The Problem with Packaging, Part II: How do I cook this stuff?

Posted by Lillian on Apr 11th 2018

This is Part III of a series on why TrailFork has chosen to opt for compostable packaging rather than the plastic cook-in-bag packaging used by most backpacking food companies. This option will not be for everyone! Sometimes managing pack weight, corralling and carrying loads for little ones, and minimizing cooking logistics must be paramount. But we wanted to see if we could convince you to give compostable packaging a try, and to shed a little light on why we’ve made the choice that we have.

As promised, I’ve returned, and this time, with hot tips!

In the last couple of posts in this series (read Part I here, and Part II here), I’ve written about why we’ve opted not to use plastic or foil cook-in-bag pouches, as well as why we think compostable packaging is the choice for us. But all of that do-gooding doesn’t go very far for actually cooking the food, now, does it?? I’ve gotten a couple of questions through Instagram and email asking for our best suggestions for cooking TrailFork food. Ask and ye shall receive, friends!

I suppose I’ll start with my own preferred method, and move on to alternatives. Of course your own choices will depend on how tolerant you are of a bit more weight in your pack, how many people are in your party, etc., etc. Follow your dreams, TrailForkers! We hope your dreams are compostable!

Option 1: Vacuum-sealed Canisters (TrailFork’s preferred mode.)

I’ve found that our meals rehydrate best in a vacuum-sealed canister. Feel free to go with your own preferred brand; my only stipulation is that you’ll want something around 16-18 oz, which will accommodate both the hot water and the TrailFork goods.

I have a quick-boiling stove. I boil water (the stove I use has volumetric measurements on the inside of the cook pot), pour it in my canister, close the lid, and shake well. I prefer shaking the canister because that way the water gets down to the bottom. If I’m feeling fancy I might take of the lid briefly and give the whole mess a good stir and then another shake. Then, I wait. Most of our stuff hydrates in about 10 minutes, give or take a few minutes depending on altitude.

Why we like option 1: The vacuum-sealed canister will likely last the rest of my life, it’s made of non-toxic stainless steel, and it keeps the food HOT!

Option 1 Downsides: These things weigh in at about 13-15 ounces. That’s just shy of an extra pound in your pack, and if you’re going ultralight, that might be a bummer.

Option 2: Use Your Cook Pot (A close second.)

This is not a terrible option. Chances are that if you’re planning on cooking in the backcountry you’re going to be packing in a stove and cook pot, right? Or maybe you’re just packing in a quick boil stove like this one, or maybe this one. Well good news, campers, you can eat your food right from the cooking vessel! Yessir, no need to pack in ANY additional canisters. In fact the stoves linked above have a friendly sleeve on the outside that also works as insulation.

Why we like option 2: This one does a great job of minimizing weight. You’re likely packing a stove and vessel for boiling water, anyway, so why not eat out of the same container? If you’re going ultralight this can work just fine.

Option 2 Downsides: The insulation around the stoves linked above isn’t awesome, and usually the lids are perforated. So, unlike the vacuum canisters, they don’t keep the food quite as hot and rehydration can take longer.

Option 3: Freezer-bag Meals (Least fav but gotta mention it.)

This is a tried-and-true method for thru-hikers and minimalists everywhere. How does it work? Get yourself a freezer bag. Fill said freezer bag with your TrailFork foods. Add boiling water. Mix. Place the freezer bag in a cozy if you have one. Wait for rehydration to occur, and voilà, your meal is ready.

Now. I’m not saying this is an awful idea. It works. In fact, if you’re reusing your freezer bags (and you should—those things can go through the dishwasher!), it’s not terribly wasteful. But, those bags are also made out of plastic and petrochemicals, and therefore they’re not our favorite thing into which to pour hot water. Nevertheless, they serve their purpose, and if this is your style and you’re committed, you do you. Your Coconut Chana Masala will taste just as good.

Overall, Option 1 really is my preferred mode. I don’t find that carrying the extra pound is incredibly cumbersome, and I appreciate that it’s kind of a set-it-and-forget it approach. I can fill the canister with water, set up the tent, and have a perfectly rehydrated and hot meal waiting when the stakes are in.

I hope this sheds some light on the mystery of cooking in the backcountry when your meal comes in a compostable pouch! And as always, if any of y’all have questions, be sure to leave them in the comments, and/or shoot us a DM on Instagram! And please tell us if you’ve got your own favorite ways to cook in the wild!