This one is easy in our case - we don't.
In the summer months we don't carry a pan and stove at all. In winter we do take them, but only to make a hot drink at the pitch and fill the vacuum flask in the morning for the walks. The pan therefore only ever contains water and never needs washing. We established this regime at first mainly because it means no washing up of any kind, as this rapidly became our greatest backpacking hatred, but we found it to be the best strategy for us anyway. The hassle and mess of cooking is something we can well do without. The disadvantage is that we can't use very light food that needs rehydration and we must take ready-to-eat food, but in the warmer months the weight gain is balanced by the lack of equipment and a great gain in simplicity and time:- no stove, no pan, no gas, no plates, no washing up - no problem. There is no worry about restocking or running out of gas either, even in winter, since we are not actually relying on it.
This means that in the summer months, our food-related equipment consists of 2 titanium spoons: total 38g. We have tried plastic spoons but they were a bit too bendy and not really up to tackling solid food as well as metal ones, and they tended to flirt bits of it onto the sleeping bags. On the rare occasions when we take tins, the tiny 11g 'army-compo' tin-opener (photo right) is very robust and works amazingly well. This is required even with tins of the ring-pull type since the rings can sometimes break off.
In winter we also have a featherweight Coleman F1 stove 77g (top photo), titanium pan & grab handle (103g) and a gas canister (190g for the '100' size or 384g for the '250' size). The F1 is not nearly as stable as the Alpine (see reviews in the Gear section), but is so much lighter that the weight saved is worth the trouble of trying to bed it firmly and watching it like a hawk.
One point we must mention, only because it is so bemusing and hilarious, is cooking outside the tent. The tent manufacturers always advise this, perhaps expecting phenomenal incompetence by some people who might burn the tent down, and we see discussions about ultralight folding windshields for the stove. It all makes for a good laugh, but really: if it is windy, put the stove in the porch and close the door - no windshields needed, no problem (in such windy conditions there will automatically be enough ventilation from underneath).
Think of it like this:-
In summer - in windy conditions, the stove doesn't behave well and really needs the palava of an effective windshield.
In calm conditions, the stove behaves well but you will be driven insane by biting midges. In either case the whole idea is a non-starter.
In winter - imagine being outside in a biting easterly wind waiting for a spluttering stove to boil in freezing temperatures - good grief!.
All of this is in dry conditions, then we have the rain.
Well I could go on, but I have a pressing appointment back on Earth...
|Trek raw wholefood bar||68g||239|
|Fair Trade Geobar||35g||132|
|Doves Farm organic bar
Vegetarian & Vegan
|Orco sport bar||30g||90|
|Orco Le Noir bar||25g||95|
|Ma Baker flapjack||100g||437|
fruit & nut dark choc bar
|Cadbury fruit & nut
|John West Light Lunch||260g||194|
The quantity of food needed is one of lifes mysteries and seems to go in cycles. We have a period of weeks when we feel ravenous on every trip, then a period when our appetites almost disappear and it affects both of us. It is not related to the vigour or length of the walking, nor the weather or season, nor anything else we can think of. It is a case of trial and error at first, then modifying the amount to provide sufficient fuel for walking while not carrying excess weight in the form of spare food left at the end. We find that the discussions about theoretical calorie requirements for walking bear no resemblance to real life, and the only way forward is adaptation. The table right shows a selection of the foods we find useful and gives figures for the weight and calorie content.
Backpacking food has two main requirements:- it must keep well for the expected conditions and duration of the walk while being mangled in a backpack, and it should be energy and weight efficient. This effectively rules out fresh food most of the time and the choice is between dry or tinned food. On a trail backpack that passes shops, some welcome fresh food can be bought and eaten on the spot to avoid carrying. For walking, foods rich in complex carbohydrates are best, releasing most of their energy gradually and avoiding the deep peaks and troughs in blood sugar levels brought about by refined varieties.
The basic choice of foods that meet the criteria is rather small, especially in my case as I have a dairy product intolerance which restricts it even more.
For breakfast we use a wide variety of breakfast cereal bars, which are good instant food and very efficient in energy and weight. The number can be varied easily with experience and most will survive mangling in the backpack well. Outdoor shops sell sports energy bars which are very expensive and offer marginal, if any, noticeable benefit over cheap supermarket bars in our view. We add some chocolate fruit&nut bar to brighten it up a bit and stimulate the endorphins to give us a good start. We also take our dietary supplements like at home, the important ones being B-complex, C and calcium.
On trail backpacks there is usually more choice available depending on the shops we have passed, and we can have a change.
Outside winter we typically walk a long day of 10+ hours and have two food-stops. Here we mostly use homemade fruit cake and flapjacks.
Unlike some commercial fruit cakes, where finding the fruit becomes a distraction and the recipe is not ideal, ours is a rich solid affair based on a recipe from Trail a few years ago and really does the business. The light airy type of commercial cake is not very filling, does not travel well in the pack and is not volume-efficient.
Flapjacks are an efficient and very good calorific food that give a mixture of fast energy release for a quick boost, and slow release to help sustain performance without aggravating blood sugar cycles. A wide commercial variety is available but not always where you might expect it, for instance our large Tesco superstore has only one own-brand type, but some local newsagents and small Spar stores have a good selection. Health food stores usually have a wide choice. You could also bake your own, though our results have always turned out too fragile and don't travel well.
Another useful energy food is stoned dates, which keep and pack very well and make a perfect convenience snack. We always carry some in an outer pocket to give a quick boost in the afternoon when needed.
On trail backpacks, and also on the first day of any backpack, we can often have fresh food obtained earlier in the day, but on most trips we rely on prepared meals in airtight containers. For this we made an excellent find: a range of complete small meals in foil-topped cartons from John West, which form the bulk of the evening meal. The outer wrapping card can be removed giving a weight of 260g per carton, which is very efficient, and the empty foil dishes stack together and compress well to minimise the weight and volume of waste to pack out. They also have a long shelf life and keep well at any temperature.
Another useful savoury find was a range of cooked meats in convenient sealed wrappers. These are usually found in the chilled cabinet but in fact they don't need refrigeration and will keep for weeks in any temperature. They are very weight efficient as the wrapper weighs next to nothing. Usually based on pork, they are rather fatty and salty though. The most common brands in our stores are Peperami, Redjack and Matthesons.