The Paddlers Kitchen
Day Trips vs Long Overnight Trips
          Most paddling is half a day and at most a full day.  Think about all the paddling you have done over the past years.  Very little of it is more than a day.  Of all the lake paddles in New England we have done, they were on lakes much less than 15 miles   circumference. That would be 5 hours or less of paddling.  Long trips are usually on rivers.  If you want to paddle the entire 410 miles of the Connecticut River it is possible to stay in a hotel every night!  Except for remote areas of Maine, New England paddling seldom requires camping gear unless you specifically want to camp on your trip.
          Four hours of paddling in a canoe or kayak is a pretty good workout for most of us.  If you have a hankering to go off into the wilderness like upper Maine or the Adirondacks consider first an all-day paddle first.  Include bring a stove to cook at least one meal.  This experience will help you to properly prepare for a long wilderness trip with camping, portages and more.
Day Trip Preparation
          Like everything else done outside, proper preparation is all important.  When you go off hiking you can throw some water and snacks in a pack and off you go.  In a boat, there is a little more to consider.  Things in a boat can go south fast.  The wind comes up and you capsize.  On a river, you get lazy and next thing you hit a hidden rock and over you go.  Anything that is not tied down is something you can lose and/or get wet.  Before you consider paddling make sure you have a waterproof bag.  See our page on Equipment List for details.  Consider dedicating a bag for food and eating equipment.  Label it KITCHEN so it can be found quickly without searching through everything.
List of Day Trip No Cook Food
          Instead of a prolonged break for a midday meal (involving unpacking, preparation, cleanup and repacking), a quicker strategy is to graze on a series of modest energy-boosting snacks throughout the day. Consider the following as good ideas:
  • Fresh Fruit – Bananas, Apples, Oranges, Pears, grapes, berries, and more are easily carried and consumed all day long.  Even if you are on a diet to lose weight, you can eat as much as you want of these foods.
  • Juice Boxes – If you are bringing kids along, here is something that you hand out while you are paddling along.  You probably will only miss one or two strokes in the process.
  • Granola Bars – Make your own with online recipes.  We always have a stash ready to go.
  • Dried Fruits - Dried fruit takes up less space than fresh and provides dense sugar which can be a healthier alternative to candy.
  • Nuts and Seeds - Calories! Salted, roasted, whatever. Nuts are a tasty way to pack in dense calories, protein and healthy fats and oils. There are countless varieties of nuts as well - peanuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, almonds, pecans, pistachios, walnuts and pumpkin seeds to name a few.
  • Energy Bars – There are several types of bars.  For the most part, I avoid them because they are expensive. Sports stores and outfitters often sell some of these.  Here is a summary of the types:
    • Snack Energy Bars like Pria Bar, Balance Bar, and Luna Bar contain between 100 and 200 calories, 5 to 15 grams of protein, 16 to 26 grams of carbohydrates and 3 to 6 grams of fat. They are usually moderate in the amount of protein, carbs and fat contained.
