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Lows Lake Trail HeadHow To Eat In The Wild And Leave No Trace

*Bring the right kind of food & pack it properly.

*Keep it clean: Sanitation

Once used toilet paper shows up in the area around your wilderness campsite, it dawns on you that you're not alone in a quest for the great outdoors and the need to understand how to preserve our last remaining wild areas becomes all too important. Seeing the view from the water as a kayaker will also begin to inspire a concern for the fragile environment you are learning to enjoy.

As you've ventured out no doubt you have seen the signs "Leave Only Footprints" or heard the term "low impact camping." The following information should help:

Quick overview:

Your Kayaking Kitchen Needs & Cleanup

Lakeshore & Ocean Eating & Packing Out

Leave No Trace-Links to pamphlets for your area

Water Purification

Sanitation:Toilet In The Woods

Bears & Things That Go Bump In The Night

More Indepth Articles:

Tom's Kayak Hobo Camp Cooking

Trashy Tips For Kayak Campers

How To Purify Wilderness Water
& Stow Water on a Kayak

TopKayaker.net's Book Suggestions

Product Reviews:
1. Adventure Foods,
2. Campside Kitchen
3. BakePaker

Your Kayaking Kitchen Needs & Cleanup - See also book selections at Tom's TopKayaker Shop

Yes, compared to a backpack there is a lot of room in there; but weight is still a consideration. However, today's wonderful, innovative equipment designs let you take stoves, dishes, pots; even a spice rack along with relative ease.

There are lightweight pots & pans that nest, & double as bowls & cups; there are stoves that fold up into waterproof bags & compact bottles of fuel. For the gourmets, there are numerous sizes and shapes of water-tight unbreakable bottles for spices, herbs or cooking oil.

Here are our suggestions:


Antique multi-fuel stove

Small one burner stoves available in most outdoor stores, are recommended. These are not like your Dad's heavy Coleman; but look something like a little flying saucer that folds up for space saving storage. There are four basic types: alcohol (burns slow, clean & quiet), white gas (widely available, very clean, pure gasoline), bottled gas (very convenient, screws onto your stove & lights easy), and multifuel (car gasoline; not as safe).

If you are traveling to your kayak destination by plane, be sure you can purchase the right fuel for you stove after you arrive, as planes will only allow alcohol fuel on board, if at all. A fold-up aluminum shield to protect against wind is a good idea.

Choose an economy style dry bag for packing your fuel in your kayak, encase of leakage. A freezer quality zip-lock bag will do.


A variety of small water-proof containers are available for spices and other cooking extras. These can be found in most camping supply stores or catalogs with everything from flip tops, pouring caps, shaker holes, to built in straws. Recently, a popular hanging kitchen utensil set has been marketed by several different companies. We used one on our Low's Lake trip and loved it. You can see a picture below and get a complete review of this by clicking here: The Atwater Carey Campside Kitchen Kit:

AtwaterPots, Pans & Dishes

A set of nesting pots that double as cup & bowl are recommended. One spoon for mixing and eating is usually adequate.

Instant coffee is easy to clean up, but for those of us who would rather not drink it at all if not fresh brewed, a french press is an idea. Unbreakable ones come in all sizes. The draw-back is you have to pack out the grounds. An insulated cup with a cover is great for keeping beverages warm.

In the next section: "Lakeshore or Coastal Eating & Packing Out" we introduce you to a method of cooking that makes use of a steam pot for cooking right in the bag you eat out of. The one we use is called a BakePacker (honeycomb pot-insert pictured above) from a small company called "Adventure Foods."

We used the BakePacker, in combination with their Open Country 2 qt. Pot, on our Low's Lake trip and found it to be an easy to use, labor saving innovation. The BakePacker cooks your meals in a bag, (Glad freezer/storage 1 gal. or Reynolds oven cooking bag) thus eliminating clean up of cooking pots; and, if you don't mind eating right out of the bag, eliminates washing everything but your spoon. (Click here for the full review) Speaking of which:

Washing The Dishes

A biodegradable soap, is the only soap you should use while kayaking, in fresh water. We always bag bottles containing liquid in those snack size zip lock bags for extra insurance agains leaking. Packing a small piece of nylon netting, like those shower wash balls, provides you with a scrubber that is easy to rinse, dry and pack. A sponge with a scrubber is a good alternative.

In the section "Bears & Things That Go Bump In The Night" we discuss digging a hole in the kitchen area. This "sump hole" is for limited debris in wash & rinse water. Always pack-out significant left overs.

Keep Things Sorted

Our kitchen for two consists of three dry bags:

  • One large dry bag for food; large enough to hold four drawstring bags inside: one for breakfast, one for lunches, one for dinners, and one for snacks. They are different colors to make pulling them out easier.
  • One medium dry bag for pots, pans, dishes and spices.
  • One medium dry bag for separately protected stove & fuel.

Lakeshore or Coastal Eating & "Packing Out" camp kitchen

Whether it is a weekend or a full week of touring, taking along the food that will provide energy needed to be comfortable & capable in the wild is a priority: protein, carbohydrates, starch, fat. There are so many pre-packaged foods these days that meet these needs shopping for un-perishables for your trip can really be fun.

