Today’s topic is food – specifically, what we packed and consumed on our 6-night, 7-day trek along the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island.
As the self-appointed quartermaster of our little foursome, I started researching some tasty, not too heavy, somewhat nutritious, and quick to cook options that wouldn’t go bad after seven days in a soggy backpack. Here’s what I came up with.
Breakfast is a no brainer: oatmeal (much to poor Cedric’s chagrin).
Quick oats expand, like, five-fold when you add water, so a little makes a lot (we brought one large ziploc back, which yielded 24 breakfasts – but could have stretched to 28 if we hadn’t all had heaping portions on the last day). It’s hot, filling, and you only have to boil one big pot of water to make it come to life.
Because oatmeal on its own is the blandest thing on earth, I brought along an assortment of toppings: raisins, coconut, dried apples, brown sugar, and cinnamon. This adds a little extra weight (especially the raisins), but it’s the difference between enjoying breakfast and merely stomaching it.
We used the rest of the boiled water for hot chocolates, teas, and coffees.
Purists bemoan the presence of Chez Monique’s and the Crab Shack along the West Coast Trail. Yes, there are food establishments along the trail that offer piping hot meals at sky high prices. No, nature didn’t put them there. My take on it is that there are plenty of total wilderness trekking options on this great planet; let the people of the West Coast Trail enjoy their $25 burger if they choose to do so. Don’t want it? Don’t buy it!
All this to say that we conveniently planned our days so that we hit both the Crab Shack and Chez Monique’s right around lunch time, meaning there were two fewer lunches to pack. Full review on the fare later.
When we weren’t spoiled with freshly caught Dungeness crab, we ate bagels with peanut butter and jam. I used to bring rye bread on back country trips, but bagels are less likely to squish. The downside is they take up more room, but they’re light and their volume will force you to pack less useless stuff. We ate our last bagel lunch on Day 6 and there was no sign of mold.
A note on the jam: I had a heck of a time finding jam in a non-glass container. Solution: I bought a small container of Nutella, which comes in a plastic container, emptied the Nutella into a mostly empty larger Nutella container that we already had on hand, and transferred some strawberry jam into the small container. We didn’t have any issues with mold or anything.
For lunch snacks, I brought along some dried fruit (the President’s Choice orchard mix, mmm) and we had chocolate covered almonds with Phil’s birthday lunch.
Dinner is where things got fun. I wanted to try my hand at dehydrating foods, but I don’t own a dehydrator. It turns out you can do it in your oven: simply set it to its lowest heat (mine is 170 degrees), line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and spread a thin layer of the food on the baking sheet. Prop the door of the oven open with a wooden spoon or an oven mitt, and keep the fan on for circulation.
- This probably uses way more energy than a dehydrator.
- Patience is required. It took about 8 to 10 hours to dehydrate two baking sheets worth of food in the oven. You have to be home all day, and you have to resist the temptation of turning your oven up to speed things along (evidently, it doesn’t work that way).
- Not all food products dehydrate equally. Similar sized substances work best. I read that it’s preferable to dehydrate meat separately, but we stuck with veggie options.
Here’s what I dehydrated, from worst to best:
- My Favourite Vegan Chili (it’s actually called that, but it really is my favourite). The beans didn’t rehydrate properly, so the middles were a little hard. It was still good. We served it with instant rice.
- Pasta sauce. I picked up some jars of pasta sauce with chunks of veggies (I would have made my own but by this point I’d already devoted DAYS to dehydrating and didn’t have time left). We had this with spaghetti one night and it was great – super filling.
- Lentil soup. This one I got from a proper backpacking website and it is meant to be dehydrated. It was delicious. We had it with extra rice we had, but it would easily stand its own. Warning: this recipe took me two days to dehydrate (in two batches). See the evolution in the photos below.
- Hummus. I was so pleased with how this turned out! Hummus is the easiest and quickest to dehydrate. When rehydrated, it tastes exactly like – well – regular hummus. We had this our first night with some cured meats, crackers, and sharp cheddar cheese. We called this pepperoni night, and it was a favourite among our group. The boys found it surprisingly filling.
On two nights, we also had store bought back country friendly curry with instant rice. Message me if you want details.
I budgeted two chocolate bars each night for dessert for four people (half a bar per person). It was a worthy indulgence. We also had a chocolate mud slide dessert on Phil’s birthday – this is actually the only freeze-dried type backpacker food we had the entire time.
Since people are usually pretty passionate about their snacks of choice, I instructed everyone to take care of their own snacks. Here are some of the approaches we took:
- Cedric is a trail mix guy. We custom made some that was a Sierra mix base with plenty of cashews and Reese’s pieces.
- I love those mint chocolate protein Clif bars and had one a day as my snack (with a handful of Cedric’s trail mix every so often).
- Julian had a mix of trail mix and protein bars. And lots and lots of M&Ms. We put M&Ms in the oatmeal one morning – I do not advise this.
- Phil was the king of snacks. Luckily, he was also very generous with them. The MVP snack of the trip went to some phenomenal salmon jerky he picked up at the Goats on the Roof place in Coombs. He also brought a trail mix with wasabi peas. I couldn’t get enough of the wasabi peas on the trail, but then I bought some when I got home and, oddly, I couldn’t stomach them.
Other worthwhile snacks we brought are fruit leather bars, some beef jerky we got at the Squamish farmer’s market, and alcohol.
In conclusion, we did not go light on food – but we had four people to split it between, and our meals were as much about fun and flavour as they were about fuel. In hindsight, I would have brought smaller quantities of certain items, but I wouldn’t have made any major changes.
And that’s how we ate.
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