Backcountry Staples Founder JC Coughlin wasn’t always health conscious. While studying abroad in News Zealand, his go-to backpacking fare consisted of thin spaghetti, instant mashed potatoes, and a packet of gravy.
Needless to say, a lot has changed since his college days. For starters, JC’s long-time partner Anya started hiking and backpacking with him. “She expected a little more refined culinary approach,” JC laughed.
More importantly, once JC and Anya relocated to Seattle, he experienced a number of health issues, including a bout with eczema, which later pushed him into a gluten and dairy-free diet. Limiting these inflammatory triggers helped JC immensely, and he was encouraged to pursue a gluten-free lifestyle indefinitely.
While backpacking, mountain biking and packrafting all over the Pacific Northwest, JC always seemed to be the one organizing the food, often making meals himself.
Back in 2015, JC and Anya were taking a break in the Olympic National Forest, sitting lakeside, enjoying their homemade quick-cooking soups. Together, they wondered, “why is it so difficult to go into a store and find what we’re eating?”
JC was well aware of the saturated backcountry food market. And he also felt that none of the brands out there had quite got it right — all the options were marginally nutritious, excessively packaged, and priced a stitch too high. “There wasn’t anyone bringing all the pieces together,” he said.
So JC decided to tackle it himself. Backcountry Staples officially launched in June of 2019.
Still in its infancy, Backcountry Staples' first offerings are entirely breakfast meals made of creamy oats and buckwheat porridge. Inspired by indulgent treats like cobblers, crisps, and scones, JC prepares all the brand’s products by himself in a commercial kitchen in Bellingham, WA.
Using transparent packaging, so you can see the product inside, was important to JC. “I want customers to feel that sense of transparency and feel connected to the food they are buying. I want them to know Backcountry Staples is something they can rely on,” he said.
While some of the brand’s breakfasts can be cold-soaked, Backcountry Staples meals are specifically designed for thermos-cooking. “It’s the most convenient, efficient, easy, and portable way to prepare food for life on the go,” JC said.
All of Backcountry Staples’ breakfasts are infused with an awareness of food allergies and their impact on health. “From an allergy standpoint, we’re striving to make meals that are as considerate as possible, so they’re available to more people,” he said.
Every meal the brand cooks up is gluten and dairy-free, with sugar-free and nut-free options available too. “We’ve gone a step further to source the best, least-processed ingredients we can.” JC admits he can’t satisfy every condition, “but we’re trying to be thoughtful.”
Eventually, Backcountry Staples plans to build beyond breakfast by adding more savory items to the menu (think soups and spreads).
Just a few months into their launch, Backcountry Staples is already giving back.
“In the U.S. we have a lot of access to these amazing playgrounds for adventures. They exist because of public lands,” JC said. “I feel as a company operating with the identity of being an outdoor recreation company, it’s important to support those places that make those trips possible.”
To this end, Backcountry Staples donates 3% of sales to non-profit organizations that care for and protect these lands.
As the brand’s sole chef (who also has a day job as a product engineer), JC stays busy experimenting in the kitchen. Once a recipe is “half-way decent,” he collaborates with Anya. Eventually, meals get passed on to friends and family for field-testing.
All of the positive feedback from both product testers and customers encourages JC to keep moving forward. “When it really has a direct utility in their life, it’s really motivating,” he said.