Camp Food, Glorious Camp Food!
Over 17 days this past August I completed an end to end solo hike of the Larapinta Trail, which I felt was an ideal opportunity to test a variety of food and discover the best trekking meals for our customers. Firstly, there is one important thing to keep in mind: I’m not you and you're not me; we are all different people and we like different things. I like my food spicy, so I add chilli to literally everything, including some breakfasts. I am not vegetarian/vegan/gluten free/kosher or halal but I have tested and dare I say even enjoyed a number of the vegan meals (shhhh, don’t tell anyone).
Weight was my biggest consideration as I needed to go as lightweight as possible, having to consider how much the meal weighs in its uncooked form, but also how to deal with packaging after the meal when everything must be carried out. How long does it take to cook? Fuel has a weight and the longer something takes to cook the more fuel it requires. How much water does it require for both clean up and cooking? Lastly, it has to taste good! I’m wasn't here to torture myself, I want a tasty satisfying meal at the end of every day.
There are a few foods that I would argue are worth the weight. A jar of peanut butter, a bottle of chipotle tabasco (argue with me as much as you like, chili flakes just don’t cut it), a tube of condensed milk (No, powdered milk is not the same!) REAL coffee and chocolate! Smarties are good for scroggin because they can’t melt into the nut mix
Also, I don’t like sweet food at night so I opted to have all the desserts for breakfast and I rather enjoyed it. I mean, dessert for breakfast - life is uncertain.
Back Country Cuisine
From NZ, Back Country comes in single serve, double and some even come in a five-serve. Pour the suggested amount of boiling water into the packing, which also serves as the bowl so - no washing up! Perfect for lazy people like myself. After dinner the packaging went straight into the rubbish zip lock.
Cooked Breakfast: Overall, you’d expect to be grossed out by a bag of hot mash potato (or hash brown as they refer to it), egg, beef squares and tomato but it had a surprisingly nice texture. The beef (supposed to be substitute for bacon?) was not too chewy or old-beef-tasting, and the tomato pieces were nicely defined with a pump tartness. Bonus points for it being gluten free and not being porridge (I hate porridge).
Three Fruits Cheesecake: Most of these dehydrated meals aren’t particularly appealing, but something about the chunks and the texture of this dish was even less appealing than usual. Floaty orange bits in a yellow-ish custard....hmmmm, you’re not selling me on this one. The taste was actually not bad, better than it looked but that's not saying much, is it? Actually had a nice crunch, presumably the cheesecake base. The next morning for breakfast I tried it with a touch of hot water to see if it could be improved. Turning it into a hot smoothie didn't help, although I did finish it so it couldn’t have been all that bad.
Roast Chicken: Read the instructions! I’m not great with following instructions so I added way too much water to the bag, but apart from that the mash was delicious with the gravy (with added chilli) and the corn and peas. The most annoying part was the separate satchel for the mash potato - the added packaging and extra steps makes it more fiddly, some flavoured powder gets lost when you pull it out of the main bag plus a bunch of the peas escaped. So it's not the most convenient of meals. BC's infamous ‘chicken’ squares make an appearance in this dish as well, and I wasn't a massive fan of the squares of stuffing, although I can see how others might appreciate them. But why in squares?
Pasta Vegetariano: I had the chance to directly compare two brands on a meal with the same name and description. As a Taswegian I was rooting for the Tassie brand Camper’s Pantry on this one, but honestly the BC version was better. Heartier due to the beans, a little fancier with the addition of the olives, the sauce clung perfectly to the spiral pasta (which is in my humble opinion the most superior of pasta shapes). For the recommended cooking time I found the beans to be a little tough, so maybe leave this brewing for 15-20 mins so the beans soften. It feels like a healthy, tasty meal and bonus points for being Halal, but not sure why this isn’t classified as vegan.
