Eat Well In The Wild!

Meal planning is one of the most important considerations for any trip.  We all know that being hangry can derail a trip, so it’s worthwhile to take some time to explore alternatives for fast and easy food while out there on the go. And since we know that hunger sometimes strikes when we’re minimally prepared, it’s good to be knowledgeable on the high quality, shelf stable choices available to keep on hand for potential emergencies like being stranded or socked in by fast moving weather systems. Having at least three days of extra food at all times is a hard requirement for anyone traveling the back country by boots, paddles, peddles or 4WD.

That said, over the years we’ve expended a lot of time and resources on camp cooking during our longer trips.  You can bring the entire Snow Peak or Camp Chef catalog to camp, and it’s easy to invest considerable time and money on elaborate meal planning and preparation. Everybody wants to be your friend in camp when you fire it up Overland Gourmet style and start delivering the goods.

But what if you don’t enjoy hauling 150 lbs of glamping paraphernalia around in your vehicle so you can feed those pesky camp remoras again? What if you’re the camp remora this time and find yourself out of luck?

Or, what if it’s just YOU on a solo adventure?

If you’re less focused on spending time in camp fiddling with kitchen gear and cleaning, and more focused on the actual experience gained while out and about, this article is for you. 

Food can be a polarizing topic. With innumerable dietary needs, opinions and preferences to consider, we’ll stick to just the basic facts here as it pertains to “hiker food”. We’ll also provide some impressions on brands and flavors etc in follow on segments here.

One argument that cannot be broken is the fact that there is no easier option. The only thing required for most of these meals is water, a way to boil it, and a long spoon.

Something thing that really interests me is how far this technology has progressed.  Today’s lightweight “hiker food” tastes SO much better than it did even 10 years ago.  The variety of brands and menu options has really grown as well, with everything from Kosher to Vegan to Gluten Free meals being readily available online from vendors like REI or Basecamp Food in the UK. Basecamp is my go-to source for different menus from “over the pond”. Most of the international meals you see here were sourced online from them.

Of interest here, the market has exploded with many new offerings from the UK, Scandinavia, and here in the USA which in turn drives innovation and creates competition for legacy brands like Mountain House, the industry standard we’re all familiar with. Everyone wins when brands compete in a free market!

SHELF LIFE.  In general, shelf life ranges from good (a few years) to amazing (decades!) on freeze dried meals from different makers.  With the European varieties, shelf life tends to be decent but considerably less than the comparable American freeze dried meals.  This might be due to the composition of the meals and choice of ingredients.  For example, the standard Mountain House stuff is 100% freeze dried, while some of the European meals appear to use a variety of ingredients in addition to just freeze dried staples.

REAL Turmat – Norway

COST.  Freeze dried meals can cost on average of anywhere from $7 to $12 per meal, so they’re not exactly inexpensive. You can buy a dehydrator and a vacuum sealer and DIY some stuff at home if you want, or just buy some pre-dried bulk ingredients from a grocery store. It’s easy to blend proteins, starches, and spices together to create your own tasty mash ups. 

But, if your time is more valuable than your money, you’ll gladly pay for the diverse flavors and convenience seen here.

Peak Refuel – USA

CONVENIENT CALORIES.  Backpacker meals tend to be calorically dense, lightweight, and generally VERY tasty.  Best of all, and an important feature when you’re physically exhausted after a long journey, they’re SO EASY to cook. Just add boiling water, wait a few minutes (patience is key), and then eat it straight out of the bag. And since no cleanup is required, you can go straight from eating out of a bag, to crawling into your sleeping bag. You can even cook and consume these meals from within a sleeping bag in inclement weather. Going to be bed with a hot meal in your belly will help you stay warmer, and that alone can be priceless.

Military Field Rations have improved, but are still HEAVY to carry, especially MRE’s!

NUTRITIOUS ENERGY.  The weight to energy ratio is fairly good as freeze-drying a meal removes 80% of it’s water weight, with many meals ranging between 500-900 calories and weighing in at around 5-7 ounces. The process of freeze drying can also retain up to 90% of the nutrients which is good, but some companies have a fair amount of sodium and “other stuff” in them which may or may not concern you.

Some brands feature more natural ingredients than others, and competition is increasing in the “healthy” segment with brands like Tent Meals in the UK and Good To-Go in the US filling this important niche with clean ingredients that you can actually pronounce.

SPEAKING OF HEALTHY OPTIONS…  Patagonia Provisions offers a different take on the genre by partnering with like-minded farmers, fishermen and researchers as partners in the creation of their foods.  Patagonia specifies and supports “regenerative practices that restore, rather than deplete, the planet”.  So if you’re looking for a tasty, sustainable, environmentally aware option Patagonia just might have what you need.  