    • Sports bars, which include brands like PowerBar, Gatorade bars, Clif Bars and Harvest bars are recommended for athletes before, during or after exercise. They usually contain anywhere from zero to 10 grams of protein, about 40 to 50 grams of carbohydrates, 2 to 6 grams of fat, and anywhere from 200 to 500 calories. They are high in carbohydrates, which are digested and absorbed quickly and do not slow down your digestive system as you exercise.
    • Meal Replacement Bars should contain around 300 calories, with 20 grams of protein. Some comes in flavors like chocolate graham, is one brand of this type of bar.  They can be bought in most Supermarkets.
  • Beef Jerky – Again, this can be expensive when you look at how much a pound this costs. This is another food you can make yourself.  It's possible to make many types of jerky including: Beef, Buffalo, Elk, Salmon, Snake, Tuna, Alligator, Alpaca, Duck, Trout, Turkey, Yak, Venison, Wild Boar, Fish and more.  Search the web for ideas.
  • GORP or Trail Mix – This may be the most popular snack for paddling and hiking.  It’s so easy to make and pack in small zip lock bags.  Put together your favorite foods like M&Ms chocolate chips, mini marshmallows, Cheerios, raisins craisins, Chex cereal, peanuts, cashews, dried coconut, dried fruit, and more.
  • Crackers - High in carbohydrates and sodium. Hang them on the outside of your pack with a bandanna if you think they'll get smashed inside.
  • Peanut (or Almond) Butter - The king of backpacking food. Crammed with calories, fat, sodium and protein. Ready-to-eat and can eat with almost anything.  Bring some crackers and you have a great snack.
  • Hard Cured Sausage - Pepperoni, Salami, Prosciutto or Capicola are very popular.  These do not need refrigerating!  A real bonus for protien.
  • Candy -  Yes, you can really eat a lot of your favorite candy since you are burning an extra thousand or more calories.  Consider those candies that don’t melt and make a mess on a summer day.  Chocolate is not the best unless you can keep it cool.
  • Cheese - Cheese can be a heavy food for some ultralight backpackers. However, it can provide a lot of calories and fat. Not to mention, it can really enhance the meat flavor. Aim for 'harder' cheeses - they are more shelf stable.
Food on Overnight Trips
          Overnight requires considerable more preparation.  Camping equipment will appear in a future article by us.  Today were will focus on food only.  Kayaks have a limited space for storage while Canoes have plenty of room.  In fact, on a canoe trip, where the length of canoe is 16 feet or longer, equipment comes close to what is used in car camping.  We will first look at cooking equipment and then take at some of the easy meals that be prepared.  Consider that by the end of the day you are quite tired.  You will need to find and set up camp and then prepare dinner.  Some of us get cranky with low blood sugar levels. Quick and easy warm meals are always on the list for us.  On extended trips longer than say a long weekend, you should review some websites and books on camp cooking.  For now consider the following.
List of Kitchen Equipment
            We have a history of camping, hiking, backpacking, bicycling, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, sailing, snowboarding, downhill and cross country skiing, and other outdoor sports.  Bringing food becomes second nature.  We don’t give a lot of thought to things like we did years ago.  We keep our camping and outdoor cooking equipment packed and almost ready to go.  We just look through our bags, transfer what we need to waterproof bags for paddling and we are all set for cooking.  The same is true for first aid, camping gear, outdoor clothes, etc.  If you are getting started with outdoor cooking or you want to see what kind of list we use and why, then review the list below:

