With more than 4,000 stories in the AJ archive, we like to republish evergreen pieces on the homepage for new readers to see, like this how-to guide for living your best river trip life. – Ed.
While thru-hiking has its own magic, there is a certain Tom-Sawyer-esque bliss in connecting place to place to place by river. There’s also the added benefit of not having to carry everything you need on your back. I joined one of these river rats a while back for a 250-mile stretch of his 3,800-mile source-to-sea descent of the Missouri River.
While floating down Big Muddy, I spent a lot of time thinking about the meaning of life. And about food. I thought a lot about food. You get hungry out there.
Given factors such as summer heat, proximity to water, and the fact that you’re not shouldering all of your food and cooking gear, there are some unique considerations for campers when it comes to the glory of eating on the river. Here are a few things I picked up for getting the best out of your river cuisine so you’re still going strong by day five, 10, or 50.
Make meal planning easy
When you’re traveling by canoe, the logistics of finding a place to store your boat and all of your gear while you run into town to resupply can be stressful.
To mitigate this, we used Fireside Provisions, which allows you to go online and pick out breakfast, lunch, and dinner for however many days you need. Your order is packed neatly in a box and mailed to wherever you specify. You just find a post office near the river and have it sent general delivery to be waiting for you when you paddle up.
It’s also important to remember to pick a good blend of meals—some that require a little more prep time and some that can just be mixed up in their own bag and then thrown into a pita. After 40 miles under a relentless sun, it’s good to plan on some low maintenance food.
We used 20-liter SealLine dry bags to separate our breakfasts, lunches, and dinners because they’re durable, waterproof, and come in a variety of colors that make it easy to distinguish which bag we wanted when it was time to eat. We also used a big duffle-bag-style dry bag for deeper food storage, including copious snacks, and a little day sack for what we’d nosh on while paddling
Avoid food boredom
Remember, you’re in a canoe; you’re not carrying all of your food weight on your back—so get creative, and bring more of what you love. It doesn’t all need to be lightweight, dehydrated meals. When you do get the chance to resupply at a store, go wild. Get that box of mangos. Buy that blueberry pie. Pack all the bricks of cheese you can eat.
The best item we carried with us—which you’d never find in my backpack—was a cast iron skillet. It made things like summer sausage potato hash, campfire pizzas, and even an actual box of Betty Crocker brownies not only possible, but cooked to perfection on our a sandbar kitchen.
Learn your way around the lack of refrigeration
Love real eggs in the mornings? See if you can get your hands on some farm fresh eggs. These don’t need to be refrigerated because, unlike the washed ones we buy in stores, they have a natural protective coating on them. Some river angels in Omaha gifted us a half dozen, and they made all the difference for breakfast.
For food items that do need to stay a little cooler, remember that the bottom half of the boat is submerged in the water. Therefore, items stored near the bottom of the dry bag are going to stay cooler. I found it useful, for example, to store our packs of tortillas and pitas under my seat. This prevented them from getting too hot and turning gooey from the condensation.
Finally, two words: precooked bacon. It crisps up in a skillet wonderfully, and is like heaven when paired with Popop’s Pancakes on the river. I’m sure it’s awful for you, but it’s bacon… on the river. #blessed
Photos by Korrin Bishop
Camp Notes is a big high five to the fun of sleeping outdoors and all that comes along with it. You know, camping and stuff.