Camp Cooking & A Backcountry Epic Fail

picture of camping gear to use for cooking meals while camping
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picture of our cooking setup while we're camping
Our Camp Cooking Set-up

This is the transcript from our podcast, if you would rather listen than read, you can download it wherever you get your podcasts, like Spotify here.

Pamela: Hello and good day, eh. Welcome to the Super good Camping Podcast. 

My name is Pamela

Tim: and I’m Tim

Pamela: and we’re from SuperGoodCamping.com. 

We’re here because we want to educate and inspire other families to enjoy camping adventures such as we have with our kids. 

Cooking While Camping 

Today we wanted to talk a little bit about cooking while you’re camping. So, Tim is our master chef who we take with us everywhere we go. He’s responsible for all the cooking. So I’m going to turn it over to him and just let him talk about some of the cooking methods and the things that we bring with us as far as cooking equipment.

Tim: Right out of the gate I’m going to say I’m NOT the master chef, I just like cooking. I’m willing to try just about everything and when it’s a failure I luckily have a wonderful family that doesn’t give me too much grief about it.  and is very encouraging when it works out well.  Car camping wise, for the camp cooking equipment, we have multiple looks we use.  It depends on how many of us are going and how much space we have to lug things. My favourite thing to take with us, historically, going back quite a ways, we used to have a Coleman Road Trip barbeque. It collapses, it has sort of sideboards that pull out. It’s very low profile. It’s very efficient on propane, although I do tend to lug a barbeque-sized propane tank with me. You can do everything on it.  We’ve done ribs for 20’ish, some fairly ridiculous number of people.  We’ve done 2 cedar planks of big salmon, you can cook quite a bit, it’s nice for steaks, it’s nice for chops. You can get accessories.  That’s our previous one. We have the newer version now.  I believe it’s called the Coleman NXT.  It’s a less rounded version. My Mom has a bit of a shopping issue so the previous, the Road Tripper was still fine.  I actually had some accessories like a griddle for it so we could do hash browns or eggs or whatever for breakfast on it.  I couldn’t boil my coffee on it but I always had a side burner, like an additional single burner for it, so no big deal. The new one does have a temperature gauge on it which is really handy. If you’re doing something that you want to do low and slow, like salmon. I prefer to spend a little bit longer and keep everything juicy while it’s on top of lemon slices.  I used to have a Coleman single burner that screwed onto a one-pound tank of propane with a fairy sturdy base on it.  So you could do a pot of vegetables on the side.  Or do your coffee in the morning, tea, what have you. We have a couple of more fuel-efficient single burners that I use for backcountry as well. Maybe a little less stable per se, but they’re still pretty awesome and use even half the fuel to do the same job. So MSR Pocket Rocket 2, I think that’s what that is.  It’s great. It weighs like nothing. You would stick it in your pocket and you’d be like, where’s the pocket rocket? I don’t know where I put it. It’s in your pocket. It folds down into nothing, takes no space, so it’s perfect for backcountry, but it also works extremely well for front-country so we’ve started to use that just to save some space. When we’re not using the barbeque to cook on we also have a Coleman, I think it’s a Camp Propane grill.  It has a barbeque style, single burner grill on one side of it, and has a single burner, like a round burner on the other side.  Again, it’s great for doing your coffee in the morning, you can also do eggs on the single burner, while you’re doing bacon over an open flame on the right, on the grill side. So that’s quite nice.  It takes up less space, it weighs less, it’s even more efficient than the Coleman barbeque.  You can’t do big stuff and I can tell you from experience don’t do salmon on the cedar plank on it as we now have a fairly warped grill from doing exactly that.  And just a side note, we looked it up afterward because I thought that’s pretty crappy for the first go out, and we melt the grill on it or warped it because it melted. Coleman is not inclined to replace said grill for you and it’s happened to a bunch of people. Who knows what they all did, I don’t know. It’s a thin sheet of wood with a salmon on it.

Pamela: It seemed to trap too much heat underneath.

