Depending on how you want to go about your trip, a quality camp kitchen setup may be a requirement. Beyond using a tent to cut your overall expenses related to an Alaska road trip, another major source of savings will be found by preparing your own food. It can get expensive to eat out all the time, and certainly in some cases, might not be a viable option depending on where you’re at.
We recommend taking a split approach of eating out and preparing your own meals, if possible. You’re going to Alaska, after all, you probably want to gorge yourself on the terroir of the land you’re visiting! When it comes to fresh seafood, reindeer, yak…there are some foods that you’re probably looking forward to with great anticipation! But, if you eat out all the time, your food budget will need to be realistic for such things and that also might have a deeper relationship in where you might be willing to stay. (Out in the boonies might not be an option!)
At some point in the future, we hope to add some delicious recipes for you to try out, but for the time being, there are a lot of resources on the internet of foods you could eat on the road. We want to stress a couple of points here, though.
Make sure your meal planning is relatively robust and that you can go for a few days without stocking up at a grocery store, because put simply, you likely won’t see a proper grocer except in the larger towns. There could be hundreds of miles between proper grocers, so you should be able to sustain yourselves. The other thing to stress is to “keep it simple” – remember, you’ll want to explore the areas you’re in and maximize the time you have in a given area. While camp cooking is enjoyable by many of us, make sure your plans aren’t too complicated that you short yourself on exploration times.
What we suggest is coming up with around 3-4 types of breakfast meals, 3-4 types of lunches and maybe 5-7 different types of dinners. The more you can combine ingredients between meals, the more you’ll appreciate the space savings in your cooler…but certainly plan for variety as well because few people want to have the same things over and over. What you want to be able to do is have a plan for when you do visit the grocer, know what you’ll want to make and what you’ll need to make it…because when you’re out there, a quick trip to the convenience store could be a hundred mile round trip. Part of your road trip planning will be to factor in food resupply and where/when you might want to stop for restocking those coolers, so meal planning and trip planning truly go hand in hand.
We definitely recommend making breakfast meals as simple as possible. Sure, plan out the eggs and bacon breakfast (or whatever sounds good to you) for those down days where you have the time to get a later start and want to rest up. But, if you’re taking the road trip, remember you have a lot of miles in front of you and the way to knock them down are to get started as early as possible. Things like scones, crumpets, muffins, cereal or other short prep foods will get you on the road that much faster and you’ll appreciate those early morning hours that are spent getting to the next spot as opposed to sitting in your previous camp waiting for food to cook.
If you’re from mainland US and are a coffee drinker, coffee shops won’t be a dime a dozen up there, coffee can be really expensive and the quality may not be what you expect back at home. If possible, plan on bringing as much coffee as you’ll need for the trip, with maybe a resupply in Alaska itself. As for what we do, we’ll make up a percolator full of coffee while we tear down camp for the next destination and store it in a thermos for the morning hours. It’s a great feeling to knock down a pot of good, home brewed coffee while you clock those miles in some of the world’s most beautiful country.
You’ll need to assess what gear you’ll want to take for the kitchen and the proverbial “kitchen sink” isn’t likely to be practical. You do want to limit the options for gear to a reasonable level, simply because you’re probably limited for space to some degree. We recommend trying to get your entire kitchen into one storage space such that when it’s time to cook, you have what you need in one box or bag.
You’ll want to think about the things you’ll want to eat and the preparation that is involved. Specialty meals, while they might be a wonderful staple in the home, can present difficulties with limited gear. That said, challenge yourself if you like, but maybe have a backup plan just in case things go awry! Remember, you probably don’t want to bring glassware as it could be easily broken when your gear shifts or as you’re lugging your gear around. As for commonly used cast iron, just keep in mind it’s heavy and you may want to bring only an essential kit if you like cooking on cast iron like we do.
- Cooking pot
- Cooking pan
- Water jug (at least one 5 gallon jug, maybe 2)
- Plates (Either paper or camp grade)
- Serving utensils (large spoon, etc.)
- Hand wipes
- Fuel for your stove
- Can opener
- Two dish washing tubs (wash & rinse)
- Dish towels
- Dish soap
- Oven mitts
- Coffee pot or percolator
- Cutting board
- Aluminum foil
- Spare ziplock bags
- Spices as desired
- Vegetable oil
The above are suggestions for a basic camp kitchen. Again, any specialty items you want to cook may require additional items and you’ll want to think these things through. You might also have some special items you want to bring with or have some essential items for you and yours that would be required.
Many of us have coolers and for a trip like this, it will be essential to keep things cold while you’re traveling. Whether it’s refreshing drinks, cheeses, meats or any other thing that requires cold storage, you’ll need a good sized, adequate cooler for this trip.
We would probably recommend a cooler of at least 70 quarts capacity, possibly larger if you’re feeding a family. You might also consider two coolers if you have the space for it. Remember, you will be constantly filling your cooler with ice to keep things cool, so money is well spent on a decent grade cooler that can hold temps for days at a time. You should probably test your cooler in advance if you’re not familiar with it’s ability to maintain temps over time. It’s one thing to take it out for a weekend adventure, another to depend on it for what could be weeks on the road and it’s important to understand how it will perform.
Cooler space can easily get congested on a trip like this so some planning will be required to make sure you have the space needed. When you’re shopping, keep in mind your limitations for storage. We also recommend using plastic ziplock bags for storing things inside the cooler, not only to optimize the space but also to prevent leaks, keep things dry in the cooler and provide an option for storing any leftovers. Also remember that the space in the cooler will also be used for ice, which can take up a substantial amount of space and limit your storage even further.
