Winter Cooking is the second in a series on winter camping. If you missed the first post, start here.
When I went back to school for outdoor adventure, our first winter outing with Algonquin College took place towards the end of February / beginning of March. Our instructors gave us all day to set up survival shelters and create a camp comfortable enough in which to spend time. As we enjoy cooking, my friend and I spent some considerable time creating a sweet snow kitchen. Priorities, right?
Building the Kitchen
We had a counter to work on and my avalanche shovel as a base and heat barrier between the stove and the snowy counter. We dug out two seats and a dining table at which to enjoy our culinary creations. Cooking outdoors in the winter is not without its challenges. In the outdoors program we learned to cook on wire-framed, single-burner, MSR Whisperlites. In learning to cook on a stove we supported Leave No Trace principles and set ourselves up for success in dealing with fire bans that frequently occur during the summer months. The metal stoves and pots were obviously cold to the touch. We experimented with glove liners to cook, shoving our hands back in mitts once the stove was lit, windscreen was in place, and the snow was melting.
Best Stoves for Winter Cooking
Liquid fuel stoves such as the MSR Whisperlite are ideal for winter. The fuel is stored in a metal cannister which you pressurize with a pump and then attach to the fuel line of the stove. Because of the wide variety of stoves out there, be sure to read the instructions and test it out before you leave for a trip. I also take my repair kit with me on all trips and have learned to take apart the stove completely and put it back together, in case I need to repair it on the fly. For more information on what to consider when purchasing a stove, read this article. Plan for 6 to 15 ounces of fuel per person per day depending on the weather. Colder temperatures cause the stoves to run less efficiently.
Once comfortable with your stove you’re ready to plan some meals. Yum! My favorite part.
Planning for Calories
There’s a lot of good information out there about calculating how much energy you will expend and the number of calories you’ll need to replace. Try here for some really great winter nutrition information from the University of Minnesota. Aim to eat 25% of your calories for breakfast, 40-50% for lunch, and 25-35% for dinner.
On our snowshoe / backpacking expedition, if we needed to get moving quickly in the morning I typically started my day with coffee. Wait, that goes without saying. Every day starts with coffee. I typically started my day with a hearty serving of plain, quick oats loaded up with seeds, nuts, protein powder, and maybe a peanut butter M&M or two. Don’t judge. We boiled extra water/snow to fill thermoses for soup at lunch. If we had the time to start the day more leisurely, I’m a pancake master on a single-burner stove.
After we tore camp down and moved on for the day, I would snack on trail mix that I stashed in my other jacket pocket: dried fruit, mixed salted nuts, and my ubiquitous peanut butter M&M’s kept me going. When we stopped for a proper lunch I drank hot soup and ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that I had packed close to my body to keep it from freezing.
Once we arrived at a suitable location for camp we designated a cook area, a bathroom area, and pitched our tents a distance away from both. Then it was time to start dinner! One person would collect clean snow for melting and boiling (fine line between melting and burning snow!) while another would set up to cook.
One Winter Meal Idea
My favorite meal to get enough calories in and a good mix of protein, fats, and carbohydrates was a pasta dish that I have been perfecting:
– A cup and a half to two cups of brown rice penne per person.
– A half to a full chicken breast per person that I seasoned, sliced, and dehydrated at home in the oven. If you have a dehydrator – go for it!
– Eggplant and zucchini that I dehydrated at home.
– Lots of olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar, herbs and spices to taste.
– The trick (and the area where I am still perfecting my technique) is to boil just enough water to reconstitute the meat and veggies, cook the pasta, and form a wonderful sauce when the oil, vinegar, and herbs and spices are added at the end.
Voila! You have a hearty dinner that should keep your furnace steady and warm overnight.
Last but certainly not least – water. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. I start each trip with two, full one-liter, widemouth (less likely to freeze as fast) Nalgene bottles (NOT a metal water bottle – not in winter!). I then drink another one to two liters when I arrive at camp at the end of the day once we’ve melted snow and boiled it to treat it.
The long and the short of it: If you enjoy cooking at home, have some fun with it while camping. It takes the whole experience to a better level.