You may be far from civilisation, but there’s no need to resort to the depressing or the dehydrated while getting amongst the wilderness.
There is very little room for fanciness when you have to carry your whole kitchen on your back.
When you take to New Zealand’s great wilderness, trekking from DOC hut to DOC hut along beautiful coastlines and up incredible mountains, you need to be a little more innovative with your diet. You need foods that are both light and compact, won’t go off in the heat, and require very little preparation. You won’t have a fridge, and common sense dictates that it’s probably better to leave the cast iron pan at home.
But the food you take on a hike doesn’t need to be bleak at all – just a little bit of effort will have you eating food that is delicious, reasonably natural, and does not need to be rehydrated in any way. This will work wonders for your gastronomic enjoyment of a hike, and at any rate, after you’ve walked 10km in the wind and sun, anything you eat will taste like Mother Nature prepared it for you herself.
The day you set out will be your best hike meal, given your relative closeness to the creature comforts of home. A little help from old mate Freezer will have you eating like a champ – by the time you reach your destination, your frozen stew or soup or even steak will be thawed perfectly, but will have stayed cool all day. A friend of mine once fed 10-15 people on a party tramp with a frozen lamb shank ragu that tasted like glorious heaven after a hike that proved a lot gnarlier than advertised. Everyone brought their own wine decanted into plastic bottles.
On day two, you will have to switch to food that is a little further removed from your usual repertoire. Perhaps it is a packet of dehydrated chicken tikka masala – maybe that’s your vibe, and I shouldn’t judge. But it isn’t that hard to be the most envied tramper in the DOC hut.
Pasta is a good hiking option, as it is delicious by itself and especially delicious when you put some very simple and easy-to-carry ingredients in it. Orzo and spaghetti are particularly good options as they are more compact than other shapes, and will slide into a casual side pocket very nicely, next to your travel-size extra virgin olive oil. Saute an onion, a red capsicum and some chorizo in your small pan and you’re away, or lush things up with a couple of cloves of garlic, a pouch of black olives or a tin of anchovies, and some chilli flakes.
Of course, there are plenty of other options in a similar vein as this – noodles, for example, paired with a peanut butter and sesame sauce you made before you left and a squirrelled-away spring onion. Couscous is great too, as it is very compact and doesn’t require much cooking, although it is a pity that it is the world’s most unappetising carbohydrate.
A can of beans is a good hike option as well, being substantial and nutritious and also extremely delicious. Toast some pre-mixed smoked paprika and cumin in the billy, add a can of black beans and a pinch of salt, and you’re away. Bring one of those pouches of rice, which you can heat in the pot with a splash or two of water, or some tortilla wraps, a tomato, an onion and some cheese.
Yes, I said cheese. Your block of tasty will become sweaty, blobby and kinda gross by the end of your walk, but it will still be edible, and cheese on a bad day is still cheese. It’s great for lunches and snacks, along with other hearty proteins like a roll of salami or some well-cushioned hard-boiled eggs. Bring your scroggin if you must, but spike it with M&Ms and make sure you get salted nuts.
I put the question of tramp food to a bunch of Americans and 90% of them fired “peanut butter and jelly” back at me. You can easily carry a jar of God’s brownest on a hike, or Pic’s do peanut butter “slugs”, which are small, single-gulp servings of peanut butter. They’re very good for tramping, even if they produce a little more packaging than is desired.
Water will wash down your delicious, protein-packed, life-giving snacks during the day, but if you are anything like me, you will not be able to make it to “during the day” without coffee. You can take instant coffee, if you are happy with torturing yourself, but years of espresso and Chemexes and grinding my own beans has made me into an insufferable snob. Aeropresses and Swiss golds are excellent for tramping – they are both lightweight, made (mostly) of plastic, and only require hot water to brew.
At the pointier end of the day, you could just drink water to accompany your meal, but an enamel mug of wine will be an extremely welcome bonus. You can decant your merlot into a plastic Pump bottle, sure, but if you really want to save on space, then save your goon bags. Getting the wine in is a challenge – you have to open the tap and pour it in the tiny hole – but it is such an easy way of carrying a couple of bottles of wine without taking up much space. When you’ve finished the wine – et voila! A handy camp pillow.
You can eat like a king while you’re on the trail, but the very best meal of your entire tramp will be the first one you eat after the tramp. You have just spent four days doing exercise in the wilderness – this is your opportunity to eat something truly life-giving, like a pie and a doughnut, or a huge plate of nachos.
It might actually be the best thing you eat all year.