Long gone are the days when expeditions - at least those to colder climates - meant rations of pemmican (ground, dried meat mixed with fat) and hoosh broth (a mixture of pemmican, biscuits, melted ice and plain butter). Thank goodness.
Nowadays, there are all sorts of weird and wonderful expedition-type food out there, ranging from the ‘damn tasty’ to the ‘damn, I wish I’d packed the pemmican instead...’
Food plays a variety of roles on any expedition or endurance event and does a lot more than just fuel your body and aid recovery day after day. A tiny sugary treat with almost negligible calories doesn’t do much in the way of energy, but it can provide a huge lift to your mood when you’re tired, cold and wet and looking for a good spot to camp. It can go the other way too - munching the same snack day in, day out can feel like a chore, however much you liked it on day one.
There are other things to consider too, including cost, weight and environmental impact. We’ve changed our own diets over the last few years to reduce meat and dairy, which as well as lessening our environmental impact has been shown to have health benefits too, and so this is something we look for in any food. And that’s where TentMeals comes into play…
Since 2017 we’ve used TentMeals food on our expeditions and endurance events. These have ranged from overnight bivvys exploring the Pentland Hills on the outskirts of Edinburgh, to a three-month expedition across Alaska. All the meals are vegan and natural and you can actually understand the ingredients list - no E numbers here. Knowing what fuel you’re putting into your body is always a good start.
Jess, the founder, has set up a company that really aligns with our values, like always looking for ways to reduce its environmental impact. For a small company, we’ve been so impressed by the forward-thinking attitude and we’re so grateful for the support of TentMeals over the years, including on our ‘Arctic Connections’ expedition.
Now, for some tips to eating in the great outdoors…many of which we’ve learned the hard way so you don’t have to…
Over the years, we’ve been getting closer and closer to expedition food nirvana, while also navigating some of the other considerations mentioned in this blog. Here are a few key elements we’ve found for successful outdoors eating…
1. Variety is the spice of life (or at least the expedition) so try not to take 40 days of the same thing. Carrying spice to change the flavour of those evening meals and keep the taste buds guessing works a treat. We find it helpful to mix up the day snacks too. It’s never good to not look forward to food.
2. Reversing mealtimes. Sometimes sweet, sometimes salty, sometimes there’s nothing better than curry for breakfast and oats for dinner.
3. Be versatile. Depending on where you’re heading, if you pack the right food you might not even need to bring a stove. We used TentMeals dinners during our run across the Sahara in the Marathon des Sables with just the warmth of the desert sun to cook, saving precious grams of weight in our already-heavy packs.
On our Due North: Alaska expedition we made up our TentMeals breakfasts with water the night before - like overnight oats. That meant we could pack up camp as we ate brekky without having to get the stove out. Anything to save those extra few minutes in the morning!
4. Carry those calories. From experience, the body’s metabolism can take a few days to properly kick in. For the first few days you wonder why you packed so much, then soon you can’t believe you packed so little. A hungry person can be an angry person (also from experience…) so carry enough to stop the hanger and give your expedition partner(s) a break.
5. Take a treat. Take something to look forward to at the end of the day or a few weeks in to the trip. It’s quite incredible how much this can help get through the latter stages of each day.
6. Get it before the landfill does. There’s a lot of labelling confusion around best before date versus actual expiration date. So much of the food we throw away can still be eaten and there are some brilliant websites that sell perfectly good food that would otherwise go to landfill. Another good way to reduce the inevitable environmental impact of an expedition. The food is often sold for a fraction of the price and we made up most of our daily snacks in Alaska with food that would’ve otherwise been thrown away.
7. Try before you go. Sounds obvious but another one clocked up to experience. There’s nothing worse than finding out early on that whatever you’ve picked doesn’t work with you (or for your guts) and you’re stuck with it.
8. Save weight. Check what packaging your food is in as there might be ways to reduce it before you go. Meals like TentMeals are minimal, but a lot of food can come in foil bags to pour hot water into. This can be super handy if you’re on a shorter trip, but for longer expeditions where every gram counts, it’s worth taking the food out of the heavier foil packaging and decanting it into lighter bags. For Luke’s South Pole expedition, with 45 days of food we estimated this saved around 5kg of weight in his sled!
9. Eat like a local. One of the most amazing and humbling experiences of expeditions is getting to know the people who call the place you’re lucky enough to visit, home. To fully understand a different way of living, it’s very rewarding to eat like a local whenever you can.
On our Due North: Alaska expedition we were lucky enough to share a 4th of July dinner at 70°N with the Helmericks, a couple who live on Anachlik island in the Arctic Ocean. They rely on the land for food for their subsistence lifestyle, especially to see them through winter. Whilst there, we had one of the most memorable and special meals of our lives, tucking into caribou, sustainably hunted on the tundra outside their self-built home.
This list is just a selection based on our own experience and mostly from making a good few mistakes along the way! We hope you find it useful and we’d love to hear your own tips and tricks too.
Hazel and Luke