Outdoor Cookbook Review: "The Paddling Chef" and "Camp Cooking in the Wild"

I've grown to hate oatmeal. Even the sugary instant Quaker oatmeal, and even with a little added trail mix. I used to love it, but after many a backcountry trip where I (wrongly) believed oatmeal was my only breakfast option, I just can't make myself eat it anymore. I'd force myself to eat it anyway, thinking, "I'm camping; my food shouldn't taste good, it should just fuel me for the day." I've since started bringing things like dehydrated bacon and eggs from Mountain House, particularly on trips where minimizing weight is important. But I've also learned a lot about the endless possibilities for preparing meals I'll actually enjoy, even when I'm far from the comforts of home. The Paddling Chef and Camp Cooking in the Wild are two great resources for recipes, meal planning ideas and preparation tips for making food worth eating in the backcountry.

The Paddling Chef: A Cookbook for Canoeists, Kayakers and Rafters
The first time I went on a backcountry adventure that involved a canoe, I couldn't believe the freedom the boat offered with respect to carrying extra food and gear. Author Dian Weimer knows that backpackers and other land travelers are limited in the amount they can carry, but as a paddler, she's perfected a set of recipes that make the most of the extra space in a boat. With over 100 expedition-tested recipes in addition to valuable packing and transportation recipes, The Paddling Chef is a great addition to any paddler's collection.

Dian begins The Paddling Chef with a list of symbols applied to each recipe, including one for the number of pots or pans you'll need, the timing and if the recipe is vegetarian. She mentions the importance of menu planning and takes into account criteria like party size, the length of the trip, your weight limit and if you'll be adding freshly caught fish to the menu. Dian instructs readers on the importance of disposing of grey water properly, on how to transport meat, on types of breads that will travel well and which fruits and vegetables will last the longest.

Though all of the instructions are well and good, when I'm reading a recipe meant to be prepared in the backcountry that takes significant planning, it better taste good! Many of the recipes Dian provides are meals I'd be glad to cook and eat at home, including the sample salmon frittata recipe on Dian's website. It's obvious that the Vancouver-born paddler has a nack for cooking and eating well on water borne adventures.

Camp Cooking in the Wild: The Black Feather Guide to Eating Well in the Great Outdoors
As we learn and grow in our outdoor pursuits, many of us look to experienced guides who make their living playing outside for wisdom and advice. When it comes to good eating during any backcountry adventure, the Black Feather wilderness adventure team definitely has guidance to provide. With over 50 years of combined experience leading outdoor trips, authors Mark Scriver, Wendy Grater and Joanna Baker provide over 60 tried and true recipes for adventure enthusiasts in Camp Cooking in the Wild. They believe that food should be one of the highlights of the day and that each meal should be both delicious and nutritious.

The book begins with a chapter on kitchen equipment and considerations for different trips in addition to a later chapter on menu planning. Black Feather guides rafting, canoe, sea kayaking and hiking trips, all of which might require a different combination of equipment. Then, it's on to cooking tips like controlling the heat of a fire, using tinfoil and how to handle really wet weather complete with detailed photo instructions. Of course, managing and disposing of waste properly in the backcountry is an important piece of the puzzle and the Black Feather team provides strategies for that as well. The amount of space in the book given to all of the variables associated with eating in the backcountry, all 92 pages of it, are sure to teach you something.

When it comes to the recipes, Black Feather provides recipes I'd never even considered an option on a hiking trip, including apple crisp, chocolate mousse, yeast bread and sushi. Beautiful photographs of preparation and finished product make every single recipe look appetizing. Though I'm not sure I'd take the pots and pans some recipes require on a backpacking trip with a partner, if you have enough people in your group to divide up the gear, the possibilities are endless.

Entries Closed, and Congratulations to Vicki!
Want to win a copy of The Paddling Chef or Camp Cooking in the Wild?  
In partnership with Fox Chapel publishing, we're giving away a copy of either book, winner's choice. To enter, leave a comment below about one of your best or worst backcountry dining experiences with a way for us to contact you.  The winner will be chosen at random at 5:00pm EST on Monday, April 2nd. Entrants must have a shipping address in the United States or Canada. Though not require to enter, giving a "like" to the Adventure-Inspired facebook page is much appreciated! The winner's name will be announced there.