Nasi Goreng: A classic veggie gluten-free fried rice dish, I enjoyed this more than I expected but I found the rice to be a little crunchy. Okay so maaaaayybe I was impatient and hungry and got into the bag before the time was up, sure blame me! I liked the sweet crunch of the fried onion and capsicum, the egg had a slightly funny texture but the flavour was really nice. The sticky, salty, mild honey soy sauce bound the whole dish up without overpowering it and I loved the addition of the pumpkin seeds. I’d love to see BC swap out the egg for tofu to make this an option for vegans.
Mexican Chicken: A long time favourite among many an outdoor enthusiast and a personal favourite I always save for the end as a little treat. The Mex Chicken packs a punch, loads of yummy Mexican flavours and a nice spicy kick. It only needs 200mls of water, great for a dry camp. The corn chips come in their own little packaging and are almost always broken (never mind - I was planning to smash them into the mix before eating anyway), and the separate packet always gives me a slight anxiety that I'm losing precious flavour coated to the plastic. Suggestion to BC - perhaps you could whip up a little dehydrated guacamole? A Mojito? I still don't quite understand BC's obsession with foamy squishy chicken squares, why not have real shredded chicken in there? And more corn please!
Beef Stroganoff: How hearty is this beef and onions stew! Only 200mls of water and the beef squares, although not very appealing in shape, are very tasty and the mushroom-onion sauce with rice was very satisfying. I didn’t even put chilli in this, that's how good it was! Halal too.
Easy Cook Scrambled Egg: Scrambled eggs, now we’re talking! I love the whole idea of this. Easy to prepare but NOT as easy as most BC. The eggs are not cooked in their own bag but instead need to be re-hydrated and cooked over a much lower heat than you think you need (we’re not boiling water over here, turn that flame down) - and there's a high chance it will stick to the pan. Texture and flavour is spot on though. The brilliant minds at BC have already added some delicious chives (no that's not weevils in your mix) and how is it so tasty? Oh yeah that's the cheese and salt. Hmm cheese and salt makes everything better. Wrap this up in some mountain bread and you're set. Oh wait, you’ve got to clean the pot first…
Carrot Cake & Custard: Pumpkin spice latte vibe - think cinnamon/nutmeg flavours in the form of a re-hydrated carrot cake pudding. This is something to share as it's way too full-on by itself! I had it for breakfast of course (I mean it has carrot in the name so surely its healthy right?) but it was way too much. I can imagine it would be comforting on a cold night shared with a special friend. Tastes like a warm hug by an open fire
From Tasmania, this newer company uses a similar cook-in-the-bag method to BC, and also has a range of freeze-dried vegetables to add to whatever meal you are making. Local to Australia and the meals contain real meat - mmm real meeeeeat.
Vegetables - Broccoli, Peas and Carrot: Throw in with couscous and a packet of instant soup and you’ve got yourself a meal right there. The Broccoli is my favourite - perfectly cooked, with the ever so slight crunch of a steamed broccoli. I found the carrots had a slightly funny texture and taste and I admit I picked them out, not a fan. Peas, which I normally hate, were really nice - fresh green and juicy. Add your own cheese and a few good dashes of Tabasco to really make this dish. On another occasion I added the CP Peas and Broccoli to instant noodles for a healthy, instant meal.
Vermicelli Pudding: Technically a desert but whatever, I had it for breakfast. Stop judging. Sleepy-eyed I didn’t read the instructions and added too much water and ended up with a soupy pudding. Still the flavors are really good and pretty filling for only 55 grams. The sultanas were plump and juicy and the overall taste was not sickeningly sweet as you might expect from a dessert.
Creamed Rice Pudding with Apple: This is by far the best dessert for breakfast I’ve had on the trails. Doesn’t require much water, cooks in the bag, great for a night (or morning) at a dry camp. The elements of this dish have everything you would need for breakfast (or as it's actually made for, dessert): it wasn’t overly sweet but actually could have done with just a little more apple. I would have loved a little cinnamon or nutmeg to sprinkle on this.