Fresh fruit (apples, oranges) & some vegies (onions, potatoes, carrots) also travel well, but pealings should be "packed out."

IMPORTANT: All food should be protected from contact with water in the hull of your kayak, no matter how good your hatches are.

All wrappers should be stuffed back in the bag when empty then kept in the hull of your boat. One good thing about starting out with a 60 pound load of gear in your kayak; as you eat your food your boat gets lighter and easier to paddle. Remember, however, always make sure you double bag trash, even when stored in your hull offshore. Bears can swim.

For the chef, many, many outdoor cookbooks are available. Learning how to dehydrate your own meals in preparation for your trip can also be very rewarding and is something everyone should try at least once. Fishing is also a good way many prefer to go. Dispose of fish remains as you would any food.

Some additional notes:

  • Dry bags and zip-lock type bags will be your best friends. Separate foods into "breakfast," "lunch," and "dinner" dry bags. We carry a variety in Tom's TopKayaker Shop.

  • Another practice we follow to stay energized on the paddle route is to keep in our lap or center hatch (if you have one) is a "snack pack" containing cheese, crackers, beef jerky, "gorp" and/or candy.

  • Remove all wrappers from food to minimize dealing with waste. This means the outside instant oatmeal box. Place the individual serving packs in zip-lock bags; then use the bags for trash. Coffee, hot chocolate, too. Those M&M's should be zip-locked as well. Everything: pita bread, fruit, repack it. (orange peels do not break down easily-pack them out!)

  • Protein: Ice takes up valuable space in your kayak and will melt eventually, so fresh meat is often not an option. Eggs, however, are an excellent source of protein and do not need to be refrigerated in moderate to cool climates. Storage containers to keep them from breaking are available in most camping departments. Beef jerky and summer sausage are also alternatives.

  • Sharks: See also: "Encountering Predators While Kayaking" If you are an ocean paddler, and especially if you fish, be sure to avoid throwing food scraps overboard. We knew of a guy that saw his lost "juice box" fall pray to the jaws of a shark. OK, one more shark story: An inflatable sit-on-top with two passengers, one very seasick who was heaving his big lunch over the side of the bow. When they landed, a bite had been taken out of one of the bow's air chambers. Carbo loading is OK, but several small meals along the way are better.

  • Prepared dehydrated camping food:

    Ah the smell of bacon & pancakes in the fresh outdoor air! But sometimes you need to launch early to beat the tide or waves; and sometimes it's cold & raining. How do you insure you'll get a weeks worth of adequate nutrition?

    We've stayed away from pre-packaged, dehydrated food, in the past mainly because of their use of preservatives; so when we tasted some preservative free recipes at a trade show recently, we wrote and asked this small company if we could try them out on our Fall trip. "Adventure Foods," really surprised us. We depended on their wonderful fresh tasting meals feeling full and satisfied and there was a distinct absence of any gastrointestinal discomfort as we sometimes experience with pre-packaged food. They have retired the business since, but the meals can be prepared following their book "The Bakepacker's Companion" available in our Topkayaker Shop. Read our full reviews by clicking here: Adventure Foods Bakepacker Meals.

  • Finally, BE SELF-SUFFICIENT. Don't put yourself in the position of being dependent on others. Think and plan ahead what you will do about having enough food and water. Keep a back-up snack and bottle of water in your kayak, regardless of the group's plans. We once had an ocean trip that took us into a campsite where the fresh water had dried up since our last visit. Also, circumstances can change in the outdoors quickly, putting those you rely on out of reach, and everything takes more energy in the outdoors. Sharing the burden of pumping water, washing dishes and cooking can contribute to the over-all enjoyment of the experience for everyone. See also Bob Wall's "The Ten Responsibilities of the Individual Paddler." in our articles section.

Leave No Trace-Links to pamphlets for your area. LNT

So you've decided to spend the spring and summer on the ocean or in a lake wilderness; the fall and winter paddling in desert rivers. How do you get the information you need for proper conduct in the area of your choice?

Pamphlets should certainly be available from National & State Parks Services that contain their particular regulations. We have enjoyed the wealth of information available in pamphlets published online and in booklet form from the Leave No Trace Program. The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) maintains the educational component of Leave No Trace by offering LNT educational courses, developing educational materials and supporting the efforts of course graduates who teach LNT to the public. Downloads of many articles & pamphlets are available on their website or you can contact them at 1 800 332-4100 or http://www.LNT.org

Pamphlets include: The Northeast Mountains; Temperate Coastal Zones; Pacific Northwest; Western River Corridors; Alaskan Tundra; Desert & Canyon Country. Look them up.

