Backcountry Cooking

There is something that shifts in me whenever I catch a familiar scent. My awareness peaks as I sniff out the air trying to track down the particular aroma. As I grow closer to the source, I’ve deduced that not only is there a fire, but food cooking on that fire. Even though I wasn’t hungry when I first arrived, there is something about that smell that makes my mouth water. It’s similar to walking through a neighborhood in the summer and smelling all of the wonderful BBQs. The ability to cook food shifted our evolution as humans. It allowed us to better process and digest food, giving us more nutrients, and in turn allowing our brains to grow!

Cooking out on a backpacking trip can sometimes seem like a daunting task. You have to carry pots, pans, stoves, fuel, utensils, bowls and then the actual food. I’m here to give you some tips and tricks so that you won’t need any of those things (except for food, depending on your skills).

The first step is making the fire. The students here at the Wilderness Awareness School use the preferred bow drill method to start their fires. Bring along some string and harvest a few sticks from around your campsite to get started. You won’t need to bring any fuel with you because – well, you’re in the forest and surrounded by it! You’ll want to use smaller sticks and get a big fire going to create a healthy coal bed. This is what we’ll be cooking on.


Let’s start with breakfast


Backcountry CookingMy favorite thing to do is to take an onion, cut it in half and remove the inner layers, creating a nice bowl. Fill the onion-bowl with a few eggs and set them on the coals. From there, try adding cheese and garlic for flavor. After a few minutes with the onion-bowls on the hot coals, you have a fried egg breakfast in an edible bowl!

Another fun thing to do is to heat up a larger flat rock in the fire (make sure it’s not a rock from the river, it could explode if there is too much water in it). After awhile, pull them out and lay out some bacon. Done! Breakfast is served with little to no clean up.



Cooking meat is super easy in the wilderness. Just toss it on the coals and when it’s no longer sticking, flip it over and cook to taste. I find that cooking directly on the coals adds a really nice salty, smokey flavor that locks in the juices, and there’s no clean up.

Backcountry CookingAnother neat way to cook salmon or chicken is to clay bake. Here in Washington, it’s pretty easy to find natural clay sources near rivers or creeks. I like to take my salmon and wrap it up in 2 or 3 sword ferns and completely cover them in clay. This helps to protect them from burning and keeps the meat moist and juicy. You can then cook them directly on the coals. Another way I like to do it is to actually move the fire on top of the clay bundle or bury it in the coals. Check on it after about 20 minutes depending on the size of fire.

You can fashion all of your utensils from nature as well. Use a larger log to make a burn bowl that you can eat out of or make soup in! Just add all of your ingredients and water and then add hot rocks from your fire until it boils. Backcountry CookingYou can craft up some neat things out of vine maple to cook in or on. You can make tongs with 2 sticks and some rope. You can carve up a spoon or make fancy chop sticks – the options are limitless.








I will admit that some of these processes can take a bit more time to make than your dehydrated jet-boiled noodles, but the smell and taste is so much more satisfying.

Backcountry Cooking

For more wilderness skills from Kyle, check out his other articles with Seattle Backpackers Magazine.

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