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October 2023

A Little Paddle: BackCountry Brunch with MSR and Chef Nathan


Guest Authors: Nathan Slater & Sanesh Iyer from @alittlepaddle

How we use our MSR Dragonfly Stove to have efficient mornings on our backcountry sea kayak expedition.

Our mornings on trip start at 6:30… or sometimes 6:00, and occasionally 5:30 or 7:00. We get up, pack our sleeping bags and sleeping mats, take down our hammocks, change into our base-layers for paddling, and head to the kitchen. Sanesh and I take turns making the morning meals, but today I will explain my process. It’s really important to me to be efficient in the morning, so I work to the strengths of my equipment to get the best results.

We call this ‘brunch.’ But it’s not an eggs Benedict on a patio on a sunny Sunday late morning. It’s almost antithetical to that relaxing pastime. We always pre-cook our lunch in the morning and store it until noon when we stop to eat. It allows us to carry tasty and nutritious dehydrated lunches, while maximizing our moving time during the day. Some of the practices I’ll describe are commonplace in the sea kayak world, others are specialized expedition tactics, and others still are simply things which I’ve taken to over the years. I’ll leave it to you to discover which is which.

Setting up our Camp Kitchen:

I start by heading to the kayaks to gather the supplies - pot set, kitchen kit (knife and utensils), insulated bottles, MSR Dragonfly stove, MSR fuel bottle, 10L MSR Dromerary water bag, breakfast bag, lunch bag, hot drinks bag, garbage bag, and the tubs that serve as our bowls. I load all the supplies into an IKEA bag and carry them to our kitchen area which we established the prior evening. On the beach we are often blessed with enough flat logs to create a pretty elaborate kitchen - ideally one where we don’t have to be hunched over to cook. If it’s drizzly, we set up our MSR Thru Hiker Wing 100 tarp as a standing-height cover over our kitchen. It’s a pretty elaborate process to put it up so check out our video about it here. I set up the kitchen in largely the same way every time with the stove in the middle, space for the pots on either side, and the food bags off to the left. Setting things up in this way allows me to be efficient even though I’m still mostly asleep and have yet to have a coffee.

Once the stove is set up, I’ll prime it and get ready to cook. The MSR dragonfly is a powerful white gas fueled stove so requires some prep to get going. I insert the pump into the fuel bottle and pump it until I feel resistance against the plunger. Then I plug the stove line into the bottle and open the valves to release a small amount of fuel into the stove cup. I then light that fuel so the stove body heats and is able to gasify the rest of the rest of the fuel. Once the flames die down, I slowly open the gas valve and a powerful blue jet appears - now we’re ready to rock! (We’ve made a video explaining the process of setting up the stove which is available on Instagram). I set a full 3L pot of water filled from the 10L MSR Dromedary onto the stove and let it come to a boil.

Camp Breakfast:

As the water heats, I’ll portion the oatmeal for breakfast into our smaller 2L pot and begin grinding two portions of coffee and setting up our pair of Aeropresses (in reality, Sanesh often takes charge of the coffee station, but for now we can pretend I’m doing this all independently). As the water boils, I take some time to check the weather for the day, either from my VHF radio or using the ‘Windy’ app on my phone if there’s cell reception.

When the water is boiled, I’ll pour a portion into each of the Aeropresses and let them brew. I’ll also portion the boiling water into the oatmeal pot and pour the rest into our insulated bottles. On cool days, it’s really nice to sip on hot tea as we paddle. The bottles come with a cup for drinking so we can keep our tea near boiling all day and only cool the portion of drink on which we’re sipping. The oatmeal mix usually requires a few extra minutes of boiling, so I set it back on the Dragonfly to simmer. The simmer-ability of the dragonfly has been a game changer for us on this trip compared to the chaos of managing stoves that always blast full power.

Lunch & Tear-Down:

Next step: lunch. I use our measuring cups to portion out the lunch into the 3L pot and add the portion of water. Once the oatmeal is cooked, I’ll take it off the stove and swap-on the lunch pot. Breakfast is served into two 500mL tubs and eaten with spoons taken right from our kitchens at home. This is when Sanesh and I sit together and discuss the day’s plan. Since I cooked today, Sanesh will have already packed his personal gear into his boat by now, untied both kayaks, and changed into his drysuit.

Once breakfast is done, it’s my turn to change and pack my kayak while Sanesh washes the breakfast dishes and keeps an eye on lunch. Eventually, lunch gets packed into the same containers from which we ate breakfast and it’s time to pack the kitchen away for the day. The Dragonfly and fuel pump gets packed into their stuff sack and placed into a dry bag. The pot set is then stacked and stored in its bag. The rest of our kit - cutting board, knives, measuring cups, spoons, serving utensils, soap, and scrubby goes into a mesh bag.

The kitchen is often the last thing to be packed into the kayaks, so once it’s in we’re ready to launch. Having efficient mornings is important to our success on this expedition. Being able to simmer dishes so we can cook them without burning has also been a game changer for our experience. The MSR Dragonfly works with multiple types of fuel so we’ve had no trouble finding top-ups in remote towns. Manually pressurizing the fuel bottle also allows for a consistent cooking experience no matter how full the bottle is.

In regards to the rest of our system, setting up a ‘kitchen’ that is off the ground and out of the elements keeps sand out of food and arguments about “who knocked over what” at bay. Having enough space in our pots to rehydrate breakfast and lunch simultaneously is critical. We rarely need to transfer dishes from one pot to another or worry that we’re going to overflow. Finally, keeping hot water for mid-day tea has also added civility to our backcountry experience. Using high quality equipment has allowed us to spend less energy worrying about cooking and more time enjoying delicious meals on the coast.