Eating In the Wild
The early stages of the sunset are leaving brushstrokes of pink and blue on the edges of puffy clouds. Your fire is roaring, and your camp is staged. Months ago, you scouted this area and it looked to be perfect. Now it’s time to reap the benefits of a long hike and camp setup with a warm pan of foraged greens, wild onions, topped with a grilled steak, courtesy of your mess kit.
Eating in the wild can turn a great camping event into an unforgettable one! Of course, you must have the right tools for cooking and eating. Otherwise, you are going to take in that great sunset or sunrise with a dry granola bar in your hand.
You might say food is food, but good food makes things better. There is a reason we have spent the better part of 2 millennia gathering around fires and tables to take in meals together. It's uniquely human.
Of course, good eating in the wild doesn’t happen by accident. You need the right mess kit for the type of meal you are cooking. Do you want to cook meats on grates or are you content with boiled or simmered meals?
These are decisions you should make well ahead of time. You can add foraged elements to your meal and from there you will be feeling a true connection to the world around you.
Trade Foil for Metal
There is something strange about heading out on a bushcraft adventure with a bunch of premade, dehydrated meals. If we are practicing these skills it would seem better to eat real food on these adventures.
In other words, if you are in the Appalachian mountains doesn’t it make more sense to chow down on some trout caught legally from a nearby creek opposed to some beans and rice that were packaged in Utah?
If you have brought the survival gear, survival knife and stored it all in your haversack, well you might as well eat as much naturally sourced food as possible. Even bringing some fresh food along with you can be a fulfilling experience.
If it's legal, a simple deadfall trap can provide you with a some naturally sourced wild game. That is much more rewarding than tearing the foil off a meal or bar and having “dinner” with your camping friends.
Cooking afield does not require a lot of extra survival gear. In fact, our heaviest mess kit weighs in at only 2.5 lbs. It's arguable that that steel cup kit is also a water kit, too! Most weigh in at less than one pound.
The time has come for you to trade your foil-wrapped granola bars for real food that you can cook in your stainless steel mess kit. After a full day of hiking your body wants a real meal. Whether that meal is caught or packed in, it's going to be a lot better than some stodgy granola.
What to Cook with your Mess Kit?
We must be honest about what we are doing in the woods. The majority of people are struggling through a rough work week and when the weekend comes, they want to have an epic time. This involves some serious hiking and it should also include a great meal.
Food is an equalizer because we all have access to the best food these days. If you decide to pack in some fresh fish or high-quality beef, that is up to you. Either way, it's well worth the extra weight.
You don’t have to bring food to the campsite. You could harvest food around the campsite. Maybe your adventure is part camp and part hunting trip. You can yield meat from a hunt that will top any prime steak on the market!
Building a hike around the tailwaters of a stocked trout stream can also yield some great dinner or lunch for the day. A solid Morakniv on your hip is all you need to gut and filet fish. You could even dress a trout and go right on the fire after seasoning the insides.
Don’t forget about foraging. This is much more of a seasonal effort. If you get into the woods in the winter, you might be able to find some fiddlehead ferns and ramps to go with that trout or meat. Now you are talking about maximizing the wild menu.
A great spring vegetable to cook down is garlic mustard. This green is very healthy and bites back! In the summer look for things like nuts and maybe even some cattails around the water. Lambs quarters are great to eat raw or lightly cooked.
There are lots of wild foods out there to forage. If you have been properly trained, you can get out and forage for some wild mushrooms. Trim these up with your survival knife and they will cook up great in your mess kit.
Three Great Mess Kits
This 14 oz mess kit is 6 pieces of wilderness eating that packs down very efficiently. The best mess kit is the one you don’t even notice. Dare I say, you forget about it!
The entire kit is stainless steel but for the plastic drinking cup and the burlap bag. You will have a frying pan, saucepan, lid, plate, and spork.
A great mess kit isn’t about a bunch of stuff. It is about the right stuff, it's about steel and it's about something that carries without much trouble. This 6 piece kit is just that, in fact, it’s a little luxurious!
The common man mess kit is so affordable that it's ridiculous. Again, it’s a steel-based kit that will provide you with a steel spork and a GI style mess kit. You also get an orange bandana and the whole thing comes in a burlap sack.
If you are on the fence about packing a mess kit, this is the way to go. It's inexpensive and effective. It does not come with the bells and whistles of the 6 piece mess kit, but this will give you the option to work hot food over the fire.
