Wilderness Cooking

Proper Water Treatment Needs to be a Priority in the Backcountry

By Liz Shirley November 4, 2021

Wilderness Cooking

While it’s true that some water sources you encounter in the outdoors are safe, know that drinking from even the most pristine looking stream or river can make you sick. There might be unseen runoff from industry, agriculture, livestock, and wildlife, and these can contribute bacteria, chemicals, and other contaminants to the very water you believe is safe to drink.

Which means you should always treat all outdoor water sources before consuming. If that recommendation is confusing or sounds somewhat limiting, consider the following: To guarantee your continued health while recreating in the outdoors, whenever possible, you should bring your own water from a known source. That includes tap water from home or bottled water from the store. The only other option is to practice water treatment techniques.

(Photo © Jeffrey Hamilton — sourced on Unsplash)

Here are some common ways to treat water:


This method is one of the simplest and least expensive ways to treat water in the backcountry.

  • Simply fill your water pot from your water source, place your pot on your stove, then bring to a full rolling boil.
  • Once your water has come to a full rolling boil, allow to continue boiling for another minute to eliminate bacteria, protozoa, and some viruses.
  • And if you find yourself at a higher altitude (above 6,500 feet), add another three minutes to that boiling time.
  • However, boiling is not the best method when you know your water is contaminated with runoff from agriculture or chemicals.

Warning: Boiling water burns cooking fuel. You might consider saving cooking fuel for cooking and perhaps build a wood fire — assuming your backcountry permit or local ordinances allow for it — to boil water for drinking.

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Making Dehydrated Delicious: 4 Quick Backcountry Recipes

By Liz Shirley June 30, 2021

Wilderness Cooking

Here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education, we’re known for bringing gourmet meals to the wilderness. And since we carry all our food either on our backs or in our boats, we try to pack ingredients that begin in their lightweight dehydrated form. That makes for an easier time on the trail, and it leaves room in our packs for fresh vegetables and fruit to mix things up.

Meals in the backcountry offer a variety of options — from meat and grains to fresh baked bread and pizza made from scratch. Our students learn to cook meals on the trail, often developing cooking skills that they can bring home to the front country.

Backcountry Cooking Photo

Here are some our staff members’ and students’ favorites from the trail that you might want to prep and cook on your next outdoor adventure:

Blueberry Pancakes

Who doesn’t like pancakes first thing in the morning? This trail-proven recipe is sure to get your day started on the right footing. Blueberries, after all, are more than just sweet and nutritious — they’re also known to play a role in reducing muscle damage, especially after strenuous exercise.

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Trail Nutrition: Planning and Prepping Backcountry Meals

By Liz Shirley May 27, 2021

Wilderness Cooking

Preparing backcountry meals and focusing on trail nutrition is important when planning meals for your next outdoor adventure. Whether you’re organizing a day hike, overnight camping trip, or multi-day backcountry adventure, maintaining good nutrition while exploring the outdoors is key to have a good time on your next adventure.

First on the list? Be sure to start your day off right with a good breakfast. That’s the meal that will set the tone for your day and jumpstart your metabolism. Throughout the day, that morning meal will help you maintain good blood sugar levels and energy.

Planning a Backcountry Menu

Here’s the deal when it comes to planning a backcountry menu: You need to find a balance between getting enough food (calories) to sustain yourself and stay well fed and warm, while not overdoing it and ending up hauling an unnecessary amount of weight on your back.

Depending on the weather, mileage, pack weight, activity, incline of the trail, and other factors, you’ll want to consider your group’s necessary daily calorie intake. Common sense tells us that if you’re planning to be more active than usual, you’ll burn through more calories.

For a multi-day backpacking trip, a good average is 3,500 calories a day per person. A good baseline is a limit of 1.5 pounds to 2.5 pounds of food per person, based on how strenuous you expect your trip to be.

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Gourmet Cooking on the Trail: Here’s What You’ll Need to Pack

By NCOAE Headquarters October 24, 2018

Wilderness Cooking

Some veteran backpackers claim the only time a heated can of Dinty Moore stew tastes delicious is when eaten outdoors, but today there are many quick and easy ways to pull together a gourmet meal from what you can grab out of your backpack. The trick is knowing what to pack!

Truth is, we here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE) are among the go-to experts when it comes to wilderness cooking for large and small groups that enjoy the backcountry. That’s because our veteran field instructors and leaders have had years to develop ways to transform mundane mountainside meals into Five Star (OK, maybe Four Star) dining experiences.

The secret? It’s all in what you pack in your gear. And with some advance preparation and careful planning, you can spice up your backcountry cooking menus to taste just as delicious on your weekend trail trek as they do for us on, say, an Outdoor Educator Course in Patagonia.

Real estate inside your backpack is always at a premium, but here are a few items that — come lunch or dinnertime — will make you glad you squirreled them away next to your clean socks and underwear: (more…)

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From Belly to Brain, Cognitive Shifts in the Backcountry

By Office Admin August 15, 2016

Wilderness Cooking

During our latest Instructor Candidate (IC) course, I had the opportunity to witness one of the most beautiful shifts in group dynamics I’ve seen in a long, long time.

Our instructor candidates had just finished two days of challenging climbs — made all the more difficult by torrential rains, equipment challenges and late — very, very late — dinners. Empty bellies, low energy levels and mercurial weather makes for some pretty unhappy people.

Backcountry Dough

On the third day we set off on even steeper climbs and larger elevation gains. By lunchtime, the entire group was getting the “hangries.” After the noontime meal, one of the instructor candidates (Jessica) said we needed to get a head start on dinner. Now.

And before we know it, she began leading us all through a dough-making lesson. As we began kneading the dough, everyone began chatting about a range of topics, with a little laughter and horseplay thrown in. What we were not talking about was smelly wet clothes, tired legs and aching bodies.

As we set off for our second half of the day, each of us had a ziplocked bag of rising dough tucked into our shirts, giving us the appearance of a large group of big-bellied backcountry enthusiasts.

By the time we found a suitable campsite, we were exhausted, the water was further away than we thought and a lot of work faced us before we could eat. You could slice the tension in the air with a pizza cutter — which was ironic because (more…)

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Wilderness Problem Solving Often Requires Response to a Question

By Office Admin July 29, 2016

Wilderness Cooking

It’s the end of a long day trekking through the backcountry. Tents are being set up, water is being collected and brought to the campsite and everyone is tired and hungry.

A conversation ensues:

Student: The stove won’t light.
Instructor: Okay.
Student:  Should we fix it?
Instructor: Do you need it to cook dinner?
Student: Yes….we should fix it.

At this point the expedition, the cooks begin to “field strip” the stove. They remove all the parts, grease the gaskets, clean off the dirt and grime, then check the pump and screens and look for impurities in the fuel. After cleaning up all the parts, they reassemble the stove, pump it, light it up, lean down and listen closely.


Aha! There it is. The jet sound that is the sign of a happy working stove! Smiles are exchanged among the fledgling backcountry cooks because they know they prevented a potential disappointing dinner experience.

Every new generation of leaders needs to acquire the skills necessary for problem solving and they need to practice those skills. They must develop a (more…)

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Have any further questions about our courses, what you’ll learn, or what else to expect? Contact us, we’re here to help!