Expedition Food

Being a keen cook who has spent a great deal of time over the years living in the outdoors, I am often surprised to realise that the basics of preparing food outside aren't always common knowledge. Anyone who has spent much time in the outdoors will recognise that food is probably one of the most important aspects of an expedition; for nutrition, energy and morale. This page contains some of the most important tips and tricks to help you prepare tasty, nutritious meals on mountains, lake shores and in forests. 


What to Bring

  • If you are taking fresh vegetable or fruit, buy un-ripe to increase their shelf life - they will also travel better.
  • Some fruit and vegetables travel better than others: onions, garlic, cauliflower, savoy cabbage, squash, apples, oranges all travel fairly well.                                                             
  • On longer trips, always take a least one meal that is easy to prepare, so if you have a long or hard day you have a meal you can pull together quickly. Likewise, a quick soup at the start of a meal allows you to get hot food into people while the main meal is prepared.
  • Carrying a set of spices and other basics can liven up a boring meal or even allow you to totally change the meal. I carry chilli powder, curry powder, a stock cube, a small bottle of soya sauce, a small bottle of cooking oil, a small bottle of balsamic vinegar, a small bottle of lemon or lime juice, a small bag of flour or corn flour for thickening sauces (potato powder can also be used & doesn't have the same aftertaste flour has if it isn't cooked fully), lemon, mixed herbs, coriander leaf, garlic, nutmeg, cinnamon, powdered coconut milk.
  • A few special treats added to dishes can liven them up (for example: nuts or seeds, pepperoni, bacon flavoured bits, dried fruit, chocolate chips, favourite sweets).


Carrying & Storing Your Food

  • If you have a flask with you, pour any leftover hot water into it after cooking. This saves time and fuel.
  • To make plastic food bags waterproof and accessible, remove air from bag, twist the top of the bag to a firm tube, then tie a simple knot. To untie, twist top of bag then push through the end, this way the bag can be reused. Tying the two corners together leaves a hole down the middle meaning the bag won't be water proof likewise the ties supplied don't work, there must be a twist in the bag.
  • Always double-bag food - you'll be thankful when there's no sticky mess at the bottom of your rucksack!
  • To get foods like sugar out of a bag without contaminating with people's spoons, roll down sides of bag, support underneath with one hand and with the other hand holding the top of the bag, pour.
  • Pack meals in bags with the right amount for each meal.
  • Make sure you know who is carrying each part the meal - searching everyone's bags when you are hungry is a real hassle.
  • Tins are heavy and not great for most expeditions. However there are some items that come in very thin tins (almost foil) that reduces the weight. On some trips where weight is less importan,t we might take a few tins of food that add to a meal, for example tuna. Mostly we try to stick to avoiding tins.
  • If you want to take non-dehydrated food for early in the expedition, take it out of the tin and double bag it; better still make a fresh meal and double bag it, it could even be frozen to make transport easier. If you are going to eat it within the first day, home-cooked food is a much cheaper option than vacuum-packed food.
  • A plastic container with a sealable lid is good for soaking food in. Pulses cook faster if soaked first, dehydrated foods taste better if soaked then reheated. Powdered milk tastes better if made up and left to stand for a few hours, it also uses less powder.


How to Prepare Dehydrated Food

A lot of expedition food in the outdoors is freeze-dried. This makes it lighter to carry and gives it a longer shelf life. Getting dehydrated food right is harder than you might think.

  • Don't follow the instructions on the pack too closely, especially when it comes to liquid measurements. Mix the contents with a very small amount of cold water, removing any lumps (this is hard to do if you add boiling water or add the mixture to water). Then add boiling water slowly while stirring over a low heat (water is much easier to add than take away). Chocolate pudding is the one exception here - the powder should initially be added to the liquid. However it is still worth using only about half the liquid the packet recommends, more can still be added at a later stage
  • Dehydrated food usually tastes better if it is left to sit. The meal can be brought to the boil then left to rehydrate before being reheated prior serving. This also avoids having to simmer it, saving fuel.
  • A good way to improve this process is to create an insulated pouch. Mine is made out of foil coated bubble wrap - the sort used for insulating boilers. This keeps the food hot while continuing to cook it.


Cooking Outdoors - Tips & Tricks

  • If you have a pan on the stove, fill a second with water and place it on top to begin heating. It takes a lot of energy to raise the heat of water by even 1 degree celsius. Likewise, food that has been boiled and needs to be kept hot can also be stacked. A word of caution - be aware of making the stove unstable! Losing your food or worse, scalding someone, would not be a good start to a meal.
  • A water bottle or flask makes a great rolling pin (if you want to avoid washing the outside, wrap it in cling film first).
  • On canoe trips, an upturned and supported canoe makes a great table. To produce a clean prep surface wrap cling film around the boat. Careful with hot items - hot pans melt easily through plastic canoes!
  • To grate cheese without a grater, score a series of slices one way across the a block of cheese then run a fork in the opposite direction.
  • Smaller food usually cooks faster, so if you want a quick meal go for couscous or noodles over pasta or rice.


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