Backpacking Food Tip #3: Eat Eggs
You can take eggs backpacking. And you can take fresh ones for the first few days. They are a little bulky, but it’s fun, so if you have the room for them, they can be pretty sweet.
My grandparents kept chickens, and as a girl I picked up a few egg techniques, like how to check for fertilization and how to care for the eggs to get them to last. I’m not going to talk about the healthiness or awesomeness of eggs, just how to care for them, and how it applies for packing.
First, uncooked eggs last longer than uncooked eggs. Consider that an uncooked egg is used to incubating under a hen or in a warm coop for days awaiting hopefully for fertilization. Meanwhile, uncracked hardboiled eggs will only last for two days or so unrefrigerated. That’s not to say that eggs can be left out in heat – it’s actually quite vital to keep them cool as soon as possible after they are laid so that no other bacteria decide to develop in them. But, once an egg is cooled, it can last for some time, whereas an egg salad sandwich left out for a couple of hours will certainly spoil.
So, to take eggs on the trail, ideally they should be fresh, uncooked, kept cool, and kept safe. If you do this, you can extend eggs out for breakfasts or meals on Days 2-4.
Safety is very easy to address. Many backpacking and camping supply companies sell little plastic containers like these:
These little egg holders are a hard plastic that will take the hits for the eggs. They are, however, relatively small. Most of the eggs sold in the supermarket are large or extra-large (sometimes jumbo) eggs, so you really have to look for the medium ones, or the egg container won’t close properly. Our deli’s eggs are like Super Jumbo Fat Eggs of Doom, so we developed a Solution based on how they pack their eggs with a padded carton and saran wrap to hold the thing together. Don’t force it to close, or you will crack your eggs. If your eggs don’t fit, you will need another Solution like we did. Just look for the medium eggs!
The one annoying thing about these containers is the convenient handle. It makes it hard to fit into a bear canister at night! It’s not needed to keep it shut, so just exacto or shear that baby off if you feel the need to. It will work fine.
Next, the eggs need to be kept relatively cool. To help with possible trail hazards as well as atmospheric and bodily heat, pack your eggs insulated – i.e. in the middle of your pack, and I would suggest slightly towards the top to relieve top down pressures. If you pack your bear canister or other large items in your pack interior, right on top of them wrapped in a cool t-shirt is a good idea. In mountain climates, night time temperatures will keep the eggs chill, so worrying about the day time temperature is more important. When you take off your pack, remember that you have uncooked and fresh food, and put it in the shade, eh?
Just as important to extending the life of your egg is freshness. Old eggs crack far easier than younger eggs, and a cracked (but not broken) egg will not fair well, maybe only last the day compared to it’s uncracked siblings. Younger, fresher eggs will not crack as easily, and the yolks will be less likely to break, too.
I also recommend, if you can access them, pasture raised or free range eggs. There’s mounting evidence for the health benefits of these eggs over modern, factory style raising techniques, either organic or not. Pastured hens have more access to a diversity of food, which can add caratinoids and vitamins into their diet, which will also deepen the color of their yolk. Ethically and healthfully, I would highly suggest you try to eat pastured and free ranged eggs anyway. But to the bottom line we go:
What do what does this have to do with backpacking? One of the reasons we know these hens are healthy – and that any hen is healthy – is from the quality of their egg. Pastured and ranged hens tend to produce eggs with stronger shells, and that’s a quality that increases the travelability of the egg, and thus benefits how long it lasts on the trail. So, as folks have studied hen health and egg quality, a lot has come out about shell strength and vitamin content, both which are happy additions to backpacking with eggs.
As a little comparison, I offer up a baking action shot of two eggs. The lighter one is organic, but the hens are not pastured. It is lacking color naturally because of the strict diet the hens are on. The darker egg is from a free-range source, where the hens have a more varied diet. The yolk is larger and stronger, as was the shell.
Feel free to conduct your own egg experiments to prove the above observations, but I will say this: that free range egg sure looks tastier to me. So, back to packing:
With the above tips, you can ensure the survivability of your eggs on a backpacking trip, with adjustments for your weather conditions. The are bulky, but it is truly awesome to have a full breakfast with eggs your first day out to fuel you up!
That said, I advise bringing a few pieces of equipment. Besides the frying pan. That one should go without saying!
1. A heat tolerant flipping spatula.
Once, a fellow backpacker made me a spatula out of fallen redwood bark as we were trying to flip pancakes with forks, having forgotten a proper spatula. You cannot flip eggs or pancakes with knives and forks. Bring something. You can get little mini ones for backpacking too. Out of nylon, or bamboo. Do not expect to have a cohort of elves to make you a spatula out of tree bark.
2. One (or two) of these things:
This thing is a silicone round egg device. There are several different versions by several manufacturers, but they all have a round of silicone and a little tab to help you pick it up. They make magic happen. For starters, you get round eggs for sandwiches. Second, they keep eggs tidy if you are cooking multiple eggs in a small pan. Third, they clean up very neat being silicone. These are handy, and weigh practically nothing. Just set it on the greased pan, crack in the egg, and let it cook. If you like to flip your egg, you can usually tap it out of the silicone with the end of the spatula (maybe run it around the edge) and the egg will keep it’s shape.
How cool is that?
But that does lead us to grease:
3. PAM (or similar) cooking spray.
This is a great cheat and worth the bulk sometimes if you do a lot of pan frying or cooking. Normally, you’d take a little bottle or maybe a squeeze tube of cooking oil, which is fine, but really, sometimes you want your cooking spray. This is not a necessity, but a luxury to consider. It’s less messy, controls the amount of oil you use to an absurd degree, and it burns at a much higher temperature, preventing many a burnt food – and thus an easier clean up after dinner is done. They sell little canisters too, so it’s not a big space issue, and the little ones are not very heavy. Also, Spectrum makes some organic sprays, (and offers more than just canola and olive oil, FYI). If you are going to be cooking, or if you are a little new to it, consider the cooking spray.
Either way, choose an oil with a high burn or smoke temperature. It will be more forgiving for a beginner to outdoor cooking. (Canola oil over butter, for example).
If you are really packing light without a frying pan of any sort (even the pot lid variety), then you can hard boil your eggs. It will take longer, though. Follow this sure fire hardboiling procedure, guaranteed to work, that my father passed on to me some years ago:
Sure-Fire Hard Boiled Eggs
1. Put eggs in pot (or Jetboil cup) and fill with water. Leave room for boiling bubbles.
2. Bring water to a rolling boil.
3. Shut of the stove and take the pot off the stove. Cover the pot.
4. Let pot sit for 15 minutes covered and undisturbed.
5. Get another bowl or use a water bottle. Fill with cold water if it isn’t already. Cool water will do if your water didn’t get cold overnight or there is not a convenient lake of snowmelt or bubbling spring nearby.
6. After the 15 minutes, put the eggs in the cool water. Since this water is boiled and safe, if you have another container or purpose for the water (coffee, hot chocolate, oatmeal) use the water for that. You can either put the eggs in the cool container, or put the cool water in the pot with the eggs. L
7. Let them sit until the temperature of the eggs drops and you can handle them. “Room temperature,” for the folks at home.
Enjoy and eat eggs! With a few precautions, they can be safely enjoyed days into a backpacking trip, and the above tips can help you in camp and at home as well as on the trail.
Cheers, and happy eating!