To be fair, this blog could also refer to the appropriate food for a canoe or kayak expedition, horseriding or cycle touring too. It’s really about the ideal foods for when you have limited cooking facilities, no refrigeration, limited space for transportation, and usually want to keep the weight down because you’re having to carry it all too. But don’t stop reading now if this all sounds too ‘wild’ for you. If you go camping with your family, there will be some tips in here that might help you out or inspire you too.
I’m going to assume that you have one stove. A Trangia or an MSR Pocket Rocket style of stove, plus a couple of cooking pans.
If you’re hiking with a full rucksack you’re likely to need between 3,000-4,000 calories per day. This much higher than the usual daily amount when you’re working at your desk. So don’t risk running out – take plenty and remember that your pack will get lighter as you eat.
We recommend you practice cooking at home before your expedition. Think creatively about the foods you usually like to eat. Is there a way of making them or a version of them on your expedition?
We’re looking for foods;
- That can be stored at ambient temperature
- Are lightweight to carry
- Are not bulky
- Meals that can be cooked in two pans without too much washing up
- A good balance of fats, proteins and carbohydrates
- That avoid a sugar crash
- That are easy and quick to cook/heat
Read the cooking instructions when you’re choosing your foods. Pre cooked rice can be reheated in a saucepan in just three minutes – regular rice could take 25mins of boiling before it’s ready. A lot of the microwaveable pouches are fine to heat up by standing them in boiling water for 5-10 minutes. Practice with your chosen one at home just to make sure though!
Rules that we like to stick to…
- No glass containers – these are heavy and pose a risk if they get broken
- No large tins – these are heavy too
- Avoid food that needs to be kept in a fridge
- Only take the amount of each food that you need for your meal. So don’t bring a 500g bag of pasta if you only need 100g of it
- No deep frying – this is a health and safety risk
Keep the washing up to a minimum
Not only is it a chore, but it also pollutes water courses. So food and drink where you can just add hot water to cook is great. You can buy packs of dehydrated expedition food but these can be expensive and they vary in quality.
Pretty much anything with oats is good as they release energy slowly and keep you fuelled well into the morning. Instant porridge pots are great. They are really quick and easy to make and they’re tasty. But they have their downsides…
- The cardboard pots can be crushed easily in your rucksack.
- They take up a fair bit of space.
- To make them cook quickly, the oats are rolled thinly. This increases their GI so they won’t keep you as full up as ‘regular’ oats
Alternatively measure out a generous portion of your favourite breakfast cereal or granola into a food bag. Add dried skimmed milk powder (probably about a tablespoon) and seal the top. Then you only have to add cold water in the morning and eat it straight from the bag – less washing up! I often add dried fruit, extra nuts and a shake of cinnamon to mine to make it even tastier.
Top tip: Double bag it just in case – you don’t want to open your rucksack and find milk powder all over your sleeping bag! And keep hold of the bag afterwards to store rubbish you carry out with you.
My overnight oats recipe is here. It’s another one where you can play around with the flavours to suit you.
There are slightly less conventional breakfasts, that also work well
- Pitta bread and chocolate spread or peanut butter. Just look out for the portion packs of spread so you don’t have to carry a big container.
- Malt loaf, flapjacks or something from the huge selection of cereal bars that are in the supermarket. If you do go down this route, take a look at the calories and protein levels on each one. They’re not always very filling and often have high sugar levels, meaning you might feel a ‘crash’ mid morning.
- Brioche rolls or loaf. These taste great even when squashed and they’re not too heavy.
Remember that lunch on your first day might be a number of hours after you set off from home. So think carefully about your choice of filling if you’re considering taking sandwiches with you. Especially if the weather is warm.
Oat cakes and crackers are now sold in handy individual portion packs. You can top them with a pouch of fish or peanut butter. Or have them with a lunch pot on the side.
We love the John West Creations pouches of fish and grains. You can eat them straight from the pouch, and they roll up small afterwards for stashing in your bag.
Don’t forget to include some fruit. Bananas and apples both work well. But you might want a banana guard to protect it from getting squashed in your rucksack. Dried apple is reasonably lightweight and chewy so makes a nice change.
