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My new 14,000-word e-book about backpacking food

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A few minutes ago I uploaded a 14,000-word manuscript to FedEx Office. I’ll be giving away free paper copies of it later this week at Outdoor Retailer at the Sierra Designs booth — swing on by!

This manuscript is entirely about backpacking food: what and how much to pack, trail-tested stoves with which to cook it, and how to store and protect it; it also includes seven of my favorite recipes. I pulled together this “pre-edition” in two days, mostly by consolidating content that I had developed previously for this website, an SD LIVE webinar, and personal use. There is some new content as well, including a thorough explanation of why I often sleep on my food and why I never throw bear hangs.

My original thought was that this content would be a viable e-book. But with it already at 14,000 words, and with some obvious missing content (e.g. my winter backpacking stove system and two additional breakfast recipes), I’m starting to think that it may be worthy as a paper book.

To help gauge public interest, I’ve made the PDF available for immediate download for just $5. Order it now.

Is it worth $5? If you’re not an avid reader of my blog and/or if you want a consolidated resource about backpacking food, then yes. If you’re intimately familiar with my blog and/or you’re willing to spend some time tracking down the content, then maybe not, although there is some “bonus content” in this e-book that is not yet available elsewhere.

Table of Contents

Introduction

  • “Pre-edition”
  • Backpacking style

Part 1: Rations

  • Challenges
  • Amounts
  • Types
  • Coffee

Part 2: Recipes

  • How many recipes do you need?
  • A case for soups and gruels
  • Ingredient information & sourcing
  • Cheesy Potatoes
  • Oatmeal with Fixings
  • Beans & Rice with Fritos & Cheese
  • Curry Couscous
  • Polenta & Peppers
  • Pesto Noodles
  • Thai Peanut Noodles

Part 3: Stove Systems

  • Overview
  • Fuel preferences
  • Shared selections
  • Gear lists
  • The Dirtbag
  • The Cadillac
  • Hot & Heavy

Part 4: Storage & Protection

  • Avoidance
  • Protection methods

Introduction

I did not grow up in a backpacking family, and I never received any formal backpacking instruction. Instead, I learned to backpack the hard way: by making mistakes.

The list of my food-related mistakes is especially long. Four highlights:

  1. At the start of my second-ever backpacking trip — a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2002 — my stove system weighed over four pounds, or eight times the weight of my preferred system now. It included a liquid fuel stove, two stainless steel pots (1.5L and 2L) with a lid, a full set of utensils, a bowl and plate, plus a few more extraneous items. Despite having resupply opportunities within a few days, I was also carrying 16 oz of fuel, enough to last nearly a month.
  1. On a thru-hike of the 480-mile Colorado Trail in 2004, I underestimated my caloric needs by about 25 percent. In sixteen days I lost about ten pounds, and I spent most of the southern half of the trail daydreaming about food. My energy level was chronically low, and big climbs were especially brutal. In Durango, I had the best burrito of my life.
  1. That fall, while passing through New York’s Adirondack High Peaks as part of my Sea-to-Sea Route hike, I ignorantly buried my leftovers from an unpalatable dinner (a DIY entree of couscous with rosemary, without any salt, olive oil, or other spices) in the firepit. Naturally, a black bear visited the shelter that night, pushed aside easily some rocks and ash, and had a feast. Because of my stupidity (and that of others), hard-sided bear canisters are now required in the High Peaks.
  1. On one of my first guided trips, in 2011, for several breakfasts I supplied the clients with cream of wheat and butter. That’s it; no sugar, berries, nuts, or even extra salt. This “recipe” was not a crowd-pleaser, and in hindsight I should have considered more the context when I had grown fond of it — on a 6-month, 4,700-mile loop around Alaska and Yukon by skis, foot, and packraft. Indeed, hunger is the best seasoning.

My goal in publishing Backpacking Food is to help you have a better and mistake-free food experience on your next trip. It offers recommendations on the types and amounts of food to pack. It includes recipes for seven hearty but simple breakfasts and dinners. It describes in detail three trail-tested 3-season stove systems. And, finally, it discusses the pros and cons of various food storage and protection methods.

