FAQ - Food

Send any comments to the maintainer Roger Caffin

Legend has it that the explorer Eric Shipton
was once asked for his opinion on food for a Himalayan expedition.
Shipton thought for a bit and then replied "Well, I think there should be some."

(He was notorious for having very little interest in what he ate.)


We cover here some aspects of nutrition and health, and even dinner, but at present we don't have many recipes. Of course, a few contributions or even just URLs would be welcome - HINT.



General food needs - calories, vitamins, salt

The basic need you have on most trips is energy. After that a little salt may be required, but not a lot. That said, if you are accustomed to overloading on salt in your ordinary diet (and most people are), you may find it takes a little while to get used to a low-salt diet. Unless you are on a trip lasting far more than a week, vitamin deficiencies are just not going to happen. However, too much bland tasteless food can be dead boring, so some ingenuity is needed to keep everyone happy and well fed. This is where having a regular walking partner is very convenient: you know what that person likes - and dislikes.

For technical details of how much energy (Calories) and minerals etc you need and what is in foodstuffs, one of the most complete sources is the US Dept of Agriculture Food Data Lab. They have huge listings of requirements and foodstuffs, available for download as text, pdf, xls, and also in on-line-searchable format. The Release 11 dated 2002 is available in pdf and is not to large. What is called Release 17 is different but very comprensive. There is a pdf explanation and a huge xls file. Overwhelming in a way! Did you know that ... Yeah, right!

For technical details of what you need we have the following quote from the Outdoor Action Program, Princeton University, accuracy unknown.


Planning food for winter activities must take into account the great demands the cold weather and physical activity placed on the body along with the difficulty of preparing foods in the winter (it takes time, stove fuel) and having a menu which appeals to the group). Appetite is generally reduced during winter activity even through the food needs of the body have increased. If the meal isn't appealing, it won't get eaten. In some situations you literally need to force yourself to eat. [Happens above 6000 metres sometimes. RNC]


Food types

All foods are made up of varying proportions of the three basic food types - carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and water, vitamins and minerals. Each of the three major types can be converted into simple sugars and burned by the body to produce energy but the time required for conversion increases as the complexity of the molecule increases, so carbohydrates are quicker to convert than proteins and proteins quicker than fats.

Dietary Percentage for Winter Camping Food Type Nickname Description
50% Simple Sugars kindling 5 calories/gram (1,800 cal./lb.) - released quickly.
Complex Carbohydrates sticks 5 calories/gram (1,800 cal/lb.) - released quickly. They are easy to digest. Candy, cereal, bread, rice, macaroni, dried fruit, vegetables.
20% Proteins logs 5 calories/gram (1,800 cal/lb.) - generally released slowly. Proteins are primarily used for maintenance and building of body tissue. Meat, fish, cheese, milk, eggs, nuts, grains.
30% Fats logs 9 calories/gram (4,100 cal/lb.) - released very slowly but are useful because they release heat over a long period. However, it takes more energy and more water to break down fats into glucose. Margarine, nuts, cheese, eggs, and fats from pepperoni, salami.


Vitamins and Minerals

These are generally found in most foods we eat and for a trip less than 7-10 days no special resources are needed. For longer trips and expeditions vitamin and mineral supplements are necessary. See a physician to get specific recommendations for expeditions.


Caloric Requirements

General caloric requirements increase in the winter due to the energy expended in keeping the body warm. This much is obvious. What is less obvious is that larger people need more food than smaller people to keep going at the same rate. There have been may expeditions where this has become painfully obvious over time, with Antarctic ones being especially prominent. Time and again, they found that it was the big men who collapsed from malnutrition when everyone was getting exactly the same ration. We all know that a little compact car burns less fuel than a big V8 SUV: why should people be any different? But 'equal shares' seems 'fairer' if you don't think about real physiology.

Caloric requirements for different activity levels are summarized below, with full ackowledgements to Rick Curtis, Outdoor Action Program, Princeton University. I dare say other tables of figures exist, and may even differ slightly. The figures do not allow for variations on body mass either. What matters most here is the range spanned, depending on what exercise is being done.

