The ABC of Eating Outdoors – How to Keep Hikers Fit, Happy And Cheerful
You can have scrumptious meals outdoors with little trouble, and often the only thing that limits eating well on your excursions is your imagination. You should be guided by your needs and resources when planning the menu for an outing: what you feel you can manage determines the kind of food you will eat while hiking, either easy-peasy or a bit more elaborate. Versatile and nutritious basic fare is perfect for hikes, as the primary purpose of the food you pack for your trip is to keep you fit, happy and cheerful.
The nature of your excursion determines what type of ingredients you should carry and what cooking techniques will be possible. On a longer hike, the weight, shelf life and cooking requirements of your ingredients will be important. However, in most cases you can invest as much or as little as you wish in the food you bring out.
On short hikes, you can carry slightly heavier rations and cook your food with fresh ingredients, for example over a campfire or using a camping stove. On longer treks, you can choose lighter ingredients if you wish and, for example, add variety to your meals by using dried foods.
The season, the distance you plan to cover, and the nature of your excursion determine the selection of ingredients
You should always take adequate care to preserve your foods and only bring ingredients that will not go off during the trip. You should also note that while food keeps better in cold weather, the cold increases your body's energy needs slightly.
The nature of your excursion influences the selection of foods. Once you have decided your itinerary and sorted your sleeping arrangements, you can start considering how you will prepare your meals: will you cook in a wilderness hut or on a campfire site, or should you perhaps bring some kind of a camping stove with you? You also need to think about water: will you be able to find clean water at your destination, will you need to boil or purify the water before using it, or will your carry all the water you need for drinking and cooking with you?
Always think of hygiene
Taking care of food hygiene is just as important as stopping the ingredients from going off when cooking outdoors. By making sure that your hands and implements are clean when cooking, that the foods have not gone off and that the water used for cooking is clean (boiled if necessary), you can avoid picking up germs.
It is important not to wash dishes or your hands in the drinking water buckets or water supply points of huts, as this could contaminate the water used by you or other hikers. You should not fill in your water bottle by immersing it in the drinking water bucket, and never wash up in a lake or a stream: always collect water for washing dishes or yourself into a separate container and pour the dirty water into the ground, far enough away from the water body.
You often need more energy than usual when out hiking
When out hiking, an adult's daily energy requirement is approximately 2,500 – 4,000 calories a day, depending on the trip’s level of challenge. Factors influencing your energy consumption include the level of physical strain required by the excursion and your personal characteristics, such as your age, sex and size.
A sufficiently regular intake of energy is important when hiking to avoid unexpected slumps in your performance and mood. While hikers very rarely have major accidents, the few mishaps that do occur often happen when they are tired and short of energy. You should eat a proper meal every three to four hours and have snacks in between meals to meet your needs.
You should also always adjust your excursion to your state of health and current energy levels.
Many ways to enjoy food outdoors, depending on how much trouble you wish to take
Catering for your excursion can be great fun, as eating outdoors is an experience in itself. It goes without saying that food tastes even better out in the wild!
The starting point for planning your meals during a hike is your own skills as an outdoor cook and selecting cooking methods that you are comfortable with. As you gain more experience, you can pick up tips from other hikers and thus expand your range to suit your tastes.
Planning rations that provide enough nutrition and taste good for your first excursion need not be rocket science. Some like to cook with ingredients that are as fresh as possible, while others bring freeze-dried food to which you only need to add boiling water. You can also cook on a camping stove with ingredients you have dried at home, or make simple pasta dishes with ready-made pasta meals from the shop.
Adults need two to three litres of water a day – Hikers may need more
It is crucial to drink enough water when hiking and, to ensure you can keep functioning, avoid feeling excessively thirsty. In the worst case, not drinking enough will lead to exhaustion and dehydration, as a consequence of which your ability to function will be considerably reduced.
An adult needs about two to three litres of liquids a day, but when physically active, you may need considerably more. You ingest some liquids with your food, but you should still drink water regularly from morning till night. When your body can absorb the liquids slowly and steadily, the possibility of dehydration can be avoided.
You should not wait to get thirsty before you have a water break; when you feel thirsty, in the worst case you may already be dehydrated!
Gas stoves and fuel quantities
A basic stove is fine for making simple meals. An experienced cook is able to produce versatile meals using a relatively simple camping stove. It is always a good idea to test a new stove in advance in safe conditions, ensuring that you will be comfortable using it when out and about.
Many camping stoves today burn gas. You can buy light gas burners that screw on a separate gas container as well as ‘kettles’ with a structure optimised for getting water to boil quickly. There also are cookers with fixed or detachable windshields and light tripod models where a separate gas cylinder is connected to the stove with a hose.
Gas is an easy fuel to use because it is light and the flame can be regulated. As a rough estimate, you should bring 50 grams of gas for each user/day. Gas consumption is easier to anticipate than the alcohol consumption of traditional spirit burners with no efficient regulation. Gases are available for summer, autumn and winter use, although using gas is challenging at very low sub-zero temperatures. Alcohol also works well as a fuel in cold conditions.
Different fuels for camping use can be found in shops selling outdoor equipment and in some large supermarkets.
Tips for putting meals together and energy consumption
You can use the list below as the basic structure of your rations and modify it to suit your habits and preferences as you gain more experience.
- Breakfast: instant porridge and fruit pudding, rye bread and cheese spread, coffee/tea
- Lunch: instant noodles and soup mix, bread and cheese spread
- Dinner: a ready-made pasta meal with salami/dried meet or other protein mixed in, followed by biscuits or bananas and chocolate roasted over a campfire
- Snacks: nuts and chocolate, energy/cereal bars, dried fruit and/or bread and cheese spread