The trail to gourmet heights Gear: Is a hiking fanatic on your gift list? Here's an assortment of cool stuff for the great outdoors.

December 14, 1997|By Mike Steere | Mike Steere,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Wilderness heroics can involve gourmet flourishes as well as hardships.

One Northwest backpacker earned the admiration of his fellow campers by hauling ice cream packed in dry ice. A few nights up the trail he flabbergasted his friends with a dessert of Ben and Jerry's.

Chris Doyle, a seasoned outdoorsman and 10-year employee of REI, a Seattle-based outdoor retailer, says there are dozens of such stories in the lore of the modern wilds.

"If you can have the best of both worlds, life is too short not to," says Doyle, who is wont to camp with a glass French press coffee maker, which he lovingly cushions against breakage in his backpack.

Such self-indulgence, Doyle says, is common among hard-core campers who enjoy playing a game of dining one-upmanship on the trail.

Optional but fun

To help the camper on your holiday gift-giving list win the next round of the wilderness gourmet game, we offer an array of strictly optional gear. No one will starve if they don't have this stuff, and it will add slightly to the load they carry, but what the heck. It's cool.

From around $100 down to hiking sock stuffers:

* Coleman Two-Burner Backpacking Stove: This lets the wilderness culinary artiste concentrate on the food, rather than getting a balky mountain stove to light, then frantically switching pots to do more than one dish on one burner. Coleman's new $90 unit burns fuel from pressurized cartridges, so ignition is easy. Independent controls let the saucepan simmer while the pasta pot boils. Combined weight of the 25-ounce stove and one large fuel cartridge, good for 42 minutes of burner time on high, is less than 2 1/2 pounds. (The Coleman Co., P.O. Box 2931, Wichita, Kan. 67219; 800-835-3278)

* MSR Mini-Works Water Filter: Alas, the cold drink straight out of a mountain stream is -- or ought to be -- a fantasy. No water source, even glacial runoff, is safe from giardia and other microbes that cause hiker's two-step or worse. Chemical contaminants, too, are widespread. The $65 Mini-Works is prophylaxis against all of the above and it comes in a compact and lightweight (14.3-ounce) package. Filtering is a matter of one-handed pumping, and the germ-free water tastes fresher and more natural than boiled or -- ewww! -- iodine-treated water. (MSR, 3800 First Ave. South, Seattle, Wash. 98134; 800-877-9677;

* Evolution Nonstick Cookware: This Italian-made cookware makes right what was wrong with aluminum camping pots -- the tendency of food to burn and stick, and the possible medical hazards of eating the metal in food. The corrective is a scratch-resistant nonstick coating, inside and out. The $42.95 Evolution 3 set has 3-liter and 2-liter pots with a lid and handle that fit both, in a netting sack. The set weighs less than 2 pounds. (Evolution Cookware, Cascade Designs, 4000 First Ave. S., Seattle, Wash. 98134; 800-531-9531)

* REI Kitchen Essentials: Think of it as a backpackable silverware-and-gadget drawer and spice rack. The $35 kit has lightweight knives, forks and spoons for two, spatula and cooking spoon, measuring spoons and a scrubbing pad, as well as salt and pepper shakers and all sorts of itty-bitty bottles and containers for oil, spices and herbs. It fits nicely in a zippered nylon case and weighs about 15 ounces. (REI, P.O. Box 1938, Sumner, Wash. 98390; 800-426-4840;

* GSI French Press Coffee Pot: On cool mornings in the woods, a cup of instant coffee tastes pretty good. But imagine the sublime pleasure of gourmet brew from a plunger-pot that differs only in size and weight from the one your Francophile friends use at home. GSI , which brought out the widely jeered-at -- but hugely successful -- backpackers' espresso maker a few years back, is responsible for the $15 pot, made of heat- and impact-resistant plastic. It makes 10 ounces of coffee and weighs about a half-pound. (GSI Outdoors, 1023 South Pines Road, Spokane, Wash., 99206; 800-704-4474)

* Backpacker's Pantry Meals: This fall's debut of freeze-dried Thai satay makes it much harder to claim your wilderness-adventure required culinary privation. The mildly spiced dish is a surprisingly good facsimile of restaurant food, with peanut sauce over a bed of rice, vegetables and beef. The two-portion, $7.95 meal weighs a half-pound dry and is vitamin-enhanced. Like most of Backpacker's Pantry's entrees, the Thai dinner is no-cook -- just add boiling water. The company's groaning board runs from exotica like Jamaican barbecued chicken, risotto and fettuccine to vegetarian dishes and homey stews, as well as snacks, drinks and breakfasts. This is dining, not eating. (Backpacker's Pantry, 6350 Gunpark Drive, Boulder, Colo., 80301; 303-581-0518;

Pub Date: 12/14/97

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