Summer Adventure + Tasty Bite Review: Part II

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Several weeks ago, I had a decent stretch of time off from work – simply because that was the way my schedule ended up. In a span of seven days, Tim and I spent five of them immersed in the wilderness. It was awesome. If you didn’t catch Part I, you can read all about it here!

I’m quite fond of backpacking trips that lead out of the trees and into a world dotted with alpine lakes, wildflower meadows, and grand views of snow-capped peaks. We have a few favorite trails, one of them being the Broken Top Loop near Sisters, OR. We hiked this 25-mile gem two years ago and knew we would make it a point to return again.

Sadly, during the year between our first and second visit, a wildfire damaged a generous portion of the trail (4-5 miles or so). The area is still beautiful, but wow, what a transformation of landscape! Charred tree trunks, dusty black ash underfoot, not much greenery, and no shelter from the sweltering summer sun.

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This time around, we took less photographs, but I think we still captured the beauty. And, we had a Tasty Bite meal to review. Easy dinners are always appreciated after climbing for 8 miles!

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We camped close to a mountain lake on our first night – the perfect place to splash around in icy water and cool off. We had the company of dozens of squawky Clark’s Nutcrackers. They are noisy and hilarious. Tim recorded them and you can listen here and here! I loved hearing their sharp beaks peck away at pinecones.

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After relaxing and rehydrating, we whipped up dinner: a pouch of Tasty Bite’s Ginger Lentil Rice plus some kale and vacuum-packed tofu we brought from home. Gourmet, right?! It was filling and very flavorful. We marveled at how we could detect all the fresh spices and ingredients.

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I would absolutely make this meal again. Dry rice takes too much time to cook when backpacking so this was a special treat. Tasty Bite provides lots of nourishment in a small pouch, and enough food to feed two hungry (HUNGRY) vegans.

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As you can see, Tim is a fan of smiling for the camera. We hope to get several more backpacking trips in before the weather turns wet and cold. We have a few months still so it should be easy!

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See ya next time!

 

Summer Adventures + Tasty Bite Review: Part I

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Escaping the scorching summer heat is easy when you live in the Pacific Northwest. Just head for the mountains! Every year, Tim and I try to take advantage of our flexible work schedules and hit the trails for multi-day backpacking trips. I absolutely love the solitude –  and wilderness adventures confirm that I’m not much of a city girl. Thankfully Portland is a small-ish city surrounded by mountain peaks waiting to be explored.

A few weeks ago we revisited one of our favorite backpacking destinations: the Goat Rocks Wilderness in Washington state. While the drive creeps close to three hours, it is worth every single second. We have hiked this trail four times now, and three out of those four times resulted in complete solitude at our campsite. I love when that happens.

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This particular trip was just an over-nighter, but lingering longer would have been possible if jobs back home didn’t exist. :) Meal planning was easy because the kind folks at Tasty Bite contacted me awhile ago asking if I wanted to review some of their products. Tasty Bite makes ready-to-eat Indian and Pan Asian meals with a focus on fresh, natural ingredients. The packages don’t weigh much and heat up in just a few minutes, so they are ideal for folks with busy lifestyles or outdoor adventures on their agendas, like me!

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We packed Thai Lime Rice and Channa Masala – fusion food that worked surprisingly well together. But, before I get to the review, let’s take a peek at a few more trail photographs, shall we?

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And then we ate dinner:

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It was close to freezing (yes, even in August!) by the time we went to sleep. And because we were up near 7,000 feet in elevation, we literally slept in the clouds the entire night. So, this warming meal was a pleasant surprise. Not only was it filling and flavorful, but a bit spicy too. We both really enjoyed the fact that the chickpeas weren’t mushy. The rice was perfectly cooked. And, we tasted ginger, garlic, lemongrass, and lime – so many delicious flavors in one meal! We devoured this pretty quickly and the servings per pouch fed two hungry hikers. Thank you, Tasty Bite, for the samples!!

The next morning, we hit the trial again. More fog. More clouds. More solitude.

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And before we knew it, we were back home in Portland. But, the adventures continued the following week. Stay tuned for Part II!