Tim: Yeah, and it was droopy. I had no idea until l actually pulled the plank off and the grill was a solid 3/4″ drooped in the center.  That’s poopy. It still works.  I’m not thrilled with that kind of customer service, just saying. Outside of that, in Provincial Parks most of the time you have a firepit, it usually has a steel grate on it to keep your fire contained, but it also has a grate that flips on and off if you want to cook things on it. It can be a little more time-consuming, but it’s a pretty cool experience and anything cooked over a wood fire is pretty darn yummy.  We often also throw things into the fire once we’ve got it rocking.  That’s how we do our lobster tails, wrap them up in tin foil.  I’ll tell you how to prep them later, at another date probably. Baked potatoes, throw them in, but you can cook right on top of the grill itself, you can wrap it in tinfoil because they do tend to be a little rusty sometimes.  There’s also…I’ll look it up and give Pamela the info so that she can post it.  There’s a company that makes a two-level grate that goes over the entire fire pit itself and it’s chrome so you can cook on it, it might be stainless steel. So you can cook on it and do whatever you want and not have to worry about tinfoil so you can get the full flavor from the fire.

Pamela: So as you can see we have lobster tails and planked salmon and steak and chicken, and we eat pretty well while we’re camping. We’ve been the envy of some of our siblings. 

Tim: Yes, just to throw in, I mean that’s my cooking palate.  I, again, follow a ridiculous number of Facebook groups about camping.  They often do one-pot meals where they throw a dutch oven in the coals and load it up with stew or I saw somebody do a Yorkshire pudding-type of a deal once.  I don’t know, that’s a newbie for me. I can’t imagine lugging a pot that’s that heavy out camping with me. 

Backcountry Camping at Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park

Pamela: The other topic we wanted to get into today, was a topic that Tim really does not want to discuss, however, we felt that we had to be completely honest and authentic and let you know about our very first attempt at backcountry camping. We attempted backcountry camping for the first time in 2017.  We went to Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park.  Kawartha  Highlands Provincial Park is the largest park in Southern Ontario after Algonquin. It’s a special place, with lots of opportunities for car camping but also backcountry canoeing and camping.  It is open year-round so you can actually backcountry camp year-round at Kawartha Highlands.  We put in at, I don’t remember which lake we put in at? 

Tim: I want to say Cold Lake, but I’m not positive. I have totally blocked that experience from my memory. 

Pamela: Here are my recollections from the trip. It was a short trip.  It was not intended to be a short trip.  We arrived on the day that we were intending to be there. We unloaded the car, got the canoes both in the lake, and took off for our first site.  My recollection of the day was that it was a full day of 5-6 hours of paddling. Tim will correct me if I’m wrong. It seemed like it took us the full day. It was dark by the time we got to our site.  And we were all exhausted and hungry and cranky and thirsty.  We got ourselves unloaded and set up and Tim got to work at making some food, and we collapsed into our beds in exhaustion for the night. And the next day, bad weather was coming and it had taken us much longer to get to our site than what we had anticipated and we felt if we were going to be trying to do the same thing to get to our next site, in bad weather, it was probably going to go badly. And so we ended the trip on the second day. Tim, feel free to jump in and correct me.

Tim: I would like to say that it started off on a good note. As we were unloading there was an eclipse happening. We had brought the welding goggles, er no, not the welding goggles, we had ordered from Sky and Telescope, I think, the mirrored lenses so that we could watch the eclipse happen and there was another group with some wee little kids and they were like, what?  We watched for a little bit and then we handed off the glasses, the other kids watched and whatnot.  So that was quite nice.  Then we put in the water and it all went into the toilet. The best explanation that I can give is that I totally overestimated our abilities when I booked the trip. It had been many years since I had backcountried.  And as time does, it didn’t seem to be as difficult as it turned out to be.  It was a big body of water. I was the only one, literally the only one with paddling experience.  We had a long way to go.  A big body of water means lots of wind, so a lot of work. I totally shot us in the foot.  At some point, we’ll discuss backcountry camping, or hopefully, we’ll have a few discussions about it.  The biggest takeaway for me was that we weren’t up for the task.  I don’t know that even on my own I could have pulled it off.  Now I could, but that’s three pretty substantial backcountry trips down the road and a couple of long weekends.  I wanted everyone to enjoy it as much as I had enjoyed it. But I also expected everybody to be able to do the same stuff as I could do and I made a huge mistake.  In hindsight, there was so much information that I didn’t have. It wasn’t just about oversubscribing us.  You look at a map, you can spend the time, look at the scale, go oh, that’s a bigger lake than I thought.  I looked at it and went “ah, that’s not that big” and I thought “ok fine, we can do that” and I was woefully mistaken. There were some beautiful moments, mostly it was paddling our brains out and being tired and very unhappy. 

