Food and hydration for the beginner

A rather embarrassingly long time ago I was asked to put together some tips on yummy bush-tucker, aka the kind of food you might like to eat on a walk. I said I’d get onto it straight away…. I did, it’s just taken this long to complete! So my sincerest apologies to the reader who asked for it :/. I’ve decided to start off with dinner – cos it’s the big one. There are many ways of doing this, and I reckon a great approach is to check out what everyone else does and steal all the things you like to come up with your own food menu. I’ve tried to include a bit of a range that will give you an idea of what I found good from the I-can’t-cook or I-don’t-have-time perspective through to the I-have-a-dehydrator, I-want-yummy-food and I-want-to-know-exactly-what-goes-into-my-tummy end of the spectrum. But preparation time and taste aren’t all that it boils down to, there’s also weight and gas consumption involved. It’s up to you to make the call on what combination works best for you – these are just ideas that are perhaps best suited to those who don’t do much overnight stuff and want a bit of a place to start.

Preparation:

The quickest, easiest way to get a dinner meal is to buy one. If you’re really pressed for time, you can order online (can’t say I’ve done this!). There’s a few brands out there and many of the camping stores will stock back country, backpackers pantry or the outdoor gourmet country. I’ve had a few of these and found them rubbery, pretty average on taste, salty and have heard that for many guys they’re not big enough (they’ll buy a double serve). They’re cheap and easy on gas – add boiling water to the packet, let sit, and eat in 10 minutes. There’s always those easy pasta meals you can buy from any supermarket, which probably have a bit more taste, are cheaper and you can throw your own combination of veggies in.

A much better alternative to the bushwalking specific meals is Strive Food (https://www.strivefood.com.au), made by a nutritionist with calculated serving sizes. They’ve got to be the best pre-packaged meal out there for taste and cost (in my opinion). They are marginally heavier (130-150g single serve as opposed to 90ish grams) and take a little more to rehydrate, but a boil up, 10 minute wait, and reheat if needed works pretty well. My favourite would be the spaghetti bolognaise (even better it uses 2 minute pasta so it’s super fast), followed closely by the creamy vegetable pasta. If you shop in store they have ‘seconds’, which is all just about the packaging not the taste, and is another way to save a little bit of money.

Taste:

The best tasting meals are home cooked. If weight isn’t an issue and you’re on a short trip, frozen is a perfectly good option and I’ve used it before – just choose a relatively juicy meal so you don’t get it stuck to the bottom of your stove while reheating!

You can obviously cook from scratch, but this is pretty costly with gas and time (not what you want to be doing after a long hard day) and not very practical if you’re out by yourself (it’s more efficient if you’re group cooking). Fresh veggies also don’t last particularly long, and are hard to keep from getting squashed!

The best option for taste that’s also weight and gas efficient is to dehydrate your own meals. This does, of course, take a bit longer to prep at home, and requires some basic cooking skills! A few tips are to use super lean meats, get them minced, and dice all veggies nice and small. My favourite home cooked meal is definitely a lentil curry, although green chicken curry, spaghetti bolognaise, balti chicken and chilli con carne all taste amazing as well.

Weight:

As mentioned, the most weight efficient meals are dehydrated meals. But you do need to be careful that you don’t skimp on a few grams and end up hungry. Your own dehydrated foods are the best option for a reasonable weight as you can cater exactly to your needs (for instance, I’ll have 70-80g of whatever meal we’ve cooked up, and add 30-40g of rice, but will give Graham 100g and 50g respectively). Extra potato deb or couscous are both handy to have in the bottom of your pack too to bulk up your meal for a minimum amount of weight. To add a sense of fresh green veggies, dried peas are wonderful by day 4 of a walk and we’ve recently tested out Campers Pantry dried veggies – the mushrooms are very tasty! And if you’re worried about needing an emergency meal, you can’t go past 2-minute noodles for weight and ease (I’d recommend one of the spicy brands like Indomie).

