I created a system for food preparation while hiking over many years in the woods, carrying as many calories as I could manage on my back. The system starts with easily available grocery store food items, and is supplemented by dehydrated foods that I prepare myself. Preparation in the woods uses very little fuel, again to save weight, where I cook two meals a day on my alcohol stove simply by bringing water to a boil. I'll break it all down in this blog post, supplementing the information in my book.
Here is a typical menu for the day:
Breakfast (640 calories):
- 2 Packets Instant Oatmeal
- 1 Package Pop Tarts
Lunch (1680 calories):
- Payday Bar
- Snickers Bar
- Granola Bar
- Peanut Butter/Cheese Crackers
- Gorp (1/2 cup)
- Dried Fruit (1/2 cup)
- Beef Jerky (1/2 cup)
Dinner (1100 calories):
- Instant Creamy Noodles
- Dried Mixed Veggies (1/2 cup)
- Dried Chicken (1/2 cup)
- Instant Pudding
Variety at breakfast comes from rotating the flavors of oatmeal and frosted/filled Pop Tarts every day. I'll talk about meal preparation below.
Lunch provides the most calories during the day, and can be varied by changing the candy bars, granola bars and crackers. It's not eaten as a meal though, it's eaten at several breaks throughout the hiking day, starting a couple of hours after breakfast.
Dinner variety comes from changing out the instant noodle varieties and including instant rice dishes as well. I used frozen mixed veggies for all dinners and was not overly concerned with a lack of variety in those as they simply went into the pot with the pasta/rice main. For protein at dinner, I alternated between dried shredded beef, pork, chicken and tuna (from a can), so there were lots of combinations. For dessert at dinner I would include either the pudding or a heavy calorie dense brownie. Little Debbies makes one that doesn't smash too badly.
Though you can buy pre-dried fruit, pre-made jerky, canned meats, and dry using your oven, the most economical way to prepare food for six months is to use a food dehydrator. Many are available at many price points. I used one from American Harvest and it worked flawlessly. I added more trays so I could dry more food at once, as well as the fruit rollup sheets, which I used to keep my jerky marinade from dripping through the trays.
My secret to low-fuel cooking is really simple. For breakfast, heat the water to boiling, and pour into the plastic bag you used to pack the meal - after dumping the two packets of oatmeal in the bag. Just heat enough water to give the oatmeal the texture you want (you will learn this very quickly), mix it in the bag and eat right from the bag. No dirty pot!
For dinner, you will want to start mid day and put the dried veggies and meat into some sort of bottle and cover with water. I used a small 16oz Nalgene bottle, as I trust these to never leak and I know they will last the entire trip. Place the bottle back into your pack and your meat and veggies will be hydrated by dinner.
At dinner, place the noodles and the contents of your hydration bottle into the pot, cover with water, and bring this just to a boil. Take it off the fire, place it on a surface that won't suck all the heat out, and cover with a pot cozy (see the picture - it's just a closed-cell foam cover). Let it sit for 10 minutes. Add cold water to the pudding in the bag and mix. Leave it in the bag.
Eat your dinner from the pot. Eat your pudding from the bag. "Finger wash" the pot after dinner with cold water, just to remove the heavy residue. In the morning when you heat water for oatmeal, you will sterilize the pot. You can wait until you get to town to do a real wash with soap at any sink. No soap in the woods. No scrubby, nothing.
I use an alcohol stove - quiet with no moving parts to break - and cooking this way uses very little fuel.