Expedition and camping food has come a long way since I first ventured into the great outdoors as a kid back in the 80s.
The food we took away on weekends in the hills of Northumberland and the Pennines was some nameless grey ration pack containing dehydrated dust with noodles or pasta. No fancy packaging or thought into nutritional value. Occasionally we would take a tin of beans and sausages and supplement it all with crisps and chocolate as an after dinner treat.
As I got older and went away independently from school and scouts the food choices didn’t generally improve. Money being a key issue, it would be pot noodles or pasta in a bag meals. I recall on a few occasions taking tinned hamburgers or meatballs!!!! All I know is that those tins couldn’t contain the meat it professed to on the label.
Much older still and the camping got more “glamorous”. Well-maintained campsites with all the facilities and comforts: huge four man tents, tables and chairs and inflatable beds. The food was generally cooked on the BBQ, sourced from the local take away or a meal in the pub. Then things changed.
The months prior to my LEJOG walk I experimented with different types of dry and wet expedition food, trying to find the right balance of affordability and weight. While the food was tasty and nutritionally well balanced I just couldn’t afford to fund my whole walk on it.
I had to find a way to make sure I hit my daily calorie count of between 4000-5000 so not to lose too much weight but more importantly enjoy what I was eating.
After doing a bit of research (this article was pretty helpful) I figured the best idea would be to make up little breakfast bags containing porridge or Weetabix with granola, dried fruit and powdered milk. Cheap, easy to make and lightweight to carry in batches of 10-12 days, I would post them ahead to carry at the start of each stage.
Lunch was bought on the go. I passed a lot of shops so it would generally be a bread roll filled with cheese and meat, a pasty or pork pie, nuts, fruit and chocolate bars.
Dinner was again whatever I could source from shops. Pasta in bags, noodles, cous cous or soup, lots of chicken, more cheese and plenty of vegetables. I generally got good at knocking up a cheap hearty meal and my favourite was a packet of noodles cooked with tuna, spring onions, red pepper and olives. This would often cost me around £3, which is a bargain for something so simple and filling.
However I did have some expedition food, kindly provided by the online outdoor company Above and Beyond. They sent me food from Extreme Food and Real Turmat which were posted ahead to use later on in the walk where it would be harder to come by food.
I tried the Extreme Food packs first when I was walking in the Pennines. They are freeze dried, lightweight, high in calorie sealed packs of food and I had three meals to try: chilli con carne, chicken & pesto pasta and chicken tikka masala.
The walking along the Pennine Way was long and hard so tucking into something easy to prepare was essential. You simply tear off the top and pour boiling water in before sealing it and leaving it to hydrate. However on my first go I made the mistake of pouring too much water in and my chicken & pesto pasta turned out to be more of a soup. A tasty soup but I like my pasta a bit a la dente.
I hadn’t read the instructions properly and poured past the level it showed. I didn’t make the mistake with the other two packs and tucked into those later on, having a fondness for the tikka masala.
The Real Turmat meals were tried when I was walking part of the West Highland Way. Freeze-dried and vacuum packed they profess to retain the natural taste and provide good nutritional value. I had a pasta bolognaise and a chicken curry to try.
After walking all day in the rain I arrived at a campsite in Inverarnan, which had a shelter you could go in to dry clothes and cook. The shelter was buzzing when I got there. People cooking the same bland food from the camp site shop: what looked like tinned dog food or noodles.
I got the chicken curry out, poured some boiling water and waited. It smelt good and tasted amazing. Definitely needed after a long day walking wet through to the bone. I got a few jealous looks from people sitting near me so I drew the bag in close, ready to fight to the death with my spork to protect what was mine. It was like a scene from some prison drama.
Out of the two I have to admit I preferred the Turmat. It just seemed to hold its taste better. Yes the Extreme Foods were lighter and easier to pack but when given the choice of something hot and tasty at the end of a soaked day, sitting in a shelter in the hills of Scotland while the rain battered off the roof, it just seemed to me to be the better option.
Beats the dehydrated dust I used to eat.