Each Pamphlet covers how to apply the following LNT Principles of outdoor ethics for its zone. How to:

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Water Purification - See also: "How To Purify Wilderness Water & Stow Water on a Kayak" water

There was a time when you could depend on certain springs, streams or lakes for safe (potable) drinking water, but those times have come and gone. More people are in the woods than ever before; so for whatever the reasons, you must assume that all water is unsafe to drink until it is treated. Always utilize a purification method any time you draw water from the wild. There are several methods of water purification available. We like to rely on an iodine impregnated filter with iodine tablets as a back up, and boil our water whenever it is convenient. Filters: You will find many water filters made for wilderness campers. They are most commonly a pump and filtering device that draws water up a small hose into the unit, filters it, and in some cases treats the water with iodine, then delivers it to a container through another small hose. Not all filters are the same, but most are dependable when removing bacteria and parasites. (filter pore size 3.0 is OK, but .02 is better) Only iodine impregnated (imparts a taste) filters will kill all parasites, virus and bacteria. Shop for a filter that meets your needs. Weigh the pros and cons of each filter and choose one that you have confidence in. Other than the pumping, this method is very convenient. Note: filters do not work in salt water.

Chemical treatment: Iodine tablets, are the most common chemical treatment available. They are easy to use, but take a bit of time to purify the water; about twenty minutes. Iodine Tablets do not kill some parasites. The use of iodine does impart a taste to the water. This is countered by using neutralizing tablets or juice mix, after, not before, the iodine has done its job. We like to keep a fresh bottle of tablets in our first aid, and/or emergency kit.

Boiling: If you boil a pot of water you will effectively kill all parasites, virus and bacteria. There are differing opinions on the amount of time it takes to achieve this. We feel that you must first reach a rolling boil and then wait for as long as you have the patience or fuel; no more than five or ten minutes. Then you will have hot, but drinkable water. This is sometimes not practical because of time and fuel concerns.

Sanitation In The Woods

by Kathleen Meyer

Kathleen Meyer wrote an entertaining, yet essential, little book titled "How To Shit in the Woods, An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art." We hope you will not only buy a copy to keep as a reference in your touring library, but read it. There is also a special chapter for women. Here are some tips to help you through it in the meantime; but remember: different areas have different regulations. Some places, like the Grand Canyon, require you to pack EVERYTHING out; that's right, EVERYTHING. Other places have established latrines; some areas encourage the use of "cat holes." Basically:

  • Large groups staying several days in one area should camp at a location with a latrine.
  • Use toilet paper sparingly, if at all. Use only white, double bag in a zip-lock and PACK IT OUT. Otherwise, burn in a very hot campfire, not with matches or a lighter. The best TP alternatives include: snow, stones, and vegetation. Tampons, etc. should also be packed out or "hot" burned.
  • Urination: In the ocean but not in a lake; in land exposed to the elements; rocks or sandy soil OK.
  • Feces: An individually dug "cat hole" is the most acceptable means of disposal. Use 200 feet from everything as a general guide. Dig with a small shovel in moist ground four or more inches deep. Mix with a stick when done. Cover with topsoil. Don't get feces on shovel. Moisture & heat are needed for proper decomposition. Recent research shows that buried feces under some circumstances leave live pathogens as much as a year later, so choose the location of your "cat hole" carefully. Avoid water sources, contact with insects or animals, social areas, ie. trails, clearings.
  • Always carry with you one of those little bottles of hand disinfectant, like "Purell."

    A Note About Bathing:
    Baby Wipes,  any brand, the heavy large kind that come in self-sealing travel packs, are great for keeping yourself bathed and fresh. We use them for "sponge baths" before going to bed or dressing in the morning. They can delay that "I can't stand myself...or you" syndrome, well into the trip.

    For ocean touring a product called "Sea Savon Shampoo & Body Bath" is an appropriate choice.

    If you haven't already discovered and used Solar Showers, some precautions should be taken. If the water is heavily contaminated, the heat of the sun will intensify the bacteria. We recommend soaping down with some type of bio-degradable soap before rinsing.

Bears & Things That Go Bump In The Night

mooseWe did an unwise thing in the White Mountains once: camped well off the trail but in an area that had obviously been "marked" by  a moose.

OK, we wanted to see a moose; maybe even "experience" a moose; but when the tent begin to shake at 5:30 am from him tripping over our tent stakes, we saw how big he was and counted ourselves lucky he was a courteous host.

People have been killed by moose, caribou, and, at least one summer in our experience, an Elk took the life of a tourist in Yellowstone Park. Once a bear, or moose in our case, begins to associate people with food, he usually pays for it with his life; but not after threatening ours. Let's do us all a favor: BE CAREFUL WITH FOOD & ODORS IN THE OUTDOORS. Follow the guidelines for the area or at least follow the suggestions below:

  • Watch for signs of bears: tracks, scat (poop), claw marks, digging, odors. If you spot these, move to another camp.
  • Cook downwind of your tent, other campsites, outhouses etc. and establish your kitchen at least 100 feet away from such. Dig a hole there for depositing dish water. Bury when done. Don't sleep in clothes you cook in; don't store them in you tent.
  • Store food, tobacco, pet food, scented or flavored toiletries (we know of a bear that went after a tube of toothpaste in a tent) in double zip-lock or garbage bag; THEN HANG FOOD 10  TO 12 FEET OFF THE GROUND AND 4 TO 5 FEET FROM THE TREE TRUNKS. The area you are paddling into should have bear & other wildlife guidelines posted. Follow them or the critters will follow you.

For some great articles the Rules of the Wild for the Kayaker, visit our Nature section.


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