Patagonia Provisions

Firepot meals are handmade in Dorset, England. Their goal is meals that are nutritious, delicious and simple. And if you’re watching your salt intake, they only add salt as you would at home – very sparingly. You’ll recognize all their ingredients and you won’t find any artificial additives, flavorings or preservatives.

SPOILER ALERT: Their Orzo Pasta Bolognese is top shelf!

FIREPOT is made without palm oil or additives and features compostable pouches

DON’T FORGET SPICES! Eating too much of the same things over the course of a week-long trip can wear on you.  Bringing along some small packets of salt, pepper, or condiment packets like hot sauce, wasabi, or BBQ sauce can be a game changer and a BIG boost to morale at the end of a hard day. 

Extreme Adventure Food -UK

CONSIDER YOUR BEVERAGE OPTIONS! You should try to remember to include some beverage powders etc when you do your meal planning.  These little Arizona Tea “Arnold Palmer” Half and Half drink mixes are a great pick me up and long time favorite of mine, weighing in at a hiker friendly 3.3 grams each with only 10 calories and the ability to instantly transform a half liter of meh tasting water into a liquid dessert. There’s even some seriously good COFFEE options on the market today aimed squarely at the fast and light crowd. We’ll cover more on these developments in a future article.

VARIETY IS KEY.  You’ll want different meals when you’re out there, so make sure you include breakfast entrees in addition to the usually acceptable lunch and dinner menu items.  Augmenting your meals with some fresh fruit is a nice treat that adds flavor and nutritional value to your diet as well. 

Trailtopia – USA

One of the other really nice things about these dehydrated meals for motorcycle, 4WD or “Overland” style trips is that they require no refrigeration, and you can augment them with virtually unlimited other standard “road trip” snacks like beef jerky, drinks and trail mixes if you’re not lugging it all on your back.  But if you are hiking it all in like some of us love to do, remember “ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain”… 

… your comfort based decisions come with a cost so choose those meals and extra treats wisely!

Every meal CAN be different!
Expedition Foods – UK
Backpacker’s Pantry (USA) Risotto with Chicken is one of the best tasting meals we’ve ever had!

Future articles here in American Adventures magazine will talk about the flavor, texture, and overall drool factor (or the lack thereof) involved with some of these meals, and our top picks for which meals warrant an “always on hand” status in our load planning.

FULL DISCLOSURE:  All endorsements and opinions in this article are unsolicited. Items featured in this article were privately purchased by the author for the sole purpose of providing honest, independent reviews to help our members eat well in the wild!


Alpine Aire – USA

Isle Royale II

We listened as a wolf howled, seemingly right outside our shelter the first night. Yes, there are wolves on Isle Royale, and as the days wore on we would see their scat on the trail during the day, and hear them at night. Funny how their song wasn’t scary or creepy as you might imagine it to be. Just the same, their soulful music reminded us of the struggle for life that all creatures face here on the island, ruling out any midnight bathroom breaks for the girls.

Soon the dawn came and with fresh socks, full bellies and empty bladders it was time to leave our shelter and Three Mile behind. These shelters are a happy sight for weary hikers on the island, providing a respite from bugs and inclement weather. Before moving on, we took some extra time to sweep it out and leave it better than we found it.

Once we topped off our water bottles at the dock we were on our way again with all our worldly possessions on our backs, this time hiking along the shore through forests, swamps, and rocky outcrops towards the aptly named Daisy Farm and our next night’s campsite.

We saw all manner of wildlife while we were on the island. Moose, frogs, ducks, snakes, huge rabbits, chipmunks and a variety of birds. Mosquitos and bugs in general were nowhere near as bad as we had heard they would be, and we were thankful for that especially crossing the swampy areas.

Isle Royale has a human history dating back thousands of years. The island was a common hunting ground for native peoples from nearby Minnesota and Ontario with a canoe voyage of thirteen miles just to reach the island’s west end from the mainland. In prehistoric times, large quantities of copper were mined on Isle Royale and the nearby Keweenaw Peninsula. The region is scarred by ancient mine pits and trenches up to 20 feet deep, with further exploration and mining occurring on the island until the last mining company closed in the early 1890’s. We found several old mining ruins along the way.

A Note For Families: Taking frequent breaks while hiking makes for better memories. Take time to hydrate, eat snacks and rest while on the trail, especially with children. When the smiles are gone and it gets unusually quiet, it’s probably break time. Take time to soak in all the sights and sounds around you!

Continuing on, we were met with more plank roads through sensitive areas, more sun beaten rocky areas and more shady forest paths. The vibe on Isle Royale is one of quiet loneliness, we saw very few people hiking in either direction and the occasional bird song or fish jumping was the only sound as we worked our way towards Daisy Farm. Nothing here but you, your family, and the sights and smells of the forest.

