|Claudia Pearson has been teaching students
how to eat well in the woods since 1977.
Photo: Brad Christensen
year, NOLS celebrates 30 years of the NOLS
its backcountry cookbook. The first edition of the
book, published in 1974, featured recipes, information
on ration planning, advice on nutrition and an introduction
by NOLS founder Paul Petzoldt.
“This book is
the result of experimentation done by many NOLS Instructors — and
even some students’ mistakes that turned out
well enough to be included in the recipes,” Petzoldt
The fifth and newest edition of the book, published
this year and edited by Claudia Pearson, rations
manager at NOLS Rocky Mountain in Lander, Wyoming,
much of the same information as the original, including some of the same recipes. “I
haven’t evolved too far away from the original plan,” Pearson says. “Paul
definitely had an idea — and his idea for cooking worked. He was a pioneer.”
Many concepts have stayed the same, but the NOLS
Cookery has undoubtedly changed over the last
30 years, and the latest edition has 100 more
pages than the
original, including extensive nutritional information, new recipes and illustrations.
says that while the original NOLS
Cookery was primarily for NOLS students and
instructors, the newer editions are “also used by so many outside of NOLS.” Backpacker
magazine agreed, saying in one review, “without a doubt, this is the
most complete book for beginners.”
Pearson, who worked as an intern in the food
room at NOLS Rocky Mountain in the summer of 1977 and
began managing the room in 1979, says that what
about NOLS’ idea for backcountry cooking was that you did not have to take
special foods on the trips. NOLS wanted to teach people to save money by taking
basic foods and then experimenting once they were in the mountains. “That’s
what Paul felt — take a bag of macaroni and learn how to cook it 10 different
ways using a spice kit,” Pearson says.
NOLS does not send students out with a specific
meal plan. “The less structure,
the more creativity. By not having a meal plan you can get really creative, especially
toward the end of a ration period,” Pearson says. And that is how new recipes
find their way into the NOLS
Cookery. “We get recipes submitted from the
field on whatever people can find — pieces of ensolite pad or scraps of
paper,” Pearson says.
While the original NOLS
Cookery included nutritional
information, the latest edition has an entire
new chapter dedicated to the topic. It also features
nutritional analyses of all the recipes and a section on combining proteins
to teach people
how to get the most protein out of the rations.
Many of the food items that people take into the
field today are the same as when the first NOLS
Cookery came out, but the re-rationing system
works a little
differently. Today NOLS rations are brought in by everything from planes to
horsepackers, but Pearson says she remembers one way it used to be done. NOLS
used to fill
cans with bags of food and crank the cans closed every August. The cans were
then placed in Army duffel bags and driven out to Yellowstone or the Wind River
Mountains in October and hung from trees or placed in boxes. This was the “cache” system.
When the NOLS winter courses were out in the field, they would locate the cache
and re-ration themselves.
Pearson says the way NOLS issues cheese has also
changed over the years. For a period NOLS rationed
powdered cheese, or they’d send 40-pound blocks
of cheese into the mountains for the students to cut. Pearson says now they
make things easier and more sanitary by using vacuum-sealed one-pound blocks
With the years come new ways to refine the art of
backcountry cooking, but the basic need to eat
well in the backcountry remains the same. Pearson
best advice: “Eat often, eat a variety, and hydrate.” Pearson then
picks up a copy of the original NOLS
Cookery and turns to Petzoldt’s introduction.
She laughs and reads the section out loud in which he told people to “never
become hungry or thirsty… eat when you want and what you want.” Timeless
advice from the experts for anyone heading into the backcountry.
Erica Krug, a
2003 graduate of the Gila
Range Backpacking course,
is currently an editorial intern at NOLS headquarters
in Lander, Wyoming.