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Food, water and cooking

Bill Orme - from Striders 105

While the only problems for walkers in Britain is finding the shop is closed that half day, and in France the regular May four day closes due to le pont, many of the best long walks in less populated countries require more preparation.

In this Practical I am considering walks of over five days. So far the longest I have done without resupply is the John Muir Trail in California where son John and I carried 21 days food and fuel. As we were mainly around 3000 metres and up to 4400 metres, we had heavy clothing, tent and sleeping gear, yet our surprise we set out from Yosemite with only 20 kilos on our backs. Admittedly John insists we only had 14 days food, but spread it out over 21 days!

In such areas as the Pyrenean Ariege, the high sierras of California and South America and Australia, distances are long and food and water must be carefully planned. Allowance must also be made for the trip being extended by snow storms, avalanches, flooding, fire and accidents. Note accidents are more likely to occur during snow storms etc.

In many of the remote areas the beautiful but fragile ecology means that fires are prohibited and adequate fuel must also be taken. I use a Trangia style stove, and I estimate 8 to 10 ccs of fuel per person per day. I used to think there would be economies of scale when there are two or more in the party, but experience has shown there is not, so three people require 24 to 30 ccs.

Volume as well as weight is important, as is packaging against wetting and packages breaking open.

While many argue for high tech foods, I find keeping it simple (stupid) or kis(s) works best. Recently a retired English international cyclist told me 'for all the high tech foods, nothing beats a good jam buttie'.

Obviously everyone has their own favourites and principles, and I would appreciate comments and ideas for future publication. This is what I eat.


A mix of wheat flakes, bran flakes, rolled oats and sultanas (raisons if really watching weight as more hydrated. I mix powdered milk separately and sprinkle on a bit of sugar for energy and crunch. In cold weather I soak the mix overnight and lightly cook it as porridge. Of course tea/coffee and powdered milk with meals, but if conserving fuel I cut out morning/afternoon tea.


Bread, cheese and tomatoes with herbs cut along the way are best. On long trips, dry biscuits and air dried fruit. Chew the fruit well as the saliva brings out the flavours.

Grasses from the onion family are common and chopped and quickly cooked just covered in water are an excellent source of vitamins.

Never throw out stale bread until replaced. It is more palatable and warmer if spread with made up potato powder, with a little mustard for flavour.


Freeze dried stews or other meals, with potato powder either served separately, of as a thickening. I add sun dried vegetables, leek, cabbage and carrots being the best.

Noodles are also good but not as nourishing, and rice uses a lot of fuel to cook, and can get boring after a few days.


While if I can I carry muesli bars to eat and barley sugar to suck to keep the mouth moist, I delete these when weight is in question. I don't find energy bars worth the money, and very sweet bars get sickly. Once walking through Britain the best way to keep to the route was to follow the Mars bar and Kendal Mint Cake wrappers - not pleasant!

Rubbish and toilet is an important but different subject.


This can be one of the heavier items and must not be scrimped on. Try and keep your bottles full. I have regretted not taking less palatable water waiting for fresher water that I did not find. I keep one container with a different colour for possibly contaminated water, washing it thoroughly when I can.

Two tricks I use:

  1. Don't gulp water immediately you stop as you will sweat much of it out. Rest for a few minutes to cool down, and take small sips.
  2. Take small sips regularly (every 20 minutes), rather than trying to go lengthy times between drinks.

I prefer good plastic containers with wide screw tops for water, rather than SIGG style bottles, as they are easier to fill and wash out. Also they are lighter and much cheaper. In remote areas I take some 6 litre wine bladders, which take up little space but hold a lot.

I do not usually use tablets or filters, but am careful about what water I take, looking especially for water from sources not contaminated by animals. Boiling to be effective takes a lot of fuel. On the John Muir I did successfully use iodine drops as the marmots are heavily infected by giardia, but burped iodine for three months afterwards! My doctor says that after drinking water from so many sources for so long I have great tolerance, so make your own decision.


To conserve fuel:

  1. Soak freeze dried meals in a container mid afternoon so they cook quickly. Walking agitates
  2. Making tea or coffee, first boil half the water required and pour on tea/coffee. Only warm the other half and pour it in. It also means you can drink it quicker, shortening morning/afternoon tea stops.

To apportion meals over a long trip, make up each meal in separate packages (double sandwich bags). If say muesli is in one bag it is hard to apportion and makes me nervous about how many meals are left. Also wetting and breakages are likely to spoil smaller quantities, and small packages are easier to pack than large.

Bears on the John Muir are a problem and even toothpaste has to be hung up each night. Bears can smell cooking for many kilometers and home in on it. One trick is to cook at about 6pm, then walk on a few kilometers to camp, leaving the smell behind for the bears to home in on.

This article was written by Bill Orme, Walking Volunteers, and first appeared in Strider.
Anyone is free to copy it with this acknowledgement.

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