Backpacking Essentials Part II: Components of a Pack

It’s time for Part II of my Backpacking Essentials series! Today’s post is all about what to pack for overnight (or longer) wilderness excursions. It can be very overwhelming trying to decide what gear, accessories, and clothing to take on a backpacking trip. Nobody wants to lug around a heavy pack, especially if climbing steeper terrain or hiking 6+ miles each day is on the agenda.

When Tim and I first started backpacking together our packs were significantly heavier. Over the years were have learned a lot and lightened our loads considerably, which makes for much more enjoyable hiking. As a petite woman barely reaching 5’2″, I like to keep my total pack weight between 12-15 pounds. This allows for more mobility, comfort, and endurance. Here are my pack essentials for a 2-3 day backpacking trip:

  • Inflatable sleeping mat (Therm-a-Rest has an incredible variety)
  • Compressible pillow (I have the smallest size)
  • Sleeping bag (ours is homemade, very lightweight, and sleeps 2, so Tim and I can share it)
  • Rain jacket and rain pants
  • Extra socks (made from synthetic fibers, never cotton – cotton takes forever to dry and won’t keep your feet as warm)
  • Long underwear top and bottoms
  • Hat and gloves (depending on the season and altitude of the hike)
  • Headlamp
  • First aid kit (band-aids, antibiotic ointment, aspirin, safety pins, cotton swabs, etc.)
  • Toiletries kit (small tin of toothpaste, toothbrush, tiny bottle of biodegradable soap, lip balm, sunscreen, insect repellent, toilet paper, and a quick-drying hand towel)
  • Deck of cards (occupies time when you are lounging in your tent – Tim and I have made up so many silly card games!)
  • Camera (the heaviest item in my pack)
  • Pack liner (essentially a large plastic bag that goes into my pack first and keeps all of the contents dry)
  • Pack cover
  • Water bladder
  • Food, split with Tim

Since Tim and I always hike together, we have the luxury of splitting our gear to fairly distribute the weight. Here is what Tim usually carries in his homemade backpack (ends up being around 18 pounds):

  • Tent poles and stakes
  • Tent body, rain fly, and ground cloth (we have a tent we made ourselves and one we bought – we love both and choose which one to use depending on the season)
  • Backpacking stove (we have had ours for over 10 years and it still works well)
  • Fuel bottle for stove
  • Cook set, sporks (yes, sporks!), and cups
  • Pocket knife
  • Inflatable sleeping mat
  • Compressible pillow
  • Headlamp
  • Water bladder
  • Rain jacket and pants
  • Extra socks
  • Long underwear top and bottoms
  • Hat and gloves
  • Map and trail directions
  • Food, split with me
  • Pack liner
  • Pack cover


I can completely understand how the cost of gear might seem overwhelming. Tim and I have owned our gear for over ten years so the initial investment has been paid off several times over. Here are some tips to consider:

  1. Take your time when deciding which gear to buy. Read consumer reviews to get a better idea of how certain gear performs.
  2. Visit a local outdoor shop and check out gear you are interested in – ask questions!
  3. Take advantage of used gear sales, outlet stores, or friends who may be parting with gear that still has some use.
  4. Try renting some gear and test it in the wilderness to see if you like it.
  5. Don’t feel pressured to buy the most expensive, most popular gear. Buy what suits your own needs.
  6. Try making your own gear, if possible! It is less expensive, challenging, and fun.
  7. Borrow gear from friends/family if you can’t afford to purchase certain items.

Once you have your gear selected, you need to pack it wisely to ensure comfort and mobility. Filling a backpack requires some patience and practice. It is best to start by laying your gear out on the floor. Place the items that you won’t use right away in the bottom of your pack and end with the gear you will need quick access to. Also keep in mind that heavier gear placed in the bottom of your pack will balance your load better. I usually put my sleeping bag, sleeping mat, and pillow at the bottom and follow with long underwear, spare clothing, food, rain gear, and camera. Other essentials are stowed in the lid and side pockets of my pack.