24 Responses to My new 14,000-word e-book about backpacking food

  1. gary January 6, 2016 at 6:26 pm #

    Andrew, I’m going to school in Salt Lake and would love to swing by and say hi. What days are you going to be at the show?!

    • Andrew Skurka January 6, 2016 at 7:42 pm #

      I’ll be there on Friday all day, and Saturday morning. If you have an entrance pass, come on by on Friday afternoon for a happy hour and raffle at the SD booth.

  2. William January 7, 2016 at 5:09 pm #

    Just started reading the e-book and got to the section on coffee. Have you had occasion to try the Coffee Thins that are now being sold at Walmart. Apparently, these have no chocolate in them, though they would appear to be chocolate wafers. It seems that they process the coffee beans much the same as they do the cocoa bean to make the wafers. At around 40 cents apiece, they are not cheap, but not horribly expensive, either.

    • Andrew Skurka January 7, 2016 at 9:44 pm #

      No experience with them. They sound like might be more enjoyable to eat than caffeine pills, though!

      • William January 8, 2016 at 7:26 am #

        I’ve tried several different flavors and they don’t seem bad. I grabbed a package of Hazelnut flavor when I intended to get French Vanilla and I don’t care too much for Hazelnut coffee. The other flavors just seem to taste like strong coffee. Not too sweet and not gritty, unlike my attempts to incorporate coffee in chocolate. It may be possible to blend the coffee thins with dark chocolate, but I’m not sure that there is any point in it. Since the thins use fat as a binder, I would suspect that they have the same high temperature limitations as chocolate.

  3. Tim January 8, 2016 at 7:53 am #

    How about offering it in a more e-reader friendly format than PDF?

    • Andrew Skurka January 8, 2016 at 9:17 am #

      Plan to. The PDF was super quick and easy, and its sales have given me the chance to gauge interest, which is definitely there. It will be worth it to me to add to what I have and to offer it in different formats, eg Kindle.

  4. Scott January 8, 2016 at 9:10 am #

    Even if the info is available, I’m happy to pay $5 to show appreciation for your effort.

    Quick question in the meantime. The product description describes this as a “pre-edition”. Will we receive the updated edited/polished PDF whenever it is completed?

    Thanks!

    • Andrew Skurka January 8, 2016 at 9:15 am #

      There will probably be a Pre-Edition v2, and you will be updated to it. Beyond that, it depends on where the project goes. If Nat Geo were to publish it as they did my Gear Guide, you would have to re-up your purchase with them. But at that point you would be getting way more so it would be worth it.

  5. Ryan January 9, 2016 at 10:42 am #

    You might consider combining this cooking information in a larger techniques book featuring chapters on dealing with the fringe season, navigation, trip planning, group vs solo travel, backcoutry technology and communication etc. Further–if you combined that with a new edition of the gear guide you would have your own “Complete Walker by Colin Fletcher” type book. I don’t know if an ultralight style backpacking guide can ever become the new “quintessential backpacking guide” because it is ultralight and people like their stuff, but I bet it would do well.

    • Andrew Skurka January 10, 2016 at 10:06 pm #

      I’ve considered writing a manifesto, but haven’t committed to it yet. Topics are a bit more approachable when broken down, maybe along the lines of “Everything you need to know before you go” (gear, food, maps) and “Everything you need to know as you go” (skills). We’ll see.

      I don’t consider myself an “ultralight backpacker” or my content to be about “ultralight backpacking.” Rather, I’m simply embracing the evolution of backpacking gear and skills. Backpacking is the only activity I can think of that considers it okay to backpack like it’s still 1980. Can you imagine if the ski industry still considered it okay to use 200-cm skinny skis and leather boots for alpine skiing?

  6. Gordon January 25, 2016 at 11:06 am #

    Just got my copy. It’s the Right Thing to do. 😉

  7. Marsha Matsuura March 30, 2016 at 5:46 pm #

    Hi Andrew,

    I have been prepping food for hiking the Southern Section of PCT trip with my husband using your e-book. I love it. I have tried many different approaches to backpacking meals, dehydrating foods, baking pizzas in a backpacking stove, you name it. I have tried a few of your recipes and they are very palatable. I like weighing it out, prepackaging it and repeating meals I like. I am a big fan of Fritos so you won me with that recipe and I endorse your criteria, taste, weight, simplicity!

