My Cook kit and food bag.
This particular subject is one that vexes much of the outdoor community because food and a cook kit are heavy. In fact, they are right up there in terms of weight with water and your sleeping bag. Most people see food as a necessity, but what to carry and how much seems to run the full spectrum. I have seen everything from Cheese Wiz and summer sausage to canned pork and beans and a #12 cast iron frying pan come out of a pack. No, I am not kidding. From a Lighter Is Righter viewpoint anything more than a couple of the right energy bars for a day or two seems extraneous weight, unless you are in cold weather or at altitude. Everything beyond that should be scrutinized. Many years as a SAR Tech and my preferred style of hunting and hiking have made my cook kit and food bag simple, light, reliable and scalable.
Here is the cook kit that I carry.
Small cook pot-M.S.R. Titanium .85 liter Kettle with lid
Canister stove-Snow Peak Gigga Power Titanium Auto
Fuel canister(s)-Snow Peak or M.S.R.
Spoon-REI Lexan Polycarbonate
4” Trail Designs Classic Windscreen
Spare plastic bag-Ziploc Double Zipper Freezer bags are the best
Lightweight stuff sack
The M.S.R. Titanium Kettle is incredibly light, the lid seals nicely and it doubles as a mug. Nuff said.
I like the built in lighter on the Snow Peak Gigga Power Titanium Auto stove even though it adds .5 oz. For a critical piece of gear like this, I will hump the extra half ounce but I also carry a Zippo to light it just in case. I also have a new Vargo Titanium canister stove called the Jet-Ti which does not have the piezo but it is a very usable and reliable performer. In fact, it has won a couple of awards from Backpacker Magazine. I am going to try and figure out which one I like best. Canister stoves are great because they are light, small, quick to set up, and are dam near maintenance free. The downsides are that they can be a little tipsy and they suffer diminished output when the temp dips below freezing although there are several techniques to mitigate this problem like keeping the fuel canister warm before use or insulating the fuel can. I have used mine with no problems down to 10 degrees. As long as you keep it covered when not in use and use blended fuels from Snow Peak or M.S.R. you will be fine. At higher altitudes the stove actually performs better. If you are in for sub-zero temps or traveling out of the country where dependable fuel sources could be an issue or you are doing Rainier, Denali or bigger just switch to the M.S.R. XGK EX Stove and be done with it. This is a multi-liquid fuel stove/flame thrower that burns everything from white gas to camel urine, so I am told. If you are a real Hardcore Outdoor operator you will own both of these stoves.
The Lexan Polycarbonate Spoon from REI is light, quiet and does not conduct heat.
I always try to put my self in an area that is out of the wind or behind a natural windbreak but it certainly helps to carry a light wieght windscreen. Antigravity Gear carries several good ones. Mine is the 4 inch tall Trail Designs Classic Windscreen. It is made from lightweight, malleable aluminum that keeps the breezes from wrecking havoc on my stoves ability to focus the flame on the bottom of the kettle. Sometimes you just can’t find a good place to get out of the wind so this comes in very handy.
I use a spare Ziploc Double Zipper Freezer bag to line the bottom of the kettle to keep the stove from rattling during storage. The spare Ziploc is used as a double bag when reconstituting my noodles in my pocket. Which, I will explain in a minute.
Seems pretty austere, huh? Well, I carry what I need to prepare the food I carry to keep me going. So, what do I eat? Food is not nearly as important to me as water but I am not out for a Bataan death march either so I bring more than just bars. Here is my food list and as you will read, I have developed a slick process for cooking which makes the process of getting a hot meal quick, easy and very clean.
Here is what’s in my food bag.
Ramen noodle pre mix-in one Ziploc Double Zipper Freezer bag for each hot meal
electrolyte replacement powder-in a Ziploc Double Zipper Freezer bag
Cream cheese-single serving envelope
Dried banana chips
Snickers bars-fun size
My brother and I were glassing Crabtree Butte for bucks from a prominent bluff about a mile away and the wind was really beating us up. Cody had left his shell in the truck and was getting cold but was too engrossed in watching the deer to walk back and get it. I on the other hand was nice and toasty in my Cabala’s Fatigue Sweater with Windstopper and a mid-weight REI M.T.S. Polypropylene zip T-neck base. Being the sensitive type, I reached into my pack grabbed my little cook kit and within 5 minutes was eating my special ramen noodle mix which he smelled as soon as I opened the Ziploc bag. I had just scraped the last bit of noodles from the corner of the bag with my spoon when he finally came out from behind his big Zeiss 15x60s and asked what that concoction was? The name “Concoction” stuck. I proudly told him and reached into my pack for another Ziploc, filled the little kettle back up and made one for him. He was both impressed and hooked.
The Concoction is a custom Top Ramen noodle meal that is quick, rib sticking good and for the Monk fans out there, OCD neat and clean. The night before I leave the house I make up as many pre-mixed, single serving meals as I think I will need. My favorite recipe is one good old-fashioned 20-cent Top Ramen noodles package broken up and emptied into a Ziploc Double Zipper Freezer bag. Then I add Cayenne powder (ground pizza peppers), a little soy sauce, salted cashews and a big spoonful of creamy peanut butter into the bag. I squeeze the air out, seal it up and put it in my pack.
