The Ten Commandments of Backcountry Cooking

How to stay organized and prepared for your backcountry cooking.

Trail Chef Jennifer Bowen knows her way around a camp kitchen. After working as a backcountry cook in the Sierras for the Yosemite trail crew, chef at a five-star hotel, and cooking teacher, Bowen has developed a culinary philosophy aimed at making trail food tasty, simple, and nutritious. Here are the rules she lives—and cooks—by.


Plan ahead

Allow enough time so you’re not just grabbing from the grocery store shelves on the way to the trailhead. Collaborate with hiking partners to split up the shopping, carrying, and cooking.


Prep Meals Pretrip

Use your home kitchen as much as possible to cut down on the work you do in camp. Cut up vegetables, measure things out, have everything ready to go so your meal time is quick and you can enjoy your food sooner.


Don’t Overdo The Cookware

I’d rather carry extra fresh ingredients than excess pots and utensils. Plus, you really don't need those extra, fancy gadgets. All you really need is a cup, thermos or water bottle to drink out of, some utensils (at least a spork), a backpacking stove and something to cook in and you're set.


Trail Food Should Always Be Delicious

Even if you’re making the basics, like Ramen or mac and cheese, add a few tasty touches: bacon bits, chopped sausage, dried herbs, salsa, fresh cracked pepper, or chopped fresh red pepper. And consider tasty substitutions, like making your mac and cheese with gruyère instead of cheddar. Little things can make all the difference.


Eat something fresh every day, even if it’s just an apple or a few celery sticks

Think of how you'll feel after eating a week's worth of ramen. It's light, it's easy, but it doesn't have a whole lot of actual nutrients and doesn't give you much more than energy through calories. Get extra nutrients from fresh fruits and veggies.


If you cooked, your partners clean up. No exceptions!

Keep everyone happy by rotating duties and meal responsibility. Plan ahead and have a schedule of who's bringing what and which meals they're making. It keeps the menu interesting when everyone contributes a meal.


Keep It Simple

There’s no need for a million ingredients or complicated instructions—quality ingredients hold their own. Remember the spices--they can make a huge difference between boring and amazing and are light and easy to carry.


Organize Your Kitchen

Take out the ingredients and utensils you need before you start cooking and set them within arm’s reach—I like to spread everything on a small flour sack towel so it’s all in one defined space. make sure you have the cooking water you need as well. you don’t want to be getting up and down.


Two words: Coffee & Dessert

I love brewing coffee with a single-cup drip cone while still snuggled in my sleeping bag, and nibbling on chocolate or cookies after a long day. Just because you're out in the wilderness doesn't mean you can't indulge yourself.


Slow Down

You’re hungry, not starving. Take the time to savor what you made, where you are, and who you’re with. Remember, it's about the journey and not the destination. Enjoy being in the moment.