Countless blogs have dealt with trail food and most of them deal with what brand of instant this is good or the blog provides a list of what to pack. That’s well and good; however, I want to approach the subject matter of trail food not from a standpoint of “taste tests” but rather about what will sustain you on the trail with the least amount of hassle in food preparation while carrying less weight.
Being an avid hiker myself, I spoil myself once in a while by carrying “luxury” ingredients to cook up a “gourmet” meal on short trips (emphasis is on the word “short”). An overnight foray into the woods with a heavier-than-usual backpack is manageable but packing luxury food items on extended trips is not only tiring but undermines the basic concept of the outdoors. After all, doesn’t backpacking imply communing with nature while exercising you basic survival techniques?
This article urges you to set your priorities – does the sense of taste override the combined senses of sight, smell, and hearing? Simply put, do you place more importance on pampering your taste buds with a sumptuous at every meal stop or do you eat because of the sustenance it provides regardless of taste? Do you find more gratification in chewing on a campfire steak or is smelling the scent of pine, hearing the hoot of an owl or watching the bright stars cut across a dark sky give you more pleasure? I find it quite amusing that even outdoor community can be divided between those “who eat to live” and those “who live to eat”.
I tend to favor the “back to the basics” approach. I will pack only what is necessary. Luxury is something I can avail of before a trek; or even during a gap in between trails and when I finally pamper myself after a long, tiring trek. On the trail, however, my priority is communing with nature and not my stomach. Keeping this in mind; here are some items to keep the stomach full and not necessarily happy.
For carbohydrates, the preference is for something “instant”. It’s toss up between potatoes and rice; with the latter seemingly having the edge. Both do not take much time to prepare, making them ideal meals for “eat-and-run” situations.
Next, we deal with viands. To a man, most seasoned trekkers will tell you that the optimal trail viand to pack on extended trips is the jerky. When you mention the word “jerky”, the old-timers will immediately picture in their minds some kind of meat that is sliced thinly and then dried. Of course, it is not that simple; the meat has to be marinated in brine and spices overnight before drying in the preferred manner utilizing either oven, dehydrator or good old solar power.
The most popular jerky is made out of beef. They have a pleasant taste and stay fresh even during extended treks. But did you know that there are a variety of meats (domesticated and wild) that can be made into good tasting jerky? When they were still plentiful, I would smoke strips of wild boar, wild sheep, and goats in my improvised smokers.
I smoked the meat not only for trail consumption but also because they went extremely well with my beer. I have smoked horse and water buffalo meat as well and will try smoking alligator meat as soon as I find the opportunity.
As a mountain man with an affinity for the shoreline, I cannot say enough about fish jerky. In this specific case, I am talking about dried “aku”. Aku is the Hawaiian name for skipjack tuna. When it is prepared right and dehydrated, it tastes so good (and gluttony-inducing) that the Hawaiian euphemism for it is “broke the mouth”. I fully agree with those “braddahs”. There is a great demand for them but you can still order them online I think. I’m glad I do not have this problem – I dry my own aku.
Aside from coffee that I need for my caffeine boost when I feel myself flagging on the trail, I pack peanuts for additional protein on the run. There is also a bag of sunflower seeds which not only nourishes but a mere handful packs more caffeine than several cans of colas.
If you are not a fan of coffee and favor tea instead, you can try these substitutes when you run out of the stringed teabag packets. If you can find them anywhere along the trail, the leaves of the avocado tree have a pleasant taste; so do the leaves of the lemongrass (Cymbopogon citrates) and the pandan leaf (Pandanus amaryllifolius). Yellow ginger (turmeric) makes good tea as well.
So far I have identified tea substitutes that are usually found in the tropics; but did you know that pine needles and the bark of pine trees can be made into tea well?
Any backpack that does not pack “a pinch of salt” and honey is lacking. Both enhance flavor to otherwise bland trail food. Salt goes well with meat while honey goes well with cereals. Salt rehydrates when needed on the trail while honey (like anything with a high sugar content) is an instant energy booster.
I pack light, I pack smart. I put a premium on savoring Nature than savoring a meal. That said, I make sure that the bare essentials are there: instant cereal, some kind of jerky, coffee, nuts, salt, and honey. With those on hand, I can most probably whip up something quite edible. Remember that when you hit the trail you are supposed to “eat to live” and not to “live to eat”.