If you are a main course, side dish and beyond camping cook, this might not be the right kit for you. However, you won’t find a better starter kit for the money.
The stainless steel bottle cooking kit is much more than a mess kit. Depending on your skill level you could add a good knife to this kit and have yourself a serious survival kit. That is how complete this mess kit is.
Therefore, I call this much more than a mess kit. You get several options for cooking, fire, water management, eating and carrying options.
This mess kit is centered around the Gen 3 Stainless Steel 32oz bottle and cup set by Self Reliance Outfitters. By themselves, these are two great additions. They nest in one another and being 32oz they fill and work perfectly with most water sanitizing tabs, which are designed for 32oz of liquid.
This kit also comes with the bottle stove, a glow in the dark ferro rod and a can of mini-inferno that goes a long way. These are not just cooking options, but they are also fire options for survival.
A stainless steel spork, bottle hanger and pathfinder bottle bag that is covered with MOLLE webbing so you can add to this kit and modify what you carry.
Let’s not mince words here, this kit costs more than the above two but it’s a powerhouse. It is on its way to being a standalone survival kit and with a few additions you could head into the woods with this bag and its contents slung over your shoulder and little else.
Three Great Additions to your Mess Kit
Your mess kit is yours to modify as you like. You are not limited to the items in your kit. You can expand and add to that kit as you see fit. We have sourced three great items that can take your mess kit to the next level.
If you are into a number of seasonings, dry ingredients, herbs or just a variety of ingredients in general, the woodsman’s pantry is a great addition to your mess kit.
It features 6 12oz screw top steel containers. These containers can not only be filled prior to your outdoor adventure, but they can also be great vessels for storing those items that you forage.
If you happen upon some precious morel mushrooms, storing them in these steel containers is much better than simply throwing them in a bag.
The woodsman’s pantry is a unique inclusion, but it could be just what you are looking for. You also get to stack them all and they slide down into a waxed canvas bag.
If you like to hang your pots over the fire to cook things like beans or stews the swing arm cooker is a must-have. The swing arm cooker can hang pots and hold pans at the same time! You can literally have two pieces of your mess kit over the fire at once!
USA made by hand and forged by Pathfinder Forge and Tool; this is a high-quality product that can take your campfire cooking to the next level
If the spork is not working for you, give this forged fork a try. You will find that this addition to your mess kit makes eating things like meat much easier. Its also very helpful in cutting and cooking cuts of meat.
This is a hand-forged fork and as a bonus, the handle is forged at a 90-degree angle for striking ferro. Not a bad little addition to your kit.
Cooking Safety at Camp
One of the things people forget about when they start using their mess kit is that we are subject to the same illnesses and injuries as we are at home. Those cooking pans are going to get dangerously hot and your food will still need to be kept safe and cooked to the proper internal temperature.
One of the best ways to practice safe cooking at camp with your mess kit is to make time for cooking. Most of the time people make time for setting up camp but rush the cooking process.
You sit down with your ferro rod and you pay close attention to your fire. Your cooking should be just the same. The right mess kit will make cooking easy, but it will still require your attention.
Metal gets hot on the trail just like it does at home. Your mess kit is made of metal, most of it, and it will burn you if you are not careful. You might even consider packing something insulated just to hold hot pans.
A shemagh is a great addition to your survival gear for this reason.
Understanding the threat of burns means you should also pack some burn cream in your kit.
Food Borne Illness
There are bacteria in the most beautiful places on the planet. All your food already has bacteria on it. Even if you keep it in a cooler all day. If you aren’t accustomed to cooking over a fire, you need to be sure your food is cooked to a safe internal temperature.
You can use your survival knife and cut meats open to check for doneness, however, you are messing things up. The best way to keep yourself safe in terms of foodborne illness is to invest in a small meat thermometer to add to your mess kit.
Did you know if you eat undercooked bear you can contract trichinosis and that is with you for life!
If you are dead set on carrying pemmican and granola to sustain yourself, be my guest. What we are looking to convey with this article is the fact that you can take your experience to another level if you bring along or source great food from the trail.
It doesn’t take a lifetime in the woods to catch some stocked brown trout, oil and season them up and cook them to flaky, succulent goodness. However, it will take the right mess kit. It will take a container to hold that seasoning.
Above all, it will require you to commit to cooking these foods on the trail rather than just unwrapping ready to eat foods that are easy. Easy is deceiving.
Nobody remembers the Luna bar they had at sunset and no one forgets the ribeye and red wine they had looking off the cliffside. The right mess kit can make it all possible.