Help! I’m going on a multi-day hike – there are no fridges, microwaves or restaurants? I don’t know what to eat!
The Convenience of Boil in a Bag
Various suppliers offer light weight, freeze dried or dehydrated dinners in a bag. Click and pay to have it delivered to your door. Out on the trail, add some boiling water, give it a good stir, wait, then eat it from the bag. Too easy, especially when you are tired, cold and wet.
You can even buy 24 hour ration kits so you don’t need to think about breakfast, lunch or dinner and are all set to survive the zombie apocalypse.
- Backcountry sell a wide range of meals, under both the Backcountry and Outdoor Gourmet brands. Typically about 100g for a single serve dinner with approximately 1550kj, at a cost between $12 and $16.
- Strive Food offer individual meals, 125g for 1800kj at $10 and a 24 hour ration pack for $28. They also have dehydrated beef mince and vegetables which you can spice up any way you like.
- Three Capes Gear and Gourmet offer real food and even cocktails (!) at various weights from 100g to 500g, priced from $12 up to $100 or more for a ration pack. First night fabulous indeed! We are currently really enjoying Packit Gourmet options that only TCGG supply in Australia at present.
- Campers Pantry bring us back down to earth with the more standard hiking meals, $16 for 110g of apricot chicken for example – with a whopping 2220kj
- Absolute Wilderness offer a range of meals such as a 90g $12 stew with a mere 1190kj.
- Go Native have a small range of meals and a 24 hour ration pack weighing 690g for $35. They also throw in a free sudoku and quiz for your amusement while waiting for the water to boil. Their meals are not freeze dried – at a hefty 250g for 1657kj for an example dinner, they are best eaten on day one.
- Primal Pods – for anyone who loves meat protein in a simple light pack. Personally I found this too hard to eat on the trail but for some it may be heaven!
It pays to read the labels!
Go shopping at your local stores
Food for humans is a social sharing activity, even more so on hikes. Buddy up with a fellow hiker or two and work on a creative menu together. Go shopping and have fun finding hiking options in the supermarket. Share a happy hour treat with your fellow hikers. Drag out your evening meal preparations over a three course meal. Poke your nose into other people’s pots and see who has the best meal ideas.
The following is a list of food ideas to consider as you create your own menu for your overnight, 3 or 4 day hike. The food you choose depends on many things including your fitness, the length of the hike, expected weather, if you are staying in huts or carrying tents, etc.
- Oats or muesli pre-measured (more than you eat at home!) and pre-mixed in a bag with milk powder, and spiked to your taste with sugar, spices, dried fruit, seed or nuts, etc. Add boiling (oats) or cold water (muesli) to eat.
- Pancakes (the shake and mix variety works well but putting it into a zip-lock bag is helpful to save space).
Morning tea, snacks
- Fresh fruit – mandarins, small apples, even blueberries if packed carefully. If you are worried about weight consider freeze-dried fruit – the texture is a bit weird but some fruits are really tasty.
- Muesli or nut bars, protein bars, chocolate bars, protein balls
- Dried fruit, raisins, dates, cranberries, nuts, naked ginger, seeds, coconut, wasabi peas
- Dark chocolate, M&Ms, smarties
- Lollies – jelly beans, snakes, liquorice. Clif Shot Bloks.
- Biscuits, fruit cake. We once had a small piece of rich fruit cake and UHT cream as an afternoon treat high on the side of the mountain after a tough day in NZ. We drizzled the cream into our hands over the fruit cake and licked it up enthusiastically.
- Lunch on your first day can be a nice fresh roll, leafy green salad, cold meats, hard-boiled egg, etc. The best hiking lunch I’ve devoured was a simple lentil salad with goats cheese and tomato – maybe it tasted so good because first we had to climb that rocky 2000m Corsican mountain. Leave the dry biscuits and fish for another day.
- Biscuits such as Vitawheats, rice crackers, wraps, pita or mountain bread
- Salmon, tuna and beans in foil sachets. Sardines are a favourite, loaded with calories.
- Beef jerky, salami or charcuterie (buy it in a roll, not sliced unless vacuum packed and in a cold climate)
- Peanut butter (Pics make “slugs” that are perfect for hiking!), Nutella, honey, vegemite.
