Menu and cooking tips: Winter backcountry 4-day snowshoe adventure at Algonquin Provincial Park

Part of the fun of planning a camping trip is planning the food! For this 4-day trip along Algonquin Provincial Park’s Highland Backpacking Trail, my first winter backcountry trip, my friend Cheryl and I wanted to keep things simple.

Given the frigid temperatures of last February’s winter car camping trip (-17 degrees Celsius, feeling like -29 with the wind chill), we planned to do as little cooking as possible this year, while still having warm foods and beverages! Why? Cooking takes longer in the winter, burns more fuel, cold fingers don’t work as well and standing around is, well, chilly! The easiest hot meals are ones that only require you to just boil water, then add it to something and let it sit for a few minutes (e.g. oatmeal and dried fruit).

We cooked exclusively using an MSR Dragonfly stove, which thankfully worked for this winter trip (last year, it was just too cold to get our stoves going – somehow the fuel would not go through the pump). We did use the campfire to heat up our cheese buns one night!

It took nearly an hour for us to heat up our frozen solid stew and chili. In future, we would freeze the meal in the shape of the pot, so that we could easily place it into the pot and have more surface area of the food touching the heat to speed up cooking! We would also move our cooking spot around – the snow melted and a “pit” formed, so much so that on our last morning, there was so much water in the pit that it extinguished the flame!

We made everything from scratch, preparing and cooking the meals at home, so that all we had to do while camping was thaw or re-heat things. For spring, summer and fall trips we dehydrate as much as possible so that we’re carrying less weight, but given that we would be pulling all our gear in sleds, the weight of our food (17.4 pounds) was less of an issue. We did dehydrate some of our food – the fruit for our breakfasts and for our evening snacks.

Most meals were packed in individual bags, labelled by day and meal (e.g. Saturday breakfast). It makes finding things in the food bag really easy!

Day #1: Home to Algonquin Provincial Park’s West Gate to Mew Lake Campground – hiked along Track and Tower Trail to Highland Trail to Provoking Lake West, pulling 70 pound sled (3.99 km)

Breakfast – at home

Morning snack and lunch – packed lunch

Afternoon snack – chocolate nut energy square

Chocolate nut energy square

Dinner – minestrone and cornbread (prepared at home) [Note: we somehow lost this on the trail, so for dinner we ate hot chocolate, and pilfered the dehydrated bananas and chocolate from Day #2, as well as some of the chocolate chip granola bars from Day #2.]

Evening snack – dehydrated banana and chocolate treat [See comment above – lost!]

Day #2: Day hike along the Highland Trail (6.2 km)

Breakfast -oatmeal and dehydrated fruit, gatorade (very cold!) and tea

Morning snack – trail mix

Lunch – bagels, pepperettes, cheese strings

Afternoon snack – chocolate chip granola bars, hot chocolate

Dinner – stew and cornbread (prepared at home and re-heated at camp)

Evening snack – none – eaten the day before

Day #3: Day hike along the Highland Trail and Old Railway Trail (7.1 km)

Breakfast – granola and dehydrated fruit, gatorade (using water that we had in Nalgene bottles overnight as hot water bottles – so, not ice cold!) and tea

Morning snack – chocolate chip granola bars

Lunch – apple peanut salad wrap (prepared at home) [Note: thawed out by carrying in our coat inside pockets for several hours]

Afternoon snack – trail mix, hot chocolate

Dinner – chili and cheese buns (prepared at home and re-heated at camp)

Warming the buns up on the campfire

Evening snack – dehydrated banana and chocolate treat

Day #4: Hiked from Provoking Lake West to Mew Lake Campground, pulling sled (3.6 km)

Breakfast: cranberry walnut couscous porridge and dehydrated fruit, gatorade (not freezing! and tea [Note: the hot cereal wasn’t hot enough for me, because we boiled water, added it to the bowls, and let the couscous absorb it – next time, I think I would actually cook the cereal]

Morning snack: – chocolate nut energy squares

Lunch: carrot raisin peanut wrap (prepared at home) [Note: thawed out by carrying in our coat inside pockets for several hours – we ate this back at the van at the end of our last day’s hike]

Afternoon snack: peanut granola bar [Note: we ate this on our way home]

Meal prep (we used 1 tarp from the top of a sled as a food prep area, and the other as a mat just outside our tent door)

Despite losing our first day’s dinner and evening snack, we had the perfect amount of food! We are getting good at food planning!

Notes on Melting Snow for Drinking Water

  • Avoid snow crawling with snow fleas!!
  • Be prepared to keep adding snow to the pot as it melts.
  • Bring a coffee filter, or be prepared to drink lots of little bits of wood and other things found on forest floors!
  • If you do it over a campfire, as we did at times, keep the pot lid on at all times, or you’ll end up drinking very smoky tasting water (with lots of floaty bits) as we did – yuck!

Favourite Backcountry Cookbooks

In case you’re interested, some of my favourite backcountry recipes come from the following cookbooks:

  • A Fork in the Trail by Laurie Ann March
  • The Trailside Cookbook by Don and Pam Philpott

My new favourites are:

  • Backcountry Cooking by Dorcas Miller
  • LipSmackin’ Backpackin’ by Christine and Tim Connors

Related posts for this trip:

Trip report

Packing list

Gear review: snowshoes and poles

Sled review


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