When I am in the field and I am ready for a meal or I am trying to warm up from the inside I whip out my stove, build a solid base to cook on, fire it up and boil some water in the kettle. The MSR Titanium Kettle I use has a .85-liter capacity. I fill it up a little less than half way for one bag to achieve the consistency that I like best and lay the lid on top. When the water reaches a rolling boil I pour it into the bag, squeeze the air out, seal it, and turn off the stove. Now, gloves are needed because the bag is hot and the mix needs to be worked thoroughly to ensure even reconstitution. Once it is mixed well, I put it in my stocking cap or in my jacket pocket for 7 or 8 minutes and leave it alone. Here is a helpful hint for you, I have learned the hard way that it is a good idea to have a spare Ziploc and double bag while you are reconstituting. A lesser quality bag or one with a pinhole in it will waste an important meal, burn you and make a big mess. Trust me. Double bag.
When the time is up, I take it out, take the spare bag off and put the bag of noodles in the now cool Kettle. I then open the bag and blouse it out and down over the lip of the Kettle. Hold the bottom of the Kettle in one hand and spoon out the noodles with the other hand. Dam! That’s good! It really is a great tasting, hot meal. Yea I know, nutritionally, Top Ramen may not be worth the wrapper it comes in but it’s got calories, carbs, fat, and protein from the cashews and peanut butter. When you are done, just seal up the bag and put it in your pack. No mess, no smells and no dirty pots or dishes to clean up. Slick huh?
We have several other versions popular versions that we use. My son likes half of the enclosed seasoning packet, sunflower seeds and Parmesan cheese. My brother likes it plain with dried beef or canned chicken and pizza peppers. I have also done the noodles with cream cheese (from a condiment envelop-doesn’t require refrigeration). The combinations are endless.
See HardcoreOutdoorVideo for a YouTube video on how to make the concoction.
The Gookinaid mix is something that can be mixed up and consumed hot or cold and really does a nice job of putting back the important stuff you sweat out. I like it better than Gatorade because it is not so sweet and sticky. Either would work though. I have also been using Recoverite from Hammer Nutrition for about a month now after my work outs and I am very pleased with it. At the very least, I am going to add an envelope or two to my food bag. This is a very popular product with the road and mountain bikers and the adventure racing community.
I like a good cup of joe in the morning but I have been pretty disappointed with the instant coffees I have used and I don’t like to carry a press. Java Juice is a liquid coffee extract packed in a small single use foil pack. All you have to do is heat you water and pour it in. Bam! And I gotta tell you, it is pretty good coffee. In addition to the regular flavor they are now making Vanilla and Hazelnut. Good coffee that is quick, lightweight and clean.
For breakfast you gotta get the fires burning early and I usually don’t have much time so I like the Quaker Oats Oatmeal To Go Bars. They are light, taste pretty good and give you some bang for the weight. If it’s cold then I usually fire up the stove and go for a couple of packs of instant oatmeal.
For snacks I like energy bars. They are dense and heavy and do a good job of taking the edge off with a little boost. I like the Cliff Bars and Wilderness Athlete Peanut Butter Crunch Bars which I have mentioned here before. I also like dried banana chips because they are light, taste good and have lots of potassium. Salted cashews are another favorite because I like them and I will eat them which is important to consider when developing a backcountry menu. Food doesn’t do you any good if you won’t consume it and there are times out there when you don’t feel like eating. So choose wisely.
Some other stuff I have used and liked are fresh bagels with PB&J or cream cheese. When I was on the Mountain Rescue Team and I was dispatched to drive to a mission, I would try to stop by a Taco Bell drive thru to pick up a half dozen bean and cheese only burros and have them double wrapped in foil. They keep pretty good in your pack for a day or two and they are a big hit with your teammates but don’t forget the hot sauce.
Food is comfort and certain kinds of food at the right time can have a very positive effect on morale. I remember one night we had found our “lost party” and sent him out by air. We were dog-tired and without another helo to pick us up we had a long, cold hump back to the CP and our vehicles. We were just getting ready to get up and start back when one of my rescue daddies produced a full size package of Nutter Butter Cookies from somewhere in his pack to share with the group. Mountain Rescue teams are fanatical about their gear and every single piece that goes into their packs is scrutinized to the nth degree. A big package of cookies was the last thing you would expect to find in the pack of a Senior SAR Tech, in the middle of the night, miles from the nearest trailhead but it was the perfect thing for that moment. It was good leadership and the stuff of great stories.
Hey, food is fuel. Again, take food that will do something for you and stuff you like and will eat. What I have laid out for you here is a system that has evolved over time and works for me. It is lightweight, easy to pack and cleans up well. Now if I could just figure out how to dehydrate water and freeze-dry the Spicy Chicken Chow Mein from my favorite Chinese hole in the wall, Qwik Chinese.
By the way, Backpacker Magazine does a nice food feature every month and National Outdoor Leadership School has a great book called “NOLS Cookery” that is especially good for more elaborate meals or for groups.
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