Pepperami are a great source of protein that doesn’t need refrigeration. Mattessons sausage doesn’t need to be in a fridge until the pack is open. So you can either share with your walking buddy or just have a feast all by yourself!
Malt loaf and flapjacks work well at lunchtime too.
You might be lucky to walk near a farm with an honesty box. If you pick up a half dozen eggs, boil them when you make your dinner and share them with your walking partner for lunch the next day.
Evening Meal ideas
Pasta with sauce is an easy meal. Look in the supermarket to see what packaging might work best for you. Remember, you’ll be carrying your rubbish with you for the whole expedition so you don’t want bulky plastic getting in the way.
Dried pasta can be weighed out into a plastic food bag at home 100-200g per person per meal. Sauces can be bought in single serve pouches and boiled in the bag, so no messy pans. A chunk of Parmesan travels okay as long as it’s not for too long and the weather isn’t too hot. Slice up thinly to make your pasta that little bit more special.
‘Look what we found’ is a brand of meat casseroles, meatballs and chilli’s which work well as a boil in the bag substantial meal with rice or noodles on the side. Their only downside is they are heavier than dehydrated foods but if you’re away for a few days it wouldn’t hurt to have one on the first night and eat the lighter foods later on in the expedition.
Tilda pulses and rice pouches are flavoured really well, and can be boiled in the bag for 5-10 minutes. You will probably need two pouches to be enough for a meal or have something else with them but the ingredient list is clean and they taste pretty fresh. There’s at least one of your ‘five a day’ in each one and a good amount of protein which will keep you feeling fuller for longer. You can eat them cold, so they double up as a lunch option too.
Mugshot pasta or noodles make a good side dish. I make them up in my Lifeventure flask and they stay hot with the lid on while I leave them for 10 minutes to cook.
Have a think about your favourite foods at home – some can be adapted to be cooked on a camp stove.
- Vegetable curry can be made quickly with chopped veggies, curry paste and coconut milk. Buy dried coconut milk if you can to reduce weight further.
- Lentil daal is easy with an onion, lentils, herbs and spices. Add tomatoes if you see any to buy on your route.
- Bag up dried onions, split peas, noodles, chilli powder and bouillon. Rehydrate with hot water in a mug, pan or flask when you get to your campsite. You can play with flavours by mixing up the herbs and spices you choose.
- If you’re feeling ambitious, you could make a cottage ‘pie’ with a pack of Beanfeast and a packet of instant mashed potato, but this will require some washing up…
Just remember that the flames on some stoves can be quite fierce, so keep the flame low, keep the food wetter than usual and keep it moving to reduce the chance of it sticking and burning on the bottom of the pan.
- Individually portioned and wrapped treats like cake bars, biscuits or flapjacks are the obvious choice.
- Raisins or sultanas with mixed nuts and chocolate chips in a food bag are great for nibbling on while you’re walking. Just leave out the chocolate chips if it’s going to be hot weather.
- Roasted salted peanuts or dry roasted peanuts hit the spot when I’m craving a bit of salt.
- Popcorn is great too – it’s lightweight and full of energy, but does take up a bit of room in the bag.
- Tinned mackerel makes a great high protein snack, but remember you need to carry those mucky tins out. So make sure you’ve got something to put them in to stop them leaking into your bag.
Don’t forget the drinks!
You’ll probably have been drinking water all day so when you get to camp you’ll be ready for something different. Fruit and herb teas don’t require milk so they are a great option. Or choose regular tea and bring some skimmed milk powder, or milk sticks. We buy a big box online for a reasonable price.
If you’re more of a coffee drinker but prefer ‘real’ coffee to instant, try coffee bags. Use them in the same way as a tea bag, leaving to brew for 3 minutes and you have your mug of coffee tasting as if it’s fresh from the cafetiere.
Hot chocolate individual sachets are good too. There’s something comforting about cosying down in your sleeping bag at the end of a long day with a mug of something hot and sweet.
Experiment, play and see what works for you. When you’re wandering in the supermarket look to see what’s new that might work for hiking. Individual portions and boil in the bag pouches are all good.
Share your new finds in the comments on here for others to try out. And let us know if you try any of our suggestions – do they work for you too?