you go out, don't forget to pack the Pepto Bismol. -- Steve Howe