Veg Pasta: I wasn’t looking forward to this one as the idea of veg pasta doesn’t exactly make me drool, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was very flavoursome, although of course I added my own chilli to the mix and some parmesan to round out the meal. Filling and satisfying. Still I would argue that its arch rival, Pasta Veg from Back Country has a little more excitement.
Mango Chicken Curry: Sometimes it's hard to tell if a meal is great because of the flavours or because of how hard you walked that day, but this Mango Chicken Curry is Banging! Real chicken mince (can I get an AMEN!) - super tasty! The pasta was a little on the mushy side but I didn’t care because the flavours were spot on - not sweet but not spicy at all. It needs about 300mls of Boiling water and 20 mins rest time, and once sealed up nice and tight pop it into a beanie or give it a cuddle to prevent it from getting too cold too quickly. Reminded me of a classic Chinese chicken and sweetcorn soup vibe (but without the corn, and with a subtle mango flavour). Addition suggestion: I’d say the CP Beans would make themselves right at home in here.
Moroccan Pork: Mild flavours are certainly appealing to a lot of people, personally I had to add a load of chilli to this one. The pork flavour is quite strong though, its a meaty dish for sure. Hardly any veggies but there are loads of couscous. I’d love to see this with more Moroccan spices, a little salt and way more vegetables. Another opportunity to add your favourite Camper's Pantry Vegies.
Beef and Black Bean: Finally we’ve got ourselves a hearty bloody beef stew! This would go smashingly with a side of instant mash potato. What it lacks in the veggie department it makes up for with REAL meat and a rich gravy. Sure there are a few veggies in there but they seem to be more for decoration than anything else. I misread the packaging which I thought said it had rice, which I agree would be a great addition, but it is in fact only a serving suggestion. I ended up crushing biscuits to add a carb component. I’d definitely add the CP Peas and some BC mashed potato to really bulk out this dish. Oh and a glass of red would really go down a treat.
Balti Vegetable Curry: This is such a hearty, tasty veggie dish, I didn’t even notice that meat was missing. And drum roll ... NO additional chilli required! One of my track favourites - a big claim for a vegetarian dish! The five bean mix with the curry sauce gave the meal such a hearty warmth while the pea, corn and carrot add colour and texture. My only complaint is that 80 grams is just not enough! Why not bump it up a bit? I demand more of this deliciousness!
3 Capes Gear & Gourmet
From Tassie again, this little company knows that the best part of trekking is the food and they don't hold back of flavour. Delicious food but generally less convenient since the meals must be simmered in a pot like ... well, like regular food.
Thai Chicken Noodles: Loved the translucent packaging so you can see the contents, and the veggies actually look like veggies (ahem, because they actually are). In fact all the ingredients look exactly like what they should look like, so this looks very appetizing! And is that REAL CHICKEN? YUM! The noodles were cooked to perfection and the sauce packed with loads of flavor and a nice light spice. It does leave a little washing up but it's super lightweight and the packaging weighs very little to carry out. Addition suggestions: a spoonful of peanut butter! Thickens up the sauce and gives it a pad thai/satay vibe. Gluten free and delish. Seven mins cooking time.
Pear and Strawberry Crumble: The package appeal of this dish is unbeatable. You can see the gorgeous pieces of pear and strawberry with rich crunchy crumble. Downside: it needs 10 mins of slow stewing over a low heat (aka, fuel time is required, so is a bit of clean up). The fruits re-hydrate well and are very refreshing, and the crumble has a lovely nutty crunch.
Gluten Free Apple Cinnamon and Quinoa porridge: I’m the last person to opt for porridge for breakfast, usually within an hour of consumption I’m starving, but breakfast was delicious! I really enjoyed it and I wasn’t immediately hungry straight after. Conscious of my limited gas reserves I let it soak in boiling water for 10 mins before reheating it, rather than simmering for 10 mins. The cinnamon is present but not overpowering, the amounts of apple and sultana were perfect, and I only needed to add half the milk and brown sugar that was supplied. I’d have licked the pot if my head had fit.
