10 Commandments of Backcountry Cooking

How to stay organizied and prepared for your backcountry cooking.

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BACKPACKER Trail Chef Jennifer Bowen knows her way around a camp kitchen. After working as a backcountry cook in the Sierras for the Yosemite trail crew, chef at a five-star hotel, and cooking teacher, Bowen has developed a culinary philosophy aimed at making trail food tasty, simple, and nutritious. Here are the rules she lives—and cooks—by.

  1. Plan ahead: Allow enough time so you’re not just grabbing from the grocery store shelves on the way to the trailhead. Collaborate with hiking partners to split up the shopping, carrying, and cooking.
  2. Prep Meals Pretrip: Use your home kitchen as much as possible to cut down on the work you do in camp.
  3. Don’t Overdo The Cookware: I’d rather carry extra fresh ingredients than excess pots and utensils.
  4. Trail Food Should Always Be Delicious: Even if you’re making the basics, like Ramen or mac and cheese, add a few tasty touches: bacon bits, chopped sausage, dried herbs, salsa, fresh cracked pepper, or chopped fresh red pepper. And consider tasty substitutions, like making your mac and cheese with gruyère instead of cheddar. Little things can make all the difference.
  5. Eat something fresh every day, even if it’s just an apple or a few celery sticks.
  6. If you cooked, your partners clean up. No exceptions!
  7. Keep It Simple: There’s no need for a million ingredients or complicated instructions—quality ingredients hold their own.
  8. Organize Your Kitchen: Take out the ingredients and utensils you need before you start cooking and set them within arm’s reach—I like to spread everything on a small flour sack towel so it’s all in one defined space. make sure you have the cooking water you need as well. you don’t want to be getting up and down.
  9. Two words: Coffee & Dessert: I love brewing coffee with a single-cup drip cone while still snuggled in my sleeping bag, and nibbling on chocolate or cookies after a long day.
  10. Slow Down: You’re hungry, not starving. Take the time to savor what you made, where you are, and who you’re with.