Tim packs his gear in a similar manner. The best part about multi-day trips is that as the food supply diminishes, so does the weight of your pack! So… Eat up!

Hopefully this post will help get you out on the trail and snoring under the stars (or rainbows!) in no time!

Part III of this series will focus on clothing and footwear, so stay tuned!

Backpacking Essentials Part I: Preparing Food for the Trail

I have decided to start a new series on my blog about backpacking essentials. Backpacking is a big part of my life and I thought it might be fun to share some tips on how to get the most out of a backpacking trip. If you have questions you want answered or need some general guidance, please contact me or leave a comment below and I will make sure to address those topics in future posts.

It’s the ideal time of year for backpacking – at least it is in the Pacific Northwest. As the weather cools slightly, pesky bugs and crowds slowly dissipate and venturing into the wilderness brings more solitude. The temperatures in Oregon feel more like what you would expect in southern Texas right now, but that will change once this silly heat wave passes next week. Since backpacking season came late this year due to lingering snow on the trails and unseasonably cold weather in June and July, Tim and I still have  a hefty list of trails we hope to hike in the upcoming months.

I’ve been meaning to write a post about preparing food for overnight (or longer) backpacking trips for quite some time. When Tim and I first started backpacking together (waaaaay back in 1996!) we took simple, bland food like ramen noodles, crackers, raisins, and oatmeal packets. We have learned over the years that fresh, flavorful food is much more enjoyable on the trail. It is also better for you since packaged meals contain more sodium and other icky ingredients. We developed a knack for creating exciting meals on the trail when we lived in New Zealand. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for us to make pizza or stir-fry at our campsites! I remember making fried bananas for dessert one night…

Anyways, preparing for backpacking trips is quite easy once you’ve picked a trail and have your map (always have a map!!). Usually Tim checks road/trail conditions while I plan/prepare our meals. We pack our gear the night before so that taking off in the morning is quick and effortless.

We have also learned over the years to pack lighter (I will write a post on this topic in the future). A few years ago we made our own backpacks (Tim uses his, but I don’t like mine very much because it hurts my shoulders), tent, tarp, and sleeping bag (yes, we share a sleeping bag, but the pattern was designed for two and it’s pretty amazing). The combined weight of the last three items is less than that of one regular sleeping bag from an outdoor store (or very close in weight). We have a standard tent that we use on occasion too. The lighter weight of our gear allows us to stretch a bit and use more fresh foods for our meals.

Here is a list of some of our top choices for staying full and nourished on the trail:

Breakfasts

  • Couscous mixed with a bit of sweetener, dried fruits, nuts, cinnamon, and unsweetened shredded coconut (cooked using powdered soy milk mixed with water to make it richer and creamier) – Add a dollop of peanut butter to the top for extra protein

  • Homemade granola topped with dried bananas and non-dairy milk (using soy milk powder and reconstituting with water)
  • Bagels topped with peanut butter and dried fruits or avocado (also nice for quick lunches)
  • Oatmeal topped with chia seeds, nuts, dried, fruits, and maple syrup (we only make oatmeal if we are tired of the other options)
Lunches/Snacks
  • Carrot sticks
  • Dried apple rings
  • Homemade energy bars

  • Fresh grapes, blueberries, and/or pitted cherries (sturdy and refreshing)
  • Kale chips
  • Tofu jerky (homemade is nice because you can control the flavors/seasonings)
  • Bagel sandwiches (sturdy and filling)

  • Nuts
  • Small cookies or squares of chocolate (if it isn’t too hot to melt them)
Dinners
  • Soba noodles with sliced bell peppers, broccoli florets, cabbage, carrots, and coconut curry sauce (made at home and carried in a small leakproof bottle)

  • Pasta with sauteed tempeh cubes (marinated and cooked at home) and marinara sauce (also made at home and packed in a small, leakproof bottle)
  • Soup (better enjoyed during colder weather) – Pack some bouillon cubes, diced veggies, and small noodles and you are pretty much set. If you don’t mind packing a few small squares of cornbread, your dinner will be much more filling. Dried onion, garlic, and nutritional yeast are also nice, flavorful additions.
  • Curry – Chop and prep a variety of veggies at home (carrot disks, green beans, bell pepper, etc) and also prepare a small bottle of sauce. We serve our curry over couscous since it cooks so quickly. But, curry served as a stew is equally nice too.