Gas consumption:

The most fuel efficient meals (short of bringing a second lunch that doesn’t require cooking) are bought dehydrated meals. You only have to boil water once and they’re good to go (though a tad rubbery). Both Strive and home made dehydrated meals come in next. A boil, a 10-15 min wait, and a part-boil just to heat it back up are usually enough to get your meal back to normal. Occasionally minced chicken will still be a tad chewy, but not rubbery (that’s very important)! Cooking from scratch obviously takes a lot of gas. If you have the time, putting your food in water to soak before boiling it up also decreases gas consumption.

Extras:

There are a few handy extras you might want to consider:

Continental ‘Cup a Soup Sensations’: These come individually packaged in plastic-foil (not the papery kind) which means they travel excellently and don’t have an issue getting wet. AND, they taste delicious. Always a good starter to rehydrate or warm up with, especially while waiting for a meal to rehydrate. (You can of course use any kind of soup – I quite like the Miso soup you can get from supermarkets too!)

Chocolate: If you like chocolate, this never goes astray. Always rounds off a slightly salty meal with the perfect amount of sugar. Lindt balls are my favourite 😉 but they’re a bit bulky to pack, and if they get too warm they’re a complete mess!

Custard powder: A handy thing to have if you’re unsure about your serving sizes. Can fill you up that tiny extra bit if you’ve underestimated your appetite, and can be had hot or cold. If you’re feeling luxurious, a few strawberries go brilliantly with it too, or dehydrated banana!

Port/Muscat: For those who like a little drink, this one just seems to fit (though I’m aware it’s very much a personal preference thing!).

If you’re dehydrating your own meals, don’t forget extra salt, pepper, and some chilli powder – so much easier to make adjustments out there.

Breakfast:

Again, there’s plenty of options here. I now use 75g of quick oats, 10g of sultanas, some milk powder and brown sugar for breakfast. That does mean a hot breakfast (which I find a quite nice way of easing into the day), but it might not appeal to all. It’s easy to boil up 600ml of water, 300 for the porridge and 300 for a hot chocolate, and it’s pretty weight efficient. Other people I know do muesli or pre-boiled eggs (for the first few days, and egg powder thereafter). I just didn’t find either filling enough.

Lunch:

I have to say, I rather love my lunches on bushwalks. I’ll have anywhere between 4-6 vitaweets, spread with butter from a small tub (so much more palatable!), a slice of cheese for each vitaweet (off a block – pre cut slices are messy if they get hot), a chunk of salami (1-2cm), 3-4 cherry tomatoes (depending on how many were in the pack and how many days they have to last) and 3-4 sugar snap peas (as with the tomatoes). The cherry tomatoes and peas are a huge luxury, but they keep excellently (yes, even on 10 day walks!) and are just divine the longer a walk goes on. That all usually fits into a lunch box that’s a tad smaller than an A4 sheet of paper, although occasionally the cheese or salami starts off outside until after the first lunch (cos they don’t squash or break up).

A photo of my lunch from the Old River circuit walk. Had this for 9 lunches (plus an extra biscuit with cheese, which was in my mouth at the time I was taking the photo!)

Snacks:

This is where a lot of my food weight goes. I tend to go through three ‘bars’ a day on bigger walks. There’s heaps of options out there and they’ll all give you the extra calories you’re burning off. I used to go for the bars with the highest energy per weight, I now try to steer away from purely chocolate to more of the natural or ‘raw’ bars when I can afford them. Partly because they’re better for me, partly cos they don’t melt, partly because they leaving me feeling better and fuller for longer than pure sugar. Play around with your own mix of scroggin, beef jerky (home made is great!), dehydrated fruit or leathers, and lollies for when you need something extra.

Hydration:

Shotz tablets (or other rehydration tablets): these guys are great for on the track. Rehydration is one of the most important things out there, not just of water but also of essential electrolytes. If the electrolytes and water lost throughout the course of your walk exceeds your intake or body’s ability to compensate it can leave you feeling particularly crummy, with symptoms ranging from fatigue to nausea, vomiting and cramping. Shotz are the best brand out there (in my opinion), but the main thing is to use them if you’re doing tough, long or particularly hot or dry days. Some friends who have found cramping to be a problem also use a version that has a lot more Magnesium (you can get them from the chemist or Woolies), to great success.

A few bits a pieces, the two meals are green chicken curry and chilli con carne, there’s beef jerky, dried banana and strawberries, apricot leather, and dried mango

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