Activity Caloric Requirement (kg-cal/day)
Basal metabolism 1,500 calories
Sedentary occupation 2,500 - 3,000 calories
Three season backpacking 3,500 - 4,000 calories
Winter backpacking 4,500 - 5,000+ calories
Pulling a 450 lb sled across Antartica 10,000+ calories

[The last figure comes from 'Mind over Matter', by Rannulph Fiennes. He hadn't included that much food in his planning. They didn't have enough warm clothing, and used a lot of energy just staying warm. They nearly died of starvation, and lost huge amounts of weight: fat and muscle. Their choice, not mine. I have to say that while the guy is obviously very tough and determined, his knowledge of gear and planning is woefully inadequate. A subsequent trip over part of the same route by another group had far less drama, but they were much better equipped. RNC]


Weight of dry food per day

So how does the above translate into the weight of food required per day? Well, for a start, this depends greatly on what sort of food you are carrying. Fresh meat and veg? Heavy! But if you do the normal bushwalking thing and carry dry food, we can give some typical figures. They illustrate the effect of the (winter) weather and also of a long hard fast trip (35 km/day in cold weather). There is also one at the end which I feel is very atypical, but note that the author of that one lost a lot of weight on the trip. Such weight loss cannot be sustained safely. Contributions from you would of course be welcome.

Person Body wt Season g/day Comments
Author 64 kg 3-season 640 8 day trip
Wife 54 kg 500
Author 64 kg Winter 770 ski touring
Wife 54 kg 650
Author 64 kg 3-season 1000 at end of long, hard and very fast trip
Wife 54 kg 850
Michel 70 kg 3 season255 but he lost 5 kg


Rate of Digestion

So that tells you how much you need to eat, but does not tell you how soon you can draw on the energy. This question was posed in the "Last Word" column of the British magazine New Scientist (4-Oct-2003, vol 2415): "How long does it take to digest food? And how do different foodstuffs vary?". The answer seemed worth quoting here. Clearly, a diet of celery and mushrooms might be ... interesting?

Simple sugars such as glucose may be absorbed into the bloodstream almost immediately. These molecules are small enough to pass through cells and into the blood in a matter of minutes, and may even do so while food is still in the mouth by zooming through cells in the cheeks and gums.

Most food needs processing, however, before it can pass into the bloodstream. This starts from the moment that it enters the mouth. Here it is crushed to bits until it is small enough to be swallowed, and enzymes are released that begin to break it down further.

Once it starts its journey down the throat, food reaches the stomach very quickly, but then sits there for about 2 hours. The stomach is where most food is broken down: physically, by the churning motions created by muscles in the stomach wall, and chemically, by enzymes, acids and other gastric juices. The resulting semi-liquid mush passes into the small intestine, from where it is absorbed into the bloodstream. The components that cannot be digested at all, such as dietary fibre, will move along slowly until they reach the large intestine around 6 hours later. Once they arrive there, any water still in them is absorbed so that only the indigestible materials remain. It may take up to 33 hours before they are finally expelled from the body as faeces.

After the swift initial digestion of simple sugars, proteins follow in about 4 to 6 hours, followed by various fats, which can take 6 hours or more to break down. Digestion time may vary depending on a number of factors, such as how long the food was chewed, and the age, health and size of the person eating it.

Some components of food, such as fibre, are hardly broken down at all and pass out of the anus relatively untouched. This includes compounds that contain lignin fibres from mushrooms and other foods, and cellulose from celery.

I found this animated diagram on the internet which demonstrates the above rather beautifully! http://www.constipationadvice.co.uk/constipationadvice
[The animated diagram of food going through more than 6 metres of your guts was ... fascinating (I think)? RNC]

© either the author Byron Barrett of NSW or New Scientist.

In addition a reader from Canada contributed his own screed on the process of digestion. It's worth reading - and there is a surprise at the end!


Fresh food vs dehi - weight and water content

If you are going for one night it hardly matters how heavy the food is. However, on longer trips the weight of fresh food becomes a serious problem. Fresh food is mainly water - 80% or more: you do not need to carry all that water. That means looking at dried or dehydrated foods, or at least fairly dry foods. Some dehydrated fooods have a bad reputation, but that is no longer entirely deserved. With the correct choices you can live very well on dry or dehydrated foods.

That said, there are some 'damp' foods which we all do carry. Butter, jam, honey: these all have a bit of water in them. I don't think the amount matters so much however. Cheese and nuts can be a bit damp, but the energy content is very high because of the high fat levels. 'Dried' fruits such as sultanas, raisins, apricots etc are not really dry, but the taste is worth it. Be careful about the orange-coloured 'dried' apricots and white 'dried' apples though: in addition to being very wet, they contain a lot of sulphur dioxide as a preservative. This gas can easily give some people severe asthma attacks. Finally, small quantities of rich dark plum pudding carry a bit of water, but they do make a lovely desert with cocoa.


Dehydrated foods

Drying food can be done by two processes. Both strip the water out, but the details differ. The cheaper method is to use gentle heat and air flow to evaporate the water off the surface of the lumps. This produces sun-dried things and is also used in domestic dehydrators. The expensive method is the opposite: the food is frozen way below zero very quickly, and then put in a vacuum. The ice evaporates straight into a gas (sublimes), giving the "freeze-dried" products. The difference is that ordinary drying lets the soluble bits of the food migrate to the surface of each lump, and they can form a very tough, almost waterproof, skin there. With the freeze-drying the soluble bits stay exactly where they were, and the result is a porous object which absorbs water readily and looks a bit like a sponge.