The cooler is probably the most accessed item in your inventory. When you pack it, it is a good idea to make sure it’s in an easily accessible space that allows minimal removal of other items to gain access to it’s contents. As far as organizing your cooler, there’s a lot of personal preference here, but good organization techniques will make it easier to get access to what you need.
As a final reminder, always practice good storage techniques with your food. You will always want to return the cooler to your vehicle at night or when you leave camp for any period of time. In fact, if it’s not in use, it should be put away. Many animals are attracted by the smell of food and no one wants a bear sniffing up their camp for a snack.
Keep in mind that you could face fire bans during the summer months, which would prevent you from being able to have a fire to begin with. Also, you might find yourself in a situation where wood isn’t as easy to come by, or rains have made it difficult to find dry materials. If you plan to cook on the fire, just make sure you have a sufficient backup plan to cook the food if the option for a campfire isn’t available. If you plan well, you’ll have delicious meals regardless of the conditions!
Just as your stove is likely the centerpiece of your kitchen at home, so it will be in camp setting. There’s a lot of variety out there, from dedicated cooking stands to a two/three burner setups to small, lightweight backpacking stoves.
If you are planning to try and cut costs by preparing your own food, a good stove will be a necessity. We would recommend a two or three burner model based on propane cylinders and Coleman makes good quality camp stoves. They usually feature a burner for a pot and some models also have a handy grill that you can use to cook up meat or use as an extra large burner. Two or more burners allow you to get two things going simultaneously, such as heating up hand washing water and preparing a nice soup or other meal on the other. Rarely have we seen the need for a triple burner setup, but this might suit your fancy if you really get into the cooking aspects.
Size will be important. You probably don’t want to be lugging around a very large dedicated stove stand, not to mention, setting it up and tearing it down for every meal. Remember, these trips can be arduous enough on the body, so anything you can do to “lighten the load” will be a benefit. That said, you probably don’t want to get into the realm of backpacking stoves, mainly because they’re primarily designed to bring water to a boil and that’s about it.
If there is an option for a carry case for your model stove, this is an extremely handy thing to have in your kit. It’s immeasurably nice to have a good, solid handle on the stove which makes transport and storage far easier overall. It also allows you a place to store all your stove related items, such as a pancake griddle or other accessories you might also have for your stove.
Storing The Kitchen:
As was mentioned, it’s really handy to have your gear stored in such a way that it’s accessible, organized and broken up by task. The kitchen is no different. If you can have a single duffel bag with all your kitchen related gear contained, it gets really easy to start the work towards a meal. Simply grab the bag and go. What you don’t want to have happen is have your forks over here, plates over there and otherwise have to unload the entire vehicle just to cook dinner.
We like to use stuff sacks and other organizational tools to help keep the kitchen bag organized. We have all our silverware and serving utensils in one bag, a bag for plates/cups/bowls (handily our camp dish kit came with one), and otherwise try to get a handle on things so we don’t have just one big bag of stuff we have to sift through each time. When it comes to cooking a meal, this organization pays off every time.
Paper Vs. Camp Dishes:
It’s certainly valid to consider using paper plates, cups and so forth on a regular basis, and it’s common to take this approach for the weekend warrior trips since you can just throw them in the fire when you’re done. For extended trips, like a road trip to Alaska, there is bit more concern with this apporach. Think about this, if you’re planning a three week road trip, times three meals a day for two people, you could be talking upwards of 120+ plates! Not to mention any extras you’d use for serving! All these paper dishes will take up space in your kit, are subject to being ruined if they get wet and might get easily damaged if they’re not properly secured somehow.
A far more economical, not to mention environmental, option is to consider a dedicated camp dish kit. These kits often include four plates, bowls and cups and maybe even silverware. They’re often made of durable plastic, therefore they can easily take a knife when trying to cut up meat and won’t get mushy over a few minutes. Yes, it means you’ll have some cleanup efforts after a meal, but it’s not that bad if you follow the guidance below.
Doing The Dishes:
Having spent hundreds of nights in the wilderness, we’ve come to a pretty efficient method of getting dishes done in the field. Essentially, the kit comprises of two plastic tubs that are commonly found in houseware stores around the country. The tubs should be big enough to fit a dish in partially, but not so big that it’s taking up unnecessary space. (Ours are probably around 1.5-2 gallons or so.) The two tubs function as wash and rinse.
When it comes time to do dishes, heat up about a half gallon or more of water on your stove. You don’t need a ton of water, usually, just a couple inches in the bottom of the tubs. Split the heated water between the wash and rinse tubs, adding a bit of dish soap to the wash tub. We keep a few dish rags handy and just wash and rinse.
When you’re done, combine the rinse water into the wash water tube. It’s usually desirable to walk your used dishwater well away from camp for a dump, but if your camp has access to a drain that is a good technique as well. Typically, you want at least 50 yards (more in high risk bear situations) between any residual food smells and your camp. Take care not to dump your wash water by other people’s camps either…the guideline is away from camp period, not just away from your camp.
Often times on these long road trips, we’ll store used dishes for a once a day wash after dinner. It’s not usually worth it to heat up water, get out the tubs and dump water to wash a couple forks or spoons…so we just keep them in the tubs until it’s time to go through the entire effort.
We use the tubs as a bit of storage as well, so that it’s not totally wasted space. It can be helpful to contain silverware and serving utensils, food or anything related to the kitchen.