  • Soft tacos – Pack small soft corn tortillas, a bell pepper, prepared soy curls, and some refried beans (in a ziplock bag, not the can). We usually pack half a can of beans and that is plenty for two people.
Desserts
  • Small cookies
  • Chocolate bars
  • Sturdy brownie squares
  • Graham crackers spread with chocolate hazelnut butter (travel size squeeze packets are great for this!) and topped with vegan marshmallows
  • Pudding, if you have the patience, is so much fun! You just need to mix the proper ratio of powdered non-dairy milk, dried sweetener, cocoa powder, a thickening starch such as arrowroot, and maybe some chocolate chips with water. Backpacking stoves can be fussy, so watch carefully when you cook the pudding.

Tips:
  • If you can find small (1 – 4 ounce sizes work well), leakproof bottles, I highly suggest making the investment. You can tote sauces, cooking oil, biodegradable soap, etc with ease. We use Nalgene brand bottles, like these.
  • Take along a small scrubby sponge (we cut a square from our dish sponge at home) and scraper to make washing pots/dishes less of a hassle. Make sure to use a biodegradable soap like Dr. Bronner’s.
  • As much as I hate having to use ziplock bags, they are essential for backpacking. We wash and reuse our ziplock bags so we don’t need to buy them very often. Ziplocks are great for packing meal components. I even save the bulk spice ziplocks (which are often very small) from my co-op to pack toppings for meals (sesame seeds for noodle meals, shredded coconut for oatmeal, sprinkles for pudding, mixed herbs for soups, etc). Make sure to use a variety of sizes so you aren’t packing extra unnecessary weight and bulk.
  • It also helps to group each meal’s ingredients together. That way, you aren’t digging around looking for noodles in one bag and sauce in another bag. Keeping your meals organized means you save time cooking and can stow food you don’t need out of the way.
  • Prepare as much of your meals at home as possible. If you have been hiking for eight miles, the last thing you want to do is spend an hour or more making dinner. I always make sauces in advance, precook/marinate tempeh or soycurls, wash and chop veggies (except for mushrooms) at home the night before we leave.
  • Label your bags! Make sure to write on each food bag what the contents are and any cooking instructions needed. If you measured oats at home and didn’t write the amount on the ziplock, you’ll be making guesses on how much liquid to add later.
  • Get rid of any excess packaging from store-bought foods. You will save weight (obviously) and will have less trash to pack out after your trip.
  • Speaking of trash, PACK IT OUT WITH YOU!!!! Don’t be a lazy litterbug. Tim and I have come across random garbage on the trail and grumble every single time. We pick it up as long as we have room to pack it out with us. If you can’t be responsible for your own trash, stay at home and live in your stupid mess.
  • Don’t wash your dishes, pots, and utensils in local water sources. It is bad for all the wonderful creatures who live in the water and it is bad for the environment. Wash your dishes with as little soap and water as possible and do so away from your tent (you don’t want to attract critters!). We sprinkle our dishwater away from water sources and our campsite. This is why having a pot scraper is handy – you can get as much food from your dishes off as possible so there is less to dispose of later.
  • Keep snacks more accessible in your pack. Sometimes it’s a nuisance to take off your pack and dig around looking for snacks. I keep a day’s worth of tasty snacks in the lid of my pack so I can reach them with ease.
  • Pack more perishable items a bit deeper in your pack if the weather is warmer. They will stay insulated longer.
  • Speaking of more perishable foods, use them first. For example, if you have a meal that uses tempeh and a meal that is noodles with veggies and sauce, make the tempeh meal first. We have found that fresh veggies last a few days on the trail so don’t fret about them going funny on you.
  • Make sure that you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. If you are grumpy, you won’t be a fun hiking companion and you won’t have the energy to prepare and eat your delicious meals! We pack Emergen-C packets and teabags for snazzing up plain water. Cocoa is nice in the colder months (add some vegan marshmallows if you fancy that sort of thing).
  • Don’t hesitate to pack fresh veggies. It took us several years to realize that fresh really is better on the trail. Sure, prepackaged foods are lighter, but they don’t bring as much joy to your tummy. If you want to lighten your meal load, check out this AMAZING book, “Another Fork in the Trail – Vegetarian and Vegan Recipes for the Backcountry” by Laurie Ann March (check out Laurie’s website here). I had this book from my library for nearly a month and didn’t want to part with it. There are tons of wonderful recipes inside, many of which require a food dehydrator. I am all for self-dehydrating foods at home rather than buying those meals made specifically for the trail. If you make it at home, you control the ingredients!
  • When you go to sleep at night, make sure you hang your food. Don’t pack it in your tent with you! If it is accessible to creatures and critters, they WILL find it and eat it. We once accidentally left an oatmeal cookie in Tim’s pack and a raccoon ate a hole in Tim’s pack to get to the cookie! You needn’t worry about this if you are in an area where creatures and critters are less predominant. Use your best judgment.
  • Cook and eat your food away from your tent. You don’t want to attract animals to your site.

