Kayak Camping Meal: Backcountry “Charcuterie”

Any good kayak camping trip plan includes a menu for the trip and a packing list with the ingredients and equipment you’ll need for that menu. But some days you’re looking for less fuss. Maybe it’s a day where you’re really putting in the miles and haven’t left a lot of time at your campsite. Or maybe it’s the first night of your trip and you don’t want to deal with cooking the same day you drove to the launch, loaded your boats, and paddled to your campsite. Whatever the reason, may we suggest Backcountry “Charcuterie” as an option?

We’ve all enjoyed a charcuterie board at a party or as an appetizer at a restaurant. You’ll typically see some fancy meats and cheeses paired with crackers or breads, fruits, and nuts. And they’re delicious. So what’s the difference between that experience and a backcountry “charcuterie” meal? Honestly, it mostly comes down to how fancy your display is. There’s nothing stopping you from taking some fancy ingredients with you on your kayak camping adventures. In fact, we highly recommend you consider it.

The Components of Backcountry “Charcuterie”

Some people swear by the rule of threes for a charcuterie board: three meats, three cheeses, three starch options, and three accompaniments, such as fruit, nuts, or veggies. We recommend that you adjust that to your liking. On a recent trip, we did a vegetarian version and added hummus and mushroom jerky to the mix for a bit more protein. Here’s what we (nearly) always include:

  • gourmet cheese
  • dried fruit
  • fresh fruit
  • fresh veggies
  • nuts
  • crackers
  • bread

First Stop: Gourmet Grocery Store

I start my shopping at our local gourmet grocery store and head to the deli section and their basket of ends and pieces of fancy cheese. The types of cheese available vary from day to day and can set the tone of the meal. These small bits of tasty cheese are marked down at our local market, but if you don’t have that same option, you can purchase very small amounts of cheese at the deli counter to meet the same need.

Cheese rom the gourmet grocery store.

This is also my first stop for produce. They sometimes have uncommon varieties or really beautiful fresh fruits and vegetables that we can purchase in small quantities.

Next Up: Local Supermarket

This is my go-to for any other produce we need, basic crackers, dried fruit, and nuts. If you have the option to purchase larger quantities at good prices, stock up on things like nuts and dried fruits that will last. If you are adding meat to your backcountry “charcuterie,” this is a good spot to pick up beef jerky, summer sausage, or pouches of tuna or salmon. You can likely find salami and pepperoni that do not need to be refrigerated until you open the pouch.

Peppers, avocado, and grapes (in stasher bags).

Final Stop: Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s has a following in the backpacking world. If you don’t already have a list of your favorite Trader Joe’s snacks, you might spend some time exploring your local TJ’s. Or start with the recommendations from one of these articles:

There are some special treats that we make sure to grab here – both for our backcountry “charcuterie” meal and for other snacking opportunities throughout our trip. Items that lend themselves particularly well to a backcountry “charcuterie” meal are:

If you’re interested in adding preserved fish to your backcountry “charcuterie,” Trader Joe’s has several options in tins and pouches that you may want to try.

Like the gourmet grocery store, there are things here you can’t get anywhere else. If you were pressed for time you could get everything you need for a backcountry “charcuterie” here. Their cheese selection is good (though gourmet grocery stores are better), and they have garden variety nuts and dried fruit (which are cheaper at the local grocery store). But if you can only go to one store, Trader Joe’s can get it done.

A campsite "Charcuterie" board.

Prep at Home…

Depending on your selections, you may have some items that are appropriately portioned for your trip and come ready-to-serve in resealable containers. But when that’s not the case, take some time at home to make your camping trip easier. Either portion food into reusable bags (we like Stasher Bags) or bring some extras to store your leftovers once you’ve cracked the seal.

…Or Prep at Camp

There are several options for fresh fruits and veggies you can transport without refrigeration if you just bring them whole. Apples, bell peppers, citrus fruits, cherry tomatoes, and avocado all travel relatively nicely in your kayak if you keep them somewhat protected and require minimal prep at camp before they’re ready to eat.

A little more prep to our avocado.

The Perishables

Depending on your selections and your climate, you may have some items that need to stay cool. Cheese, hummus, dips, and meats might all fall into this category. Depending on your fruit and veggie decisions, you might want room for those in your cooler as well. Our go-to kayaking coolers are Ice Mule cooler bags. We have a 10-liter and a 9-liter. They easily fit into our rear hatches and can keep things cool for quite a long time if you pack them right. For a longer trip or warmer days, we freeze water in our Platypus water bottles to keep things cool along the way. As they melt over time, we have nice, cold drinking water to enjoy.

Find your Favorites

Aside from the items above, we stay on the lookout for good additions throughout the year. Olives in pouches or dried seaweed can add a salty element, so we keep our eyes peeled for both when we’re at Costco. Interesting new crackers or spiced nuts or dried fruits are always good to stock up on when you see them.

Wait a Minute… isn’t this just snacking?

Well… yes and no. When done right, backcountry “charcuterie” is an elevated form of “just snacking” at your campsite. With a little advanced planning, you’ll have enough variety, nutrients, and calories that you’ll feel fully satisfied at the end of your meal. So what’s the real difference between this meal and snacking at camp? Maybe it’s just all in your mindset. Or maybe a well-thought-out snacking session is the common thread between backcountry “charcuterie,” tapas, small plates, and “girl dinners.”

Make it Your Own

So that’s the framework for a backcountry “charcuterie” meal; now it’s your turn. Make it your own, add your favorite snacks, and put your own style on it. Tell us about your version of backcountry “charcuterie” in the comments. Dried apricot and brie on a Rosemary & Olive Oil Triscuit for inspiration:

Dried apricot and brie on a Rosemary and Olive Triscuit


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