Grand Canyon Birthday Trek: Trail Cooking Guest Post!

Hoh Rainforest Campsite, Washington

Hey Everybody! Welcome to the first guest post on the Blonde Coyote! I’m all for dividing up trip planning duties so I handed over meal planning to my adventure-partner-in-crime Drew, who’s a much better cook than I:

I can’t hike on an empty stomach. I need food for my adventures, but I don’t like to think of it as just simple fuel to power me down the trail. There’s something about taking a break from a hard hike that makes food taste so much more delicious and it turns simple trail meals into events that I look forward to all day. There’s no question that a tasty menu can make a trip dramatically more enjoyable, but there aren’t any grocery stores at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, so good planning is a necessity.

When I’m planning the menu for a trip like the one we’re taking into the Canyon, there are a handful of factors that I have to take into account immediately — the heat source, the availability of water, the amount of weight that we’re willing to carry, and the volume of the ingredients.

Eastman Lake Campsite, California

Since fires aren’t allowed in the Grand Canyon, we’ll have to do all of our cooking on a camp stove. To keep weight down, we’re just bringing a JetBoil instead of a full stove. That means all the cooking has to be done with boiling water. Since we’ll be able to refill our water supply during the trip, we don’t have to worry about using it to cook. This means we can use dehydrated ingredients and dry carbohydrates and that helps us keep the weight down. If a meal requires some heavier ingredients, we’ll just make sure that it gets eaten early in the trip.

The volume of the ingredients is an important consideration for this trip because we’ll be storing our food in a portable bear canister to keep it safe from the Canyon’s infamously ravenous rodents. Nothing ruins your meal plans faster than mice or packrats nibbling their way through your supplies. While the protection is important, it does limit the amount of space we have for food.

White Sands Campsite, New Mexico

I like to get ideas for meals from Backpacker Magazine’s Dirtbag Gourmet columns and JetBoil’s website. I almost always end up modifying them to fit my personal tastes or to account for any dietary restrictions, but they’re a great place to start.

One of the general tricks that I’ll use all the time is using herbs and spices to provide lots of flavor without adding much appreciable weight. Just measure them into zip-top bags ahead of time and they can be stashed in the most over-stuffed pack.

Savage Gulf Campsite, Tennessee

In addition to the meals, we’ll have plenty of snacks for munching on while we hike. Everyone has their favorite backpacking snack, but I’m partial to dried mango and you can’t go wrong with a classic trail mix. I think ours is craisins, M&Ms, and cereal. Our breakfasts and lunches are going to be things like oatmeal and PB&J sandwiches — things that are simple and quick to prepare. Dinner is the time for making bigger meals that require more prep work because you don’t have to worry about the impending nightfall. Here are a couple of the new dinner recipes we’ll be trying out on this trip:

Chicken Avocado Tacos

4 small tortillas
1 foil packet of chicken
1 small onion
Cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon of chili powder
A pinch of cayenne pepper
1 Avocado

At Home
Dice the onion and store it in a zip-top bag along with the spices.

On the Trail
Dice the avocado and add it the bag with the onion and spices. Seal the bag and roll it between your hands to break down the avocado until it’s your desired consistency. I like to aim for something reminiscent of guacamole — a thick paste with some visible chunks remaining. Put some chicken into a tortilla, add the avocado-onion mixture, and top with a few pieces of cheese. Enjoy!

The avocado won’t holdup to being bounced around a backpack for several days, so this is a perfect candidate for the first dinner of the trip.

Pacific Crest Trail Resupply Store, California

Rice and Chicken

1 cup of instant rice
2 tablespoons dried onion flakes
1 packet of chicken
½ teaspoon sage
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

At Home
Mix the rice and spices together in a zip-top bag.

On the Trail
Bring a cup of water to boil in the JetBoil and then add the bag of rice and spices. Turn the heat down and simmer the rice until it’s tender and the water is absorbed. Mix in the chicken. The heat from the cooked rice will warm the chicken very quickly.

Rice is a fantastic starting point for trail meals. It’s light, it cooks quickly, it’s filling, and it can be combined with an almost infinite number of other ingredients. This lets you create the illusion of variety without carrying a wide variety of carbohydrates.

Amy & Me, Bitterroot Mountains Campsite, Montana, moments after being bluff charged by an angry mother moose on the trail

Mac and Cheese

1 box of mac and cheese
4 tablespoons of powdered milk

At Home
Take the dry noodles out of the box and store them in a zip-top bag.

On the Trail
Cook the pasta according to the directions. Once they’re ready, transfer them back to the zip-top bag, and add the cheese packet. Seal the bag and squeeze it between your hands to mix everything together. This saves you the trouble of cleaning cheese sauce out of your JetBoil.

There’s no shame in using pre-made meals on the trail. Mac and cheese is cheap, light, and tasty. Truth be told, instant ramen is still one of my all-time favorite backpacking meals, but mac and cheese is at least one step above that on the Respectability Scale.

Nothing will ever top our amazing Inca Trail porters baking us a cake on the trail at 10,000 feet above sea level!

Those are a couple of the meals we’ll be having while we explore the Canyon. I honestly have no idea how my menu will pan out, but I’m really not worried about it. Some chefs will tell you that hunger is the best sauce. If that’s true, hiking all day should certainly work up enough of an appetite to make anything that we throw together taste good.

Personally, I think the great addition will be the landscape. It’s hard to imagine not enjoying what we’re eating when we can look up from the plate and see one of the greatest natural wonders in the world all around us.

Grand Canyon Sunset. Not a bad backdrop, no matter what's for dinner!

Check out my previous Grand Canyon posts: On Turning 30Planning & Permits, Winter Backpacking, Packing For Backpacking and stay tuned for another on my Grand Canyon Road Trip!

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
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5 Responses to Grand Canyon Birthday Trek: Trail Cooking Guest Post!

  1. azsoap says:

    I love that first campsite. The mossy greenness is spectacular to my desert eyes.

  2. Pingback: Grand Canyon Birthday Trek: AZ Road Trip! « Travels with the Blonde Coyote

  3. I lived in Montana for about 13 years. I studied law and practiced in the state Capitol of Helena. I love this state! There is so much beauty there that sometimes it seems unreal. Looking at it, it is like you disappear. That’s the only way I can describe it. I am glad that you got to see part of the state.

    Deb Harten-Moore

  4. Pingback: What Does the Blonde Coyote Eat & Drink On the Road? | Travels with the Blonde Coyote

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