  • Containers
    • Plastic Containers – We prefer the cheap kind you can buy at the grocery store. We buy it by the bunch.  If they get lost or broken we don’t lose much.  If you like the fancy Tupperware or other containers, then go for it but if something happens and they are lost you have lost a considerable amount of money too.
    • Zip lock bags – These are so good for storing things.  It's one of the best ways to separate and organize everything from kitchen stuff to clothes. Yes, a change of clothes is so nice at the end of a paddle or after a major spill. (User the big gallon ones)
    • Trash bags – For day trips, just a couple of tall kitchen bags will do.
    • Collapsible water container – Find a design that can hang.  It’s important that you clean everything well away from the lake or river.  You should also consider washing away from your camp to avoid unwanted animal guest at night.

  • Can Opener/Bottle Opener – You can get fancy here but the best is the one you like best.  Remember we are not trying to save on weight in a boat like you would backpacking.  If you are trying to go ultra-light, then consider a P38.  We always have one on a key ring. For a compete history click this button: 

  • Cooler – The cooler should be designed so you can fasten the cover tight.  It should be rugged and easily tied to a thwart so it can handle a boat turning over on a river.  A few brands to consider are YETI, OtterBox, and Cabela.
    • Save your half gallon size milk/juice containers.  Fill them with water at home and freeze them.  Now you have ice for the cooler and drinking water too.
  • Fork, Knives, and Spoons – There are camping sets that can be purchased.  Some actually fasten together.  If you get this kind you can just grab the number of set you need for the day based on how many people are on the trip.  There are so many possibilities that you should do a search on the web and see what comes up.  Just two quick reminders:
    • You don’t really need a fork.  It didn’t come along until the 10th century Europe.  All foods can be handled with a spoon and knife.  There is always the spork (spoon-fork).  Seriously, try eating meals at home without a fork.  Most of the time you don't really miss it.
    • You can just grab some fork, knife, and spoons from the draw at home from an old set.  Don’t feel you need to spend a lot of money.
  • Cooking utensils –
    • Paring Knife – A simple cheap paring knife will do. You can alway sharpen it on a smooth stone.
    • A large spoon – This is good for stirring and serving.
    • Spatula – It has a lot of uses from pancakes to lifting things out of any pan.
    • Whisk – Nice to have if you want to mix something quick.
    • Measuring spoon(s) – Try to find one that measures multiple values.
    • Tongs - Good for lifting things out of a fire or pan.  Many uses.

  • Camp Stove – There is where you can either use a small backpacking stove or get luxurious with a car camping stove with multiple burners.  If there is only a two or three people sharing a meal than you should opt for the backpacking stove.  You should check out the Jetboil or WindBurner by MSR.  These small stoves include the pot and boils water quick.  For easy lunches where you just add hot water, these are perfect.  Spend some time reading articles on the web and then go to an outfitter for an extended discussion based on the uses you will put your stove through.  Don’t forget to also consider the following:
    • Windscreen – This is protection to keep your stove going in the wind.  Some stoves have this built in.  You can build your own screen or purchase one.
    • Fuel – This is dependent on what stove you are using.  Butane and propane come in small pressurized containers that connect to your stove.  Using white gas or Coleman stove fuel can be the best for multi-burner stoves.
    • Fuel bottle(s) – If you go the liquid fuel route, then you will need to carry fuel in a special container.  This is definitely true on long overnight trips.
  • Biodegradable phosphate free dish soap – Any questions?
  • Pot scrubber/sponge(s)
  • Pots and pans – Because you are in a boat you have the possibility of using regular pots and pans like you use at home.  I suggest you consider the lightweight camping cook sets available for backpacking etc.  These sets can be stored easily and have multiple uses for multiple sports.
  • Aluminum Foil – A roll of this stuff can be used to cook almost anything.  You can even boil water with a little forming. Just think, if you caught some fish, just wrap it in foil and throw it on a fire.  With a few potatoes wrapped and thrown in the coals and you have a complete meal. Yum!  Cleanup is so easy.  Just crumple it up and put it in your trash bag.  Do a search on the web for many articles on cooking with aluminum foil. 
  • Plates, bowls, mugs/cups (measuring cups) – Again, look into sets for backpacking.  A good cooking set usually include pots, pans, plates, and cups.  Most of these have cups that double as measuring cup (smart).  If you’re by yourself or with a partner, consider eating out of the pot.  You will not need to clean as much.  You will be carrying less too.
  • Camp Fires  – A campfire is always fun.  You can cook over it or just enjoy it at the end of the day.  Because that we are approaching 320 million people in the USA we should consider that a campfire may not be the best thing.  Campfires should only be started in designated campsites.  Leaving the footprints and a small depression from dragging your boat ashore should be the goal.  If you are interested in a responsible fire, then here are a few things to bring along:
    • Fire starter – These strike igniters are basically metal.  Specifically, their made of Ferrocerium which is a synthetic pyrophoric alloy that produces hot sparks that can reach temperatures of 3,000 °C (5,430 °F) when rapidly oxidized by the process of striking.  We own a stainless-steel sheath knife that has a plastic sheath and a striker built into the handle.  I have only used it once.  It takes skill to start a fire this way so practice at home before relying on it in the wilderness.
    • Matches/lighter – A stormproof match kit that has a waterproof container.  These can be purchased at an outfitter.  One of these pocket torches that are basically a lighter on steroids and can operate in wet and windy weather.  Finally, if you just carry a small throw-a-way style lighter that cost less than a dollar you will probably be just fine.  That’s what we carry.
    • Saw – A small camp saw to cut dead dry wood for a fire.
    • Hatchet – Basically a small axe for cutting wood.  Consider one that is all metal or has a plastic style handle, these work better for paddlers in wet environments.
  • Spice Up Your Life – Consider using empty Tic-Tac boxes to store spices.  Some examples are the following: Salt, Pepper, Nutmeg, Chili Powder, Turmiric, Cayenne, Paprika, Basil, Parsley, etc.
P38 Can Opener
List of Easy to cook meals

  • Brew Coffee Easy – Take a single serving of coffee and put it in coffee filter paper. Tie it with dental floss.  Put the single servings in a zip-lock bag and your set to go.
  • Pancake Mix – The complete type where you just add water.
  • Oatmeal Packets - A backpacking food staple. The best thing about these packets is that they serve as a bowl. Just add hot water to heat the oats inside. Get a variety pack and enjoy. 
  • Eggs – Take your eggs and crack them all and put them in a plastic jar.  You will never have to worry about them breaking.  Just pour out what you need for each meal.
  • Grits - You don't have to be Southern to love grits. As easy as oatmeal and can be a nice addition to mix up your meal plan.

           Notice below the large amount of carbohydrates.  If ever there was a time to load up on carbs, now is the time.  Athletes of every persuasion do this before an event.  They are also easy to prepare and eat.
  • Instant Rice and Instant Pasta (Knorr’s) - A great base for a backpacking dinner meal. There are also countless rice varieties with different seasonings and veggie fixings at the store.
  • Box of Mac and Cheese – We all have our favorites and they are a staple for college kids.  Consider the versions that have a pouch of soft cheese.  These do not require milk to be added.  A real plus if you didn’t bring a cooler.
  • Box of Couscous – Yes it’s the arab version of tiny pasta.  It goes good with lots of food or just eat it by itself maybe with a little cheese.
  • Dried Soup Mix – The kind you just add water.  There are so many types to choose from these days.  Try them out at home first.
  • Instant Potatoes - Another backpacking staple and great meal base.
  • Dried Veggies - It is hard to eat healthy food on the trail. Dried vegetables are an exception. You can add them to any of the items listed above (noodles, rice, couscous, potatoes) and have a nice backcountry meal.
  • Root Vegetables – Carrots, Potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, will all last for almost a week if kept out of light.  Consider chopping them up, wrapping them in foil and throwing them on a fire.
  • Canned Food – It’s just so easy to eat canned food especially on a day trip.  Much of it does not need heating up.  Soups, beans, and stew just takes a few minutes to warm up and you have a warm lunch or dinner.  Always bring food that you already know you like.  If you are not sure, then consider trying it out at home first. Here is a list as a reminder:
    • Canned Tuna
    • Canned Sardines
    • Canned Mackerel
    • Canned Crab Meat
    • Canned Chicken
    • Canned Baked Beans
    • Canned Dinty Moore Beef Stew
    • Canned Spam
    • Canned Soups
    • Canned Baked Beans

  • Water – Review out Equipment List page for details on water and water filters.
  • Hot Drink - Tea, Coffee, Hot Chocolate, Powder Cider - We drink instant coffee in the morning and tea at night. Chamomile tea before bed is a nice way to end the day after some strenuous paddling.
  • Powder Mixes - Similar benefits as the tabs - electrolytes and enhances hydration. Usually with a lot more flavor options and some have vitamin and mineral enhancements. 
Freeze Dried Meals
           These complete meals area amazing.  Much research has gone into creating these meals.  Even the Armed Forces use them.  We personally, have found that about half of them are not favorites.  Again, the best way is to try them out at home first.  One downside of these is that they can be expensive.  Ouch!  Our two favorite venders are Mountain House and AlpineAire Foods.  Read up on them.  They can be purchased at most outfitters. One last comment.  We really like Astronaut Ice Cream!