After a long, tiring day on the trail, your body doesn’t just crave fuel. It wants a warm, tasty and nutritious feast. “Eating well in the backcountry makes a big difference,” says John Sims, ration manager at the National Outdoor Leadership School Rocky Mountain Campus in Lander, Wyoming. He saw it firsthand: “I remember one day last fall when I was working as a trainer. We had moved to camp for a few hours and all the students were tired, hungry and unhappy. The team of instructors encouraged people to start preparing food right away, some instant soups and ramen. Once people started getting those calories, their mentality and the whole atmosphere of the camp turned around. We’ve gone from being a grumpy, unhappy group to being quite a lively one. “
Since its inception in 1965, NOLS has been known for refining backcountry meals, as evidenced by the seventh edition of the NOLS Cookery cookbook. In addition to tried and tested recipes, the book contains advice on packing and rationing consumables as well as nutrition tips for long-distance hikes. As a ration manager, Sims likes to make sure the students in his programs go out into the field with versatile ingredients. “We don’t send out any special meal plans or recipes for the students,” he says. “Instead, we send them out with a range of grocery options and they can make their own meal plan on the spot.” One of his favorite staples is flour. “Working with it in the field is the same as working with it at home,” he says. Another: “We send them with a dried tomato powder – tomato paste that has been dried and powdered. You can do a lot with it. “
“We have a lot of students who don’t really know how to cook,” he says. “It’s cool to show them how to make a pizza or cinnamon buns.” When it comes to his own backcountry kitchen, Sims prefers to keep it simple. “For myself, I like things that are simpler – things that are pretty quick and don’t require much preparation.”
Here are four of his favorite recipes, ranging from simple, enhanced ramen to cook-worthy buttermilk pancakes.
Potato and ramen stew
This recipe is a great way to make a backcountry meal. “My favorite way to cook ramen as usual, add spices and add a few instant potato pearls or flakes, and make a thick stew,” says Sims. “Plus, you can add cheese, summer sausage, and a variety of salty, greasy things, and it turns ramen from a lighter starter meal into a fairly full, thick, filling meal.” brings another backpack oven.
1 ramen package (any flavor will work, but Sims likes Koyo’s garlic pepper best)
3 ounces instant potato flakes
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 packet of storage-stable chicken (like Starkist)
Follow the directions on the ramen package and cook the noodles until soft. Remove from heat, slowly add the potato flakes and stir. The consistency should be thick, but still thin enough to pull a spoon through. Add olive oil, chicken and ramen seasoning, stir and enjoy.
Vegan “creamy” mushroom polenta
If you start your morning with something sweet that leads to nonsense, try polenta. “This hearty breakfast is delicious, vegan or not,” says Sims. It also makes for a calming dinner.
3 cups of water
8 ounces polenta
8 ounces of cashew milk powder
1 handful of dried mushrooms (Sims orders from Harmony House)
3 ounces nutritional yeast
2 packets of powdered vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Bring the water to a boil. While stirring, slowly stir in the polenta, cashew milk powder, mushrooms, yeast and broth and season with salt and pepper. Stir continuously for about five minutes, or until the mixture is smooth and thick. Turn off the stove. Add the olive oil, cover, and let sit for about two to three minutes until the mushrooms are moisturized.
(Photo: Courtesy Clary Greacon / NOLS)
If your après meal is a big piece of cake, indulge yourself. “This NOLS classic has cheered and raised the spirits of thousands of students and teachers alike,” says Sims. Pizza, along with cinnamon rolls, is one of the meals taught in every NOLS course. You will need a basic cooking set, as well as some special equipment: a simmer stove (NOLS uses the MSR Whisperlite), a flat-bottomed metal-lid pan, and a stack of small twigs. The largest should be about the size of a pencil. Measure, mix, and package the dry crust ingredients (other than the cornmeal) ahead of time so they’re ready when you’re in the wild.
For the crust:
6 ounces white flour
3 ounces of powdered milk
1½ teaspoons of baking powder
½ teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of butter
1½ cups of water
½ ounce coarsely ground cornmeal (optional)
For the sauce:
3 ounces of tomato powder
1 ounce dried onion
1 ounce powdered milk
1 teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon of garlic powder
6 ounces of sliced or shredded cheese
Mix together all the crust ingredients (except the cornmeal) in a bowl and roll into a firm, palm-sized ball. Use your thumbs and fingers to pinch, stretch, and flatten the dough until it is about two-quarters thick. Light the stove and reduce the heat to a simmer – the lower the better. If you are using cornmeal, sprinkle it on the bottom of the flat-bottomed pan. This will raise the dough high enough that it won’t burn. Put the flattened dough in the pan and cover it with the metal lid. Put some of the small twigs on the lid and light them. This is called a branch fire and it simulates the top burner in a furnace. Keep adding twigs so the fire burns for five to seven minutes. While the dough is cooking, mix the sauce ingredients in a small bowl or mug and season with salt and garlic powder. Blow out the twig fire and carefully remove the lid. Once the batter starts to turn golden, cover it with the sauce, cheese, and toppings. Cover the pizza with the lid and start the branch fire again. Cook until the cheese has melted, about two to three minutes. Slice it up and enjoy.
Buttermilk pancakes with buttermilk icing
(Photo: Courtesy Tracy Baynes / NOLS)
This recipe is one of Sims’ recent discoveries. “Making backcountry buttermilk is well worth the time,” he says. “A delicious twist on a classic, these pancakes are guaranteed to make your friends jealous of your backcountry baking skills.” You can measure, mix, and bag the dry ingredients in advance so they’re ready when you’re ready to cook.
For the icing:
1 cup of butter
1½ cups buttermilk (recipe below)
2 cups of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of baking powder
¾ teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
For the pancakes:
3 tablespoons of powdered egg (OvaEasy Whole Egg Crystals works great)
9 tablespoons of water
1 cup of white flour
4 teaspoons of baking powder
½ teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of sugar
1½ cups buttermilk (recipe below)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Butter or oil for the pan and butter for the topping
How to make the icing: Mix all ingredients in a medium saucepan and mix over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once the ingredients have melted, simmer for another minute or two. Remove from heat and let cool for five to ten minutes before serving.
For the pancakes: mix the egg powder and water in a cup, stir until smooth and set aside. Combine all remaining dry ingredients in a bowl; or if you did this step at home, empty your packaged dry ingredient mix into a bowl. Add the egg mixture, buttermilk, and vanilla and stir until smooth. The pancake mixture should be thin and runny enough to pour a spoon off. Turn on your stove and heat a pan. After heating, add either butter or oil. Pour about half a cup of the batter into the pan and cook until small bubbles form on the surface. Turn over and continue cooking until golden brown. Serve with butter and buttermilk icing. Makes 10 to 12 pancakes.
1 cup of water
½ tablespoon of vinegar
4 tablespoons of powdered milk
1½ ounces lemon juice powder (True Lemon packets work well)
Put the water, vinegar and lemon juice powder in a bowl. Mix to dissolve the lemon juice powder. Slowly add the milk powder while stirring and break up any lumps. Makes 1½ cups.
Main photo: Ibex.Media/Stocksy