If you don't win, don't despair. The Paddling Chef and Camp Cooking in the Wild are both available on Amazon. Thank you to Fox Chapel Publishing for providing complimentary copies for these reviews, and for the giveaway copies!


George Privon said…
I was on a 12 day trek at
Philmont and we'd been doing all our meals as "1-pot" by combining the
entree and sides before re-hydrating them. That worked well except for a meal halfway through: mashed potatoes, chili mac, and green beans........ For the sake of taste, those things probably shouldn't be mixed, but we figured "how bad could it really be?"

Turns out, it's quite visually unappealing (I'll leave you to figure
out what it closely resembles), it tasted horrible, and the green beans were still crunchy.
Vicki Kechekian said…
Long time ago, I tried a couple of those dehydrated, packaged backpack meals on a Whitney trip.  It just didn't cut it, because that's EXACTLY when the body and souls wants hearty and satisfying.
ephrat said…
It was 2 degrees Fahrenheit and we were camped half way up Split Mountain in the Sierras. I made angel hair pasta with sundried tomatoes, pesto, and dried mushrooms. The meal was warming and delicious, and we topped it with Mexican hot chocolate for dessert. I also discovered that canister stoves don't like temps that are way below freezing! Oops.  
Katie L said…
oh man. I need to get the picture you've created out of my head right now! great entry, though!
Katie L said…
I've had good luck with Mountain House meals in particular. They're my favorite and seem to agree with my digestive system. But there's definitely nothing like a meal that feels like home! Thanks for the note, Vicki.
Katie L said…
oh my goodness, that sounds amazing! except for how chilly it was, yikes! glad you were able to make the meal regardless of any stove issues. can you share your Mexican hot chocolate recipe? that sounds amazing!
Josh said…
Tried to make burritos on camping trip a couple years ago. It started raining, and then we realized we didn't have a can opener for the refried beans! So, I spent the next 15 minutes attacking the aluminum can with my camp shovel in the parking lot in the rain. 
Katie L said…
oh man, that's a good one! I had a similar thing happen once...there's nothing worse than packing something really heavy in your pack, walking really far with it, then realizing you can't open it! I did get pretty good at can opening with a pocketknife, though :)
Klaus said…
Worst backcountry meal experience.
Canoeing in Algonquin park with the brother in law who is an avid fisherman, me, not so much.
Sitting in the canoe with our lines in the water and I get a bite. Not a nibble, but a line breaking bite. Everything happened so fast, I couldn't even take the hat that was covering my eyes away in time to grab the rod.

So instead of having a record breaking catch of fresh lake trout (a least that we'll say it was) for dinner, we managed to cobble together some rice and pine needle tea.

Katie L said…
ah, Algonquin, beautiful! sounds like you were very, very close to an amazing fish dinner! hope it works out differently next time :) thanks for the comment!
Beth said…
Food just tastes good in the outdoors. I think my best experience was simply lying around in a high mountain camp eating dried mangoes with my two best friends.

A close second is when we emerged from the wilderness at my parent's RV campsite and they had dinner and a bottle of wine waiting for us. ;-)
Katie L said…
Agreed, Beth - sometimes, food just tastes better during an adventure! Though I can see why you chose both of them :) Thanks for the comment!
George Privon said…
Hehe, that reminds me of a burrito experience I had while camping and ice climbing. We pre-cooked all the ingredients for breakfast burritos then camped out in 0F weather. We woke up to frozen blocks of scrambled eggs, sausage and cheese. After futile efforts to thaw the blocks in our sleeping bags we went with a breakfast of clif bars.

I swear.. I've had okay meals while camping. I just... can't remember any now.... O:)
Bellows said…
I took my wife out on a short overnight in PA state forests on our anniversary.  About 8 miles over two days.  We camped under a great big hemlock and had a dinner of fresh gnocchi, frozen peas and vodka sauce, topped off with some wine.  We slept soundly to the sound of the stream and woke up to flurries in the colorful, fall woods.  That trip and that meal were memorable.
k8tlevy said…
That sounds just wonderful, every bit of it!
Socalhulagirl said…
what kind of shade structure is that on the cover of your paddling chef cookbook?  thanks so much!
Katie Levy said…
man, that's a great question, and I honestly have no idea! it does look pretty amazing, though.