I’m not much of a foodie, and doing a post on food isn’t exactly how I envisioned myself spending a number of hours. Having said that, the fact remains that – regardless of how much, or how little you enjoy food – your body will need fuel to power each pedal stroke of your cycle touring.
This is an important point to bear in mind – while cycle touring, regardless how much you may enjoy food – your menu should be based on what food serves best as fuel for your body, and you want to pile in the calories.
Food at home is easy – for starters, you have access to a fridge. Out on the road, you very obviously won’t, and that radically can alter what you can carry to eat, especially on sweltering hot days. Always opt for food that doesn’t need refrigeration, unless you can buy the food very soon before eating it.
Alongside food, there are all the precautions you need to take to guard against food poisoning. Food poisoning is never fun, and far less fun when wild-camping, so hygiene is important.
Obviously, fresh is best, but when cycle touring, obtaining fresh food can at times be a problem, even in the UK. Rural Wales, and great swathes of rural Scotland will present real difficulty in obtaining fresh food, and you’ll need to plan around that.
If you’re a meat-eater, your options are very limited. Sure, you can freeze meat and cook it once fully defrosted, but on a hot summer day, that can happen far quicker than you think. Some of my ancestors invented something called biltong and droëwors (literally, dried sausage, pronounced similar to “droo-er vorce”) as a means to preserve meat in the African heat.
Though you can eat biltong and droëwors as it is, many people don’t know that you can cook with it, too. If you do eat meat, and insist on taking meat along on a cycle camping trip, I would suggest that you consider taking biltong or droëwors, as doing so means you won’t have to worry about keeping it cool, plus it has a very long shelf life.
There are some amazing vegan options available these days, but again, refrigeration is needed for so many of them. My preferred camping option here is soya mince – it can be stored in almost any temperature, it’s cheap, and has a long shelf life. You’ll be surprised at what tasty meals you can make with it, too.
Fruit & Veggies
Most fruit and vegetables can cope quite well with warm weather, and can be purchased almost anywhere. On rural lanes in the UK, sometimes you’ll come across an “honesty box”, where you can help yourself from veggies left out in a box, and putting money to pay for it in a pot. As I said before, fresh food is always best, but don’t forget about dried fruit.
Also, if you invested in a dehydrator, you can easily prepare your own dehydrated fruit and veggies at home.
Water, when cooking while camping, can rapidly become a major problem, and more so on scorching hot days. On my bike, I carry three water bottles, each 500ml. That’s only 1.5 litres of water, and when doing a full day’s riding in summer, I’ll go through far more water than that.
This why I always say that you should always top up your water bottles at every opportunity you get. Yes, even when they’re almost full still. That next water point may not be working, when you finally get there.
Cooking, making coffee or tea, and doing dishes after can easily consume 1.5 litres of water, and you still need to factor in leaving enough water to drink. This shouldn’t be an issue if staying at a formal campsite, but if wild-camping, it can rapidly become a major issue, and your supplies, and menu, should factor this in.
You may want to add a collapsible water carrier, which you normally keep empty, and refill later in the day, so you can have extra water while camping, without having to carry all that extra weight all day cycling.
Unless you have at very least water purification tablets with you (and even then, only do so in an emergency) do not drink water from rivers, lakes of streams. Rivers in the UK are mostly contaminated – if not by industry, then by farming.
Speaking of doing the dishes, please try and use an eco dishwashing liquid? Even major supermarkets, like Tesco and Waitrose, now do a good own-brand eco option, so it needn’t cost the earth. At the same time, especially when wild-camping, ensure you do the dishes properly and thoroughly. That’s often the only thing between you and a nasty bout of food poisoning.
My preference for cooking while camping can possibly more accurately be described as “warming food”, rather than cooking it. My staples are instant mash and soya mince, packets of pre-cooked rice – with or without anything else, depending on my mood, and pasta-based dishes. Do note that mash, soya mince and pasta are all dehydrated foods, which require a significant volume of water to prepare. Packets of pre-cooked rice, however, are simple: warm it in a pot of water, use some of that hot water for coffee, and leave a bit to do the dishes.
When doing cooking, remember that you’ll mostly be limited to a single stove burner. That doesn’t mean that you can’t cook more complex dishes, but you may need to be creative, and pay attention to cooking time of each dish. Remember, you can take a pot off your camping stove and wrap it in a sleeping bag to stay warm, then the food in the pot will continue to cook for a while longer.
! If you use a camping stove that uses liquid fuel, never pack the stove, nor the fuel, inn the same pannier as your food supplies. Even a small leakage will spoil all your food, and it takes a surprisingly tiny amount of meths, petrol, or whatever fuel you use to ruin your food, even if the fuel spillage wasn’t directly onto the food.
At home, you’ll have a bin in the kitchen, and disposing of cooking waste is quick and simple. At a formal camp site, there will be bins, too.
Wild camping, however, is a different story altogether, and you must take all your food waste away with you.
Remember the principle of “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints“. I take a supermarket carrier bag along, to bag all my food waste, including coffee grounds.
When wild camping, it’s absolutely essential that you use an eco dish-washing liquid that’s not made from oil products and that biodegrades. This is because, after having scraped all food waste into the bag you brought along for that purpose, you will need to wash the dishes, then dispose of the dishwater.
Always pack more food than you think you will need, and always ensure you have things can can rapidly restore your blood sugar levels – obviously, diabetics need to be especially careful. You alone will know what allergies and/or medical conditions you may need to plan around.
In my case, I like to take SIS energy gels, as well as a packet of salted peanuts and raisins, but your tastes may differ. As ever, test your emergency rations before going off on a long ride.
In a future post I’ll look at some basic, but tasty recipes.