The most fun part (for me) of prepping for our Grand Canyon hike was thinking about food. Meal planning four days of camp food was a new challenge for a city girl like me. No sandwiches, as cold cuts won’t last out of the fridge and bread is easily squished. Canned goods are heavy, raw eggs are delicate, hard-boiled eggs go bad too fast, and don’t even think about fresh veg and fruit. Moose goo, S informed me, was the hard core hiker food of choice, but the idea of eating dry pellets of peanut butter and corn flour dough wasn’t too appealing.
The obvious choice was to load up on the dehydrated meal-in-a-bags we see at REI, but I’m not sure I understand how one can enjoy rehydrated kung pao chicken, and especially not when it costs $12 a bag. All in all, I think we ate pretty well in the Canyon, though I’m amazed how much space the food took up and most grateful the hike was upside down so we carried the food-laden packs down, and we’d ascend with the pack load lightened into our bellies.
Some camp food lessons I learned this trip:
1. Moose goo didn’t appeal to me (outside of the name), but I created a variant that’s just as high-calorie and (dare I say) tastes even gooier. Even better, it doesn’t resemble moose droppings. Sandwich bread is too fragile for camping, but tortillas are perfect. While peanut butter is S’s favorite, I prefer the chocolatey goodness of Nutella, and of course, there is the magic of Trader Joe’s Speculous Cookie Spread (if you haven’t tried it, you need to drop everything and get some right now.). What’s life without a little variety? So I scooped equal parts of each into one jar for the road, and on the trail, I made burritos by slathering a thick layer of choco-peanut-cookie goo on a whole-wheat tortilla and sprinkled it with a layer of crunchy trail mix. The calories on this creation are insane, and we swore only to eat it while hiking straight up vertical cliffs, but yummm.
2. Instant noodles are a camping rockstar – they are ultralight and cook much faster than regular pasta. The problem is most supermarkets carry noodles that taste like styrofoam swimming in murky MSG water. This is where Asian grocery stores can save the day. Since instant noodles were invented in 1958, there have been a world of improvements by Japanese, Korean, Hong Kong, Singaporean, and Indonesian brands (among others). The new noodles are substantial and steam dried (i.e. rather than deep-fried) and the powdery MSG soup bases are now delicious fresh spice pastes.
My personal favorite are the Laksa noodles from Prima Taste. They are amazing. Laksa is rich coconut and seafood curry noodle soup beloved in Singapore and Malaysia, and this instant version actually does it justice. The laksa paste is moist and the flavors fresh, and there is a separate pack of coconut cream you stir in to get the scrumptious creamy soup. We topped it off with our single-pack SPAM (#5) and an egg (#4). Let me tell you, nothing hits the spot on a chilly night like a thick coconut curry broth.
3. Double-check your cooking equipment. Obviously, we did not. We were careful in all our packing but somehow forgot the propane control knob for our cookstove. Luckily, we learned (through a desperate late-night search) that rangers in these parts often have spare propane stoves, and that saved us from 4 days of eating raw instant noodles and cold SPAM. So should you find yourself without a cook fire, ask a friendly ranger! I also learned that there are emergency stores of food left in bear boxes by their ranger sheds, often by campers that took too much food and did not want to hike up 4,000ft with extra cans of beans.
4. Hard-boiled eggs can last at least 5 days. I researched a lot about eggs prepping for this trip. As a great source of protein, they make a great camp food, but we didn’t want the hassle of raw eggs and cooking oil. But hard-boiling eggs removes the protection the uncooked shells provide against bacteria and thus should be eaten soon after cooking. (On a side note, North Americans are the only people I know that refrigerate eggs – most countries store them room temperature, but here they wash/exfoliate the eggs so much a protective layer is removed and they need to be refrigerated. That seems like a lot of hassle to me to clean shells that are just tossed.) I think the best way to preserve eggs for camping is to hard-boil them, then immediately wrap the cooked eggs, still in their shells, in plastic wrap to prevent bacteria from entering. That’s what we did, and they still tasted good after 5 days, and no one got food poisoning.
5. Vacuum-sealed trash and food are your friends. For those of you that don’t peruse the grocery aisles with the same intense interest I do, some canned meats like tuna and SPAM (!) are now available in single-serving vacuum packs. Great camping food, as the packs are used for one meal and there’s no storage question, and they fold up small for trash removal, and unlike my childhood camping trips, no one has to draw straws to be the one to drink the tuna can oil to stave off curious bears.
Similarly, bring a couple of giant ziplock freezer bags for your garbage. We had to pack out all our garbage from the Canyon, and putting all our garbage in the ziplock bags meant not only could we squeeze extra air out and pack it as a flat vacuum-sealed pack, it prevented any leaks or smells. I love my ziplock.
To be honest, the biggest take away is that everything and anything – old eggs, SPAM, or goo – tastes amazing after a grueling hike, and when eaten under some of the most stunning views in America.