Pamela: One of the other recollections that I have is that I rented a kevlar canoe.  We have our own canoe, but we needed a second one.  I rented a kevlar canoe and as Tim said the lake was large and windy and the water was somewhat rough.  The kevlar, I think because of the lightness of it and because of our inexperience, would get caught and it would spin around and we would end up doing a 180-degree turn and face the wrong direction and then have to turn ourselves around to get going in the right direction again. So our paddle ended up being much longer than it needed to be or should have been just because of my inexperience with wrangling a kevlar canoe. But we thought it would be better for the portages because it would be lighter and be easier to carry.  The other is that at the time our kids were a few years younger than they are now.  They would have been 15 and 12. The younger one, in terms of being able to carry as much as everyone else, it was not reasonable to expect him to.  There was also a height disparity at the time. Which there isn’t anymore.

Tim: Well, there is, but it’s going in the other direction.

Pamela: So at the time, I was taller, I’m not anymore, and he was shorter.  So the two of us trying to carry the canoe together, it wasn’t working particularly well. 

Tim: Yeah, I would agree with all of that, you guys probably paddled 30-40% more than from A to B should have been. And portaging, I’ve learned, is very much a learned art. How to one-up with the canoe, get it up over your head, especially, not as much with the kevlar, but certainly with our big old fiberglass girl.  At the time, I wanted to do the portage in one. I have long since decided that I’m over it.  If we’re carrying that much stuff that we are killing ourselves to do it in one. Okay so make 3 trips, or do it 3 times, meaning it’s two trips, you have to go there, come back and then go there again. So I’m way better at doing this stuff now. For the record, neither Pamela nor Brandon had been backcountry with us since.  And quite reasonably so.  But Brandon did choose to come with us for a sort of a lighter-duty version that Thomas and I have historically done in the fall, weirdly to the same park. But it’s very low key.  It might be a 200 m portage which is essentially from your car to put your canoe in the water.  And there was another 80-foot portage and nothing to it.  Maybe an hour and a half from the time we’re pulling stuff out of the car until the time we were at our site.  So yay, we’re halfway there, we got one of them back! 

Pamela: And there is the heavy pressure to go again.  Well so, lessons learned, one is just the planning.  We also learned not to be overly ambitious in terms of having several different sites.  Going to one site staying for a couple of nights and then maybe another site and stay for a couple of nights.  Tim has also found other maps, I think, to give more detail as to the difficulty and planning the route. 

Tim: Well, and Tim has become a better map reader as well.  Jeff, for his Unlostify maps, I highly recommend them, but they take a bit of getting used to.  I had to slow down and read all of the stuff that he writes in the directions that he had on his maps. Because he maps them out for beginners, for intermediate, and for hardcore.  I have to say he’s quite good with his recommendations, with his distances, his measurements, how hard things are to do, especially the portages.  Especially if you’re not really good at reading topographical information on a map. He kind of does it for you.  But you need to spend the time to read what he has to say.

Pamela: So we’ve learned from our mistakes and we’re doing better now.  And we’ll get into other backcountry trips that Tim has done in a later episode.    

That’s it for us for today.  I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day. And if you would like to get ahold of us, we would always love to hear from you.  Our email address is hi@supergoodcamping.com, that’s “h” “i” at supergoodcamping.com and we try to upload a new podcast every week on Sunday or Monday. 

Pamela: Bye!

Tim: Bye!

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