Trail food

We have been on hundreds of hikes throughout the years and whenever we go someplace, the food I prepare takes a front seat. To start a good day with energy filled, homemade breakfast is wonderful. To end a fabulous day with a home cooked dinner surrounded by beautiful nature is even better. It is the highlight of each day in my op pinion. Ok in Iceland we really have to make sure that the tent won't blow away and that the propane will actually keep alive whilst cooking but that is part of the challenge. We don't like wolfing down bread and energy bars at our destinations. We prefer to cook substantial meals and enjoy the food, savour it even. Just make sure you pack enough food because when it's delicious and homemade, fellow hikers tend to eat lot more than you thought they would.

Keep in mind that the information below is suitable for lighter hikes and will not be sufficient for vigorous hikes such as Mt. Everest or even Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Preparation:

  • Plan all meals ahead, before leaving home. You will need to plan for breakfast, lunch and dinner and snacks.
  • Buy good quality produce and don't skimp on the ingredients. You deserve the very best after a long, exhausting day.
  • Always prepare at least one or two extra meals to bring along in case something comes up.
  • Pack dried milk/milk powder so that you just need to add water. Dried milk/milk powder is also much lighter in weight than milk containers.
  • Beware of ready made trail food unless it is organic. The usual ready made trail food is absolutely vile and packed with all kinds of funny ingredients. Prepare your own noodle soups and one pots.
  • Repack heavy items such as peanut butter. Remove from glass jars and place in lightweight plastic containers.
  • When preparing your food, calculate how much food you will need and then take a little more. It is better to have a little too much than too little. Believe me you don't want to be hungry and miles away from the next food source. Energy needs are very different between two individuals and may also depend on the hike, the temperature and the duration of the hike. Calculate all those factors in when preparing your food.
  • The food you bring along should be packed with energy but not packed with white sugar or processed ingredients. Complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats is a good combination.
  • Don't take along food that you don't like at home. For example, don't bring along a tin of sardines if you don't eat them at home. Unless you are absolutely set on eating porridge (even though hating it), don't expect to eat it on your hike (my husband couldn't eat porridge or Weetabix when hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro so he skipped breakfast which is not a good idea and although he made it to the top, he lost a lot of weight). Bring along the foods you know and love.
  • Nut cutlets are an excellent food item to bring along because you can enjoy them cold, as a filling in sandwiches, in soups and more.
  • If you own a dehydrator you can dry fruits, sauces, sun dried tomatoes and more. If you don't own one you can sometimes purchase dried food items to bring along.
  • Bring along spices such as salt, pepper, basil, parsley and tamari sauce in tiny containers. They will make the food taste a million times better when you are at your destination and won't take up too much space. Some people I know save their soy sauce packets when buying sushi because they are ideal size for hikes.
  • Dried mushrooms are a flavourful but lightweight addition to any soup or stew/one pot.
  • Couscous and small pasta shapes are excellent to make soups more filling and won't take long cooking. Noodles are also a good choice.
  • Pita bread (wholewheat) are very robust, will keep well in your backpack and go well (toasted) with soups and dips. You can toast them over an open flame at your destination.
  • Wraps and chapatis are also a good choice for hikes.
  • Peanut butter is probably the best option for a sandwich filling. It keeps for a long time (even in hot weathers), is an excellent source of energy and fat. It also tastes so good when you are tired! Jam is also a good option if you like peanut butter and jam (us Icelanders never combine those two ingredients in a sandwich).
  • Make your own trail mix. Raisins, dates, nuts, apricots, dark chocolate (with cane sugar), figs and seeds are an excellent choice.
  • Try to create a varied diet. For example you can offer noodles (with meat if you are a carnivore) on day one, couscous on day two and even rice and chapati on day three.
  • For the carnivores you can bring along cooked meat and tear into strips to add to soups and sandwiches. If the weather is hot it might only be good for the first day. In Iceland it might keep well for the whole hike!
  • I always enjoy bringing along as much of fresh produce as is possible. However if the weather is hot you might not be able to do this. You can bring along carrots and onions to add to soups although it might not always be practical. Soft fruits such as avocado, grapes, bananas and so on will turn to mush in your bag so don't even attempt bringing it along, unless you want a fruit puree at the end of your hike.
  • Bring along a sufficient amount of energy bars, preferrably homemade (or from a health food store).
  • Bring along oat biscuits, they go well with peanut butter or jam and you can dunk them in your tea for some extra energy. Oatmeal biscuits provide a good source of energy. You can either buy them from a health food store or make your own.
  • From experience I am telling you, there is nothing more effective in producing a smile on tired peoples' faces than bringing along home made goodies. Confectionery (not chocolate covered), muffins or tea breadsBanana Muffins and Apple and Raisin Muffins are always a special hit. You can enjoy them on your first or second day of your hike (they might be a bit dry after that). You will be the most popular person on your hiking trip and guaranteed you will be the first one to be saved if, for example you fall through a crevasse.

During your hike:

  • Have a king size breakfast every morning. The breakfast is THE most important meal of the day. Muesli is an excellent choice (just mix together dried milk/powdered milk and some cold water and pour over your muesli). Porridge is also a good choice. Bring along some cinnamon and raisins or chopped dates for a nice treat.
  • If you don't have time to prepare breakfast you can munch on energy bars or flap jacks along the way.
  • Some hikers prepare their sandwiches before they start their hikes for the day and they keep them in plastic containers or aluminium foil. Some prefer to prepare sandwiches at their rest stop. Either way is fine although sandwiches that are kept in containers for a long time in hot weather might not be too happy when they reach their destination.
  • Always, always, always remove rubbish. Don't leave anything behind.