Pros: very light to carry
Cons: can’t be eaten uncooked – if you’ve run out of water you’ve got problems
Dehydrated food is the fancy way of saying it’s had all of the water sucked out of it. You might have heard of it before in “just-add-water” products such as instant mashed potato.
The best thing about this type of food is it’s so light. You can pack your bag full of it and – because the water in food takes up a lot of the weight – it’ll be exceptionally light.
Of course, the downside to this is, if you suddenly find yourself out of water, you’re in for trouble. It probably can be eaten dehydrated (don’t quote me on that!), but it’s probably very dry and pretty nasty.
Some examples of this type of food include anything with “instant” in-front of it, including noodles, which you can get from a normal store. There are also outdoor specific brands, designed to get you good tasting calories for as little extra carrying weight as possible.
Another type of dried food like this is freeze dried food. Heard of astronaut ice cream? That’s what we’re talking about. You can get treats and snacks in this form, but it’s not really as good or practical as normal dehydrated meals.
2. Boil in a bag
Pros: Easy to prepare and eat, can be eaten cold, no washing up, only needs a very little water to boil
Cons: heavy, bags are sometimes dubious tasting and too small for large appetites
This is the microwave meal of the outdoors. It’s a ready made meal, sealed in a foil-coated pouch. All you have to do is put it in boiling water for 5 minutes and hey presto: dinner is ready. You can even reuse the boiled water for a hot chocolate.
They can be eaten hot or cold (although hot is definitely better) so you don’t need to worry about running out of water, plus the use-by date will extend into the far far future. It does make you wonder what’s actually in it, when your curry’s supposed to go off in two year’s time…
These meals are staple features of army rations packs and are typically designed for use in the great outdoors. Breakfast, lunch and dinner can all be catered for this way. Brands can be found easily on the internet to cater for a range of prices and tastes – paleo to meat feast to veggie. You get what you pay for, although for the amount of food you get it can sometimes be disappointing. After a long day’s hike, they can disappear all too quickly – even if they do contain your recommended calories for the evening.
Alongside their easiness to prepare comes a few downsides. Most obvious is their weight. If you pack your rucksack full of them, your shoulders will know about it. For expeditions over a few days long, I wouldn’t recommend Boil in a Bag style meals – unless you’re expecting to be short of water.
3. Ravioli or Filled Pasta
Pros: quick, tastes more like home food
Cons: heavy, requires a lot of water that can’t be reused after (seriously, I’ve tried it)
A medium between dehydrated and Boil in a Bag, filled pasta or ravioli is the best of both worlds. It’s heavier than fully dehydrated meals, but it’s very quick to prepare in a pan of boiling water. There isn’t as much variety either, but for a few days of expedition you could do well eating this pasta.
Of course, filled pasta is not designed specifically for the outdoors. This means you can buy it pretty cheaply in most superstores, although you might want to ignore the recommended portion size whilst you’re in the mountains. Because it’s designed for normal people to eat too (not just ravenous hikers) it tastes more like home food – but it’s not water frugal. The pasta will start to break up if you cook it for more than the recommended 3 minutes, leaving your pan of boiling water polluted with pasta filling.
4. Roast on a Fire
Cons: heavy, requires open flame, slow
If you’re camping where open fires are allowed, then this could be your tastiest option. It requires a bit more effort to set up, but once your food is in the fire you can sit back and relax. Classic food to cook in a fire include jacket potatoes for main and scrummy bananas with chocolate for after. You can even cook a fried breakfast on a hot rock if you’re skilled at back-country cooking!
This is a great solution for one night’s camping. It’s more time consuming than other solutions, but it tastes really good. There’s nothing like talking round the camp fire whilst you wait for your dinner.
5. Ready cooked
Pros: very easy – just need to heat up, can be eaten unheated
Cons: heavy, leftover trash can be heavy too.
Not going on a long expedition? Enjoy cooking? Why not prepare the meal beforehand and heat it up on the trail? Or, buy a meal that is designed to be heated up on a stove, just the stove happens to be on a mountain.
Ready meals that come in cans, like soup or tortilla sauce, can just as easily be eaten on the hill as at home. The biggest downsides are the extra weight and that fact that you have to wash the pan up afterwards… But it’s great for fussy eaters who won’t touch camping specific food like Boil in a Bag or dehydrated meals.
6. No cook
Pros: super easy, no work
Cons: Perhaps disappointingly cold?
Perhaps it’s cheeky to include this in an article about “easy cook” camping food… but the easiest way of eating on a mountain is to not cook at all! Eating raw vegetables, beans and salad with bread or wraps can be a tasty solution. It’s very, very easy – although it’s better in warm countries when you don’t crave something warm.
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Emily Woodhouse is a freelance outdoors writer, with a love for adventure and inspiring others. Her obsession with mountains probably started in Yosemite, aged about 2. Born in the US but now based in the UK, she enjoys traveling in Europe and camping under the stars. Follow on Twitter: @TravellingLine
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