How to Eat Well on a Week Long Wilderness Canoe Trip

To truly experience wilderness you need to put the road behind you and get away from the sounds and sights of modern 21st century living. My preferred method is the canoe; it allows for a greater carrying capacity than backpacking and is easier on the feet.

New photo by Wanderlust Family Adventure / Google Photos

If you put a few portages behind you the people disappear and the wilderness experience you have always wanted becomes manifest. Canoeing is open to all levels of expertise from easy flat-water paddles to thrilling whitewater adventures. For trips of a week or more I recommend the Machias, St. John or Allagash Rivers in Maine. These will give you a true wilderness adventure. A great alternate to river travel is to lake hop in areas such as Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario or the Boundary Waters Canoe area on the Minnesota-Ontario border.

New photo by Wanderlust Family Adventure / Google Photos
New photo by Wanderlust Family Adventure / Google Photos

Once you decide on a trip that matches your skill level and travel schedule it is time to prepare for your trip. I am not going to cover the canoe skills or trip arrangements in this blog (there are numerous sources available). I will cover here how to plan and execute a meal plan for a trip of one week. Canoeing is a huge advantage over backpacking in terms of eating well while in the wilderness. The first thing you need to determine is; are campfires permitted? And what type of packaging is allowed. Let’s assume you can build a small campfire and you are in an area allowing cans (not allowed in the BWCA). This is a meal plan for 4-6 people and a leisurely trip stopping each day around 4:00 PM.

New photo by Wanderlust Family Adventure / Google Photos

Resource list:
Dutch Oven
Griddle
Nested Cook Set
Cloth Napkin
Spatula
Cooking Oil
Wire Grill
Condiments (salt, pepper, Adobe seasoning, etc.)
Knife
Small camp stove (backpacker type)
Fuel for stove
Water filter
Backpack waterproof cooler

Before getting into the menu there are a few things to go over. A Dutch Oven and griddle seem to be extravagant items to take on a wilderness trip and no doubt you will be cursing during a long portage. However the flexibility and capability for preparing “home cooked” meals more than makes up for the extra weight. If you focus on the trip and the experience instead of the final destination your enjoyment of the adventure will compensate for the inconveniences. Take your time each night enjoy your surroundings and have a real meal. If you make a point of stopping early you can take a swim, go on a short hike or fish while your meal is being prepared. My philosophy of wilderness meal planning is to have a hearty breakfast, a light no cook lunch (granola and trail mix could suffice) and a multicourse well cooked dinner.

A division of labor is critical for this plan. You must have someone willing to be “Camp Chef” and the other members of the group need to take care of the set up and striking camp duties. Dish washing should also be done by someone other than the chef so that he/she has some downtime.

The ingredients for the trip do not have to break the bank. Almost all of the items are readily available in the grocery store and you do not have to utilize very expensive backpacking supplies. There are a few specialty items that you will need for this menu. The US military has rations designed for their combat troops called “Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).” I always take some of these along for the side dishes and as an emergency backup. I also find powdered vegetable oil and powdered eggs useful. Several suppliers offer canned bacon that you can order on-line.

New photo by Wanderlust Family Adventure / Google Photos

It is best to burn the can after use to eliminate odors. Remember to pack out everything you bring in. Freeze any meat you will not be using the first day and put it into the bottom of your waterproof backpack cooler. It will act as ice for the items you will be eating the first few days. One last tip, especially for grocery store items, repack into bags or containers more suitable.

Below is a sample seven day menu, I have gone on trips as long as two weeks and have had meals such as; roast leg of lamb, pork shoulder and New England boiled dinner on the side of a river or lake.

Day one
Breakfast At home or on the road on way to put in
Lunch (on the river) Subs (either homemade or picked up at a sub shop)
Dinner Roast Turkey with instant mashed potatoes, stove top stuffing and canned cranberry sauce
Day two
Breakfast Omelet with turkey, onions and peppers
Lunch Granola, meat sticks, cheese
Dinner Turkey Stew

Day three
Breakfast Bacon and scrambled eggs
Lunch Beef Jerky
Dinner Steak with MRE side dishes

Day four
Breakfast Pancakes
Lunch Canned fish; sardines, tuna
Dinner Roast Canned Ham with potatoes

Day five
Breakfast Ham omelet
Lunch Tinned Meat
Dinner Pea soup

Day six
Breakfast Biscuits (fresh baked) or bannock
Lunch Granola
Dinner Pasta with pesto

Day seven
Breakfast Pancakes with bacon
Lunch Leftover lunch items

Shopping list:
Turkey
Instant mashed potatoes
Stove Top stuffing mix
Onion
Green peppers or chilies
Potatoes
Carrots
Granola bars and other snack type items
Trail mix
Canned Bacon
Meat sticks (pepperoni, Slim Jim)
Cheese (String, individually wrapped)
Steak
Powdered eggs
Pancake mix
Tinned fish (tuna, sardines, etc.)
Tinned meat (chicken, ham, spam, etc.)
MRE vegetable side dishes
Split peas
Biscuit mix

Remember you can always supplement with fresh fish or foraged items such as berries or mushrooms (only if you have a qualified forager in your group).

The key takeaway is use the grocery store to full advantage and pay a little extra price on the portages to make your trip as memorable as possible.