Monday, January 13, 2014

Winter Backpacking Food Favorites

I’ve mentioned before that my backpacking menu changes with the seasons (my summer favorites here).  In winter, flavorful and hearty meals taste good in the cold.  I like to adapt dishes that I normally eat at home for the trail.  This works for me because I cook (most of) my meals from scratch using seasonal veggies when possible.  When I cook my dinners for the week, I often make a double batch so I can put half on the dehydrator.  Stews and curries are especially satisfying and dehydrate well.
Rehydrated by adding cold water.  Doesn't look like much but it was delicious!
Here are a few dishes, with links to the original recipes, that I’ve cooked and then dehydrated this winter (details and photos below):
     Curried red lentil stew  -hearty and satisfying.  I doubled the spices.
     Roasted vegetable soup  -roasting the veggies enhances the flavor.  I omitted the white beans, and sometimes substitute sweet potatoes instead of squash.  One of my favorites!
     Moosewood mushroom curry -a tad sweet and tangy. I doubled the spices here too.  I also dehydrated jasmine rice to go with it, and topped it with unsweetened shredded coconut.  When I make it for home, I like adding tofu, but tofu takes longer to rehydrate so will omit it next time.

At home
I cooked these recipes using less water and half the oil which helps for dehydrating.  Be sure to cut everything up into small chunks.  The recipes are very forgiving so feel free to make substitutions.  The important thing is the rich flavor, and adding plenty of spice.   Spread them thin on the dehydrator trays to dry overnight.  Then once they were totally crispy, I repacked them into ziplock freezer bags and added some freeze-dried chicken.  
Roasting the veggies for soup
Red lentil curry is done when it is brittle and crispy.
On the trail
I still go stoveless (yes, even in winter!) and these meals rehydrated in less than 4 hours with cold water.  I just  eyeball how much water to add to reconstitute my meals, but it’s a good idea to check to make sure you added enough water about an hour before you want to eat, just in case it was an underestimate.  Stews are forgiving because if you add to much water, its just more soupy.

I keep the rehydrating meals in the "warming" pouch of my hoodie (i.e. the front pocket) when it is below freezing to help them rehydrate and to prevent them from freezing in my pack (or thaw them if they already froze in my pack cause I didn't realize how cold it was out!).  I made sure to double bag them or put them into an opsack to prevent them from spilling all over my clothes.  Sure glad I didn't meet anyone out on the trail because this is what carrying dinner (plus my water) in the pouch of the hoodie looked like...
Rainpants complete the look.
Of course you could just take a stove, and then just do the freezer-bag cooking method of just adding boiling water and allowing it to rehydrate in your pot cozy for a short while.

I’ve also been experimenting with various protein sources, and I found that adding freeze dried chicken to all of these dishes was easier than cooking them with added chicken, and then dehydrating that all together (I tried it both ways).  The freeze dried chicken soaked up the flavor quite nicely and reconstituted well in cold water.  But if you can't find the freeze dried stuff on sale, either way works fine.  

I also add freeze dried cheese to various dishes like chili, and it also fully hydrates in cold water.  Of course there is also no reason not to carry fresh cheese when the weather is so cold.
Freeze dried cheese added to a dinner, then vacuum sealed (for longer storage).
And for afters...
Having extra calories right before bed helps me stay warm over the course of the long dark nights of winter.  Look for higher fat instant pudding like this “Greek yogurt” style and mix it with some Nido milk powder.  Then in camp, just add cold water (don’t add too much- add it little by little!), stir or squeeze the bag vigorously, and it will set quickly (especially in the cold).
High calorie dessert to stay warm
I also make my own version of pumpkin pie pudding by making pumpkin “bark” (see recipe from Backpacking Chef).  I run the bark through the food processor to turn it into a powder because that allows it to rehydrate faster.  A scoop of protein powder, some dried coconut, and almonds also increase the fat and protein content for longer-burning fuel, which really help me stay warm at night.  Great excuse for desert!
Making the pumpkin pie pudding


  1. I really wish I could be more organized about food, but I'm just not. I just throw in tortillaa and peanut butter!

  2. I sometimes think I can be TOO organized. Really, easy foods are great too. Tortilla and pb area always in my pack as well.

  3. seriously I had no idea you "cooked" or ate anything "hot" :-)

  4. Oh, JJ... you stove-people...

  5. Wow, this is actually my struggle every time me and my friends decide to go out for a winter camping adventure. These food ideas are amazing and the variety of choices are perfect because they are not too hard to prepare. On my pursuit to make my next winter adventure seamless, I learned a lot from this article as well: