Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Simple, Low-Cost Foods For Wilderness Travel

Leon Pantenburg over at Survival Common Sense has just posted a great article about using basic staple foods in a survival situation.  In this article he focuses on flour and the many ways to prepare it that were once in widespread practice by wilderness travelers and explorers, but are seldom used today.  In particular, he discusses bannock, fry bread and hard tack.  Check out the article here:  http://survivalcommonsense.com/2010/06/15/flour-recipesfeed/

I've experimented with these simple flour recipes myself on extended trips where quantities of staples became more important than variety.  Fry bread, or a variation of it made with cornmeal and water, called "hoe cakes," is very simple to make while on the move.  "Hoe cakes" get their name from an old share-cropper's method of cooking them on the flat blade of a hoe while taking a break from working crops.

Another method of making bread from flour if  you don't have a skillet (or a hoe) to fry it on, is simply to bake it right on the coals of a fire.  These are called "ash cakes" and while they may be burnt a bit on the outside and covered with ash, the bread inside is just as good as if you baked it in an oven, once you experiment a bit to get the time and heat levels right.  Tom Brown Jr. describes this method of making bread from natural flours such as acorn flour or cattail flour in his book: Tom Brown's Field Guide to Edible and Medicinal Plants. 

On all of my long-distance sea kayaking trips and many of my backpacking trips, I carried complete pancake mix as a staple rather than plain flour.  You would be surprised how many pancakes you can eat for breakfast when you're living out of a kayak and traveling 8 to 10 hours per day, often against wind or current.  The other morning staple which I prefer now is oatmeal, probably because I ate so many pancakes on those trips I made myself sick of them.  The good thing about oatmeal is that it can be eaten cooked or raw.  You may not realize it, but soaking a bowl of oatmeal in cold water (or milk if you have it) renders it quite palatable without turning it to mush like cooking does.  This makes it a great source of carbohydrates easily eaten on the go.  Of course it's always better if you can supplement it with some wild blackberries, blueberries or crushed nuts.

My main wilderness staple, however, has always been rice - either plain white or natural brown rice.  This is the ingredient at the center of every evening meal, and since it goes well with anything, the possibilities are endless, whether you have some form or wild edible plant or animal food, or something in your pack you brought with you.  For me, the favorite combination for hard travel is brown rice mixed with tuna.  I used to carry the standard sized cans of tuna, but now it is available in more convenient foil packages.  This combination of complex carbs and high-protein fish is real food you can travel on.  I've never had a desire to bother with that expensive, tasteless freeze-dried stuff.

Rice is quick to cook and compact and long-lasting when uncooked, and even keeps for awhile after it's cooked.  While trekking through the jungle in Honduras and Nicaragua with my friend Ernest, our Miskito Indian guides simply cooked rice one time per day in the evening when we made camp, then kept the leftovers in the cooking pot with the lid on, packing the whole thing in a backpack for the day's trek, eating it for breakfast and lunch as well.  For a simple way to cook rice over a fire, see my post on Cooking On a Green Sapling Tripod. (as shown in the photo above).  Note that this method also works great with skillets and that you can use it to make your fry bread, hoe cakes, or pancakes, as well as boil your morning coffee, if you have it.


  1. I've had more luck making DIY tortillas on the spot than bread, but I've never been much of a baker. Here is a link for making them, using tinyurl.


    A small sack of flour, shortening in one of those German butter dishes, and salt are the main ingredients, along with warm water. Takes a bit of practice but it doesn't take long. A smooth plank or rock can be used to bake it if you didn't bring a skillet or griddle, the flatter the item the better.

    I make the bowl from digging out a cavity in ground and lining with plastic visqueen - just easier to carry compactly. The hardest thing about using it is sand / dirt or local 'growies' from being blown into it being on grade - I guess thats part of the recipe :^).

    You grab the food off the grille using the tortilla itself, pinching it off your cooking vessel and wrapping the dish inside it, like a letter. If you have some simple fixings like cheese or tomato puree (very versatile that last thing and the small can is easy to carry), some small pizza can be made as well. Sure, bring on those mushrooms and other items you like. Its all good grazing.

  2. Right now I carry a few energy bars and 3 peanut butter jars in my BOB and when I go camping. One jar is filled with rice, one with dried potato flakes and one with dehydrated milk. I think I'm going to swap the milk out for some flour with a little baking powder mixed in. This weekend I was messing around with my alcohol stove and cooked lunch on it. I just boiled some water for a mountain house meal and then made some bannock bread on a stick. A shot glass or so of fuel lasted long enough to cook it all. The bread was amazing and really tasted like fresh baked bread. I might still keep the powdered milk just because it's got so many uses but the flour/baking powder is definitely going in.

  3. I'm always amazed at how good it tastes, and how easy it is to make bannock in the woods. Of course, doesn't everything taste best outdoors? For a long time, I carried a plastic bag of Bisquick on canoe trips to make pancakes and fry fish in. A just-caught walleye or pike, filleted and rolled in Bisquick and fried on a river bank is my idea of a great lunch!

  4. perhaps we shouldn't be digging holes. maybe use a depression made by an overturned rock, then replace the rock. "leave no trace". baking is easy in a pan. warmth makes the yeast work but you can make the bannock without a wait. and p s, you can air dry tomato paste to reduce weight and volume. add your herbs and spices, and walla, you've got pizza sauce at camp. or you can use the prepared pizza sauce. hvae fun.

  5. We made ash cakes during Tracker School Standard course.
    Hardest part is figuring out when it's done (and picking off the char on the outside).

  6. Just became aware of a possible choice - parched rice. Read about it in Cresson Kearney's book JUNGLE SNAFUS AND THEIR REMEDIES. Some good features there.


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