When you’re in the field, one of the best things to look forward to is a good meal at the end of the day. Unfortunately, that often means bland meals or prepackaged, dehydrated meals that come from a bag. One way to liven things up is by adding oils, sauces, and spices to the mix (even to your prepackaged, dehydrated meals).
These elements are even more important if you plan to keep what you catch and have a fish dinner in camp. Fish is delicious, but without a little help from seasonings, it can get bland quickly. If you add any wild plants to the mix, they can also use a little help from the pantry.
A lot of people are turned off by the idea of bringing “extras” like this in their pack, mostly because it seems like a hassle. Oils can leak, bringing whole spice containers can be cumbersome, and having to gather them up can sometimes seem like a waste of time.
Fortunately, there are ways to get around all of these problems, and a little work before your trip can turn some bland backpacking food into a gourmet meal.
For the standard backpacker
One of the most straightforward ways to bring your favorite spices, oils, and other seasonings into the backcountry is quite simple: small bottles and jars.
These can be any small containers of your choosing. Think travel containers, but you’ll want to pick the right ones. For most spices, you won’t need a full travel-size bottle, and for oils and sauces, you probably want to avoid containers with snapping lids. These can leak, and you might want to consider strong, screw-on lids instead.
Apart from little rules like that (and whichever ones you decide are important to you), there are tons of possibilities.
One option is a kit like the Nalgene Small Travel Kit. This type of setup will give you a variety of styles to choose from. Oils and sauces can go in small, screw-top bottles. Maybe even bring some maple syrup for pancakes. Especially for liquids like this, remember to put your bottles in a Ziploc bag to catch any spills if they happen.
Spices can go in various other bottles, depending on how much of each you need. In the jars meant for creams, you could even bring along some butter!
If you want to skip filling your own bottles, you can also look for small pre-packaged bottles like mini Tabascos, mini ketchups, and mini barbecue sauces.
If all you need for your trip is a little classic salt and pepper, you can also buy designated shakers for just the two. GSI Outdoors makes a Waterproof Salt + Pepper Shaker that you could easily fill up, throw in your pack, and use for multiple trips. This can be a “fill it and forget it” sort of shaker that you won’t necessarily need to check up on before each trip.
For the in-a-hurry backpacker
Sometimes, you just don’t have time to go through your pantry and pack everything but the kitchen sink. One thing we often do in a hurry is raid fast-food restaurants for their packets while we’re on our way out of town.
If we are heading into the mountains for a weekend of camping, we’ll often be stopping somewhere quick anyway to grab a last-minute bite on the drive. Snagging some ketchup, mustard, or other packets to take with you is quick and easy.
If you don’t happen to be stopping on your way to the trail, you can also just hoard them whenever you come across them. We keep a Ziploc in our camping supplies that we add to whenever we’re given extra of something. You order one small fries and are given 10 ketchup packets. Might as well save ’em.
There’s also a HUGE variety of packets you can find if you “shop around.”
Some you can definitely find are…
- salt and pepper
- hot sauce
- parmesan cheese
- soy sauce
- crushed red pepper
- ranch dressing
- tartar sauce
- barbecue sauce
- maple syrup
These are just some of what you can find, so keep an eye out while you’re munching down a burger. Keeping the little packs of wet wipes they give out with wings can also be helpful.
If you happen to go to a fast-food restaurant every couple months or so, this is definitely the most time-efficient way to bring condiments. There’s no real packing time, and also no real clean-up time. Just grab and go.
For the super lightweight backpacker
Maybe you don’t get fast food much, but you don’t want all the extra weight and space that comes with packing bottles. There’s an easy but genius way to bring all the fixins’: straws.
Straws are a great way to bring spices, sauces, herbs, oils, and all sorts of other things (even matches and first aid supplies!). You can make different sizes, depending on how much of the ingredient you need, by cutting the straws into pieces. They’ll also be waterproof, which is a huge plus.
To make them, simply heat one end of a straw, pinch it until it seals, fill it, and then seal the other end the same way. For things that don’t require waterproofing, like basic spices, you could also fold and tape the ends if you didn’t have a lighter handy. Here’s a quick video tutorial for making the waterproof straw containers.
Using nothing but these tiny waterproof packs, you can turn a fish fillet into a 5-star meal. Bring along salt, pepper, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic powder, and anything else you want on your fish. Your pack will weigh maybe an ounce heavier, but you’ll eat like a king.
With just a little effort, it’s easy to overcome all the issues faced when trying to bring spices camping. There’s a workaround to almost every problem, and a little flavor goes a long way at the end of a grueling hike.