Instant Backcountry Meals: Heresy or Simple Efficiency?

Boil, stir and serve: Instant backcountry dinner

Boil, stir and serve: Instant backcountry dinner

Over many years of backpacking and other mountain adventures, I’ve participated in a lot of group dinners where you take turns preparing supper. And these meals can get quite elaborate, to the point where you feel obliged to live up to the delicious organic chicken penne with homemade ragu sauce the person made the night before. Which means spending a lot of time preparing and dehydrating the meal at home, then rehydrating it in camp, stirring endlessly to keep things from burning to bottom of the stainless steel pot and timing everything to be hot at once.

There's no beating this homemade chile. But it's a lot of work, with two stoves going in camp

There’s no beating this homemade chile. But it’s a lot of work, with two stoves going in camp

But as I get older and wiser (lazier?), I’m increasingly tempted to go quick and easy. And if that means not living up to the competition, so be it.

So, you can spend your winters preparing and dehydrating meals for the summer’s backpacks and canoe trips or the spring’s ski traverses. Or you can let someone else do the work for you.

The secret is going instant, i.e. pouring boiling water over various ingredients, maybe simmering a bit and letting sit for a few minutes. Voila! Dinner in five minutes.

I know “instant” is heresy in some backcountry circles, perhaps stemming from the days of cup-of-soups and quick ramens laced with artificial ingredients and MSG. But now, with a wee bit of searching and ingenuity, you can concoct quick meals that are both healthy and quite tasty. And it’s a lot cheaper than buying packaged backcountry meals.

The other day, for example, I prepared a quick black bean dish based mainly on ingredients from my local health food store. I took a cup each of instant black beans and instant, organic brown rice flakes, added a handful of freeze-dried peas and a teaspoon of red chile powder for zip. In camp, I poured all this into about three cups of boiling water in a non-stick aluminum pot, stirred in a package of coconut milk power, let sit for a few minutes and served with grated parmesan cheese. The result was a flavourful meal for two hungry hikers, three with smaller appetites.

By contrast, here's my instant black bean supper ingredients, ready to be boiled and served

By contrast, here’s my instant black bean supper ingredients, ready to be boiled and served

Sure, the consistency kind of resembled porridge. But the good thing about working up a hearty appetite in the great outdoors is everything tastes a little better than at home. And if it saves me many hours of labour, I say sign me up.

And the hungry customer isn't complaining... at least not to my face

And this hungry customer isn’t complaining… at least not to my face

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