When planning a camping trip, one of the most difficult aspects to nail down is camping food. When you are heading out into the wild, you are challenging yourself and escaping the always-accessible luxuries. When it comes to food, there's no oven, fridge or 24 hour convenience store. It is a different type of convenience you are after. Convenient, easy to prepare food that will last for days and won't weight you down.
As camping food is such a challenge, we decided to dedicate a series of articles entirely to the topic. In this series, we will give a crash course in camping nutrition, pass on some of our best camping food tips, map out critical considerations you need to take when planning, and share some of our favourite camping meals.
Camping Food vs Home Cooking - What's The Difference?
Food is food is food. It doesn't matter if you eat it in the bath or in the kitchen, it's still food. So, why are talking about camping food as if it's something different?
When we talk about camping food, we are speaking with the backpackers, hikers and primitive campers in mind. A person who will be at home for the next five days, can plan their food one day at a time, even one meal at a time. For the camper, they have to think about what their food supply will be on day five or deep into day seven. They might have to think of food as a weight they will carry on a multi-day hike. To a backpacker a fresh fruit salad on day five is not an option.
For camping food, the most important attributes are being non-perishable, long-lasting and lightweight. No matter who the person is though, whether you are at home or camping in the wild, food is nutrition. So, a great place to start our series is looking at the nutrition side of backpacking food. Here, it helps to look at what healthy eating means and how the needs differ for the more active camper.
Key Rules to Healthy Eating - Home vs Camping
No matter what diet you follow, whether you are vegan, paleo, ketogenic, slimming world, pescatarian, or good ole fashioned "eat what feels good", there are certain rules that are universal for them all. These are the keys to getting the best out of your body and the cornerstone of any healthy diet.
1. Eat Your Greens - This clichéd line, the one your mother tried to drill into you as a youngster, is true. Vegetables and fruit are full of vitamins, fibre and other micro-nutrients that give you energy and give your body strength.
2. Focus on Whole Foods - Very few diets campaign for you to eat processed foods and with good reason. Just as above, whole foods are what give the nutrients your body needs.
3. Be Mindful of Calorie Dense Food - Broadly speaking, all food can be broken down into carbohydrates (e.g. breads, pastas, potatoes etc), protein (e.g. meats, legumes) and fats (e.g. oils, nuts, seeds, nut butters). A gram of carbohydrates is equal to 4 calories, same for protein, while fat is 9 calories per gram. That's why you have to be careful not to eat too many fats at once, even if healthy fats are really good for you.
4. Get a Mix of Fats, Proteins and Carbs - Together these are known as the macro-nutrients. Your body needs protein to help repair muscles, fats for hormonal production and slow-releasing energy and carbohydrates for fast releasing energy.
5. Drink Lots of Water - This one is pretty self explanatory. A dehydrated body simply won't perform as well as a hydrated one.
6. Don't Eat Too Much Sugar - Eating too much sugar spikes your blood sugar and provides your body with fuel that burns bright and fast, setting you up for a fall.
7. Variety is the Spice of Life - Applicable to both life and food! All things in moderation, even moderation.
8. Be Mindful of Your Calorie Intake - Here's a secret to every weight-loss programme you've ever heard of - if you eat less calories than you use, you lose weight. If you eat more calories than you need, you gain weight. Your sedentary Monday at the desk will probably require less calories than your hiking day on the weekend. This is the science that unifies all diets.
The Golden Rules of Camping Nutrition
This is a camping blog, what's with the lecture on nutrition?
Well, here's the thing. The above eight rules are great rules to abide by if you want to follow a healthy diet at home. However, this is where camping food and regular food differ. When you are camping, hiking, backpacking or otherwise expending a lot of energy over a number of consecutive days in the wild, your body will have different needs. It is important to understand that as a starting off point for perfecting your camping diet.
When you are camping you want to fuel your body right. However, on a camping trip, you also don't have the luxury of fresh food or a giant food storage container. You will also be doing more physical activity during your camping trip. So, below are some golden rules of camping nutrition.
1. Calorie Dense Food is Your Friend - Above we mentioned that fats have a high calorie count. It's something to be wary of usually. However, when you are camping, the perspective flips. Now, a handful of almonds or cashews gives you more fuel than a big bagel. Which one will weight less in your bag and still be perfect after 5 days?
2. Repetition is Sometimes Great -Above, we listed "variety" as one of the keys to a great diet. When you live day to day, with access to stores, cafés and markets, variety is key. For camping food, having your go-to-meals, the easy ones that you wouldn't mind eating five times in five days, makes camping that bit easier.
3. Fresh isn't Always Best - Fresh food is amazing, the stable of any healthy diet. However, out in the wilderness, fresh food is a ticking time bomb. Great for day one or two. Not so great for the long haul.
4. Fuel For The Trail - Why is trail mix so good? Well, it's full of healthy fats, nutrients and it's perfectly compact. It's the epitome of great backpacking food and a metaphor for the type of food you want when camping. A great camping trip is rich in excursion. So, you need food that is rich in energy to fuel yourself right.
5. Purposeful Processed Food - The final contradiction of camping food has to do with processed foods. A diet full of processed food is not a great way to live and would be counter to what any food expert would advise you. However, on the trail or in the campsite, convenience and keeping it light is very important. In this instance, processed food holds a purpose. Protein or energy bars, gels, dehydrated fruit and meats, as well as just-add-water meals make life easy.
There you have it. A quick crash course in camping nutrition. I think you will agree that backpacking food or camping food, is food that must be looked at in a different way. Our camping food series has just begun but we hope this article helps you to look at camping food with a new perspective. Food is food is food, but then again, camping life is a little different.
If you enjoyed the above article, please share and check out the next post in our series. In it we look at important considerations you must take with regards camping food and planning your next camping trip.
Go to --> CRUA CAMPING FOOD GUIDE #2
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