When people think about what food to pack on a hike they often consider how lightweight it is and how quick it cooks as a priority. Yet when we book a restaurant it is for a cuisine we enjoy and makes us feel good. There can be a lot of downtime on a long distance walk not to mention the need for an incentive to get from point to point. Knowing you have a fresh, delicious meal to prepare or reheat at the checkpoint could certainly provide some extra motivation. But it’s also the nutritional aspect that could really provide the much needed fuel to power the footsteps.
My name is Harrison Ward, also known as Fell Foodie, I’m a keen hiker but an even keener foodie. I love to prepare restaurant style meals in remote locations on minimal equipment. Like me, I’m sure you enjoy the outdoors and maybe also have an appreciation for food, yet the two are rarely combined in a favourable fashion. The heavily ‘clingfilmed’ sandwich, squashed in the bottom of a rucksack is often the staple dish chosen to fuel a hike. However, some of you may even step it up a notch and pack a dehydrated meal and a gas burner. Just add boiled water and a hot ‘meal’ is ready. The speed and ease of this is certainly appealing but they are still ready meals of the outdoors and not very convenient when it comes to price. Now don’t get me wrong, emergency ration packs and other freeze dried fuels are instrumental in the success of explorations in dangerous zones and will save lives on lengthy excursions. The weight by Kilojoule isn’t going to be able to be replicated by a home cooked meal, and in those environments I’d be munching a boil in the bag down quicker than I can make a Beurre Noisette. But the enjoyment factor can certainly be superseded with a bit of out the box thinking.
When I have undertaken multiday hikes, I have tried to cook fresh as much as possible. Refrigeration and weight tend to be the biggest concerns for individuals looking to eat as well as they can on the trail. Cool bags will get you so far and in cooler months, nature will provide the fridge like temperatures for you. However, if hiking in the summer then common sense should be used (no fresh prawns stored in the pack for a couple of days!). Items that are more perishable should be consumed earlier in the trip and recipes planned accordingly. On some thru-hikes there will be the option to resupply in small towns and settlements, this could be a time to refresh your ‘on back’ larder. Alternatively, pack largely veg, tinned, sealed and dry goods to extend shelf life. For weight shaving, never pack full oils, vinegars, spices and condiments. Decant them down at the start of your hike or perhaps even use an oil spray (lightweight but larger surface area for packing than a small container of oil). I like to leave vegetables whole where I can, they are naturally provided with protective layering so they won’t damage in your bag as easily or create mess. But you can also decant these and prepare them at your shopping locations. Empty sealable containers or bags are perfect for chopped ingredients. Prepping the items in civilisation, after shopping, also means you can disregard the waste bits (packaging and veg ends) whilst you have a bin nearby, a weight shaved in two manners.
It can be very easy, and convenient, to rely on quick snacks like chocolate bars and energy gels when on a big walk. They will be an opportune calorie boost at certain moments but if fully depended on may cause further fatigue due to a lack of suitable nutrition. You will expend a lot of calories on long walk, especially in the hills. The extra weight of a rucksack will only add to this. To counteract this and keep yourself sufficiently fuelled you will require more food than you may usually consume. One of the best bits about walking for me….guilt free calories. But just also be aware that a balanced approach of carbs, proteins and fats will be essential for efficient longevity when placing those boots into the turf.
I hope this inspires some of you to give cooking outdoors a go or at least preparing some fresh tucker for the trail. Just remember to respect the environment you are in and leave no trace by taking all rubbish home with you. Happy hiking.
You can find more of Harrison’s adventures and recipes at @fellfoodie
Photos by Daniel Toal, Andrew Barlow and Tom Sigler