Backcountry Cooking: Beyond the Freeze-dried

Cooking in the backcountry doesn’t have to mean pre-packaged freeze-dried meals full of sodium and preservatives. I have camped for years protesting the often, not so enjoyable prepackaged “backpacking meals.” Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for these quick and weight saving meals-in-a-pouch, but it doesn’t have to be your go to.

Many times when we get to our final destination we are just relaxing, building camp, and have nothing but time; so why are we in such a hurry to make our meals?

Below are some meal ideas and tricks for prepping and packing. I have shown many friends that going into the woods doesn’t mean sacrificing eating well. 

Planning and Prepping 

Salad Bar Veggies

Veggies  • • •
I don’t want to waste time chopping veggies, either before or during the trip. I go to my local health food store with their amazing salad bar and use their prepped food for my trip. Quantities depend on how many people you are planning for. Don’t go overboard as you will be the one(s) carrying in the food (and carrying out any leftovers).

How to get your protein into the woods • • •
Utilize leftovers. For example, make chicken or beef for dinner a night or two before your trip with a little extra. Cut the cooked chicken or beef into bite-sized pieces. Put it in a freezer bag and place in the freezer. Make sure it is the last thing you pack so that it can stay frozen as long as possible. By the time you make camp it will be thawed, if not mostly thawed. It also serves as an ice pack for any other perishables you are bringing.

I have also frozen leftover Chinese food, pulled pork, or other freezer safe proteins. The other benefit is if your stove doesn’t work or you can’t build a fire, the protein is already cooked and you can eat it cold. It won’t be as enjoyable, but you won’t starve.

Other tricks  • • •
I try to utilize other items from the salad bar area.

Usually they will have salsa, sour cream, shredded cheese, guacamole, mini cream cheese packets, and more… I use the small plastic containers and go to town. I bring a small insulated lunch box and use a super small ice pack (or use the frozen protein) to keep it chilled until that night’s meal. It is usually just me and a friend or my husband so I don’t need much of the perishables.

I also save other condiments from takeout. Bring those parmesan and red pepper flake packets from your pizza, soy sauce packets from your Chinese food, or ketchup packets from your fast food; waste not want not, just put them in a bag in the fridge and bring them along when needed. Your friends will think you’re a genius!

How to package your meals  • • •
Ditch the heavy jars and cardboard boxes. Repackage into plastic bags and smaller plastic containers. At most gear shops you will find a variety of small containers like these, which can be used for oils, syrups, condiments, spices, etc. Also think outside the box; save containers from your everyday items and repurpose them for your backcountry travels.

Pack it in – pack it out  • • •
You will ineviatably have some trash to carry out so don’t forget to bring a trash bag. I usually bring an extra stuff sack and line it with the trash bag. It is a little more durable and can be hung up in the trees as is.

Sample menu for a two night trip

Day 1
Lunch: sandwich, chips, fruit
Dinner: Fajitas – chicken or beef, peppers, onions, shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream, guacamole, flour tortillas.

Day 2
Breakfast: Breakfast crepes – cream cheese, apples, peanut butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, leftover tortillas. Put whatever sounds good to you and heat-up on the skillet.
Lunch: crackers, sausage, cheese, apples
Dinner: pasta, veggies of choice and pesto. Freeze the pesto in advance to avoid transporting a super oily substance. Double bag to prevent accidental leaks. 

Day 3
Breakfast: Pancakes. Don’t forget to add those delicious huckleberries if they are in season, you won’t regret it.
Lunch: Bagel and cream cheese

A recent trip  • • •
My dear friend and co-worker Hannah and I ventured into Montana’s beautiful Jewel Basin for her first backpacking trip ever! We had a blast and cooked up some tastey meals in the process!

Emily and Hannah
Emily and Hannah on a backpacking trip
A stir-fry in the making
Rice and stir-fry
Rice and stir-fry in the backcountry!

Do you have any tips or recommendations for cooking in the backcountry? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook.