What difference does this make to a bushwalker? Well, the waterproof layer from ordinary drying can easily survive ordinary cooking. Bits of it go through your stomach into your bowels, where they finally rehydrate. But down there they are beyond the digestion system, so they tend to ferment instead. Much gas is produced, which leads to the well-known bad dehi smell in the tent in the middle of the night (with matching noises). For some this is a problem ...

The freeze-dried foods do rehydrate quickly - often more quickly if allowed to soak in cold water for 5 minutes first. There are several brands of meat and meals made in Australia/NZ using this process: Settlers Beef Mince, BackCountry (NZ), Adventure Foods (ex-Army) and Surprise vegetables. There also some imported brands, but they do not include any meat dishes because of some strange Customs ruling. There is more information on the local brands of freeze dry here.


Dehydrators: drying your own food

Given the comments above about drying food and safety, this is an area for a little caution. Maybe the best advice is to practice at home, eating the results at home first. There seem to be various home dehydrators available in departments stores around Australia. They all operate on blowing hot air over the food: none of them make 'freeze-dried' food. RockyRoad supplied two URLs for a 'higher quality dehydrator': www.excaliburaust.com/ and www.excaliburdehydrator.com/, with the latter being the manufacturer. Certainly, these pages made interesting reading, and gave lots of advice. They also sell a large book on the subject.
The author has little experience here and would welcome contributions.

From Tom N we have the following comment about DIY dehydrators:

The Complete Light-Pack Camping and Trail-Foods Cookbook by Edwin P Drew (1977 McGraw Hill, ISBN 0-07-017843-7) has instructions for making a simple dehydrator with a 60W bulb, an oven tray and a cardboard box (plus a few other bits). It also tells you how to dry various things such as meat and eggs and a lot of other good stuff.

From Marcelle Gannon we have the following:

I've written up a website about making dehydrated food for bushwalks. It's inspired by the 11 days of excellent dinners my party had on a recent trip to the Western Arthurs. All the dinners were home-dehydrated using an Ezi-Dri machine.
It's at http://dehydrated-food.blogspot.com/

Having looked at all the pictures of various dinners, I think they must have eaten fairly well!


Powdered Egg

Various readers have asked about powdered egg. Sometimes a bushwalking shop will carry this, but these days the trend is for them to sell only pre-packaged foods. So you will probably have to either buy from a manufacturer or dry some yourself.

The author bought dried egg powder from Pace Farms Egg Products in 2002. The product was "a yellowish orange powder made by spray drying the glucose reduced liquid whole egg from the eggs of the domestic hen". The product was also pasteurised to the "standard of the Pure Food Legislation". Reconstitution is one part by weight of powder to three parts water. It was available in 500 g plastic tubs and 15 kg bags. I have (2002) various names and phone numbers for the company: Ray Collins at 02 9626 9744 or 018 644 791, and John Attard at 02 9632 3929 for an outlet in Marylands, Sydney.

In 2005 James Morrison reported that you could buy a 400gr tub of Whole Egg Powder from the same company for $9.40 for the product plus $5.00 to cover post & handling (= $14.40) by sending a cheque with your order to:
      Pace Farm Pty Ltd
      Locked Bag 800
      Rooty Hill NSW 2766

Alan Erskine went on an egg hunt and reported an email back from a lady at Farm Pride Eggs to say that they sell 300g re-sealable tins of powdered whole egg, and that they have a distributor called Australian Egg Co (what else?), phone 03 5941 4650 and the ladies name is Glennis.

From the same Tom N we have instructions on how to dry your own egg powder, and it does seem fairly simple (but NO responsibility accepted by anyone of course!):

Do a dozen or more at a time. Separate the whites and yolks. Whip the whites into a stiff meringue adding 1 teaspoon cream of tartar per dozen eggs. Meringue, when ready, is like a stiff whipped cream. Place this meringue on a plastic film covered tray and dry it at 110 to 120°F [around 46C]. It dries in about an hour. When dry, crush the whites into a powder and package them separately.

Whip the yolks until they are smooth and pour this puree on a plastic film covered tray. Dry as a leather. When it feels dry, crush it and grind it into a powder. Redry this powder on a tray. When finally dry, grind it again and package it separately.

To cook one egg, take 1 tablespoon of both the dried yolk and white and mix with 3 tablespoons of water. Let this sit 5 to 10 minutes until it becomes thick. These are used as fresh eggs, and they taste like fresh eggs.


