Backpack Food: Hummus and Campfire Corn Recipes

I was sore and smelly, but mostly, I was hungry.

We had eaten as well as we could – we both love to cook for ourselves and our families – but, after all, we had gone five days without the conveniences of our kitchens. No stove, no fridge, no pots and pans.

If Bart and I tried the same route today, we’d be ready to eat better. In 35 years, camping and cooking have also come a long way. I’m looking at you, Ziploc.

In my experience, cooking while camping happens in two main ways. You take your kitchen with you – in a motorhome, for example, or with piles of pots in the back of the van – or you sabotage it and rough it, all in a backpack, food included. (Or you glamp and, in effect, crash and dine in someone else’s restaurant.)

All of my recipes work the first way (and there’s a recipe today that way). But I also have suggestions on cooking bare bones. Just you, your food and your intelligence. No drive-ins, no tagalong attendants.

As Bart and I discovered many years ago, it’s pretty amazing how many great meals just two people can carry on a long hike.

backpack food

Start with some sort of pantry, especially of dried grains and the like: oatmeal or polenta, ramen rice or noodles, small-sized dried pasta, powdered potatoes, powdered eggs, dried stuffing mix, and flatbreads such as as tortillas, pita or lavosh. The weight is gone because the water is. You will pick it up along the trail.

Fresh protein can be dangerous without refrigeration, but protein available in precooked soy-based “fake meats” abounds these days. Their best feature is that they actually satisfy, in all areas (taste, texture, satiety). They just need warmth. This too is available along the trail. (A cool thing to do with light gauge firewood: carve chopsticks from two strong twigs, unless you just have to keep your spoon at home.)

Above all, planning ahead before heading out for the trail will allow you to eat well at the campsite. The most important task is to come up with as many camping recipes as you can figure out, then measure and pack all of their ingredients.

For example, combine cooking liquids from any recipe, pre-measured, in a small container. For example, to season a packet of ramen noodles, put soy sauce, sesame oil, and chili sauce in a small bottle. Make sure any bottles that hold liquids have threaded mouthpieces or openings. This prevents pop-outs and leaks, especially with changing elevations.

Similarly, vegetable ornaments for the same boiled ramen such as scallions, peppers, or carrot shavings can be cut at home and placed in a sturdy zipper bag. They’ll stay good and safe for two to three days easily, so just plan a meal early. Same idea for dry spices for other recipes (salt and pepper, Indian spice powders, etc.): small jars with threaded necks or small “zip-seal” plastic bags, the latter available at the counter of pharmacies.

Likewise, wet foods you prepared at home before you go, like the recipe here for hummus, can also be packed in sturdy plastic ziplock bags (perhaps two, one in the other) and hard frozen, to be transported. They will stay very cold for a day or two (depending on outside temperatures) while usefully chilling other foods and ready for another delicious meal, even sooner.

Another hack, and one that my friend Bart and I didn’t have much of 35 years ago, is to empty the kitchen drawers of all those packets of condiments accumulated from take-out dinner deliveries. Far beyond salt and pepper, today’s campers have at their disposal mayonnaise, ketchup, Dijon and yellow mustards, chili sauce, malt vinegar, sour- sweet, jams and jellies, even various brands of hot sauces (Cholula, for example, or Tapatío). Everything you need.

Finally, the best thing you have in your kitchen to add sparkle and zest to any meal is acidity. So, away from home and in the open air, take a lemon for its juice or a vial of rice vinegar. A whisper of either enlivens anything, even overnight oats.

Super smooth hummus

Adapted for our altitude, and with adjustments on my part, from a recipe by JM Hirsch and Diane Unger in “Milk Street” magazine, May-June 1997. Makes 4 cups.


8 ounces or about 1 cup or more dried chickpeas

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cup tahini, toasted sesame, at room temperature and well mixed

4 tablespoons lemon juice

1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1-2 garlic cloves, peeled, to taste


Put 8 cups of cold water, salt and chickpeas in a large bowl and soak for at least 12 hours or overnight. When ready to cook, bring 10 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan and add the baking soda. Drain the soaked chickpeas, discard the soaking water and add the chickpeas to the pot.

Bring back to a boil and cook the chickpeas until the skin begins to fall off and they are very tender, 50-55 minutes (or longer at higher altitudes). Set a fine-mesh strainer or mesh strainer over a heatproof bowl and drain the chickpeas, reserving 1 cup of the chickpea boiling water. But let them drain completely.

Scoop out 2 heaping tablespoons of chickpeas, set aside, and place the rest in the bowl of a food processor. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and process the mass for a full 3 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl 2-3 times to ensure consistency.

Add the tahini and mix for 1 minute more, again scraping down the sides of the bowl. With the processor running and through the feed tube, pour in 1 cup reserved water, the lemon juice, olive oil and garlic. Process once more, 1-2 minutes, until smooth and very light. Taste the salt.

(If you’re going camping or outdoors, place them in 2 heavy-duty zippered plastic bags and refrigerate well (or freeze, if desired). For carrying, place one of the cold bags of hummus in another thick plastic zip-lock bag, both bags well sealed. )

Serve hot, if possible, garnished with the reserved cooked whole chickpeas and a number of other flavorings: more olive oil, paprika, cumin powder, chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, more lemon juice , sumac powder or one of the za’atar or ras el hanout spice blends. Enjoy it with pita bread, of course, but also with red cabbage leaves or sweet onion “balls”.

Mexican Campfire Street Corn

From; serves 4; edited for style and clarity. Additional recipes here:


4 ears of corn, peeled

Olive oil

1 cup cotija (a fresh Mexican or Mexican-style cheese), crumbled

2 tablespoons sour cream

1/2 bunch coriander finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons Tajín brand seasoning or other chili-lime seasoning powder

1/2 lime


Brush the corn cobs with oil before placing them on the campfire grate. Keep corn cobs from direct contact with flames as they can burn quickly. Use the indirect method, keeping the ears on the direct heat side. Rotate the ears so they brown on all sides. They are done when the grains become a little wrinkled.

Place corn on a baking sheet and brush with sour cream. Sprinkle with crumbled cotija, coriander and Tajín. Swirling and rubbing the corn into the toppings that have fallen onto the foil can help distribute everything evenly. Squeeze the juice of half the lime over the corn cobs before serving.

Revery Bill St John at [email protected]

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