Apple Turnover with Custard: I opted to have this dessert for breakfast and I was spot on with this call - it was my favourite breakfast of the trip. Instead of simmering for the recommended 6-7 mins I brought it to the boil, turned off the gas, lid on and left the yummy apple mix to steep. Honestly it didn’t look too sustaining for a full morning of hiking so I threw in a packet of quick oats to soak up the apple juices and brought it back to bubbling to cook them. It ended up a super hearty breakfast (thanks to the oats) and extremely tasty with loads of yummy stewed apple and creamy custard.
Garlic Bean Dip: Hold me back! This dip is phenomenally good! My favourite lunch snack by far. Prep time: 2 seconds - splash a little cold water into the dip mix and smoosh into the desired consistency. The Savoy crackers are fresh and crunchy and are perfect with the dip. Easy to put together and clean up, AND super yummy on top! The texture is like hummus with a peppery bite.
Hummus Dip with Savoys: Seriously Outdoor Gear and Gourmet, these dips are AMAZING! The hummus is perfection - a spot on balance between chickpeas, tahini and garlic with a hint of lemon juice. Plus they’ve got the dip-to-cracker ratio down perfectly. Only 93 grams it only needs a small amount of cold water and the flavour... soooooo good!
Cheese Tortellini with Puttanesca sauce: This meal is more of a mouthful than its name. Ten mins of cooking time and by golly it smells good! I loved the rich tomato sauce, the mushrooms have the right texture and consistency, the olives have a nice chomp while the capers are delicate and subtle. The sauce to pasta ratio is spot on and the cheese-stuffed tortellini is delicious! My biggest complaint is that it doesn't come with a chunk of crusty bread to wipe up the sauce from the pots. This is like having a proper Italian restaurant quality meal out in the wilderness, and I’m not at all ashamed to admit I licked the pot clean.
Yet another Tassie-based camp food company, Go Tassie! Similar to 3 Capes Gear and Gourmet, clear plastic packaging and the food needs to be cooked in the pot - downside of that being that it uses more fuel and there is always a clean up.
Beef Massaman Curry. I wasn't a fan of this one. It was my first Strive meal and I had high hopes after hearing so many good reviews. In the first place It took way too long to cook and I was anxious about this gas guzzler using up 20mins of precious fuel. There was also a bit of cleaning up to do. In terms of taste I found the spices were a little imbalanced, and it needed veggies!
Chilli Con Carne: Now this is better - the chilli only took 10-12 mins of continual cooking, almost half the time to cook as the Massaman, and the flavours were more in harmony too. It needed some extra chilli of course (I think everything does, but that might just be me).
Lentil Curry Dhal: This seems to be a Strive favourite among everyone, and with good reason. There is something so hearty about a good, balanced dhal, the flavours were great. Still, it took longer than most meals to cook and was not dissimilar to a ready made supermarket dhal.
Em's Power Cookie – superfood is an understatement for these bad boys. Developed by ultramarathon runner and nutritionist Em in NZ, these cookies never fail to satisfy. When water supply is limited they make the perfect substitute for breakfast. These cookies have it all: oats, chocolate chunks, hidden healthy bits, like raisins, plus they don’t freeze and break your teeth at altitude. No need for water and no clean up, they don’t leave a funny taste in your mouth, oh and those chunks of chocolate…. Did I mention the chunks of chocolate? She does other flavours too (in order of personal favs): Choc & Cranberry, Peanut Butter Bomb, Choc Oat Explosion and Apricot Attack.
Griffin Jerky's Chipotle Adobo Beef Jerky – I think we’ve established now that I like spicy food and Sydney-based Griffin’s beef jerky does not disappoint! Real beef, dried and made super tasty right here in NSW. I am obsessed with this meaty treat. If you’re up for the challenge it's also available in fiery Srirachuan. Heat not your thing? The Classic (unspiced) is super tasty too. Gluten free, but safe to say it's not vegan friendly.