Milk powder

Most walkers take powder or dried milk with them, but experiences are extremely varied when it comes to mixing that powder with water to make milk. Some walkers have a lot of trouble getting the lumps out, while other walkers just chuck the lot in a cup, stir, and it's done. Is there a secret here? Oh yes indeed! Full cream powdered milk can be hard to mix with cold water; the fats in it get in the way and stop the water from mixing easily. It is best to make a paste first, grind that around to get rid of the dry or half-dry lumps, then dilute it down. Or you can heat the water up, and the fats in the powdered milk then dissolve reasonably well. But skim milk powder mixes very easily even in very cold water. The author uses skim milk at home, and takes skim milk powder walking. Currently that's 'Diploma Skim Milk Powder', and it mixes with just a few stirs. 'Dutch Jug' is another skim milk powder which has given fairly good mixing.

However, in 2009 we discovered "Nestles Sunshine Instant Full Cream Milk Powder" (in a tin) which does seem to dissolve just as easily as the best skim milk powders. The word 'Instant' has a red background in the tin. You should note that many things, like Instant Pudding etc, do turn out much better with full cream milk rather than skim milk.

David Stonestreet (Rockyroad) recommends mixing the required quantity of powdered milk in with the breakfast muesli at home: about 1/3 cup of powdered milk for one breakfast. I imagine the dispersion throughout the muesli helps prevent large lumps forming. I am sure this works, but haven't found it necessary.

Then there is custard: this needs powdered milk. Made with skim milk custard is not all that inspiring: you really need full cream milk. Fortunately you have to heat the water to make custard, so as long as you stir carefully it will dissolve. Of course, hot custard over fruit cake in the evening, at the end of a meal, is a needless indulgence.



Despised they may be, but haven't you ever heard someone say "Oh for a hamburger"? Well, this is possible - sort of. Behold: the bushwalker's dehy version of the revered hamburger. Meat only at present: we are still working on the beetroot salad to go with it.
(Wheatmeal biscuits and Hungarian salami, if you really want to know. Cheeseburgers can also be done.)


Carbohydrates, Proteins and Energy

Actually, you could live moderately well on basic carbohydrates alone for a while: wheat, rice and/or pasta. They are easy to cook and would give you the energy supplies you need, but the result would be terribly boring. After a long while you would start to miss out on some minerals and vitamins. So the normal thing to do is to serve them up with some added flavours, such as stew mix. Mind you, we ate an awful lot of wholemeal French bread and Brie in the Pyrenees, and there wasn't too much water in that mix. If there is only a very small amount of 'sauce' in your dinner you are into the "dhal baat" category. This takes us into the specialised topic of meal design, and maybe that can be left to a different FAQ for now (but see the Freeze dry section). See also at the end for an American menu of some curiosity.

If you want to get into more detail about your dietary requirements, we need to get some more qualified advice. I offer no guarantees that what Dr Barbara Braaten (in America) has to say is relevant for Australia, but she does go walking and does give a lot of figures for all sorts of foods and needs. See the following URLs, but exercise your own judgement:
http://www.frc.mass.edu/bbraate/packlite/protein.htm for information about proteins;
http://www.frc.mass.edu/bbraate/packlite/fat.htm about the food value of fats (high!);
http://www.frc.mass.edu/bbraate/packlite/snacks.htm about snack foods and energy requirements.
She also has a bit to say about water needs for walkers on that web site. I disagree completely with some of the ideas she has, like about drinking until you gurgle (see the section on water below, but many of her comments about salt are interesting. However, be aware that most packages foods have far more salt in them than you need, so you may not need to add any salt in practice. I find that I put a pinch of salt in with the rice/pasta, and that is all I use for the day. No, I don't get cramps.


Herbs and spices, curry etc

Many walkers don't bother with these, but just a few grams can make a lot of difference to the flavour of a meal. You don't have to go overboard, but try a few variations. We take Mixed Herbs, Garan Marsala and Curry powder on most of our trips, and a little bit does make a lot of difference. On the other hand, a really hot curry when you are badly short of water may not be all that smart (I was young ...), and an overdose of garlic on the last night may not worry you, but what about those at home? (But who cares?)

In Spain we were a bit stretched for variety at times, but we survived very well by putting a 2-man soup packet in with the pasta and topping it off with chopped cheese and salami. Other soup packets have embellished a Settlers Beef stew very well, and I found a 40 g pack of McCormick 'Pepper Sauce with crushed peppercorns' in our supermarket: pretty good stuff too at 1/3 of a pack for 2 people. Get creative.


Tea and Coffee

Do not sneer at this entry. Both tea and coffee have some excellent trace chemicals in them, like anti-oxidants and so on. And coffee has caffeine in it which is an excellent mild stimulant for emergencies. OK, having trotted out the psuedo-science, now for the reality. They taste good and can be a wonderful boost to the morale. After all, when you are tired and struggling, that may be just what you need to keep going.

