Water Purification and Campfire Cooking on Your Canoe Trip

Water Purification and Campfire Cooking on Your Canoe Trip

While exploring the woods and waterways while on your canoe trip through Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) or Quetico Provincial Park, keep in mind the importance of eating healthy.

The constant paddling motion, coupled with the energy expended on portages, equals a healthy wilderness appetite. Water intake should equal two quarts per person per day. A well-balanced menu, high in breads and grains, supplemented with plenty of vegetables and fruits, and rounded out with protein will assure you receive the maximum energy needed.

While many visitors drink directly from the lakes, park officials for both areas recommend that water should be treated before used in non-cooked foods and beverages. Treatment options should kill the giardia bacteria present in most free flowing and stagnant waters:

  • Boil water rapidly for 15 minutes
  • Water tablets
  • Large water filtration systems
  • Personal water filtration systems

The most inexpensive route will, of course, be boiling. Drawbacks consist of hot drinks instead of cold, and delays in preparing some of the freeze dried foods which require cold water.

Water tablets are quick and easy to use, but do take about 10 to 20 minutes to kill all bacteria, and leave behind a chemical taste. Adding a little fruit drink base to the water helps to mask the unpleasant taste.

Large water filtration systems typically start at about $30.00 and go on up from there. Since these systems process large quantities of water with relative speed and in most cases are reusable, veteran canoeists and backpackers choose this method.

Personal water filtration systems come in handy if a group member prefers not to use the method(s) used by the entire group.

To receive the most mileage from a water filtration system (big or small), avoid muddy or sediment filled waters when possible. Backwash the system to remove sediment build-up. Clean filters and system after each trip and store in a dry place.

With the growing interest in backpacking and canoe camping, the freeze-dried food industry has invested a great deal of money in creating gourmet and easy to make dishes. Although the freeze-dried food will hit the spot out on the trail, choosing to bring along fresh foods and spices will add extra zest to campfire cooking. Potatoes, carrots, onions, cauliflower and cabbage are just a few of the vegetables that will hold up well for the first few days of any trip. Oranges, apples and melon make great snacks and breakfast side dishes.

When selecting produce, try to choose items that are not yet at their peak ripeness. Keep in mind that the pack will create a warmer environment that will cause produce to ripen more quickly. Also, produce will receive more "abuse" from being shifted around during portaging. Avoid soft fruits such as; peaches, plums and nectarines for this reason.

Fresh meats can be taken in for the first several days of a trip. Avoid lunchmeats with milk byproducts; these will spoil quickly. Meat products should be frozen solid the morning your trip begins. Hamburger works well for your first night out. Thick steaks thaw during the first and second days of travel and provide a savory second night meal. Smoked meats, such as ham or bacon, can be used for any number of days or meals.

Fresh eggs can also be packed in. Special packing containers are available to cradle the eggs and prevent breakage. Do not use eggs that have cracked during travel.

Cheeses can safely be taken in and used to supplement entrees, sandwiches or with crackers. Spreadable cheeses also work nicely provided they do not require refrigeration.

Over the last ten years, the freeze-dried food industry has made major improvements in their food processing. The texture and food value of many entrees, desserts and vegetables has been greatly enhanced. As a general rule of thumb when preparing freeze dried foods, add an extra cup of water to 2 man servings and about 1/3 cup to 4 man. Also, double the cooking time shown on the package. This adds extra moisture and flavor to foods.

Adding a few basic spices to your food pack, such as; garlic powder, onion powder, cajun seasoning, cayenne pepper, salt & pepper and paprika can add wonderful flavor and variety to even a basic dish. The spices also come in handy for seasoning baked or fried fish. Fish fried over a campfire require a medium flame to bring the oil to cooking temperature. Baked fish can be double wrapped in aluminum foil and placed in the flames for 10 to 20 minutes per side (add a small amount of margarine and spices to enhance the flavor). Baked potatoes require about 45 minutes (depending on size) wrapped in foil and placed in the coals. Periodically turn the potatoes.

Even the most perfectly planned menu will be done in vain if the items are cooked over too hot of a campfire. Select wood that is no larger than the diameter of your wrist. Start your campfire at least 45 to 60 minutes before you plan to begin preparing your meal. The best cooking fires are those that consist of mostly coals and a few small flames. Add wood only as needed to maintain the small flames. A fire of large roaring flames is best saved for after the meal.

Tasty, memorable trail cuisine begins with a good campfire and a creative mind. Good cooking and happy trails.

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