I'll be the first to admit that backcountry cuisine is not my forte. When I prepare for a big day of ski touring or alpine bike ride, I tend to go practical, filling my backpack's food compartment with a simple sandwich, trail mix and an assortment of Nature's Valley or Clif Bars acquired from sponsorship events.
Doesn't exactly scream "gourmet," does it?
My mediocre meals are partly due to my own laziness; meat, cheese and bread is easy enough to have on hand in the kitchen. Most of the time I'm only packing my own food, so I don't feel the need to make a special visit to the grocery store just to add variety. On the flip side to that laziness, my backcountry missions tend to be objective-based. That means I'm more interested in keeping my pack light, my food simple and save the good eating for afterwards when my exhaustion, thirst and hunger is rewarded with a burger and an IPA.
If I'm not rising for an abhorrently early alpine start (which I'm glad to say, is most of the time), I'm more inclined these days to buy a freshly made sandwich on my way to the trailhead. That way all I need to pack is snacks and I get the added bonus of pre-trip espresso. The best sandwiches I've found for early morning takeout are 200 Degrees in Function Junction (also open at its satellite bakery Bread Bunker at Nesters), Green Lake Station at Rainbow (the best gas station food you'll find in the Sea to Sky corridor), Mount Currie Coffee Company (Whistler on Main Street and Pemberton) and Blackbird Bakery (also in Pemberton). It's worth asking the staff to double wrap these delicious sandwiches in order to prevent the contents spilling throughout your pack.
If your pack is fully loaded and bursting at the seams then you need to be worried more about crushing your food. Choose sandwiches with less airy bread (like sourdoughs) and go for denser varieties like focaccia, ciabatta or a whole grain baguette. One great lunch idea for this scenario is to make a homemade pizza for dinner the previous evening then have cold slices for your backcountry lunch the next day. You can stack them in foil easily, they won't dry out and (provided your pizza worked out the first time) it tastes great. Shout out to ski guide Alex Wigley for getting me onto the leftover pizza program years ago.
If you're looking for inspirational ideas for backcountry sandwiches, check out the community creations at alpinesandwiches.com. Founder Daniel Kliger quickly developed a local reputation for his photos and videos of constructing gourmet sandwiches in epic alpine locations. His best work was captured building a triple-decker turkey club on the summit of the Grand Teton (4,199 metres) in Wyoming and a classic Rueben overlooking the Spearhead Traverse (Kliger was begrudgingly unable to grill his Ruben after running out of stove fuel). While most people won't go to such extraordinary lengths as pre-grilling bacon and packing tomatoes and avocados in hard Tupperware containers, the mission of Alpine Sandwiches was to inspire people to push their limits of backcountry cuisine. Having seen—and tasted—the fruits of Kliger's labours in the wilderness, I can honestly say that yes, it's most definitely worth it.
For appetizers, one indulgence my girlfriend and I have been partaking in over the last while is the backcountry charcuterie platter. Cured meats and hard cheeses are dense and take up little room. Softer additions like olives, cornichons and fruits are a little more inconvenient, but worth the hassle of packing to complete the plate. A wiped-down snowboard base makes a great substitute for a charcuterie board.
Camping dinners is where the balance between practical and excessive starts to get a little tricky. When car camping, you can pretty much bring the kitchen sink so there's no real issue with cooking good food. Up in the alpine armed with aluminum pots and a Whisperlite stove, it's another story. But it all comes down to ingredients. Pre-cook what you can and find interesting ways to use lighter grains such as quinoa and couscous. I'm a fan of hearty stews when I'm cold and exhausted, one of my favourites is Smoked Sausage Jambalaya. Vegetarians have their substitutes, but you need to keep to vegetables that are richer in nutrients rather than water-filled salad ingredients. Dehydrated meals do the trick and are great as a backup food source on longer expeditions but can get old fast, plus they are not cheap to be eating every night.
The best resource I've found for better backcountry meals is dirtygourmet.com. They have lots of great recipes online such as blueberry cornmeal pancakes, Italian Orzo soup and on-the-go strawberry cheesecakes. The female trio of Californian authors has also released a cookbook titled Dirty Gourmet: Food for Your Backcountry Adventures available in paperback and Kindle.
With some fresh ideas and prudent planning the day before you embark, backcountry meals can turn out to be the highlight of your trip.
Vince Shuley is hungry after writing this column. For questions, comments or suggestions for The Outsider email email@example.com or Instagram @whis_vince.