On the subject of coffee I will mention an 'organic' brand actually grown in Australia: Fernleigh Coffee. I quote from the bag: 'Production of beans is carried out using environmental conservation methods and organically based fertilisers. We do not use pesticides or other harmful sprays.' I like the Expresso Blend myself. And drinking it does not affect our balance of trade either ...


Special needs of longer trips

For any trip up to four nights, you can live on almost anything as long as you get enough energy. You may even be able to live off your own fat layers. Beyond that you might need to consider the minerals and vitamins, but if you are getting a reasonably palatable meal you will very likely be getting enough of those too. Some people take vitamin supplements, but since most don't we can assume they are not essential. However, if you get a craving for something, it may be that your diet is a little lacking, so experiment a bit. This does not include pigging out on chocolate as a way of getting a balanced diet!

In the Pyrenees, where our diet was a little restricted over a two month period, we usually pigged out on fruit in the villages when we could buy it. Peaches, nectarines, bananas and yoghurt were downed very quickly. They did taste good! And we even indulged in a Magnum icecream (high energy!) and a can of cold Coke sometimes when it was very hot. The latter provided cooling, water, sugar and caffeine, and did give us a boost along. Medically prescribed, of course. Even so, we lost a bit of weight.

One area where you may experience some problem on some very long trips where someone else is doing the catering is with fats and oils. These certainly are a concentrated source of energy - provided you can digest them. At high altitude (in Nepal for instance) your body may/will have trouble with them. If this seems to be causing you a problem, try to get the fat level reduced. At very high altitudes many climbers find something like rice and sugar is all they can eat. On the other hand, under extreme cold conditions like the Antarctic, a mix of lard and oats (or similar) has been popular, even essential.


Nutrition for extreme sports

Real fanatics, like ultramarathon runners, get very concerned about their nutrition. It is interesting that older runners seem to compete very well in the longer distances - remember that farmer Cliff Young running in gumboots? Anyhow, not only do people compete in ultramarathons, but they pay special attention to their diet to get peak performance. A web site devoted to Peak Performance even features a whole article on Nutrition for veterans. Some of the comments there were very interesting, especially for walkers who are wondering how long they can keep walking. It seems the answer is "until you want to stop". They do add that it can be difficult getting going again if you do stop for a while. We have noticed that an injury requiring a lengthy recuperation period can precipitate a downward slide in a previously active elderly person.


Food safety

The last thing you want is to be sick while bushwalking. Any food which contains some water can support bacteria - some of which are hostile. For this reason we normally do use small sealed packages of each food to limit the chance of it going off. Meat products are especially risky - we won't bore you with the stories. But dried foods like oats, muesli, rice, biscuits and sweet spreads are pretty safe. Jams and honey are safe because they have so much sugar in them: the sugar concentration kills the bacteria by osmosis. But then, they are also quite heavy.

Sometimes you will find that a food such as cheese develops a bit of mould after some time, especially in hot weather. It is a moot question what to do with such food. If the mould is only the normal green penicillium it should be harmless, but can you discriminate reliably? Sometimes it is possible to shave the affected surface off the block of cheese - provided you don't transfer the spores to the new surface. This is a risky area, so be warned. Let it be added that most bushwalkers are probably familiar with this problem, and have chosen to scrape and eat. Hard cheeses do not suffer from this problem nearly as much as do sift cheeses: Mozzarella seems rather susceptible.

The other aspect of food safety is personal hygiene. Would you accept food from a chef who had not washed his hands between the toilet and the kitchen? A quick wash is so easy before any meal, and so much safer. In fact, while some very popular camping spots have a reputation as having "bad water", the author is willing to bet a lot of this is false, having been derived from diarrhoea experienced by parties of kids who didn't wash enough. (Actually, I will stick my neck out and say that 99.9% if such cases are due to a lack of personal hygiene. Mummy wasn't there.) The kids wouldn't want to blame themselves, would they? We now have a practice of giving our hands at least a quick rinse and a wipe with a damp washer before dinner, even when we are short on water at a dry camp. It takes all of a few tablespoons of water.

Finally, the quality of the water itself ... sadly isn't what it used to be. Several bugs and wogs are now endemic in most of our mountains: brought in by humans and spread by animals such as foxes. See the section on water filters. Run-off from semi-urban areas and farm areas is especially suspect - or extremely.


