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Food is one of the most important considerations particularly on longer trips with heavier packs and more sustained periods of activity. Food and menu choices should incorporate high energy foods that keep well and are lightweight, compact, appetising and easy to prepare.
Most fresh foods are impractical to take on trips as they spoil quickly, are heavy and bulky and are difficult to carry without damage.
Individual tastes vary, so experiment and devise menus that are nutritious and satisfying. Aim for a balance of carbohydrates, protein and fats and consider some variety in the meal plan to add interest. Gain ideas by observing what others take on trips.
- Plan the meals and take the written meal plan on extended trips.
- Try a new meal at home to see if it is tasty, practical to prepare on a trip and how much cooking time is required.
- Consider all food allergies for any shared food.
- Simpler foods are best.
- Hot breakfasts and dinners are more palatable except in warm conditions.
- Allocate easiest to prepare dinners to the hardest days and more elaborate meals when camp will be made early.
- Swap meals around when necessary, e.g. have a quicker meal if a day is longer than expected.
- Choose food for cold conditions that has a higher energy value with minimum preparation and cooking to reduce stove fuel consumption.
- In hot or possible fire ban conditions take foods which don’t spoil and that can be consumed without cooking.
Commercially dehydrated or freeze-dried meals list all ingredients – carefully check the labels for any potential allergens.
Home-dehydrated meals must take into account allergies if sharing with a tent partner or food group where someone has any food allergies.
Weight, volume and fragility
For a weekend trip, a wider range of foods can be considered. Avoid taking heavy, fragile or perishable foods. Minimise tin foods.
Food weight, volume and fragility are major considerations for extended trips.
A flavourful and nutritious diet for longer trips can be achieved with about 800-900 g of food per person per day. Create a meal plan, calculate the ingredient quantities and only take that much.
Some foods take up more space for the same weight simply based on shape, e.g. large spiral pasta vs spaghetti. Some foods are more fragile – select sturdier options e.g. smaller, harder dry biscuits rather than large, crumbly ones.
Individual tastes vary, so experiment and devise meals that are nutritious and tasty.
- A hot drink and a bowl of muesli is a common breakfast which can be eaten with hot or cold water or milk made from powdered milk.
- Breakfast bars can provide a quick start to the day.
- A cooked breakfast e.g. porridge with dried fruit is an option for more leisurely starts.
It is easier not to cook at lunchtime.
- Sandwiches can be convenient for the first day. On subsequent days dry biscuits, wraps or dense bread are better.
- Salami, peanut butter, jam, Vegemite, dips and chutney are suitable to carry.
- Natural cheese will keep for about three days, but processed cheese keeps longer.
- Sun-dried tomatoes, jerky, dried fruit and nuts also make good lunchtime snacks.
- An orange or apple at lunch is a nice treat on a shorter trip.
The duration of lunch breaks should be agreed by all group members. A short break will not allow time for someone to light a stove as it will keep the whole group waiting.
- Rice, couscous, noodles or potato powder as the carbohydrate base can easily be turned into a satisfying, nutritious and tasty dinner with the addition of vegetables and flavouring.
- Home-dehydrated meals and commercially made meals, either freeze-dried or dehydrated, are other options.
- Some fresh vegetables can be taken for eating on the first day or two.
- Commercial or home-dehydrated vegetables can be added to meals for longer trips.
- Dried herbs and spices are very light to carry and add flavour.
- In hot conditions, a sachet of tuna, some salad ingredients and pre-cooked pasta with an oil-based dressing works well for an overnight walk.
The amount of fuel carried should match the cooking requirements of meals.
Using a food dehydrator is a cheap way to create nutritious, lightweight, compact meals, while preserving food value and allowing individual preferences to be met.
- Home-dehydrated food requires more preparation time and effort, but greatly increases the variety of meals.
- The meals are cheaper than buying commercially-dehydrated or freeze-dried meals. Snack foods can also be dehydrated, e.g. fruit leathers, fruit, jerky.
- Soaking a dehydrated meal in hot water soon after setting up camp will reduce cooking time. A leak-proof container can be carried in which to start re-hydration of the evening meal earlier.