    My question is about including the peanut butter mix in resupply boxes–how long do you think it would hold up? I’d like to include the Thai Peanut Noodles for some later meals but am a little leery of sending the mix in resupply boxes. What do you think?

    • Andrew Skurka March 30, 2016 at 7:13 pm #

      Glad it’s proven to be good info you for you.

      Only two ingredients in the sauce are NOT almost indefinitely shelf-stable: lime juice and soy sauce. Once the container is opened, shelf-stability is still measured in months, however, not days. Read more: lime juice, soy sauce.

      I’m unclear if and how the chemistry of these ingredients, or the others in the recipe, change when they are mixed together. Given the amount of salt in the recipe, I’d have to think that a month or two without refrigeration should be okay, so long as it’s stored in a cool environment. If you try it out, let me know how it goes.

    • Megan September 7, 2017 at 9:56 pm #

      😜I still have my old leather boots and 180 cm skinny skis! Perhaps I should catch up…

  8. Nicolas April 5, 2016 at 7:21 pm #

    Hello Andrew,

    Thank you very much for putting together this thoughtful resource. I am planning my MTR resupply bucket for a JMT thru-hike this July. The food must not spoil for 4-6 weeks.

    Which of your recipes would you advise to pack in the resupply? (Cheese powder instead of solid cheese, Thai peanut sauce dry mix, …) And what would you recommend to pack for lunch? (flat breads may spoil)

    I am also considering alternatively dehydrating my own meals, but there are issues with fats going rancid in a couple of weeks among other things. What are your thoughts on this option? (Worth the trouble?)

    Much appreciated. I very look forward to the 1st edition, and hope that you’ve been receiving some good feedback.

    Nicolas

    • Andrew Skurka April 6, 2016 at 8:17 am #

      1. Avoid normal cheese. Parmesan is fine, as is cheese powder.

      2. Lunch ideas are included in the e-book. If you pack beef jerky, do not open the packages until you pick them up. Items that could stale after 4-6 weeks (e.g. chips or cookies) might be best kept in their original packaging, and then divided at MTR.

      3. I never dehydrate food items. Not worth the hassle when you need large quantities.

  9. doug April 17, 2016 at 12:34 pm #

    Ordered, thanks man!

  10. BigRed May 22, 2016 at 6:28 am #

    I bought the book and have tried a few recipes in prep for a Wind River hike this summer. Love the Thai Peanut Noodles!
    One thing that occurred to me — weight is the right measurement unit for calorie and weight planning, but in the field there is no good way to weigh out ingredients. Unless every ingredient is weighed out beforehand, volume would be a better way to go for the final assembly. The conversion is easy for liquids (olive oil) but unique for each dry ingredient, probably best established by weighing known volumes (or vice versa). So in the final version you might consider going to the trouble of adding volumes for each ingredient.
    And I’ll put in a vote for metric weights (and volumes). Much easier to work with when recalibrating or scaling up recipes and ingredients. And knowing that sugar/simple carbs give 3.6 cal/g gives a good standard for everything else. (But I’m a biologist and have lived in Europe for nigh on 14 years, so I work and play in metric all the time…)

  11. Andreas Bielefeldt June 24, 2016 at 12:21 am #

    Hi Andrew!
    I bought this eBook in January, without actually downloading the file from the link in the e-mail (Can send proof). Now the link has expired. Are my money lost or can you send me a fresh link?

    Best regards,
    Andreas

    • Andrew Skurka June 24, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

      Sure thing. I will look for your order as soon as I post this, and extend your access.

      • Andreas Bielefeldt June 24, 2016 at 12:52 pm #

        Thanks a lot!

  12. Boyan September 4, 2016 at 10:55 pm #

    So… in the book you say 2500+/- 250 calories per day, but in the Google lecture that is on youtube you mention the number 3000. Is the stuff in the book for us weekend warriors and the 3000+ for the hardcore folk?

    • Andrew Skurka September 5, 2016 at 8:18 am #

      2500 +/- is the better number. Based on all the guided trips I ran between the Google video and this ebook, 3k would be more appropriate for a hard-charging, young, male who is out for a week or longer.

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