Aluminium Cooking Pots

Many years ago a published research paper suggested that aluminium was associated with Alzheimers disease. The link was never substantiated, and in fact subsequent studies have contradicted the original results. The original results were never reproduced, and the original source of the link was shown to be an artifact of the sample preparation technique used in the experiment. (ie, the researchers contaminated the samples themselves, accidentally.) The supposed link has no validity at all. But that has not stopped the mindless bandwagon enthusiasts from going into a fit over aluminium cooking gear. Search on Google and you will find lots of cooking web sites which tell you about the dangers of aluminium, in a most positive manner. Do any of them know what they are talking about? No, they are just parroting. It's all myth and rumour, and all false. It's yet another very typical urban myth.

For a start, aluminium is one of the more common elements on this planet. Your body is constantly in contact with it, and has very efficient mechanisms for getting rid of it. It would be extremely startling if it turned out to be a hazard after so many millions of years of contact. Aluminium is present in many common antacids, and no-one has ever indicted those. Aluminium is present in many anti-perspirants (not that they themselves are a good idea, mind you). An aluminium salt is used to treat drinking water to improve clarity. Enough! But if you want some references, herewith. You can find more via Google.

Finally, it should be noted that the latest crop of aluminium cooking pots do not present an aluminium surface to the food anyhow. These days the manufacturers use what is called a 'hard anodising' finish. This is a hard, dense version of the typical aluminium anodising we see on window frames. Good aluminium tent poles have a form of this too, and I know from experience that the surface is very hard to machine. I have to use a carbide tool on it instead of the more common High Speed Steel tooling used on most metals. So such good cooking pots are very reliable. However, the cheaper plain unanodised aluminium pots and billies will still corrode under acid foods such as tomatoes and apricots. They are OK for boiling water of course.



One of the problems with 'prepared' foods is what the manufacturers have put in them - apart from what you might call 'genuine food'. There seems to be a huge range of 'additives' which get shovelled in for reasons I find dubious at the least. There are emulsifiers, colourings, flavour enhancers, anti-coagulants, preservatives, and others whose function I don't even know. The biggest group is probably the preservatives, and variations on sulfur dioxide top this list. That's what makes dried apricots look a pale and sickly orange rather than a nice dark brown; it's also what gives many people an asthma attack. The safety of many other additives is also in some doubt, at least for people who are sensitive to them.

Why are they there? In some cases they are meant to alter the taste or texture to what the marketeers say the public demands. In other cases they probably just mask poor-quality (ie cheaper) components. It seems strange that drugs are tested so rigourously, but additives seem to be used indiscriminately. Part of the answer is to avoid highly prepared foods and go back to basics. Or at least, read the label!

In Australia there is a requirement for 'food labelling', but the manufacturers get around this by describing most of the additives by code numbers. It can be hard to find out what those numbers mean, but it can be done. It turns out a lot of valuable information can be got from the Australian Gov't Food Standards web site. Try the following for information, and let the author know of other good references:

Food Standards Code
What's In Food
Shopper's guide
Food Additives


Keeping meals simple

Actual menus is a topic better suited to its own FAQ, but a few suggestions are in order. Maybe this section could be expanded later on with suggestions from various contributors?

A theme you will find in this section is KISS: "Keep It Simple Stupid". If you skip the complex cooking and especially the frying you will get fed sooner, need less fuel, have more time to relax and less washing up to do. A dedicated follower of this theme can cook the entire dinner in one pot with only a single rinse at the end: it makes life so simple! Some fanatics rinse the pot with clean water and then drink the water - no waste. Other fanatics have been known to use snow as a scourer (it works well).

For breakfast the old standards of porridge or muesli are pretty simple - the latter doesn't even need any washing up. A fried breakfast is much more complex in many ways, and the washing up required can be serious. And it takes a long time to both prepare and clean up. I take my muelsi cold even in the snow, but you could always warm the milk up a little if that seems too harsh.

Morning tea gets a mixed reception. Some walkers are happy to have a couple of sweets and keep going; others like a cup of tea or coffee. If you have been walking hard for two or three hours, why not enjoy a break? We can have a decent (large) morning tea in under half an hour with a gas stove. It's usually a lovely time in the day to contemplate the view. After all, I am not there to break speed records.

For lunch most walkers take either a hard bread like rye or pumpernickel (it travels reasonably well) or biscuits, with all the usual spreads. Jam and honey do contain water, but the dehi-food campaign does have its limits. A bit of scroggin and some cheese is pretty good too (cheese has a lot of energy). If you are in Europe the possibilities in the bread department become huge and irresistable; ditto for the cheese department. I remember once my wife telling me she had just bought a whole KILO of Brie cheese in France. I asked, in great fear, what that had cost. A few dollors was her reply! It was 'just a local Brie' made locally... I have to record that the kilo of cheese lasted no more than four or five days, but we enjoyed it.

