DofE Expedition Food
For Duke of Edingburgh's Award participants the expedition component is often one of the most exciting and rewarding parts. I certainly remember my DofE expedition, even though it was quite a while ago now. It's not for nothing that the 20 conditions of a DofE expedition include the requirement to cook and eat a substantial meal each day: you really do need the energy!
One very important consideration when sourcing food for an expedition is weight: the more miles you've carried something which is too heavy, the more you will wish you'd looked for a lightweight version! It really does make a difference to cut food weight down. Dried food weighs much less, because you are not carrying the water, and is generally the best choice for hot meals.
How you start the day is crucial. It may be tempting to just get packed up and off, not bothering with breakfast, but you'll regret it after an hour or two! Taking the time to have breakfast means your energy stores will be stoked up. A hot oat-based cereal, or muesli if you prefer, is great, as oats release energy slowly: it'll keep you going for longer. I find that a good hot coffee or tea helps wake me up and get me going, providing a welcome psychological boost.
During the day, when you are travelling (walking, canoeing, sailing...), it's good to keep your energy levels topped up by eating little and often. Some experienced travellers make it a mantra to eat something at least once per hour. As well as replacing energy as you use it, this approach means that your body only has to digest small amounts of food at a time. It's amazing how lethargic you can feel after stopping for a large lunch: your body is busily digesting all that food and is not really interested in whatever else you want to do!
So you may well find that good snack foods will work better during the day than a pack of sandwiches. Nuts and dried fruit are tasty and nutritious: Trail Mix packs are very handy. Personally I feel that cereal bars of one sort or another offer better value and eating pleasure than so-called energy bars. My favourite snack bar is flapjack: good ones taste great and the oats give slow-release energy, which is exactly what you need. Beware of certain sports nutrition products which are intended for athletes undertaking short bursts of very intense activity, rather than the extended moderate activity which is typical of an expedition.
Other handy snack foods include Peperami, or other types of salami, which will keep fine in your pack with no refrigeration, and savoury biscuits. You will probably find that you will look forward to savoury snacks, as there's only a certain amount of sweet food anyone can eat! So what about chocolate, then? Whilst you wouldn't want to use it as a major part of your energy provision, I think that chocolate is handy for giving you a boost, or a treat, every now and then. "Two squares of chocolate when I get to the top of the hill" is a stimulus that works for me!
Your body is good at telling you when you need food: sooner or later hunger will drive us all to go rooting in the pack for something to snack on. However, you may not realise so easily when you need to drink. It is said that by the time you are thirsty it's actually too late:you should actually have been drinking quite a bit earlier!
The effects of dehydration steal up on you but are actually quite severe. You will probably feel more tired than you'd expect, you might get a headache and possibly other aches and pains, you may feel dizzy or light-headed. Your judgement will be impaired, meaning that you are more likely to take a wrong turning and get lost, or take too many risks in hazardous terrain. All this stuff is absolutely no joke, so keep drinking through the day: a couple of mouthfuls fairly frequently is better than gulping huge amounts down (and you are less likely to lose most of it fairly soon by going to the loo!).
Dinner time... OK, so you've had a great day in the outdoors and reached your overnight stop. You've been snacking during the day, so why not just have a few more snacks and collapse into your sleeping bag for the night? Well, quite apart from the fact that 20 conditions say that you need to cook and eat a substantial meal, you do need to properly replenish your energy stores in preparation for the next day. I also find that eating a good meal really makes me feel good, and the fact that the food is hot makes a big difference. However tired you are and whatever the highs and lows of the day, life is always better after dinner!
An evening meal should be easy to cook, good to eat and have plenty of calories. Easy to cook ideally means no simmering: apart from the delay, many camping stoves are not at all good at simmering (especially meths/alcohol stoves like the Trangia), and of course simmering means you use more fuel. Freeze-dried meals are great: just open the pouch, pour in boiling water, re-seal the pouch and wait a few minutes. Hey presto: hot, tasty dinner!
You may be tempted by boil-in-the-bag meals, or so-called "wet meals". They are easy to use, and the good ones taste excellent. However, they are heavy and typically low in calories: you'd need to add some bread, crackers or savoury biscuits to bump up the calories. Do take care if you are making drinks with the water you heated the bag in: not all wet meal bags are intended to be used in this way, and you could find that ink, glue or other nasties are making their way into your mug of tea! It's best to empty the contents of the bag into a pan to reheat it if you are unsure; this is also likely to use less fuel. By the way, if you are interested in this type of meal, the ones you find in a supermarket are generally much nicer than the ones you typically find in a camping shop, and often cheaper too!
Outdoors Grub Ration Packs
So, there's a lot to think about food-wise to ensure you have a really great time on your expedition. One way of making life easier is to use our one-day ration packs, which contain everything you will need to eat for one 24-hour period in the outdoors.
Whatever you decide to do, have a great time and make your expedition really something to remember!