This is a question that I think we've all experienced asking ourselves and a question that I always seem to come back to throughout the year. I delve in to this looking at cooking/cold options, different stoves and also chat with Valley and Peak Family Mark (@mullionvagrant) for his calorie consumption and hydration techniques.
So you're going off on a trip, trail or just a beautiful scenic hike. What food do I pack, do I cook, do I take cold food or do I just take a combination of it all? Well I've found over the years that there is no right answer. It really all depends on what suits you, your ideal kit weight, eating habits and the list goes on and on.
Yes, you can take a stove and have hot food, whether this is freeze-dried meals, boil in the bag or you've brought a frying pan along and you're cooking up a fresh feast! Yes you can cold soak and save the weight of any cooking and stove equipment. Yes you can take wraps and peanut butter or a Huel shake. The options seem to be endless. What matters most is simply what works for you. There are so many ways to make consuming calories/making a nice hill top meal possible but do not sacrifice feeling uncomfortable while doing so. Eating like an athlete is probably a good idea though. You're carrying a pack, covering a variety of terrains, climbing steep hills/mountains, over great distances... therefore, make sure you take in enough calories to keep you going and your mind focused.
My top tip with most decisions when camping and hiking is simply to try a load of different options and find a groove that suits you best. At the end of the day, you are the only person that needs to be happy with your food consumption habits so don't be led by others if you've found it never works for you.
For me, I love setting up camp and having something hot to eat and drink. Therefore, I take a stove.
Stove options range from the heavier scale being a multi fuel stove and open fire cooking equipment to the ultralight world of the PocketRocket 2, EOE Lithium, Soto Windmaster and alcohol stoves such as the Vargo Ti Decagon Stove.
Soto Trek Fusion and Evernew UL Titanium 0.9L Pot
This is how I tend to plan my cooking:
Day hiking - this makes life easier. Just pack a sandwich or wrap and if you feel like a coffee or hot food then pack a little stove like the Soto Windmaster, MSR PocketRocket 2 or Vargo Titanium Decagon Stove. These trips are as simple for me as what can I fit in my Exped Typhoon 15 day pack.
Overnight - this is where I get excited as it means I can take whatever kit I really want and I REALLY like kit! Being that it's overnight, it allows you to pack whatever you want to carry and tends to mean that you can pack a little heavier because it's only an overnighter. I tend to pack the Windmaster or PocketRocket again but I do quite like taking stoves like the EOE Cobaltum, Soto Trek Fusion or the MSR Windburner. I always feel the easiest way to eat on an overnight camp is just with freeze dried or boil in the bag style meals. This is a safe bet that rarely weighs too much either and isn't very messy! At least with an overnight trip, you're usually not too far from a shop or your car so when trying different bits of kit you generally have a nice 'Plan B' should you need to get out.
Multi-day / Thru-hike - Well there is probably no one else I'd rather speak to about this than Valley and Peak Family, Sam and Impala. Whether it's JOG-LE or the PCT, these guys have pounded the miles and have plenty of experience in eating on trail. Interestingly enough though, these two have plenty of different ways they like to consume calories when on trail but when they get near to town it's fairly similar. Sam loves a big old breakfast at the nearest cafe and Impala loves his days rolling in to town where he can have 3 portions of fish and chips! So eating at camp can vary such a large amount for these two depending on certain situations and how much they have to carry before the next stop. Then there's the 'Trail Magic' and honesty boxes - both of these can be a get out of jail free card and certainly a HUGE pick-me-up when having a low day out on trail. These can quite quickly become a thru-hiker's saviour as you'll quickly see how this can put a smile on their faces. When it comes to camp and needing to cook, it really depends on how heavy you're willing to pack and then you'll find your sweet spot with the cooking method.
While speaking to Mark (@mullionvagrant) these are his thoughts and views.
Snacks - "I think this is potentially the most important aspect of my food packing. Little amounts and often tends to be my preferred snacking method. I pack a range of snack bars, sweets (Skittles of course), fruit and nut mixes and energy gels. Then there's a slice of Kendal Mint cake for that extra sugary rush!"
Drinks & Hydration - "I carry probably more fresh water than most at approximately 3.5L. Coupling this with a good water filter system like the Platypus Quickdraw. I like to use tablets like Katadyn Micropur tablets to double up when out on the hills but it's not required when you have a filter like the Platy unless I've run out of better sourcing of water. It's really important to keep hydrated and drinks plenty, regularly is key. When re-filling using my filter, I always ensure I also drink at least a litre and then re-fill - of course you don't always know where your next water source might be."
"Coffee is an absolute must for me and is one area that I won't compromise on! I vary my methods from brew in the bag sachets to filter coffee. Consider using the Munieq Tetra Drip as there is nothing quite like a fresh brew after a cold night camping to bring you round! I also tend to take a range of herbal tea bags too. My go to is a triple ginger for a real refreshing drink."
@mullionvagrant with his MSR PocketRocket 2 & Soto Thermostack Combo
Food - " This is a hard area but I always go for a hot meal in the evenings made using dehydrated food and on my MSR PocketRocket 2 stove and Thermostack Combo cook set. I usually go for vegan versions as I don't like the idea of rehydrated meat plus I tend to have a largely plant based diet anyway. Unfortunately the nutritional content of these doesn't give me enough calories so I often add peanuts or cashews. Don't underestimate the energy provided by a good old Pot Noodle or a pack of Supernoodles with added nuts! I've also been eating a lot of Naked Food pot curry. I'm not great at wanting to eat a lot after a long hike and often find I have to force extra food down me to ensure I have a high enough calorie meal. I also love Naked Food's Hot and Sour Ramen noodle soup as a hot drink to accompany my meal. The chilli really warms me after a wet hike. I do vary my hot food with cold alternatives during the day as I'm often not giving myself long enough stops to cook. I'm a great fan of tortilla wraps and a mushroom or vegetable pate - one tin of which does a couple of meals and is super light to eat."
Weight - "Weight wise, I carry a large amount of food and always ensure I have extra for emergencies. I do make sure that if I see a pub stop or cafe then I always grab food. This way I can support local businesses and take the opportunity to boost calories, dry clothes and recharge my powerbanks and phone."
If you are struggling for ideas or can't find that perfect combination then please reach out to me in the usual places - @valleyandpeakuk on Instagram or on email@example.com for email.
Jim - Valley and Peak