Afternoon tea gets widely ignored, but this is not smart. If you have been going hard all day you will have burnt up most of the energy you got at lunchtime well before you stop to put the tent up (well, unless you are being a bit more relaxed about life). A quick snack of scroggin, muesli bars and chocolate can help you cover the last few km to the campsite safely and happily. If things are running a bit late because of some navigation problems (oh, never!), the extra energy may be needed to keep you thinking straight. This can be a more serious problem than you might think sometimes, especially if the navigation or terrain is tricky. It often helps to grab a sugar snack before you put the tent up when ski-touring for a long day: you may be at some risk there.

Dinner is where many get creative, and the variability is high. Two Minute Noodles get scorned by some, but they contain a bit of salt and carbohydrate ('electrolytes' for the more fanatic), and are a very good quick recovery item after a hard day. You need the liquid too. In the snow, they make a marvellous restorative after a hard cold day. If you can't get two Minute Noodles, try an ordinary fast-cook soup - there are lots on the market. Boil water, mix with soup, cover and let stand. Then the norm seems to be the usual carbohydrate and meat mix for a main course. The dehydrated meals excel here, but you can throw some cooked meat in instead. Some people do their own food drying, and very creative meals follow. If you can't get any dehi, don't risk it: try a packet of soup, some cheese and salami all mixed in instead. (We did this for nearly eight weeks in the Pyrenees, no problem.) Some people like dessert, but the possibilities are limited to things like dried fruit, Instant Pudding and custard. Others settle for a cup of cocoa and a little rich dark fruit cake lying down in their sleeping bag: very relaxing. The evening after shopping in France we would have a bit of fruit and some fresh yoghurt: sinful indulgence.


Water needs

It is 'well known' that you can go for many days without food and survive easily, but that you die in just a day or two without water. Fair enough: adequate clean water matters. However, this statement rather begs the question of:

How much water should you drink?

The short answer is a lot less than many of the self-styled 'experts' have claimed. A recent editorial in the British Medical Journal1 suggests the the current dictum that you should 'drink the maximal amount that can be tolerated' is horribly wrong and leads to hyponatraemia2. To quote: 'To date at least seven fatalities and more than 250 cases of this condition have been described in the medical literature.' The editorial goes on to suggest that 'In particular, exercisers must be warned that the overconsumption of fluid (either water or sports drinks) before, during, or after exercise is unnecessary and can have a potentially fatal outcome. Perhaps the best advice is that drinking according to the personal dictates of thirst seems to be safe and effective.' Apparently marathon runners have been trying to drink over 1 litre per hour, possibly over 1.5 litres, and up to 15 litres in a day, as a result of the drinking craze.

I was recently contacted by someone who ended up in hospital for two days as a result of hyponatraemia. After that he was still in care for another two days. Fortunately, he survived.

This subject is continued on the page concerning Salt, Electrolytes and Sports Drinks. It seems good for a few hours around a campfire, or a few weeks around a news group. It is worth noting that the 'drink all you can' craze didn't exist before 1970, and we all managed quite nicely on the opposite regime. The craze has all the hallmarks of a good urban myth. For what it is worth, the FAQ maintainer and his wife typically take a 2 litre water bottle for the day (except in summer) and return with some left over. Granted, we may drink less than the average. In summer we usually take 3 litres. Novices are advised to allow a little more for themselves. It also happens that most walkers keep a water bottle near their sleeping bag in case they want a drink in the night. This happens more in the bush because your body is still 'rebalancing' itself after you have initially gone to sleep. That's fine, just take a few sips when you need it.

This has two implications for bushwalkers. The first is that the current craze for a 'hydration bladder' with a hose over your shoulder and nipple to suck on is just that: a bit of a craze, principally designed to transfer dollars from your pocket to that of the manufacturers and vendors. You simply do not need to drink that much, that often. The second is that most of the 'sports drinks' are useless at best, (usually taste awful) and are possibly dangerous at the worst. Discussion following the editorial included the following quote3, but more may be read here:

'Current sports drinks have low sodium concentration relative to sweat losses at maximum sweat gland function. Thus, it may be safer to increase the salt content of sports drinks to protect athletes performing under high heat rather than discouraging adequate replacement of losses. An added benefit would be that less serious athletes performing under lower ambient heat would not over-consume beverages with a higher electrolyte content. Normally hydrated individuals would find the brackish taste of more salty drinks less palatable. Such an idea obviously works against the thrust of the beverage industry that seek to cajole us all to drink as much as possible of any fluid they produce' [His words, my emphasis - RNC].

Water for cooking

Perhaps worth considering as well is the amount of water you need for the evening meal. This can be relevant when considering a 'high camp' where water is not available. Such high camps can be wonderful: dawn on top of a mountain is rather special. But you will need to carry water to the high camp, and water is heavy. How much should you allow?