It’s amazing how your thoughts and priorities become crystal clear while hiking.

Arriving at Daisy Farm in the afternoon, the spell of the forest was broken as we ran into people and quickly realized this was a bigger campground than Three Mile, a busy “hiker hub” where many trails connected.

The land rush was on to find a suitable campsite and once we had settled into an empty shelter, it was time for some much needed rest and leisure time. We were lucky enough to score a site with a nice view of the lake, and after a quick dip in the lake (we swam every day we were here) it was time for grub.

I’ve had my trusty Jetboil since 2006 and it still works like the day I bought it. We brought a variety of different brands of hiking meals along on this trip and they all have their pros and cons. I’d recommend trying a few at home before you get out there and realize that it’s not your thing. I walked away from this trip a big fan of Backpackers Pantry and Mountain House.

The Daisy Farm site was one of the very first camps for the Civilian Conservation Corps on the island in the 1930’s. From the Michigan DNR:

“Most Michigan CCC camps were in either national or state forests. The state’s only National Park Service camps were on Isle Royale, which had been designated a national park in 1931. On 13 August 1935, an advance party of twenty men from Company 2699, led by Captain Edward S. Thomas, arrived off the island in Siskiwit Bay. Forced to wade ashore, the men cleared a living area for the remainder of the company, which arrived later that month. The 2699th completed Camp Siskiwit and performed general forestry work before returning to the mainland in October. The following spring the company returned to Isle Royale and constructed Camp Rock Harbor at present-day Daisy Farm Landing.”

At Daisy Farm we were able to really relax. A much larger dock there meant I could get a running start to jump into Lake Superior, an exhilarating experience any time of the year. Quick baths were a big hit here, and sore feet were soothed by the cool waters.

Retiring to our sleeping bags, we spent a restful night listening to the nocturnal sounds of forest and lake.

Fully rested we awoke the next day to make the trip back to Three Mile and Rock Harbor. With one more night on the island we set off again down the trail, taking frequent breaks and mostly enjoying ourselves with little regard for any schedule.

This is the best way to live life. Unplugged.

A Note on Water Purification: We pulled water every day out of Lake Superior with this Katadyn Pocket filter with zero issues. NPS recommends a filter specification of at least 0.4 microns, the Katadyn Pocket filters at 0.2 microns (!), the filter’s silver impregnated ceramic element is effective against bacteria and protozoa, and can filter up to 13,000 gallons (50,000 liters) before needing a new ceramic element, depending on fresh water source and quality. I consider all surface lake and stream water to be contaminated with pathogens and so should you. Drinking contaminated water can make you very sick. Learn more HERE about types of contamination. To be 100% safe, water collected should be filtered and then boiled at a rolling boil (Jetboil etc) for at least one minute because most filters (even this one) do not filter out viruses. Viruses are typically found in warmer climates and they must be killed via boiling, adding chemicals like chlorine, or by using UV light from a device such as the Steripen.

Arriving at Three Mile again, we scored another shelter and made ready for our last night on the island. At this point we really had a good routine going. Make camp. Eat. Swim. Relax. Once the sun goes down it’s bedtime, and we got on average of nine hours a sleep each day, something that NEVER happens at home. Early to bed and early to rise is a thing on the Rock.

Our last morning on the island meant it was time for some rewards. We were looking forward to a hot lunch at the lodge at Rock Harbor and our scheduled plane ride at 3 PM meant hot showers and clean sheets that night in Houghton. With this on our minds, we made much better time from Three Mile to Rock Harbor on the way back than we did on the way in, and we arrived there in time for lunch and a leisurely wait for the plane.

Four long days on the island and we were still smiling. It seems that life without Wi-Fi had not been the end of the world after all.

Back at the seaplane base at Tobin Harbor, it was hurry up and wait and I was in no hurry to go back to the world. I seriously considered hijacking this small boat for the short crossing to Canada, and the never-ending adventures that life on the lam would bring us, but the damn plane came along and they would have spotted us in the harbor. This time it was a Cessna flying in to get us, a Cessna 206 Super Skywagon to be exact.

Back to reality, clocks, and a phone about to blow up with emails, voicemails and messages once we reached Houghton and civilization.

And just like that, Isle Royale was behind us, a distant memory of one fine summer where we said yes to Adventure and hopped on a plane to nowhere. This was our best trip yet and we can’t wait for the next Adventure!


Full Disclosure: The travel arrangements, equipment and provisions for this trip were funded entirely by the author, and all endorsements and opinions in this article are unsolicited. #IndependentMedia