Monday, 16 April 2012

Wet & Dry

I pop on the forums quite a lot and there are many ideas about what should and should not be carried as trail food. Not normally a survival consideration, trail food is more of a preparation; and what do we concern ourself with when preparing for the trail? Weight! To this end, I see a lot of talk about carrying ration packs, dried meals, dry ingredients, partially dried or cured foods and this got me thinking. What sort of food should we pack for the trail? Well, tins and jars are out for a start.

One of the most influential factors in this area is that of provision of water and the most importantly whether or not there is water available at the point where cooking will happen. If no water is available, then you have no choice but to carry it, and that's where we'll begin.

A chap walks for a day on a trail which is not scorching, but has no sources of water available. He takes a couple of litres for drinking, a couple of snack bars, some beef jerky, some rice, two packet soups, a bread roll (acquired from the breakfast buffet at the B&B) and some instant coffee. Like me, he has his coffee black, so no worries about milk or other nasty alternatives. The plan is to much a bit of jerky and the snack bars on the trail, soup & bread for lunch, and a bit of jerky soup with rice for tea.

Jerky is dried and salted and needs extra water to digest, so has some dehydrating qualities, though a little salt intake after sweating is a good thing. Some snack bars are really quite dry also. If we were good trekkers, we would counter this with some extra liquid and so this begs the question, why are we bothering carrying dried stuff at all? Why not carry a nice moist chicken breast and half a malt loaf, I wonder? I know, I know, you can't really have malt loaf without real butter.

Instant soups are super simple because they don't need cooking. A simple introduction to boiling water and you're all done. Hardly any washing up too, just a simple wipe around with the bread roll and it's a very efficient meal indeed. That is, if the roll survives the walk and doesn't become a pancake.

The last meal is rather cunning. Rice and pasta, when cooked from dry need more water to cook than then consume in the hydration, that is, unless you're into pilafs and can get the quantities perfect and not burn it over a fire. Good luck with that. So instantly, we need extra water. The trick with this meal is that the extra water is then not only used to hydrate a bit of jerky, but make a thick soup too. Voilà, dinner. Not much washing up again. Wash out with a splash of water, make a brew and you're set. How could we possibly improve on that?

There is something very simple going on here. If someone took some water out of the food we're carrying, then we're going to have to put the same about back in to eat it. We can't take this out of our drinking ration, since that'll dehydrate us, so we have to carry it as extra. Generally speaking, cooking and washing up needs more water, so the whole business of carrying dried food on trips where there's no water is really a bit of a waste of time. Better to just carry wet food and have done with it. Here's some I prepared earlier.

This is me, particularly late, having dinner in the dark. This often happens on courses in the winter. Note the use of the kettle as the reheating vessel. This is for good reason; I wanted a brew, and as the food was nicely contained, there was no danger of it mingling with my coffee. Two birds with one stone, no plates and no washing up. Decent! Yeah, the portions can sometimes be small, but if you supplement with a precooked rice pouch, then that's a meal right there.

Yes, there was water on site, and so I could have had one of those dehydrated pasta meals, but frankly, they taste awful! I've tried supermarket ones, trekker branded ones (which taste just as bad but cost twice as much), ration packs (no comment) as well as dehydrated veg and stock. Some come with a "make in the packet" option, avoiding washing up, but really, they're pants.

My friend who finds herself all over the world has an interesting diet. What she does is preprepare her own meals and take them with her. She seals them all in boilable bags using one of these units.

As another instructor, she too finds herself eating at odd times in short time periods. She too has tried many options and has found this is the best way of making gluten free, lactose free, other stuff free food and cooking it conveniently.

I'm so getting one!

Anyway, I digress. I'm sure you can see that the benefits of dried or partially dehydrated foods are a bit of a fallacy when water is very short on the trail and this leaves us with one of two conclusions. The first is simply that you might as well take wet food, certainly if it comes in boiler bags and the second is ... why the hell are you not planning your route around water?

So remember, water is a major consideration when carrying food and provision of such is very important from a planning perspective. Ultimately, if you're somewhere where there is no water to be had, you might as well take a nice juicy steak over a dehydrated version, since you're going to have to balance it out with water anyway.

This has got me thinking about trail food in general and I'm presently compiling some research in order to determine the best types of food to be taking should we be able to acquire water en route. Keep an eye out for follow-ups.

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