My approach to meals on the John Muir Trail has evolved over the years. I started out about as light as you can get and ate strictly for fuel. Breakfast was a mixture of granola, dried fruit, nuts, and powdered milk. Snacks, lunch, and dinner were energy bars. No stove, no warm food, no joy at dinner time.
As my confidence grew and I was willing to carry a bit more weight I incorporated a Jetboil. A couple cups of hot water mixed into a freeze-dried meal was nothing short of wonderful in the evening. Many of these meals (Mountain House, Mary Jane’s Farm, Backpacker’s Pantry, etc.) are quite good, but they all share a common imperfection: they are so processed that they do not taste fresh. I wouldn’t go so far to say that they all start tasting the same, but they can get a little tiresome. Enter the lowly hot pepper.
Hot peppers are small, light, flavorful, and will last a couple of weeks easily in your bear canister. Depending on the ones you prefer you can either add a bit of heat or much more. I like jalapeños because they are piquant and aromatic without being fiery.
The other great thing about peppers is that they seem to “freshen” the meal. Even if you add just a single pepper (I chop mine with a knife on top of the cup that came with the Jetboil) it seems to make all the difference. They are also fabulous trail gifts! I always pack a half-dozen or so extra to offer hikers I dine with in the evenings. They are often a big hit. (Admittedly, not as big a hit as the hunks of dark chocolate a young Canadian woman was passing out last year!)
Little things can mean a lot on the trail; morale can be a fragile thing. Toss a few jalapeños (mild), serranos (medium), or habaneros (hot) and you may find that your tasty freeze-dried meals are transformed.
Good hiking, Ray