It wasn’t until I started living in Maine, after 26 years of life elsewhere, that “trail lunches” became part of my vocabulary. While I grew up spending time in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, I was never responsible for lunch or snacks on daytrips—my parents usually took care of that chore. And in Boston and New York, I spent very little time seeking outdoorsy (out-of-city) activities; picnics don’t count.
However, what I do know about assembling a lunch or ample snack, I learned during my time working in cities outside of Maine—in restaurants, sandwich shops and in my own kitchen experiments. When I moved to Maine and discovered that my new roommates and friends were more interested in climbing a mountain than binge-watching Netflix, I joined them. I wasn’t the point person for mapping out the trail (I’m still not) or carrying the first-aid kit (nope), but what I could reliably contribute had to do with food—ideas about food, making food, packing food.
A trail lunch, as I’ve come to know it, is typically what you might pack for exactly that—a trail hike, walk, snowshoe or ski. But the same principles of a trail lunch can easily be applied to an afternoon swim, an ice skating adventure, bike ride, kayaking excursion or even a long car ride with limited space. The food needs to comfortably fit into a small backpack without the risk of spilling, crumbling or melting, and it needs to be satisfying, nutritious and delicious. In other words: You need to make a damn good sandwich.
I’ve been on one too many hikes where all there was to eat at the top of the mountain was a bag of trail mix (or “gorp” as my more-experienced outdoorsy friends like to call it). If I have to eat another handful of cashews and M&Ms after six hours of hiking or cross-country skiing, you can go ahead and count me out (or “in” for that matter—I’ll be home catching up on the latest season of “Mozart in the Jungle”). Hiking and spending time outside is great—I’ve come to love it and crave it—but to this day my main motivation is the satisfying bites of scrumptiousness after a challenging workout. I’m here (mostly) for the food.
Now, many readers might be fine with a standard peanut butter and jelly sandwich or maybe turkey and mayo for an outdoor excursion. While these classics are perfectly fine, and certainly better than trail mix, I like to get creative with sandwich options. A great sandwich has two important components: quality ingredients and a balance of flavors. But that doesn’t mean it has to be overly complicated. (And getting awesome at making really fantastic sandwiches can be addictive.)
BASIC TIPS FOR MAKING A DAMN GOOD SANDWICH:
FOCUS on good bread—pick a favorite, or grab a fresh loaf from a local bakery
EXPERIMENT with unusual “wet” ingredients (spicy mayo, oils, vinegars, avocado, hummus, chutney or jam, hot sauce, cheese spreads)
BALANCE with a sustaining protein like salumi, tuna, chicken or tofu
INCORPORATE something with a bit of crunch or texture like lettuce, pickles, olives, pickled onions or even a hard-boiled egg
ADD a pinch of salt and pepper for a well-seasoned sandwich
MEAT AND CHEESE ARE OPTIONAL—some people get nervous about packing animal products without a cooler, but I don’t tend to worry unless it happens to be a sweltering hot day and it will be hours before the sandwich gets eaten. I’ve also been satisfied with a hummus sandwich layered with sliced veggies, olives and a drizzle of oil. Pack a mini jar of pesto or guacamole for dipping!
Claire Jeffers lives in Portland and works as a freelance writer and communications strategist. Follow her adventures on Instagram: @claireinmaine.