This page covers some of the basics of cooking when camping in canyon country.
Think about the cooking equipment that you use at home and then shift your thinking to the outdoors. You'll be using the same items car camping in canyon country that you use at home. Backpacking requires a reevaluation of your cooking needs.
Some folks take along household utensils as they need them, while others have full sets of pots and pans and plates and bowels and utensils that are reserved for camping. It depends on how often you intend to camp and what your finances can handle.
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Clean as you go, especially at dinner. You don't want to scrub by flashlight. Recycle boiling water from pasta and other similar uses to soak heavily soiled pans. And relax. Everything gets dirty when you camp. So don't sweat it.
Use a biodegradable soap and carry it in a small plastic container. Don't take along more than you need to save weight. Choose environmentally friendly cleansers and follow package directions for use and disposal, especially near water sources.
If you will be cooking out on the trail, you will need to wash up your pots and pans and utensils. A typical home style dish cloth and drying towel work as well as anything. In this case, though, the smaller and lighter the better.
You can wash your dishes and utensils in the largest pot or pan that you take along if that works for you and you want to go really light. We have found an inflatable plastic "sink" that compresses down to almost nothing and blows up to hold our largest pots. It just seems to speed up this evening chore so that we can have more time to enjoy the scenery ... like those mulies over there, making their way through the trees.
Many national and state parks do not allow open fires or the building of fire pits in the backcountry, especially in the dry season when the danger of wild fires is high. Either take foods that do not have to be heated, or take along a small backpacker's stove. There are many designs on the market and everyone seems to have their own preferences.
When backpacking we have used the Coleman Peak 1 white gas stove for many years and have had little or no trouble with it. It is heavier than some, but it is a rugged, easy to use stove and produces a lot of heat quickly. For longer hikes, when you know you will be doing a lot of cooking or boiling water, you may need to take an extra cylinder of white gas. A SIG bottle works well and if you look you will be able to find a cap with a pour spout on it that makes the transfer of the fuel easy, with little mess.
Also, choose quick-cooking items to save fuel. To cook meat or vegetables quickly, cut them into small pieces. Plan something simple for the first night.
For car camping we have been using the same three burner Coleman stove since 1971. We have, however, converted it from white gas to propane. A simple process that just requires the purchase of a propane generator to replace the white gas model. Always follow the stove manufacturer's instructions for safe operation.
A good ice chest is also valuable to keep your fresh foods from spoiling in the midday heat.
A variety of compact, lightweight fork, spoon and knife sets are available in sporting good stores, or you can grab a set from your silverware drawer. Depending upon your meal selection, you may or may not choose to bring all of the pieces of your set. Especially when backpacking, the less weight you have to worry about, the better.
For cooking you can use your spoon or fork or bring along a long handled spoon, again depending upon your needs. Remember to bring a small can opener if necessary. There are small military type can openers available for a few cents and they can be stored with your utensils for easy access when needed.
When camping, use paper towels to cushion pots and pans; they'll also come in handy for cleanup. Aluminum foil is also good to have around for cooking and other uses.
We have plastic drinking cups with measurements inscribed along the edges that work well for both drinking and cooking. But often we like to take our aluminum "Sierra" cups along. There is something especially enjoyable about drinking fresh, cool spring water from an aluminum cup.
Lightweight aluminum pots, pans, plates and bowls seem to work the best, especially those that are designed to nest within each other to save space. This is another case where you will want to select only those pots and pans that you will need for a specific meal. There is no sense in carrying extra weight when it can be avoided.
Everyone has their preference for containing their drinking water supply. There are bottles with wide mouths, narrow mouths, plastic tubes or straws. Select a container that suits your needs. Most often we use wide mouthed one quart Nalgene bottles. They don't seem to absorb the flavor of electrolyte drinks as readily as some other plastic bottles, and they don't give the water a plastic taste. These are rugged bottles that stand up to time, abuse, and can be placed in the freezer with fear of splitting. See Potable Water.
When car camping you should also bring along one or more plastic water containers, something in the range of five to six gallons. The type with a pour spout work best. In many campgrounds their are one or only a few fresh water spigots. It's often more convenient to fill a container that you can use in your own camp.
|Personal Note: One thing that we've done is to use an old pair of wool socks as insulation to keep the water or electrolyte drink cool on hot days. By dropping the bottle of cold drink into the sock, then placing within our packs at the beginning of the hike, we have cool drinks throughout most of the day, even on the hottest days. We have tried freezing a partial bottle of water and then topping it off with fresh water so that we have cold drinks all day long. But occasionally there was still a quantity of ice left near the end of the hike, with no water. We found we had to carry the bottle in the warm air to get the ice to melt so that we could drink it.|
It is best to boil most water taken from open streams, and especially lakes, even if the water looks clean and pure. Even springs, where the water is coming right out of the ground, can be contaminated by a variety of nasty little microscopic parasites like giardia and e. coli. Especially if the water source is accessible to livestock. By boiling the water most microscopic organisms are killed and the water is then safe to drink. However, boiled water often tastes funny.
This is no problem if you are thirsty or using the water for cooking, but if your just want a refreshing drink, you might want a more enjoyable treat. One of the new methods of avoiding the results of contaminated water is to use a modern filtering device. There are many types available. Do a little research and select a model that will work well for your needs.
By following the instructions carefully and taking all precautions, you should be able to drink your fill of the fresh, cool water without danger. See Potable Water.
Re-sealable bags, like Ziploc bags, come in handy for a variety of things, from sealing away wet wash clothes and damp socks to holding food items prior to meal preparation. It's always a good idea to take a few re-sealable bags along just in case. The make good containers for food scraps, paper waste of all sorts, and for keeping books, cameras, etc. dry during periods of rain. Use your imagination.
- Camping and Wilderness Survival
- Essential Guide to Wilderness Camping and Backpacking in the United States
- Backpacking Cookware
- Dutch Oven and Camp Cooking
A Red Rock Adventures site with articles and recipes on Dutch oven and general camp cooking.
- Eric's Ultralight Backpacking Page: Cookware
- How to Buy Backpacking Cookware
- How to Buy Camping Cookware
- How to Buy Camping Stoves and Cookware
- OA Guide to Water Purification
- Outdoor Gear Links
One of our internal pages, with links to commercial sites that offer a variety of camping equipment.
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