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Food - the fuel of a canoe trip


Food can be the highlight of a canoe trip. Food is something to look forward to while battling a strong headwind, or carrying a load across a portage. It is amazing how good food (and lots of it) can compensate for wet, cold weather, long days, and adverse conditions. Some people use the Kraft dinner approach while camping, and others may challenge themselves by cooking as elegantly as they do at home: either approach is fine, so long as one remembers that a group travels on its stomach. It is to the happiness of these stomachs that this section is dedicated.

Ingredient packing vs. pre-packing

The two basic approaches to wilderness cooking
Everyone who has ever gone canoeing has a different approach to cooking. At one extreme are the people who pack the raw ingredients separately, combining them only as they are cooking. At the other end of the spectrum are those who design a day-by-day menu and prepackage each meal, or its ingredients, in a separate bag. Every camp chef, no matter what his or her preferred mode of cooking, should remember to have some extra food on hand in case the group gets windbound (one extra day's food for every 5-7 days of trip is about right).

Ingredient packing is good if you are a confident chef who can innovate with basic ingredients to produce many different dishes. Accurate guesstimation of quantities is an essential skill in this approach. Flour from a large bag might end up in pancakes, bannock, soup dumplings, and in a thickened white sauce. Similarly, your supply of sausage might end up in stews, on pizzas and being eaten with crackers. Campers skilled at this method of food preparation often buy most of their food on the way to put-in, a real timesaver when preparations are rushed.

Packaging all your meals ahead of time is advantageous if you are planning on travelling long distances with little time for culinary exploration: the thinking, planning, and packaging is all done ahead of time and all you do on the trail is add water and cook. It is possible to prepare food for a month-long trip by packing 30 breakfasts, 30 lunches, 30 dinners and 30 days worth of snacks. The mixing and bagging of ingredients will probably take the better part of a day. The use of commercially available freeze-dried meal packages is an example of pre-packing, but with little bit of effort you can produce meals as good as, or better than, commercial packages. Most campers end up using a few store- bought packages for variety, as well as carrying a few basic ingredients (salt, pepper, spices, powdered cheese, drinks, etc.) with which to augment meals.

Some dishes that you can pre-pack into a single plastic bag include:

Fresh foods on a canoe trip

Is there a role for fresh fruits and veggies on a canoe trip?
Fresh food, whether it be vegetables, fruit or meat, is heavy and prone to spoilage. Because of this, most canoeists rely primarily on dry foods (see basic ingredients). A few fresh items, however, can contribute greatly towards livening up a camp menu without adding a significant amount of weight. How much fresh stuff you can take will depend on 1) the length of you trip, 2) the amount and difficulty of portages, 3) the amount of whitewater in your itinerary, and 4) the expected pace of the trip. Usually campers liven up the first few days of a trip with fresh food, relying increasingly on dried foods as the trip progresses.

Here are some fresh foods that keep well on a canoe trip. How long they last depends to some extent on how they are packaged and how hot the weather is

  • Onion and garlic
  • Cabbage and carrots (heavy, but will last at least a week, possibly two or three)
  • Hamburger meat (freeze solid, double bag, and eat within 2 days)
  • Apples and oranges (package to minimise bruising)
  • Turnips, potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes
  • Eggs broken into a clean plastic jar will keep till the following morning
  • Bean sprouts made on the trail: mixes are available at most health food stores. This takes a bit of work but consider it something to shoot for.

Fishing and foraging

How to live off the land in Saskatchewan

Every experienced canoeist has stories about running into a group of novice paddlers who thought that roots, berries, fish and the occasional rabbit would suffice for trail food. Living off the land is not an option for several reasons.

  • Foraging wild edibles is a skill that takes many years to develop and cannot be learned from a book.
  • The knowledge required is also area-specific: being able to gather the occasional wild salad in southern Canada is quite different from trying to feed oneself wholly from the northern forest.
  • It takes about 20 pounds of fish a day to fulfil an average person's metabolic requirements; in cold weather caloric requirements can double (up to 4000 or 5000 calories a day). It is very difficult to get enough energy from a diet of fish and edible greens!

Another good reason to minimise wild edibles in your diet is the impact on the land. The wilderness simply cannot sustain the anywhere near the current number of canoeists if even a fraction of them go around digging tubers, picking leaves, and denuding bushes. Don't love the wilderness to death! If, on the other hand, you are confident in your plant identification abilities augmenting your diet with a handful of wild berries or a cup of wild tea can enrich your wilderness experience. Treat wild food as a treat or novelty and not as a mainstay of your diet.

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Page creation by Rebecca Kennel Consulting
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Modified on 06 Aug 2008