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Tips for Hungry Backpackers

Keep it light (but keep the wine)



Lucky us. We who live in Humboldt County have not one but four wilderness areas in which to play: the Marbles, the Trinities, the Russian Wilderness and the Lost Coast. Breathtaking as they are, though, if you haven't brought the right food, you"ll be too tired or hungry to enjoy their beauty.

Back in the '70s, when I first went backpacking with my then-boyfriend, we carried a heavy pot, metal bowls and cans of chili. You heard that right. Cans. There was no other choice. I can still remember Barry stamping on the empty can to flatten it before burying it deep in the ground.

Forty years later, we're still backpacking. Times have changed, though. Now we carry lightweight backpacks and sleeping bags; a UV water purifier (not iodine, which took 30 minutes to sterilize the water); a Whisperlite cooking stove; and a titanium pot. Since we're in our 60s and 70s, we have to pay attention to how much weight we carry or our knees and ankles will pay for it. Plus, we're more agile with lighter packs.

On the other hand, we don't want to feel deprived. Treats feel particularly well deserved after a long day's hike. Finding the sweet spot between carrying extra goodies but not too much weight is the goal.

Here are the foods we bring, along with recommendations from trusted fellow backpackers.

Breakfast: granola and powdered milk. Others we know take instant oatmeal and dried fruit. We also live on instant coffee — funny how it tastes great at 7,000 feet.

Lunch: Hard to improve on tried-and-true basics: Granola bars with apple slices. OK, apples are not smart weight-wise, but I like the juiciness of an apple with a granola bar so they're a concession. We used to make trail mix (peanuts, chocolate chips and raisins) but these days we buy it in bulk. Newbies: Be wary of carrying chocolate, which can melt, though M&M's and other candy-coated chocolate are safer. Avoid cheese, which gets gummy. We also bring lemon-honey cough drops to suck on.

Dinner: Our more purist hiker friends think freeze-dried food is too bland and pricey, but we've enjoyed one particular dish for years: Mountain House's Long Grain and Wild Rice Pilaf. I add spring onions, mushrooms, sweet pepper and parsley, all of which keep for a couple of days if stored in the shade, and salt and pepper. The pilaf yields a generous amount for two people and at $6.95 doesn't break the bank. With it, we eat tough German-style bread or tortillas, which don't crush. The pilaf cooks right in the bag, which saves cleaning the pot, and we eat it in repurposed plastic containers instead of heavy bowls. For dessert we bring crunchy (not soft and smashable) oatmeal cookies, which we also enjoy mid-afternoon with a cup of tea.

Another concession is red wine, decanted into a plastic bottle. I have a two-piece BPA-free acrylic wine glass from GSI Outdoors, the base of which twists off and snaps into the bowl for packing. The wine tastes great with dinner as we sit on a rock overlooking an alpine lake and watching the light fade. Barry also brings Jägermeister for a late-night treat as he looks up at the stars.

Those in my backpacking circle swear by packaged cooked rice, beans or curry; dehydrated curried lentil soup (available at either North Coast Co-op); any Tasty Bite package of Asian cuisine; chili mix; flavored couscous or high-quality ramen with dried beans and veggies in it. And peanut butter in powder form, which is better than you expect. Some whip up pesto and burritos with dehydrated herbs and beans.

If you bring enough, any food tastes good after a long hike. And the pizza and beer you enjoy back down in Willow Creek may taste even better.

Louisa Rogers thinks the Marble Mountains are Northern California's best-kept secret.

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