At home, where I have a fully array of kitchen tools — e.g. measuring spoons and cups, multiple pots and pans, and dish rags and soap — and where there is some consideration for the “dining experience,” executing perfectly a breakfast or dinner recipe is very feasible, and in fact expected. When backpacking, however, I have far fewer tools available and I’m much more concerned with convenience and pure nourishment than mealtime ambiance.
Hence why, regardless of the dish and its recommended serving style, I make every backcountry meal a soup or gruel. The advantages:
1. It’s easy to heat up more than enough water
Without a measuring cup or scale, it’s difficult to know exactly how much water is in the pot. Some pots have engraved markings, but they are accurate only if the pot is level and they are useful only if the exact amount of required water is known. Commercial freeze-dried and dehydrated meals will include specific instructions on the the packaging, but my preference — DIY backpacking recipes — will not.
2. Lower burn risk, and thus easier cleanup
We have all done it: burned a meal in a pot or dish. The usual culprits include distractions, too little water, and too high of heat — conditions that normally exist in a backcountry kitchen. The associated cleanup is a complete hassle, even at home. With soups and gruels, the risk of a burnt meal declines considerably, making the post-meal cleanup reliably easier.
It’s rarely discouraged to ingest additional water when backpacking, and soupy breakfasts and dinners offer a convenient opportunity to get more hydrated. Even if you were borderline hyponatremic, the meal’s saltiness would completely negate the additional 4 or 8 oz of water in the pot, and then some.
4. Body warmth
Especially in cool and cold conditions, a big steaming hot pot of cheesy potatoes or bean soup goes a long way in warming me up. If the meal were only half the volume, not so much, even if the calorie content was the same. By keeping my body warm through external means, my body can use its energy on other tasks, like recovering overnight or hiking hard during the day.
5. The meal lasts longer
While I always try to carry enough food to sustain my energy level, I rarely have more than enough. By adding extra water to all of my meals, it makes them last longer, and both my body and my mind are tricked into thinking that I’m eating more than I actually am.