The Essential Kayak Kitchen

The ice has melted, you have checked out the water levels and you're ready to dip your paddle for the first time this season. They're calling for nice weather right through the weekend and your best paddling buddy wants to take a two-day trip around a large lake you've never explored. Your kayaks are set to go. But what about cooking gear? Since it's the start of a new season, take a few minutes to insure you've got everything you'll need for your weekend expedition and for the rest of the kayak season.

The essentials according to your paddling style  

First, you want to consider the type of kayaker you are and the type of boat you use. There's no sense in buying a camping dutch oven if you are content to paddle on the pond in front of your house in your cute recreational 7-foot boat tossing a line at dawn, hoping to catch a trout or two for supper. And if you prefer weekend trips, you'll need different equipment than someone who plans only day-long trips, with a picnic en route and a snack or two carefully tucked into a dry bag... After you assess your needs based on the type of journeys you usually organize, then, you can think about the kind of food you like to take on board with you. Again, if you are vegetarian, you won't probably need a fish paring knife...

The quintessential picnic tools for a day trip  

Since 90% of the paddling community leaves for day trips, let's start there. This kind of paddling usually calls for food that has been prepared at home. So the most important tool remains a good collapsible cooler (or two for a party of four) with a foil liner for a more efficient cooling process, that helps avoid food poisoning. Before buying, make sure that the cooler will easily fit either in your front cockpit or in your rear bulkhead. Usually, placing a cooler in the front results in a lack of balance and poor manoeuvrability, unless the weight is equally distributed between the two bulkheads. With the cooler comes the essential "ice packs": you can buy some at any hardware store or make your own by freezing water in watertight containers such as double-lined freezer bags (large ones are better and will keep food safer). Small juice jugs are good too, but don’t forget you'll need room for the food... Ice packs should be placed in the bottom and on top to keep your favourite salad and sandwiches at safe temperatures.

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Square, flat, thin stackable plastic food containers with a good lid are extremely handy for kayakers because they take less room than round ones. For day trips, I prefer to prepare individual portions that I place in stackable containers. Anything goes: pasta salad with Feta cheese, bell peppers and cucumbers; lentils and broccoli salad with a touch of curry, rice and salmon salad with diced mango all travel very well. But when you prepare your meal, don't forget forks and spoons plus paper towels and some wet hand towels. The good news is that with this system of individual containers you won't need more plates: for hot days, why not make a refreshing cucumber-buttermilk-mint cold soup and serve it with a nice egg or tofu salad sandwich on a bun? Since sandwiches are another interesting option for a paddling picnic, the best way to wrap them is first individually in plastic wrap and then in a plastic bag to prevent any moisture. The best bread for kayaking remains baguette, buns or wraps rather than the traditional soft slices.

Don't forget your fluids!  

To complete your meal, you will also need a drink: tomato or fruit juice or, why not a glass of wine... Your paddling companions will be impressed if you manage to bring along a nice bottle of cool Riesling to serve in elegant stainless steel glasses to accompany your Asian soba noodles, tofu and vegetables salad! These are little details that make a big difference in terms of creating nice memories for your kayak adventures. Many wine companies now make unbreakable containers and you can find elegant glasses at any kitchen or camping store for 2 dollars each. For regular juice, it's worth the expense to buy unbreakable individual bottles and to fill them with your favourite liquid. Or simply go for unbreakable, individual juice bottles.

Any paddling trip requires that you bring along a lot of water: so as well as your day lexan water bottle or your hydration backpack system, you need to carry extra water that can be placed behind your seat. Again, small, square collapsible plastic water jugs come in handy for carrying extra water. On hot days, you will need as much as four glasses of liquid per hour per person. For a change, you can also prepare homemade iced tea with lemon and a drop of honey; it's ideal for paddlers!

...And the snacks!  

Any paddler needs to refuel on a regular basis for good performances and to avoid fatigue. So when launching season, it is wise to stock your pantry and fridge with efficient snacks such as: dried fruit (mangoes, cranberries, raisins, dates, apricots), fig bars, unsalted soy nuts and peanuts, raw almonds, individual cheeses wrapped in wax, granola bars made with no trans fat and not too much sugar. Again, each paddler should have some quick snacks ready to eat in his PFD pocket before leaving in the morning. If there's rough weather, you will need that extra boost of energy and if the waters are calm, then you can take a nice break peeking at a cormoran or great heron, with your snack in one hand and your binoculars in the other.

For the weekend paddler (for up to one week)  Of course, the weekender will need the same tools as the picnicker, which will provide his needs for the first day of camping. But for the second and, perhaps the third night, specialized kitchen tools are essential. Here is a basic list of what you will need to prepare for that overnight trip.

  • more water jugs (or a water purifier)
  • can opener
  • large serving bowls (more handy than plates)
  • coffee or tea mugs with coffee or tea and coffee or tea makers
  • set of forks, knives, spoons and a small cutting board
  • basic cooking ustensils : wood spoon, good paring knife, small spatula
  • small one to two burner camp stove with fuel and waterproof matches or a lighter in a watertight container
  • one or two small to medium size pot(s) for each couple of paddlers
  • basic condiments: salt, pepper, mix of dry herbs, olive oil in lexan bottle, honey, etc.
  • small cans of tuna, salmon, chicken, chick peas, tofu, etc. for easy proteins (4 oz per person per meal; don’t forget to bring extras for at least one more day of camping for each person, just in case)
  • UHT milk
  • oatmeal, peanut butter and English muffins or bagels for 2 breakfasts
  • 2 quick vegetables for each meal of the second day: bell peppers, zuchini, cherry tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, fennel, baby carrots, broccoli or cauliflower. They will all travel well for 48 to 72 hours without refrigeration.
  • phosphate-free dishwashing soap, nylon scrubbing tool, collapsible sink, cleaning cloth and dish towel
  • a plastic table cloth will always add a nice touch to your picnic table
  • a lantern or two with candles will also work their magic when supper time comes…
  • aluminium foil, ziploc bags, garbage bags
  • cotton rope, multitasking knife (like a good Swiss knife)

For longer trips add this to the previous list:

  • more one or two burner(s) stoves with fuel, depending of the size of your group
  • a large non-stick frying pan and more larger pots (at least two)
  • more cooking tools: bread knife, soup ladle, collapsible colander
  • larger foldable cutting boards
  • cooking grill if you travel to places that allow camp fires
  • more cans and dry goods such as niblet corn, mackerel, sardines, crab, pastas, rice, couscous, cracked wheat, coral lentils, tofu, soy proteins, eggs, dried fruit and vegetables, broth in cubes, nuts

Last tips  

For long trips, always plan each of your meals and the number of portions required for each member of the party beforehand; add to those numbers at least 25% more food and adjust your list accordingly for each day of the trip. This will prevent frequent mistakes such as bigger-than expected appetites, loss of some food, etc. Then translate the information from your menus into a very detailed grocery list; finally go shopping and enjoy your planning!

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