As part of my 2016 Cape Wrath trail trip preparations, I decided it was time to re-examine my backpacking menu and take it away from fully processed freeze dried meals. Another aspect of my Cape Wrath Trail menu I wanted to develop was my need for a lot more energy than I thought I needed on my 2015 trip, so I dove into the world of efficient backpacking menu building.
After many hours of reading and home experimentation with ingredients and flavours, I think I got it, so I’m presenting here my Cape Wrath Trail menu that offers more than 4300 calories per day, a high ratio of protein and fat and a light setup of only 1000g of carried food per day. Oh, and a total cost of just over £9 per day (just under $13 USD). But first, a bit of background:
RDI – regular and a hiker’s
The recommended daily intake (RDI) is the official local (per country) health authority’s recommendation of what should be a person’s daily consumption of calories, fats, protein, fibre, salt etc. The RDI is usually calculated for a not so active adult (male and female have different standards) and you can read all about it in my previous article about creating an efficient backpacking food menu.
Based on the RDI and my experience on my last trip, I was aiming to create a menu with more than 4000 calories per day. Despite the NHS’s recommendation of more carbohydrates than fats, my diet has pretty much been a paleo diet for so long that I am now used to consuming more fats than carbs, so I adjusted those recommendations. I also have a fibre rich diet and I’m used to consuming enough protein to allow recovery from daily high intensity training. I also tend to sweat my share when moving fast while ultrapacking, so I wanted more salt intake. My goal vs the NHS’s (for a hiker) were therefore:
Trip plans, initial menu and fuel
My basic Cape Wrath Trail menu consists of two cooked meals a day (breakfast+coffee and dinner+desert drink) and lots of easy-to-consume-foods for while I am on the move. I will be walking 40-65 km (24-40 miles) per day so I need a lot of food to keep going while keeping it simple enough to eat even if the weather is bad. Another issue I wanted to avoid is boredom – food on the trail can become very monotonous quickly, so mixing things up during the day is a real booster.
I will not repeat my full thought process and plans, but just refer you to the previous post that I wrote to explain how I will be creating this menu.
My final itinerary is based on 9 days on the trail: 9 days and 8 nights which means 8 breakfasts, 9 sets of day food and 8 dinners. I will be spending 1 night in a hotel (night of day 7/morning of day 8) and I’m planning on having a big dinner and a big breakfast on that stay (and at least 2 showers!), so I only need to carry 7 breakfasts and 7 dinners. When I’m out on longer trips I always pack an extra day’s worth of food, just in case, and this time is no different, but I’m packing a freeze dried dinner for that as it is the quickest way to eat in case of an emergency.
Most of my nights are meant to be spent in bothies (5 nights) and cooking is very simple there as there is no wind. I will be camping one night, maybe two, and for those days I’m planning the simplest dinners to reduce logistics around cooking time and wind protection.
On this trip, I’m taking an alcohol stove in order to save weight, so my meals need to be adjusted to a simmer-and-cook method rather than simply boiling water in a bag. I also created a few recipes that including soaking before warming up to reduce cooking time even more – those meals will be my camping nights meals.
I’ll be carrying 450ml of alcohol which should provide the ability to burn over 270 minutes, or 45 cups of water (roughly). I will be boiling 1.5 cups of water in the morning (one for coffee and half for breakfast) and 4 cups at dinner (one cup of tea, 2 cups for dinner and one cup for a recovery drink/desert). The total of 5.5 cups a day means that I have enough fuel for 8 breakfast and dinners so should have no issues with my planned 7.
One last note is about the availability of dried ingredients in the UK (where I live now). In many countries there is a big market for dried, freeze dried or dehydrated basic ingredients, from meat to raw vegetables and fruit. In the USA you can also easily find single pouches of beef, chicken chunks, fish and more, all cooked and ready to be added to any meal. The lack of easy to buy (search for chicken pouches on Amazon UK!) ingredients makes creating meals from scratch very hard. Many times I have been close to ordering the Harmony House Backpacking Kit just to accept that the cost of importing it to the UK is simply too high. Based on the limited offerings, I had to create meals that were made from what is available to me, cheap and have the best ROI in terms of calories per weight. The final result is not the lightest ever, but it works for me.
Final Cape Wrath Trail menu
I have experimented with using germinated grains, pulses and seeds, but the results were mixed for a decent overnight soak. I found that bulgur had the best taste and weight ratio, but in the end it didn’t need an overnight soak so it worked better for dinner.
For many years I’ve used oats like everyone else and like all of us, had enough of them. Sadly, I have had to accept that oats are the best breakfast you can make on the trail; but I did to change it a little. My recipe is:
- 40g jumbo oats (not rolled) – pack more of a bite to them after cooking
- 40g granola mix – I chose for half my meals to have a berry-based mix and half to have a chocolate based one
- 3 tsp of milk powder – thickens the mix and gives extra sugars and protein to start the day
- Just add half a cup of boiling water and eat after 5 minutes of sitting (use a cozy!)
At home: combine all the ingredients together in a small bag.