In the hope of providing a starting point for experiment, I will quote my own experiences. I have successfully managed high camps for two people in cool weather on two 1.25 L PET bottles plus a smaller 0.5 L PET bottle, filled at lunchtime. We take a good drink during lunch of course, and expect to reach water for morning tea the next day. Note that it assumes maybe 500 metres of climbing; walking on the flat would need far less water. The water carried is used thus:

Drinks while climbing2 * 150 mL300 mL
Hand wash before cooking100 mL100 mL
Instant Noodle soup2 * 250 mL500 mL
Freeze-dry stew500 mL500 mL
Rice or Noodles250 mL250 mL
Cocoa2 * 250 mL500 mL
Washing up150 mL150 mL
Drinks in night2 * 100 mL200 mL
Breakfast250 mL250 mL
Total2750 mL

This is dining in reasonable style but uses less than the 3 litres carried, which means we have a small safety margin as well. Novices are advised to carry a little more rather than take big risks. In hot weather - the Australian summer, we take an extra 1.25 L PET bottle. On the other hand, we have survived on rather less than one 1.25 L PET bottle on one occasion when things did not go quite as planned (there was a 40 metre cliffline in the way). We were not desperate, and fortunately the next day was raining rather than hot.
Contributions are invited on this subject.

Water safety and Health

This is a popular subject on the newsgroup: how to ensure the drinking water is safe. The subject can get very technical and has its own Water FAQ section as a result. Basically, the big hazards are viruses, bacteria like E coli, protozoa like Giardia lamblia, and chemicals from farms and dams.

That said, some medical people claim the biggest hazard of the lot is a failure to carefully wash your hands after going to the toilet, and that this rather than 'bad water' causes most illnesses in the bush. I agree totally.


Recipes and sources

A few web sites containing useful recipes:

Good Food Ideas

This will probably stir a lot of controversy. Good. If you think I have left out an essential material, contribute! I leave the question of which sort of tea or coffee to individual tastes. Cheap tea and instant coffee are not to be considered. I haven't included morning tea here: just add tea and coffee to the lunch mix.


Not so good food ideas from America

Just for amusement, you might like to contrast my humble but sensible fare with the food list reported recently in a American walking magazine as being reasonable for a lightweight walking trip of four nights:

Breakfast wt Dinner wt
Four 4-oz. packets instant mashed potatoes   16 oz Four packets miso soup mix 2.5 oz
10 oz. hot cocoa 10 oz Two 3-oz. packets vacuum-packed tuna 6 oz
    3.66-oz. tin smoked mussels 3.66 oz
Lunch   Two 4-oz. packets smoked salmon 8 oz
Five 3.5-oz. packets ramen noodle soup 17.5 oz 8-oz. packet stuffing mix 8 oz
    5.9-oz. parmesan couscous 5.9 oz
Snacks   5.6-oz. toasted pine nut couscous 5.6 oz
Shelled pistachios 18 oz 5.7-oz. mushroom risotto mix 5.7 oz
Dried apricots 14 oz 4 tea bags 1 oz

Unreal! Cocoa-flavoured mashed potato for breakfast? Stuffing mix, miso soup and smoked mussels for dinner? Do American males have any idea about cooking? Boiling water seems to be the limit of the walker's ability here. This menu weighs 3455 grams and is meant to be 'ultralightweight', but comes in a little heavier than my standard menu - before you count the additional weight of all those tins. Whether I could tolerate the sort of diet is another matter. It makes me determined not to blindly trust American catering.

On the other hand, there are three very enthusiastic ladies active on the Food & Nutrition channel of the Backpacking Light Forum who have each written cookbooks for walkers. Many of the recipes involve DIY with a dehydrator, and many of the ingredients may be hard to get in Australia, but their ideas keep flowing. 'Freezer bag cooking' is a common term there: add boiling water to a dried meal in a freezer bag and let stand a while. Just the same as freeze-dried meals of course, but the range of their recipes is huge.


1: British Medical Journal, vol 327, 19-July-2003, p113
'Overconsumption of fluids by athletes: Advice to overdrink may cause fatal hyponatraemic encephalopathy'
Dr Timothy Noakes, Discovery Health Chair of Exercise and Sports Science, MRC/UCT Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, Department of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town and the Sports Science Institute of South Africa

2. Hyponatraemia: in simple terms a reduction in the sodium concentration in the body to a potentially dangerous low level.

3. BMJ, 19-Aug-2003, Rapid Response section, from William B. Greenough III, M.D., Professor of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, USA

3. 'Hyponatremia in Distance Athletes, Pulling the IV on the 'Dehydration Myth', Timothy D. Noakes, MB ChB, MD, The Physician and Sportsmedicine, vol 28/9, Sep 2000


© Roger Caffin 1/3/2002, 10/05/2009