My backpacking meals were a mixture of freeze-dried (courtesy of http://www.packitgourmet.com), “normal” food (like granola) and homemade.
My breakfast was coffee (Starbucks Via pouches), and granola with dried cherries. As I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t think I really needed a full breakfast. Coffee was useful, both for waking up, and for getting the ol’ digestive system working. I tried mixing my granola with hot water, which turned it into a surprisingly good facsimile of oatmeal. But I don’t really like oatmeal.
One suggestion that I’ve heard and would like to try is to mix up a batch of eggs, tomatoes, onions, cheese, etc. and freeze it in a Nalgene bottle. It will have defrosted sufficiently by the second morning that you can make scrambled eggs without having to bring the actual eggs. Of course, this only works if you don’t have to worry about bears.
Lunch on my first day was just a normal Subway sandwich that I’d bought on my way up the mountain. I’d heard that it’s good to ease your way into backpacking food, by starting out with something relatively normal.
Lunch on my second day was pre-cooked, dehydrated pasta salad. The seasoning was from some random pasta salad mix. I cooked the pasta as one normally does at home, and then ran it through the dehydrator. About an hour before lunch, I added just enough water to the bag to cover it (triple-bagged, because they like to leak) and then continued hiking. By lunch time, the pasta had reabsorbed the water and was nicely al dente. All that remained was to drain any excess and mix in the seasoning and a pouch of salmon. The interesting thing about this technique is that it doesn’t appear possible to “overcook” the pasta by either adding too much water, or letting it reconstitute for too long. It won’t get any softer than the texture you originally cooked it to. (Some people like their pasta “al denture”; I am not one of these people.)
I had two trail dinners. One was a standard half-box of Annie’s Mac-n-Cheese, with a bit of hot sauce and tuna added (I wish I hadn’t added the tuna). It took a while to cook, just because it is actually cooking and not rehydrating, but otherwise turned out just fine. In the future, I’d probably go the route of my pasta salad, and pre-cook the pasta. (Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a source for general precooked pasta, of a variety of shapes, etc.)
My second dinner was the Big Easy Gumbo from PackIt Gourmet. And it was excellent. The only problem I had was with it still being a bit crunchy at the end of the recommended cooking time; while all the vegetables had rehydrated, the chicken needed more time. In the end, I think the recommended cooking times are just that, recommendations, and that, as with any cooking, you have to follow your common sense and taste buds. Still crunchy? Cook longer. But again, that was my failing. This stuff tastes like real gumbo. The vegetables turn from weird chalky crunchy bits into real cooked vegetables (and the okra thankfully lose their sliminess in the process). A packet of Tabasco sauce was included, but I found the gumbo spicy enough without it (yes, I know, it’s because I’m white).
(I’ve since tried a few other PackIt gourmet dinners, along with one Mountain House, and both confirmed my suspicion that you have to adjust the cooking time.)
Left-over food is a problem that you really shouldn’t have, but probably will have when you’re starting out (like me). I didn’t really know how big of portions to bring or make, and, of course, the pre-packaged meals can’t easily be divided up. On two occasions I had leftovers that were substantial enough to worry about: breakfast (granola) and dinner (broth left over from the gumbo). Again, I stress that this was a failing on my part, and in the future I aim to moderate my portions. Still, at the time, the question was how to dispose of it?
There are two basic options: the ideal is to treat it as trash (with an odor) and pack it out, in your bear canister. The second choice, much less ideal, is to bury it like other human waste. I gave the burying option a try, and it really is not effective at keeping your leftovers away from animals. The next morning there was a tidy little hole, exactly where I’d dug mine and buried my leftovers. You may think you’ve concealed it well, but remember, animals can smell. So try not to have leftovers, and if you do, treat them like trash to be packed out.
Everyone will tell you that water is very important, and they’re right! But at the same time, the old idea that you have to drink six or eight or however many cups of water per day is basically a myth. It’s important to have water available to you. I had two or three sources: my water bladder (2.5L), which stayed in my main pack, a 1L water bottle that I carried in my daypack, and a 1.5L pouch dedicated to unfiltered water, that I sometimes filled and carried with me if I wasn’t sure where the next water source would be. All told, I could carry almost 5L of water, if necessary, although usually I only carried 2-3L.
My water filter was the full-sized Sawyer Squeeze. I have the Sawyer Mini as well, but the Squeeze only weighs an ounce or two more, and filters water much faster (and with less work on my part). It will also go much longer between cleanings (backflushing is how both the Squeeze and Mini are cleaned). The only downside to either is that you can’t let them freeze with water in them, but it never got close to freezing. (If it does, just sleep with the filter in your sleeping bag.) I carried AquaMira as a backup filtration option.
Note that the pouches that come with the Sawyer filters are very hard to fill; they like to collapse when you submerge them rather than fill with water. The Evernew is somewhat better. The best option is to use a hard-sided water bottle (with compatible threads to the Sawyer) like a SmartWater bottle, but I was already using such a bottle for filtered water, and was worried about getting them mixed up. Plus, the Evernew pouch can be collapsed when empty; a water bottle always takes up the same volume, empty or full.
Did I mention Nido is disgusting?