As with any hobby, if you really want to get into mushroom hunting, you can always find ways to spend too much money on too much gear. I’m no mycologist, but after harvesting hundreds of pounds of morels, I’ve seen a thing or two in the mushroom woods.
I’m always fascinated by the variety of bags, backpacks, and baskets I see on the scorched mountainsides of Idaho. Here are a few of the most common and what they might say about you as a forager.
The 5-Gallon Bucket
Possibly the most common mushroom tote in the West is a 5-gallon bucket. Most Forest Service regulations are based off of gallons as a unit of measure, which makes these standard pails so practical. The folks carrying buckets around just want something that will get the job done and have a spot in their garage when they get home. These people are my kind of people.
The Shopping Bag
If you want something that’s a bit more mobile, consider a few factors that make for good mushroom hauling. Morels are delicate and need to breathe. For those two reasons, I prefer bags made of a non-abrasive material and allow for airflow. A plastic sack, up-cycled from your last grocery store run, is fine for that quick-pick scenario. But don’t leave a sack of moist mushrooms exposed to the sun for long. Recycled grocery bags are a favorite of moms who forage.
The Produce Sack
Potato and onion sacks fit the breathability bill. However, most mesh sacks when full will de-gill morels by a combination of mushroom weight and hiking friction. Your mushrooms will be edible, but they won’t be pretty. The folks who carry these are a combination of the 5-gallon bucket club and shopping bag foragers.
The Reusable Tote
Soft cloth reusable shopping bags are a good option—particularly the ones with the plastic bottom that give the bag some shape. This bit of stiffness will give mushrooms space to evenly distribute if it’s not overloaded. I often use my Stone Glacier hunting pack with three or four soft reusable shopping bags. The big, adjustable backpack allows for compartmentalization of my mushroom bags so one won’t squish the other. The reusable tote gang is a bit more serious about their foraging, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they find more mushrooms.
The Woven Basket
The basket pack is a mushroom picker’s classic made from woven wicker or wood, like your grandma’s rocking chair or your grandpa’s fishing creel. It’s big enough for a pile of morels and outfitted with a couple of shoulder straps. Extra gear starts on bottom and moves up to the top as the mushrooms fill in.
There’s some old timer wisdom that speaks to why so many fungus hunters like these setups. As your mushrooms release their spores due to the stress of being picked, the picker will be “seeding” the forest with more mushrooms as they wander. In my experience, when you go to dry your morels is when they release their spores, but this practice can’t hurt. Foragers with woven baskets typically know their stuff and probably have a floppy hat and hiking stick to go with it.
The Milk Crate Frame
Commercial mushroom permits are inexpensive and often required in order to pick more than a few pounds per day. This is very common in burned areas with good road access near population centers. I’ve purchased many commercial permits and have even sold some mushrooms to restaurants over the years.
One technique worth mentioning for picky gourmets and restaurateurs is the milk crate stack. Those plastic milk crates everyone has laying around make great mushroom boxes and you can pile five or six of them in a pack frame. A couple of game bags in the bottom of each one will protect your mushrooms from friction. The limited volume of each crate will prevent smooshed and unappealing ‘shrooms. Better presentation is a better paycheck. Those hauling milk crates are probably looking to score some beer money more than fill their pantry with the best tasting mushroom.
I’ve done everything from the onion sack to milk crate. What I take into the woods each time depends on how confident I am. If it’s a shopping bag kind of day, I’m probably taking a quick break from turkey hunting. If there’s a frame pack on my back, I already have my dehydrator set up at home. Either way, I’m just happy to come home with a few morels. Happy picking.