Backcountry travelers love to eat. The givens on any winter hut trip are ski, sleep & eat. So why not make it as gourmet as you can? Indulge on all the calories you’ve earned. Fuel your adventure with creative, yet simple meals.
Meal planning for backcountry travel consists of many more layers than at-home meal planning. We have to take into consideration the weight of the ingredients, the ease of preparation, as well as the ‘pack factor.’
As a backcountry ski guide based in Colorado, I guide a lot of multi-day hut trips. Here are some important guidelines I like to follow on a meal-to-meal basis:
Apres: This is my favorite meal. You’ve just worked hard all day, breaking trail through thigh-deep snow, skiing lap after lap of glorious turns. Now I’m hungry; I don’t want to work too hard to put good food on the table. I really like to go down the ‘charcuterie’ route. Hard cheeses and dried meats work well. Smoked salmon is an easy way to fancy things up. Add something sweet to the board, like dates wrapped in bacon. These can be pre-made at home, and cooked in a pan in minutes.
Dinner: Chop vegetables and marinate or cook proteins at home. Use quick-cook grains like couscous or quinoa. Fresh vegetables go a long way in the backcountry, especially when so much of the food you’re eating is heavy and calorically-dense. A simple addition of some fresh cilantro, basil or spinach makes for a healthy and happy palate.
Desert: Snow ice-cream. Bring a small can of sweetened condensed milk, a desert liquor, like Bailey’s or Kahlua, and splurge (in the weight-department), on a can of whip cream.
Breakfast: Think stomach-filling and easy clean-up, so you can get out the door fast without scrubbing pans. I like going the oatmeal route with fun toppings like salty nuts, dried fruit, coconut. Pre-cooked breakfast sausages are another favorite - they are easy to heat up.
Lunch: This is something I usually tell clients and friends is a BYO meal. I typically go the snack route here, i.e. bars, trail mix, etc. This makes it easy because you are on the move ski touring all day. We all know how much we are looking forward to apres, anyways.
Here are some other key tips to consider when food planning:
- Bring food that is easy to cook. Cooking at altitude and without all of the normal equipment, you have at home changes the game a bit. It is important to remember that water boils at a lower temperature at altitude. Therefore, your brown rice may take a much longer time to cook. Opt for grains that take less time to cook, like couscous. Couscous takes minutes, and can even be rehydrated using warm water.
- Minimize packaging. When trying to shove the box of salad greens into your backpack, think about repackaging them. I reuse gallon ziplock bags and put all my greens and vegetables in them. Then I can seal them up super tight, not leaving negative air space. If you want to bring eggs, consider cracking them in reusable water bottles, like a 1-liter Nalgene.
- Pre-chopping vegetables. Do the pre-work at home. This also makes for easier packing.
- Choose items that don’t spoil easily. Rather than bringing dairy products that spoil easily without refrigeration, look for the dried options. I bring powdered coconut milk instead of creamer for coffee. This also works well for curries, rather than bringing cans of coconut milk, (also beats having to pack-out the cans). Also, consider pre-cooking your meat and bagging it instead of dealing with raw meat at the hut.
- Don’t underestimate the power of snacks. You will be burning a lot of calories touring in the backcountry. Not to mention just being at altitude in general. Think higher-calorie, high-protein items. Things like dried meats and cheese are an apres staple for me. Salty nuts and Lipton’s chicken noodle soup packets are great to ensure you are getting the salt you need after the high-output days.
- Don’t forget the butter! This aids in the non-stick cooking process, as well as in the calorie and taste departments. Refined coconut oil or other high heat oils work well, too.
Below is a sample menu for a two-night, three-day hut trip:
Breakfast: Eat a big meal at home. (You will be skinning into the hut).
Apres: Smoked salmon, dried sausage & a variety of cheeses, with crackers.
Dinner: Pho Noodle Bowls - rice noodles in veggie broth, chicken, bell pepper, fresh ginger, lime, cilantro. (*This is such an easy & lightweight meal!!! Bring the flavored cubes to make the broth. Cook the noodles. Chop all the fresh veggies and put on top. Add a protein if you like).
Breakfast: Breakfast sausage and oatmeal served with chopped nuts, dried cranberries & dried coconut flakes. Coffee/Tea + powdered milk.
Apres: Sliced prosciutto (get from the deli counter), with cheeses & sliced pears. Bacon wrapped dates stuffed with man hero cheese (these are pre-made at home and heated in the pan until bacon is crispy).
Dinner: Curry stir-fry w/chicken, fresh ginger, garlic, shallot, bell pepper, fresh spinach, lime, black rice. (Stir-fries are a great way to mix anything & everything in a pan together. Just cook the chicken first, then add the ginger, garlic and shallot. Mix together the curry paste and coconut milk in a separate bowl, then pour into a pan with the chicken. Add rest of veggies. Serve rice on the side).
Breakfast: Breakfast sausage and oatmeal served with chopped nuts, dried cranberries & dried coconut flakes. Coffee/Tea + powdered milk.*(After breakfast, maybe you can squeeze in some skiing, but typically you clean the hut and head out. Make sure to pack out what you pack in!)