I have used pretty high-end products for the mix (all from Waitrose), but it still ended up costing me only 42p per meal. I will be carrying 100g of uncooked food and getting 200g of finished meal with 410-480 calories.
My day time food consists of: 250g of trail mix, 3 x 70g oats-based protein bars and a lunch of crackers and dried meat. The trail mix has 150g of sweet mix and 100g of salty mix. The combination of all of these ensure I have enough variety and energy not to get tired of the food while consuming enough of it to keep my energy levels up.
The total carried weight of my day food is 580g and gives me more than 2700 calories a day with 200g of carbohydrates and more than 150g of fat. Based on an average of 47.5km per day (29 miles) and 11 hours of walking, it means I can have roughly 245 calories, 18g carbs and 13g of fat per hour. This doesn’t include the energy I get from breakfast and my recovery drinks (below), which means, in reality, the mix really only needs to be useful for roughly 8 hours, giving closer to 25g of carbs per hour.
I have packed the trail mix in bags of two days for two reasons:
- It saves some packaging as I’m not packing for each day
- The days are not equal in length and I’ll be walking a combination of long day-short day-long day-short day etc. By having bags set for 2 days, I can make sure I have enough for the longer days while not having too much for the shorter days
Dinner and recovery drinks
When arriving at a camp (or bothy) my goal is to consume as many calories as I can that are easy to digest and are also tasty while still being energy efficient. I’ll be having a quick post walk milkshake (cold) while setting up my gear and changing my clothes (or building camp); once settled, I plan on stretching and starting to cook dinner. After dinner and before bed, I wanted to have a sweet dessert but didn’t want too much sugar; I found that the SiS night recovery drink mix works very well for me and helps in muscle recovery.
The recovery milkshake is based on the idea that your muscles need a boost of carbs for recovery within 30 minutes of stopping being active, so a simple mix of one part cocoa powder, one part sugar, and two parts milk powder was easy and cheap to make. I’m taking an empty plastic peanut butter container (250g) as a shaker, dissolving 4 spoons of the mix with 200ml of cold water. This provides 228 calories, of which 33g are carbohydrates, for the low weight of about 60g and cost of 37p per shake.
My meals are my own mixes and recipes, all based on simple dry ingredients that are easy to pack yet offer a variety of flavors. I would have liked to have some form of vegetable and meat based meals, but again, the lack of raw ingredients in the UK means I’m basing my meals on grains, pulses, and some dried vegetables.
I have made 4 recipes: Moroccan Bulgar with Olives, Noodles in Peanut Butter Sauce, Pasta in Pesto and Bulgur and Green Lentils. All these recipes are easy to create based on pretty readily available ingredients, offer and an average of 780 calories a meal, are light (about 190g) but make a hearty serving (about 380g) and cheap – about £1.70 per meal.
Each of the meals is packed individually; some are mainly a soak and heat (the bulgar and lentils) and some are boil and add sauce (noodles and pasta). Each of the meals also has a dash of olive oil to boost the fat and calorie intake, so the recipes are built to make sure it tastes right with the olive oil.
I’m carrying 200ml of olive oil in an empty soda bottle as they tend to have a very tight screw top and are pretty robust. I have added volume markings to be able to add the right amount of oil to the meals.
It is important to add some instructions on the meals, just in case you are a little foggy at the end of a long day and start mixing things oddly or add things in the wrong place.
Besides the food above, I’m carrying a few other things:
- 20 High5 no sugar hydration tablets to supplement sodium loss. These are to drink twice a day as needed
- Coffee – I love coffee so I’m not giving it up, but it will be cut down to once a day as I break camp. I’ll grind my own coffee before I go and make it in a cowboy style to simplify my gear setup
- Decaffeinated tea and sugar – sometimes, especially if not drinking enough, having a couple of teas in the evening helps with getting warm and re-hydrating. 50g of sugar will offer some extra boost to the hot drinks if needed
- Extra meal – extra breakfast, two more oats bars and a high (1000) calorie freeze dried meal by Expedition Foods. It is a small weight price to pay to make sure I have extra calories around if needed
Food on the way
An important point to remember is that there are great places to buy food along the way in the larger villages, so I’m hoping to pick up the occasional coffee, cake or even sandwich when I can.
From my last trip, I know that I very quickly miss fresh fruit and vegetables, so I’m planning on keeping my eyes open for some of those on the way if they are available. It doesn’t need to be much, but a couple of tomatoes, an apple or some celery (I’m weird, I know) really help my digestion and make me feel better.
Final run down on the menu
My Cape Wrath Trail menu is not exactly the simplest to organize – it does require some time at home to prepare, sort, repack and experiment – but has allowed me to make better, cheaper and tastier food than I have been eating while hiking over the last few years.
Ultrapacking the Cape Wrath Trail means I will need more calories that are easier to eat and lighter to pack, so I had to be a bit more innovative and not just succumb to the usual pre-packed diet. This is a smarter and tastier menu which should allow me to walk for 10-15 hours straight without any energy dips and recover well.
The total cost of all my packed food is £70.63 for 8 days, not a bad result since most of the ingredients are organic.