- Some foods can be vacuum sealed to further reduce the amount of space taken up and reduce spoilage.
- Vacuum sealing and storing dehydrated food at home in airtight containers away from light also helps to extend the shelf life of food.
Freeze-dried meals are lightweight and come in a large variety of flavours.
- They only require the addition of a measured amount of boiled water and an occasional stir while waiting for 10 minutes or so for them to be ready to eat.
- In cold conditions, this waiting time can result in a lukewarm meal unless the food pouch is insulted e.g. by wrapping a fleece top around it.
- Some freeze-dried meals can be reconstituted with just cold water, left to soak and eaten cold.
- Freeze-dried food is more expensive, but is an option for the convenience of having a couple of easily prepared meals and to add variety.
- Some freeze-dried meals come in different serving sizes.
- Weight of contents is a good indicator and point of comparison between meal options.
- Freeze-dried breakfasts and desserts are also available.
- Carry a cup or bottle with known measurements and use the correct amount of water to avoid watery meals.
- A long handled spoon for stirring is useful and also handy if eating directly from the packet.
One billy meals
One billy meals reduce the amount and weight of cooking equipment needed.
- Meals made in one pot save on washing up, fuel, juggling stove use, planning and timing.
- Some meal ideas include risottos, stews with potatoes, and pasta with sauces in the billy.
- Cereals such as couscous and quick noodles can be prepared in a bowl then added to the billy.
Food rich in carbohydrates should be eaten at regular intervals throughout the day.
- ‘Scroggin’, a favourite of many bushwalkers and ski tourers, is a home-made mixture of nuts and dried fruits with chocolate and other sweets added. Trail mix is a commercially available alternative.
- Nut and muesli bars, nuts, energy bars, chocolate, sesame snaps, lollies and sweet biscuits are some other snack options.
- Some fresh foods, e.g. carrots, snow peas, capsicum can be taken on shorter trips.
- On longer trips any fresh food should be eaten in the first few days, particularly in summer. It is also heavier than dehydrated or freeze-dried food.
- Smoked continental meats e.g. salami, cabana and ham spek, last quite well and keep better if packed in cloth rather than plastic to prevent the meat sweating.
- Processed cheeses in foil or natural cheese in wax keep better than most plastic-wrapped varieties.
- Margarine is preferable to butter which can go rancid, but must be carried in a leak-proof container in case it melts.
- For short trips of a night or two, carrying some spare food, e.g. quick noodles, nuts or snack bars, is sufficient.
- On extended trips, it is wise to carry at least a day’s extra food e.g. a couple of muesli bars for breakfast, some biscuits, jerky, nuts, cheese and chocolate for lunch and quick noodles and dehydrated vegetables for dinner.
- Consider taking meals that don’t require cooking as additional emergency food.
Food for extended trips
On trips of one week or longer, thorough meal planning is required to provide a well-balanced diet that will maintain good physical condition, with enough variety to boost morale and retain interest.
- Plan for approximately 800-900 g of food per person per day. Those with a larger build or big appetites may require more.
- Measuring, labelling and packing each meal beforehand makes food preparation and rationing on the trip much easier.
- Food requirements for very long trips (e.g. more than three weeks) need to be planned very carefully as appetite usually increases from the sustained activity. Meals need to provide more sustenance as the trip progresses to avoid feeling hungry and substantially depleting body reserves.
- Supplementary vitamins and minerals may be necessary due to not eating fresh food. B group vitamins are important for energy release from carbohydrates, while vitamins C and E assist in providing resistance to stress and promoting tissue repair.
- Powder or tablets for electrolyte replacement drinks should be included, especially for trips in warmer weather.
Some foods can be safely repackaged to reduce volume and weight.and make it easier to ration.
- Remove excess packaging to reduce bulk, weight and rubbish.
- Put food into resealable reusable plastic bags to reduce the volume as each meal is eaten, making packing easier each day.
- Some foods can be pre-mixed e.g. muesli, powdered milk and dried fruit.
- Small bags should then be put into a bigger bag for added protection.
- Clearly label all bags with contents and the number of days it is planned to last, e.g. powdered milk, so it can more accurately be spread over the duration of the trip.