That’s all I can think of for now. Stay tuned for Part II next week and also the last installment of my Summer Adventure Series in the next few days.

Summer Adventures Part III

It’s time for the third installment in my Summer Adventures series! Did you miss Part I or Part II? Catch up quick because the fourth installment happens later this week!

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that Tim and I are lovers of outdoor adventure and travel. Last month we went on the most incredible backpacking trip. We have backpacked many, many, many trails and this particular hike instantly became our new favorite. Our three day trip was filled with icy lakes, thunderstorms, sunshine, glaciers, dozens of snowy mountains, rainbows, solitude, tacos (!!), wildflowers, deer, and dark starry skies. Where did we go? We went deep into the Three Sisters Wilderness near Sisters, OR. The trail we chose was a 25-mile loop around an extinct volcano called Broken Top. It was definitely challenging, but also overwhelmingly rewarding. Here are some photos highlighting the best parts:

Golden Lake – Located about a mile from our campsite on Day #1

Campsite on Day #1 – Broken Top and an unnamed mountain lake are in the background

Dinner on Day #1 - Soft corn tortillas filled with refried beans, smokey soy curls, bell peppers and avocado. We made these under the shelter of a huge pine tree due to on/off thunderstorms all night.

Tim eating tacos in the company of rainbows. There was a small lapse in the rain and we took full advantage of photo opportunities!

Sunset on Middle Sister and North Sister - This was the view behind our tent

Morning light on Broken Top, Day #2

South Sister

Green Lakes Wilderness – Understandably one of Oregon’s most beautiful and popular recreation areas

Mt. Bachelor – A popular skiing area during the winter months in Bend, OR

Can you see the hiking trail?

Dinner on Day #2 – Soba noodles, shiitake mushrooms, kale, carrots, and sesame ginger sauce

Tim making chocolate cake for dessert on Day #2

Eating chocolate cake with chocolate hazelnut butter on top

Climbing, climbing, climbing on Day #3

Lots of colorful wildflowers

Admiring a hidden meltwater lake with Broken Top looming above

Tim executing a perfect rock-n-roll jump on a rock in a glacial lake

Tim hiking across snowfields and red cinder

Me traversing across a massive snowfield

The Three Sisters – South, Middle, and North

That pretty much sums up our backpacking trip! It was unbelievably hot despite the snow and higher elevations. By the time we finally reached the trailhead on Day #3, we were sweaty and covered in layers of dirt, sunscreen, and vegan-friendly bug repellent. Plus, we stunk! Luckily there was an inviting, cool (translation: very COLD) lake to jump into near where we had parked our car. Needless to say, we dropped our backpacks and SLOWLY worked our way into the water. Refreshing!

Later this week I will post my final installment of my Summer Adventures: a recap of a family vacation in beautiful Nova Scotia! Stick around :)

Oh, and here is one more photo from the outtake file:

Apparently Tim’s timing is off…