We turned to a few well-known and knowledgeable hikers in the Australian hiking community and had a yarn with them about what their top hiking food tips are for overnight and multi-day hikes.
1. Try Before You Pack
The last thing you want is to hit a several day long track like the Larapinta or Grampians Peak Trail with a pack full of food you’ve never tried before only to discover you don’t like freeze dry fish pie or dehydrated Brussels sprouts (these guys get enough flack when served fresh).
As Tim from Australian Hiker said to us: “carrying food that has been recommended to you without taste-testing it first will often result in a lot of wasted food.” Not to mention, a very hungry hiker if you simply can’t stomach it and go without. It’s not like you can nip to Maccas on the track, after all.
When you’re planning food for a long hike try it all beforehand. Rehydrate those freeze dry or dehydrated packets at home, or even better, when you’re doing your shorter training hikes, take your portable stove and cook ‘em up on the track—it’ll make those local hikes feel more adventurous, even if you do get weird looks firing up the Jetboil on the 1000 Steps Walk or the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk.
2. Put Some Variety In Your Life
Hey, some of us are more than happy to eat the same thing day in, day out. But, most of us have a bit of variety in our diet. This should be true too on a multiday hike.
Tim advises to “carry food that you like and carry a variety—what you like on day one you may hate after 10 days of eating so the thing”.
There is so much good hiking food on the market now. In Australia and New Zealand you can readily shop half dozen or so specialty freeze dry and dehydrated food brands, there are ready to eat meals that don’t even need heating, you can do your own dehydrating and prep at home, and the supermarket is full of countless option from lightweight add-water-and-stir pastas, and curries, and stacks of fresh options that’ll survive the pack well.
Personally, I tend to keep breakfasts and lunches the same—muesli with powdered milk, wraps with cheese, dry-cured salami and fresh salad on the first few days. However, dinners are always different. I’ll usually have a different flavour cup of soup each evening before the main event, and then a different meal served with Deb mash potato if I am particularly hungry.
3. There’s More To Hiking Food Than Freeze Dry or Dehydrated
The great thing about freeze dry and dehydrated meals is they’re really light to carry and they last a long time. However, there is a new concept on the block that tastes a bit more real than the other guys and that’s MREs, or ‘meals ready to eat’ (or ready to eat meals—rolls off the tongue a bit easier).
What are MREs? Well, a fully cooked meal in a vacuum sealed pouch. You can eat them cold if you really want, or heat them through on the portable stove, or simmer them in boiling water.
(We wrote a comprehensive piece over at HIANZ evaluating freeze dry, dehydrated, and MREs a while back. Check it out.)
The On Track Meals Chilli Con Carne or Mexican Beans, cold or warm, on a wrap with your favourite bits and bobs—delicious. Image Credit: On Track Meals
They’re heavier than the freeze dry and dehydrated option, but they don’t necessarily require heating or reconstituting, and they taste like real food. Heck, On Track Meals even do a steak! Steak at the New Pelion Hut on the Overland Track while your hut mates chow-down on two minute noodles and freeze dry spag bog? Why the hell not!
Ian from On Track Meals tells us: “These types of meals are perfect for short trips, as a reward during a long journey when you can't stomach a dehydrated meal any more, or in an emergency situation when you cannot boil water or use a fire.”
At the very least, food to have a pack or two in your bag as a treat or as your emergency rations.
4. Food is Fuel
When you’re on a big hike it’s really just you and your body. It’s important to keep the ol’ thing in tip top shape so you can get from A to B… or Z.
Michelle Ryan, author of Feed the Hike, creator of Feed the Hike dehydrated meals, and owner of Trails Hub Cafe on the Bibbulmun Track in Western Australia, has this to say on the topic of hiking nutrition:
“Sustaining your adventures through eating healthy is extremely important. If you don’t look after your body while out on the trail your body will break down, concentration will lapse, and accidents and injuries are more likely to happen. My tip is to start with a good protein breakfast, I carry protein powder. Take the time for lunch—soup full of vegetables is the perfect lunch to sustain the rest of the day without overfilling yourself. End with a decent dinner, no matter how tired you are, as your body has a lot of recovering to do overnight and needs fuel to do so.”