Seven Quick Facts About River Otters

Enhanced coats

Due to the frequency otters are in and out of water, their fur needs to withstand wet and dry. Water repellent fur helps keeps them warm and dry.

American River Otters
Photo by James Perdue, USFWS

How long can you hold your breath?

Otters can stay under water for eight minutes.

American River Otter
Photo by Tim Vickers

Expert swimmers

As a sometimes aquatic creature, it shouldn’t be a surprise that otters can swim up to seven miles per hour and dive down 60 feet.

American River Otter Family

A varied diet

It’s no surprise that otters love fish, but they’re also partial to amphibians, turtles and crayfish.

American River Otter
Photo by Nathan Varley

A one parent operation

Fathers do not play a role in parenting. Females will go to their underground den to deliver anywhere from one to six young. At about two months, they’re pushed in the water and made to swim.

American River Otter
Photo by Keenan Adams

Sliding is a thing

In the winter, otters have found the easiest and perhaps most fun way to get around is by sliding. After a few bumps, they can slide up to 22 feet on the ice. In warmer times, you may also see otters sliding down a riverbank.

American River Otter
Photo by Andrea Westmoreland

By land and by sea

Otters thrive on land and in the water. Whether it’s a lake, river, swamp or estuary, otters like a mix of land and water. They can be found throughout North America and our National Forests.

American River Otter Map

For more information visit:

Defenders of Wildlife

National Geographic

The Nature Conservancy


Edison International Supports Volunteer Day on Angeles National Forest

The National Forest Foundation brought out volunteers from San Fernando High School, Pacoima Beautiful and Southern California Edison to lend a hand to support the Angeles National Forest for National Public Lands Day. The 70 volunteers helped clear trails and remove invasive weeds from the forest. For many of the youth it was their first trip to the forest. The event was graciously sponsored by Edison International.

Edison volunteers
Photo by Roberto Ysais
Volunteers on National Public Lands Day
Photo by Roberto Ysais
A beautiful setting for a volunteer day
Photo by Roberto Ysais
Volunteers give back to the Angeles National Forest
Photo by Roberto Ysais
Volunteers hiking to work spot
Photo by Roberto Ysais
Volunteer family
Photo by Roberto Ysais
Group shot
Photo by Roberto Ysais



Community Stewardship Helps Preserve the South Fork Trinity River

Communications and Community Outreach Coordinator at the Watershed Research and Training Center , Piper McDaniel, highlights the South Fork of the Trinity River and work done in partnership with the National Forest Foundation.

The South Fork Trinity River is the longest undammed river remaining in California. One of California’s Wild and Scenic rivers, the headwaters of the South Fork Trinity are housed in the Yolla Bolly Mountains, and its waters carve through the Klamath Siskiyou Bioregion, passing through numerous road-less and wilderness areas on their journey to the Klamath.

This undammed and vibrant river is home to one of California’s last remaining wild Spring Chinook populations. Their numbers severely diminished, current Spring Chinook populations average about 200-300 fish, when populations of the 1960s were estimated in the 10,000-12,000 range.

Despite being one of the largest tributaries to the Klamath River, and housing populations of the dwindling Spring Chinook, the South Fork Trinity remains a largely overlooked river.

The South Fork Trinity Landscape

Entering its third year, the Watershed Center’s South Fork Basin Stewards (SFBS) program is engaging its community to implement robust restoration and monitoring work on the South Fork Trinity River.

Partnering with the NFF, the Watershed Center has cultivated a devoted and growing community of volunteers to implement numerous forms of stream and salmonid monitoring, noxious weed removal, river clean-up, and much more. The SFBS program achieves important restoration and monitoring work that would be underfunded and essentially not accomplished with current agency programs.

SFBS volunteers
SFBS volunteers conduct a snorkel survey.

By engaging volunteers and raising awareness, the South Fork Basin Stewards program is able to educate the local community about its ecosystem and foster a culture that links them to land, all while helping to preserve the South Fork Trinity River.

If you like to help us support more restoration projects and stewardship programs click here.