First Night Out: Cooking

Learn how to set up your kitchen, store food, and wash dishes in the backcountry.

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»Set up your kitchen First, scout a site: Look for a flat, sheltered area (with trees or rocks to block wind) on a durable surface. In bear country, cook at least 30 yards downwind of your tent to minimize food smells in camp. Never cook in your tent, as you run the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning or fire. Once you’ve found a spot, gather all your ingredients and cooking water and place them in a semicircle around you and your stove, all within arm’s reach. You’ll have everything you need, and you won’t risk knocking things over by standing up. 

»Store your food Leaving food lying around camp is an open invitation for rodents, raccoons, birds, and, yep, bears to come sniffing around, even during the day. Keep all scented items—food, soap, lip balm, toiletries—stowed with one of the following methods anytime you’re not cooking or eating.

- Some sites have metal lockers for food storage: Just toss your goodies inside and bolt the door. If your site offers a pole instead, place food inside a stuffsack (cover it with a garbage bag in wet weather), attach it to one of the pole’s wires (most have clips), and raise.

- No hardware available? The easiest and best method in bear country: Stash food in a bear canister. Some areas require their use (many parks rent or even lend them for free at ranger stations), so check regulations. Make sure to get one big enough to fit everyone’s food, garbage, and other smelly items. At night, place the canister at least 200 feet from your tent and well away from cliffs or rivers in case a curious bear bats it around.

»Wash dishes Don’t attract wildlife with dirty dishes. The easy way to clean:

- Scrape as much food as possible out of bowls/pots and eat it.

- Heat water (not so hot it burns) and pour half of it into a second pot. Add a small dollop of biodegradable soap to one pot (such as McNett Smart Suds; $12 for 8 oz.;

- Use a small rag or sponge to wash each dish in the soapy water. Rinse in the second pot.

- Strain large food particles and add to your trash bag. Scatter the dishwater at least 200 feet away from water sources and camp. Spread cookware out to dry.

- Burned gunk in the pot? Add hot water and let soak for 30 minutes before scrubbing it clean.