- Hard cheese (Gouda baby bel travel well), or processed cheeses
- Fresh vegetables (baby carrots, baby cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, capsicum, alfalfa, spinach in a bag, a small avo) are good for the first couple of days – pack carefully, share around and eat the heaviest food first.
- Cuppa soup or miso soup is good when you get to camp in the afternoon. You’ll be surprised how much you are craving salty food over sweet things after a long day’s hiking.
- Pringle chips, snack olives, biltong, oysters are nice treats to share
- Convenience foods as above, or…
- Couscous (flavoured or plain), pasta, noodles, instant rice, instant potatoes, dehydrated peas
- Protein such as salmon or tuna sachets, as for lunch
- Liven up your meals with spices, Parmesan, dried mushrooms, olives, sun dried tomatoes, dried shallots, coconut milk powder, seaweed. Asian stores are a good source for hiking food ideas.
- Dessert – stew some dried fruit and add custard, instant pudding, rice pudding, pancakes, or even a tiny steamed pudding.
- Drinks – tea, coffee, hot chocolate, milo. Herbal teas such as Rooibos don’t need milk, and taste wonderful with a dash of honey. Actually honey on the trail is good at any time.
- A hip flask with a small amount of something like Cointreau or port – it may help you sleep while those around you are snoring.
Besides your planned menu, it is good to have some emergency rations in case a cheeky bird steals your lunch or the weather closes in – instant noodles and chocolate are a good standby.
You might also want to leave something to drink and eat in the car for the finish, especially if it is a long drive back to civilisation.
Packing your food and other tips
Obviously, remove all unnecessary packaging and measure just the right amount of food into bags and containers for your needs. This lightens your load and reduces the waste you need to carry out. A food weight of between 700g (multi day trips) and 1kg (overnight) per day are typical weights.
I pack food, such as my morning oats, into freezer bags and then group like food into a larger bag. All my dinner and breakfast bags go into one dry sac, while my lunch food is in another dry sac, easily accessible at the top of my pack. Snacks go in my pocket. Consider labelling your food bags – in the dark at night after a long day, one bag of dry food can look just like another. Use the mini zip lock bags for small quantities, and lookout for hiker-friendly small containers at discount stores.
In terms of sorting your food, keep your day’s supply at the top of your bag for easy access on the trail and the remainder somewhere lower to sort when you arrive at camp or the hut. Pfaffing around in your backpack whilst on the trail is a time-wasting activity and not conducive to enjoying the views.
If you are travelling for your hike, to New Zealand or Tasmania for example, research quarantine restrictions. Bring what you can with you, and buy the rest at your destination. Book a hostel for the night before your hike near a supermarket.
Don’t assume you can discard or burn your rubbish, bring a strong, large zip lock to pack your rubbish out. I usually put this on the outside of my pack, separated from my food and clothes. Squeeze out the water from your used teabag before you pack it.
If you don’t like your convenience food once you’ve cooked it, or the quantity is too much, you need to carry it out. Please don’t dispose of it by feeding the wildlife or throwing it down the toilet. Rangers don’t enjoy cleaning up your leftovers.
Keep your food (and rubbish bag) safe from wildlife. Some sneaky birds can open packs. If rat boxes are supplied at campsites use them – you don’t want rats gnawing through your tent to get to your supplies.
Other yummy hiking food resources
Try these recipes and resources about hiking food. I’m getting hungry already! Wasabi mash with tuna anyone? You can do this!
- Trail Recipes, an app, menu planner and online course on dehydrating
- a free Australian Outdoor Ed Cookbook with lots of tips and recipes
- Lotsafreshair Easy Hiking Food for Overnight Hikes, has a menu with quick supermarket options, and a video of basic hiking food. Lotsafreshair also includes recipes on her site (dehydrated dips, tiramisu) and 8 Tips to Using a Dehydrator to make tasty hiking food
- Extreme Gourmet, a book with great recipes and dehydrator hints
- Food to Go, an eBook with menu ideas and recipes
How to make friends on the track – share your goodness!