My top tips for camping food in general and what I used on my recent trip winter camping in Sweden.
Food is really important for most people, it can be hard to know what to bring and use on camping trips. We all need to adapt our food habits when we are on expeditions and adventures.
I have a lot of food issues at the moment, so I was extremely planned out and prepared with my food in order to keep healthy. Expedition food can be healthy and inexpensive if you have some good ideas (keep reading) and are happy to put the work and prep in before the trip.
This would work well for anyone that wants to prepare some healthy meals pre trip or has a dedicated diet like halal, vegan. It also saves some pennies, as the dehydrated meals are an easy option they come in at about 8 quid a meal, definitely good to consider if you need to lighten your rucksack (or someone else is paying). Still expect to spend some money on a few items to make it a pleasurable and tasty trip. Food is the way to the soul after all.
Some of the preparation comes with thinking about the following things:
Weight and volume
Calories and nutritional value
The climate you are going to
We want food that gives us nutritional balance (carbs and proteins) and is as lightweight as possible (especially if carrying for multiple days), things like lentils, rice and oats are good examples of this. We also want to make sure that we are getting enough fibre and protein so our bodies can recover well and we keep going to the bathroom. Herbs and spices are a great addition to any healthy diet and a lightweight option for camping. This trip I made a Dahl spice mix and a jalfrezi spice mix. I'll buy some fresh vegetables that boil quickly and I’m happy to eat either raw or a wee bit crunchy. Sometimes I pre-chop garlic, onion and ginger to add if I know it's not going to be too warm out/go off or it’s a short trip.
Storage, this is a really important point, how do you store all these items. I personally use silicone or PEVA for my storage (be warned PEVA cannot be heated unlike silicone and easily warps even when washing with hot water). It means I can fill up the bags, flatten them so they don't take up too much space, wash them easily and then reuse them.
I’m going to a cold climate so the concern I have is making sure food doesn’t have too much moisture in it so it doesn’t freeze. I want to make sure I can eat! Being in a cold climate also means I need plenty of gas to melt snow for water. I'm happy carrying extra gas if it means I get hot water and hot food.
What about dehydrated or boil in the bag meals?
There's now some great and very healthy choices out there for dehydrated meals. I love that a lot of these options can come preservative free and have great taste. They're lightweight, pack loads of calories (which is what we want) and while your food is rehydrating you can be getting on with something else. Once you have filled your meal with hot water to the appropriate level (it will tell you on the back of the packet) to stir it really well, especially to the corners of the packet. Sometimes you get pockets of dehydrated food which doesn't taste so great. At this point I usually add in some extra vegetables like kale or small cut up mange tout or broccoli. You normally leave this for 8 to 10 minutes to rehydrate, then it'll be ready to eat. The other great thing about these meals is that the bag usually has a double seal (to keep the heat in), so they can double up as your rubbish bags!
The downsides to these are that they can be very expensive if you are buying lots of them. They come in at around £5 to £8 per meal. You also need to ensure that you will have hot water otherwise you're going to be rather hungry.
Here are some brands that do some decent dehydrated meals:
Boil in the bag
These are well known and used, a meal in a vacuumed bag already cooked and ready to go. They can be eaten cold (but I think they're nicer hot). They're easy to heat up, you just put them in boiling water for about 7 to 8 minutes (I move the food around at about the halfway point to make sure it's hot the whole way through).
They are obviously heavier than the dehydrated meals so if you had a lot of them they would weigh quite a lot.
Here's some Ideas of what you could eat camping
The classic porridge, as much as I've despised this over the years, it recently had a comeback in my book. I pack 1 cup of porridge per breakfast and to make it creamier I add organic coconut milk (very versatile), nuts and nut butter and some homemade granola for some texture. I often add organic vegan protein powder to my porridge to make sure I'm getting as much protein as possible.
If you can eat gluten/porridge isn’t for you items like filled crepes, croissants, breakfast bars are a great (and easy) breakfast. I love having a hot drink in the morning and usually boil a load of water to make up my flask for the day as well. On this trip I had a mixture of porridge in the cabin, one dehydrated breakfast (which was not my favorite) and my homemade granola with extra nuts and seeds which was a great success. Recipe here.
While most people go for a big packed lunch (sandwich/bagel/wrap) that can be difficult if you're ‘everything’ free. Sometimes, I will make double for dinner the night before, on this trip I used the dehydrated meals as they were easier for me. I find lentils to be a great solution with a lot of dressing and spices. Oat cakes with nut butter or cheese is also a winner! This trip we were provided lunch on the first day which was potato and sausages. On the trip itself I had a dehydrated goulash with added veggies which was 10/10 for me.
I’ve found it really easy to make one pot curries, I make a spice mix before, take coconut oil with me (you could take olive if you've got a nut allergy) and I add my coconut milk powder to make it creamier. I take the dried rice with me and clean it with water before cooking it. Adding dried onions and some fresh veggies to make a one pot wonder. Lentil Dhal is another great dinner, as well as pasta and sauce or couscous. These meals, I'm wanting calories and hydration. I often will eat enough for 2 people (600 to 800 calories if not more) especially if it's a cold climate as my body needs the calories overnight. I will often eat again before bed so my bodies get enough calories so I have set myself up to have a warmer and restful night. Hot drinks are also a must!
We love snacks, don’t we? I'm a big fan of snacking. If you're ever out with me you'll see that I eat all the time. For this trip I made granola with nut butter, coconut oil, oats, nuts and seeds and spices. I also took lots of nuts and some dried dates and figs for a sweet treat. I found dried mango and dried berries were the winning combination for me. While I was out in Sweden I found some of my snacks and protein bars froze if I didn’t have them next to my body before eating. There’s plenty of healthy and great options in Sweden, they are definitely fans of healthy food.
Should I avoid anything?
Everyone needs to adapt their eating habits for long distance hiking/trips/being in the hills
Find snacks that work well for you, it's a bit of trial and error
Your own trail mix is a great idea, (nuts, seeds, dried fruit and sweets)
Try and eat every hour, even if its a mouthful of a bar
You need more protein than you think
Take some morale boosting food with you, I love looking forward to a wispa gold and brew if i've had a hard day)
Have food, water, and comfy shoes (and dry clothes if you're expecting to get damp) waiting for you back in the car/wherever you’re returning to.
If you're col
Look after your feet and fingers
Organise your food per day and meal
Take an extra lighter (and make sure it won't get wet)
Review what you ate and what's leftover, learn from your experience.