Sea Kayak, Canoe, and SUP Camp Cooking
Recently I received an email asking:
“What are the 3 easiest meals you personally recommend to take on a weekend camping trip?”
I thought it was a good question and would make a good blog post, so here was my answer.
This is a loaded question for me, and I certainly wouldn’t call it easy. I am a chef by trade, but only cook at home now because I’d rather work in the kayak industry. Because of this I like to eat well on camping trips. When I started camping out of boats, I had been backpacking for a long time, and I was thrilled at the extra room in a sea kayak and the fact that a little extra weight for good food wasn’t such a big deal. So rather than just give an answer about what three meals I would take, I will talk about how I take food on trips and give a few tips.
1. Do as much cooking at home as possible.
This is easy to do. Preparing food in a commercial kitchen, and at home, takes most of the time needed for a good meal. If this were not the case, every time you went out to eat, you would have to sit for hours for the meal and restaurants would only be able to cook for a few tables all night long. If most of your food is prepared ahead of time you just have to throw it together once you’re in camp. When I first move to the island of St. John USVI in 1999 I lived in a small eco cottage that was made out of wood, used sail cloth for a ceiling, and most of screen walls. My kitchen was composed of nothing more than a small sink and a two burner Coleman stove, yet I was able to cook full meals and entertain guest with that small set up. That kitchen is basically the same as what you have camping. The trick it to come with everything made at home.
2. Have a designed menu for the entire trip.
This will keep you from over packing in the food department. I am the worst at bringing to much food. When I used to backpack sections of the Appalachian Trail, I would always have to leave dried food at shelters, for unprepared hikers, unless I wanted to pack it out. This is a common practice on the trail and I am sure it is a welcome site for those needing to do a town stop. When you are sea kayaking this is not so practical. Any extra food you bring will have to be packed back out, so make sure you only bring a little bit extra for emergency situations. Prepackaged dry goods from the store are great for this. I always liked flavored rice and noodle dishes. All you need to prepare them is cook in water and you have a nice hot meal. If you have any experience with outdoor living, a hot meal can be the best thing for moral, even if it’s simple. Your menus should consist of three meals a day, and snacks. Going a little heave on the snack is never a bad idea and it usually gets eaten even if you don’t expect it will. Desert is also a nice treat.
3. Package foods accordingly.
For dry goods, mix the ingredients together and package them before you go. Store them in zip lock bags. Don’t use bags that have the handy plastic zipper. Inevitably your bag will open and the contents will wind up on everything. Use ones that are manually shut by pinching the seal together.
A good way to make extra room and ensure the bag doesn’t open is to vacuum seal them. This can be done using a straw and your lungs. Simply seal the bag with a straw sticking out of the corner. Suck all of the air out, and then seal the bag as you remove the straw (keep sucking air as long as possible when sealing the bag). It’s not as good as an actual vacuum sealer but works great if you don’t have one. If you don’t have a straw just stick your mouth in the corner and do the same thing. It’s not fool proof but it works in a pinch.
For meats and sauces freeze them beforehand and bring in a small cooler or dry bag. I always double bag these items in case of leaks. Make sure the opening of the inside bag is at the bottom of the outer bag. This will give you just a little bit more protection. All of the goodies you freeze will act as ice for everything else you want to keep cold. If you have the time and space freeze all of your water too. When it thaws it is good and cold and ready to drink. A frozen gallon jug of water is the same as a store bought block of ice. Just don’t buy the cheapest gallon of water in the store because the jug might split in the freezing process.
4. Eat well on the first night.
If you want to save on weight at least eat well on the first night. This is a real treat, and empties your sea kayak of extra weight for the rest of the trip. Remember thought that if all of your food is dried you will have to have enough water to make it. If fresh water is not available you might as well bring the food fresh.
5. Bring desert.
If you paddle in cold water instant deserts are great. This includes Jell-O brand instant deserts and puddings. Simply mix them in a double zip lock bag and put them in the water to chill/set. If this is not your thing, or can’t spare the space then a few squares of chocolate will make you smile. If you are one of the rare people who don’t like chocolate then stop reading and see a specialist.
6. Use dried over canned.
This is so you don’t have the extra weight of cans and have to pack them out. I make a great Thi coconut curry dish when camping. It is all made in one pot and tastes fantastic after a long day of paddling. It’s basically a bunch of fresh veggies and meat cooked in a spicy coconut milk curry sauce with rice. My big secret is real curry paste from a can, stored in a bag for the trip, and powdered coconut milk. This can be found in any Asian supermarket. You may think you don’t have any of these markets around you but most likely you do. Look on line or the phone book. If you don’t know what that is, it’s this big thing we used to use to get phone numbers out of when I was a kid; the phone book, not the Asian market. Who knows once you try going in an Asian market, or any international market you may find yourself drawn to them on a regular basis.
So a typical menu for me might look like this the first full day out:
Breakfast – Scrambled eggs with cheese and herbs (the eggs are usually beaten at home and frozen, kept in a plastic egg container.
Lunch – Deli style sandwiches, made at the break spot or made at breakfast time and eaten on the water, with chips.
Dinner – Premade and frozen chickpea curry with naan bread (it doesn’t squish easily) and rice, and rosemary lamb steaks cooked over a fire. A premade salad is also nice and no work. Just open and add dressing. For desert I really like instant Jell-O cheese cake, or their instant Reese’s pie.
My snacks usually consist of nuts, dried fruit, granola bars (the original power bars) and anything that catches my eye at the last country store we pass.
Personally I like to bring at least one weird or new food just to try and see how it goes. In the past this has consisted of many different kinds of canned meats or fish with varied results and I almost always bring some kind of bread and cheese.
With all of that said, try to eat well on your next camping trip. Eating poorly while camping is not “just the way it is” so take the extra time at home to make sure it is a great experience. You will enjoy the food more and the trip better. In all of my experience I have never heard one person say after a trip, “the food was great but the trip was lousy”, but I have heard lots of people say “the trip was great except for the food”. So when camping cook good healthy food, it will make all the difference in the end.