There’s nothing worse than nights in the backcountry when you’re exhausted and all you want is some easy to cook cheesy pasta, but the meal you planned for is complicated and requires using all your pans. Instead of cooking by the book, wouldn’t it be nice to carry less and cook whatever makes your mouth water? It’s pretty much ideal; so throw your outdated meal system out the window, because with a bulk rationing system, there is no set menu. You cook and eat what you want, when you want. Sound great? It is, and it’s easy too.
The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) pioneered this system and has been using it for years, and for good reason. It works best for long expeditions, but can be pared down for shorter trips (5-10 days) as well. Claudia Pearson, editor of the world-famous NOLS Cookery, has been using bulk rations for 32 years and says she cannot imagine cooking and eating any other way while in the backcountry. “It’s easy, allows you to be more creative, and is flexible in the field depending on the type of day you might be encountering,” Pearson says.
NOLS starts out by calculating the total amount of food for the trip. To do this, determine how many pounds of food per person per day you expect to use (pppd). On a frigid winter trip, plan for packing more food than you would on a summer backpacking trip, around two pounds per person per day. Once you have figured out poundage, break it down into different food groups. All the energy you use is obtained through the food you eat, so making sure you are consuming foods from the dairy, protein, fruits/veggies, and grain groups is essential to high function in the backcountry. Try planning your rations around each of these groups so you get multiple servings from each group per day.
The process sounds complicated at first, but once you catch on, Pearson is sure you’ll never go back to planning individual meals for a longer expedition. The system NOLS uses is key in teaching backcountry skills to students, including backcountry cooking.
If ease and flexibility aren’t incentive enough, the system is also more lightweight because you are carrying ingredients instead of whole meals. What more can you ask for from your food?
Check out some of Pearson’s favorite recipes including calzones, cinnamon rolls, and peanut noodles as well as what to include in your spice kit. The hearty recipes will keep your belly happy and your toes warm on those extra cold nights.