Expedition Food

This article discusses suitable food for an expedition in a temperate country; it covers various suggestions, which although based on UK examples could easily apply to similar food stuffs found in other countries. It covers food for a short-term (a week or so) expedition on foot such as backpacking in the Lake District of the UK or Wales, since the ideas are based on a short term expedition a balanced diet is not a consideration although for a longer expedition it would be very important. Secondly because we are looking at western temperate climate considerations of extreme cold or heat and its effects on food are not taken into account

Basic Principles

  1. Big Bang for the Buck. The first basic principle of choosing expedition food is a bit like dieting in reverse, that is you want a food with the highest possible calories in the smallest least bulky package. Therefore low calorie foods are out and bring in the chocolate and carbohydrates. Although hi sugar foods like Kendal mint cake (almost pure sugar with peppermint oil and some times a chocolate covering) offer fast release energy and are great emergency rations they will not sustain you over a full days walking. For that you need slow release complex carbohydrates such as those foods in oats, porridge, nuts and seeds. These will slowly release the energy your body needs throughout the day. Hi Fat foods (such as cheese) can also offer lots of energy for a small size and weight but are not as efficient as the body uses extra water to convert fats into carbohydrates.
  2. Don't run out of Fuel. The average male requires 2500kcals a day but the huge physical strain of a backpacking expedition means that a massive increase in calories is needed. While wearing a pack and travelling on food over mountainous terrain the energy require can easily tremble. Fail to supply the body with the energy it needs and you will quickly tire and lack energy. Feeding your body 7000kcals of normal food can be a huge task so your fuel needs to come in smaller more efficient packages as mentioned above.
  3. Don't Forget the Water. A vital requirement even in the cold wet British climate. You should be drinking at least 3 litres a day during serious backpacking. Don't forget if you have increased your body's intake of fats in the way of cheese or processed meat then the body needs more water to make best use of this fuel. Secondly nuts etc can contain large amounts of salt and even in the cold your body will sweat. Most people loose a pint of water per night in a tent (ever wonder where all that condensation on the inside of your tent in the morning comes from?) So drink before you go to sleep and avoid a nasty headache. If you are thirsty then you are already de-hydrated and once you are your body will start to strip moisture from certain areas such as joints, which can result in stiffness the next morning or cramps. Also remember De-hydration means your body has lost essential salts, which need to be replaced by eating a bag of salty nuts or crisps. Modern Hydration systems such as the Platypus system greatly increase your likelihood to drink more and steadily throughout the day rather than a conventional water bottle and are well worth a purchase.
  4. Ready, Steady, Cook. Okay now you have your food you need to cook it. You could play the hard man and live off cold rations but unless this is a military exercise I wouldn't recommend it. Humans have evolved to digest cooked foods much more easily, which means getting more energy out of your food supply. Secondly in cold or damp conditions a warm drink or meal can be very beneficial physically and psychologically, helping to raise the body temperature. Don't forget your body will also use up energy keeping warm so warm food conserves energy. Think carefully how long a food is going to take to cook, rice seems a good idea but can take far too long to boil on a stove (as well as using fuel, you are burning energy waiting for it to cook), pre cooked rice unless in a sealed packet does not keep well. Pasta is bulky but quicker to cook. With imagination most thing can be cooked on a camping stove and I have enjoyed steak with stilton sauce with chips cooked on Trangia stoves while on expedition but such showing off is wasteful and impractical for long trips
  5. Will it keep? Will it Pack?  How bulky and heavy a food source is, is a vital consideration. Pasta for example makes a great food, easy and quick to cook, lots of slow release energy and light but it can be very bulky. Secondly will it go off, rot or other wise spoil, as a bout of diarrhoea is no fun while 2000ft up in the mountains. Some foods are good but fragile such as eggs and powdered versions as with milk can be useful if less tasty. Some food will last for a few days such as smoked bacon and can be used as a first morning treat. Cheese will sweat if it gets hot but is generally fine for the duration of an expedition but tubular squeeze cheese can be handier. Avoid canned foods if possible, cans are heavy and MUST be carried back off the hills and disposed of safely. If carrying cans a can opener is a must and small very light folding ones can be purchased from camping shops. This may seem an obvious statement but I have seen many accidents where people feel they don't need can openers, examples include the “lets hit it on a rock method” which results in a crushed can, ruined contents or the “hard man open it with my commando knife approach” which often results in an unopened can and a serious wound or loss of fingers. Weight can be saved by removing packaging and then carefully re labelling or re sealing in polythene bags. Even camping foods such as Wayfarer come in a extra outside pack which once discarded saves weight, bulk and waste after a meal. All saved weight no matter how small adds up.

Finally remember one thing no matter how suitable a food is, if you don't like it , you won't eat it !

Suggested Foods

Food Name/ Type Notes

Nuts, salted or unsalted

Nuts contain enormous kcals for the weight often in excess of 500Kcals per 100grams and contain protein and oils but excessive consumption can cause piles

Porridge or oats

Makes an excellent slow release energy food as a breakfast especially when adding honey, sugar or dried fruit


Easy to transport and store, add to drinks or other foods for instant energy, also a natural antiseptic

Custard powder

Add to oats for a nice pudding.


Very high fat hard cheese in a block or squeeze cheese in a tube your choice

Dried Fruit/ seeds

Great to snack on, massive variety on the market these days and can help you avoid constipation and Piles

 Instant Horlicks

If you like it, massive Kcals doesn't require milk, contains lots of vitamins and minerals can be drunk or added to porridge

Tinned Ham

Huge Kcals in a small tin, but salty and don't forget the can opener!


Bulky but light and a great sauce of slow release energy

Instant / cuppa soups

Use these as a sauce for pasta or as a snack

Instant Noodles

Not pot noodles but can be cooked in boiling water or eaten dry (trust me on this) as a very high carbohydrate snack but if eaten dry you must drink well. 500kcals pr 100grams

Instant Mash

Quick and easy but don't mix with beans or turns into an orange mush

Tomato Sauce

Add to pasta or instant mash for flavour, contains sugars