Hiking into the Bob Marshall or maybe a favorite lake in the Anaconda-Pintlers?
Envision that after a long hike, you can settle down to a meal of grilled steak and a cold chocolate mousse with a steaming cup of delicious espresso.
These are but a few of the culinary delights awaiting adventurous backpackers -- with a little planning and derring-do.
Veteran backpacker Tim Lynch, who is manager of the Base Camp, shared some tips and a few favorite recipes.
“We highly recommend that you take food that you enjoy into the woods,” he said.
“First and foremost, everyone enjoys good food when they’re out in the woods. Good food provides energy and sustenance, but more importantly it provides enjoyment.”
Although much of our everyday socializing revolves around food, the enjoyment is even more special in the backcountry, he said.
“That’s part of the reason why people like experimenting so much out in the woods,” he said, “because it provides more of a challenge. Figuring out the recipes ... and equipment you need, that’s part of the enjoyment.”
These days, options abound for tasty meals.
It can be as easy as choosing some of the freeze-dried meals now available, which just require adding water.
Or you can buy your ingredients in bulk at places like the Real Food Store and make your own dinner combos.
Freeze-dried backpacking food has come a long way, said Lynch.
“Nowadays there is far less sodium. ... We’re seeing far more natural ingredients, less preservatives and less fat, and a lot more protein and complex carbohydrates.
“You’re going to get sustainable energy and the food is going to taste good.”
A few selections he likes are Pad Thai and chicken gumbo.
And then there’s the mousse, which you just add cold water to and shake up.
Or maybe you’d prefer the creme brulee.
There are also multi-grain buttermilk pancakes.
And of course, there are now gluten free meal options.
Many of the meals just require boiling water.
Lynch highly recommends going the freeze-dried route for spontaneous decisions to go backpacking.
In Helena, “it’s very realistic to be in the backcountry in an hour,” he said.
And the waste is minimal from these meals. Lynch rolls up the aluminum packages after the meals are eaten and stores them in a zip-top bag. The garbage from a full week of meals can all fit into a quart bag.
Not only has freeze-dried food come a long way, so has the cooking equipment.
Stoves are more lightweight and reliable.
There are also handy-dandy water canisters designed to closely fit on top of its matching cooking stove, which are called personal cooking systems. The stove jets can adapt to whatever elevation you’re at -- delivering just the right amount of fuel to efficiently bring water to a boil. And cooking stoves can now be adjusted for different cooking temperatures, not just full blast flames.
Interested in frying up a trout on the trip?
Or maybe a batch of fry bread?
There are lightweight frying pans to accommodate your feast.
While Lynch is a big advocate for creative cooking, he highly recommends you try out your recipe and equipment on the backyard picnic table so you know your equipment and are getting the results you envision.
It will also help you make sure you pack all the items you’ll need.
You also need to figure out how much fuel you will likely use for your meals, so you bring the right number of canisters, he said. “The manufacturer will give you an estimate of how many boils.”
“My favorite meal is bringing frozen bratwursts,” Lynch said of what he makes the first night of his trip into the woods. “It will be thawed out by the time I get to camp.”
He always packs in fresh food for the first night’s meal, he said.
He recommends checking out dietary restrictions of any companions. A vegetarian friend is not going to be thrilled after a long day of hiking to find out dinner is bratwurst.
“Pad Thai is one of my favorites,” he added. “It’s very filling. I like a little heat with a lot of different flavors.”
There are also backcountry ovens for baking bread, or some folks improvise using a frying pan to make stove top bread.
“Remember, making a recipe at 4,000 feet may not work the same at 9,000 feet,” he advised.
Coffee lovers can rejoice. There are now some wonderful compact ways to make your favorite morning brew with a minimum of weight and waste.
Lynch’s favorite is an AeroPress, which uses a vacuum, to make “a wonderful cup of coffee.”
The coffee is so yummy, in fact, Lynch uses the same equipment at home.
If you’re willing to venture into dehydrating your own food, or buying those items in bulk at a natural food store, there are a myriad of tasty meals you can create.
Lynch also likes to custom make pancake mixes, which can be varied for each day, by adding slightly different ingredients.
Another personal favorite is a mix of granola, peanut butter and honey, which can be spooned out as a tasty, filling snack.
Lynch often has dehydrated fruit handy, which makes for a nutritious snack and adds sweetness and flavors to a number of dishes.
He also highly recommends checking out recipes on the Backpacker magazine website, www.backpacker.com, particularly their homemade trail bars.
It’s best to stick with your successful recipes and save experimenting at home, he said, so you can be sure of your results in the backcountry. “If you add or take away from a recipe, you can have unpredictable results.”
“It’s most important to pick flavors you really like,” he said. “You want to build on predictability.” You don't want to add indigestion to your idyllic backcountry experience.
“Just focus on your adventure,” he advised. “You want to be thinking about the pass you want to get over or the peak you want to climb.”
And when he’s traveling in a group with kids, he likes to stick with some of their favorite foods. “I do a lot less experimenting.”
“Food is such a physical and emotional part of traveling in the backcountry,” he said. “It’s the environment. It’s the air. It’s the company.”
He guarantees it’s a whole different experience than eating at home.