We're off to the Atacama and Patagonia next week, and I have no idea what on earth I am going to feed Esme, so thought it would be a good time to put together what I do know about wild camping food to refresh my memory and hopefully inspire me to be able to add a ten month baby into the mix!
If you can bring all your food with you, and it's just for adults, I find food packing for a big trip pretty easy. We basically eat oats, seeds and raisins every day (with cold milk) for breakfast, oatcakes and cheese for lunch, and a pouch of food for dinner, like risotto, couscous, supernoodles (surprisingly tasty when you're really hungry, hooray for sat fats!). Jamie Olivier does a few good stews in pouches too. None of these are calorific enough to keep you going, so we also pack a lot of snacks - oat biscuits, cereal bars, nuts, granola - anything that boosts the calories a bit, and isn't too unhealthy, and that doesn't go off.
We've packed for 10 days cross country skiing in Norway where we needed to carry all of our food with us. Calories per gram of food becomes key when you have to carry it all, so shortbread will be your friend, and there's no way you can afford the space and weight that vegetables take up, so your health needs to take a back seat for the duration of the trip! In general, carbs are a multiplier of about 4 (eg 100 grams will give you 400 calories). Nuts, oils and chocolate are closer to 8, but there's only so much of that you can eat before you don't feel too good! Any thing less than a 3 really isn't worth carrying! The more the food is dried the better, as you can usually pick up more water to re-hydrate the food, rather than carrying the water in the food for the duration of the trip.
Most of our trips are vehicle based, so we can carry a bit more, and try to eat a bit more healthily - raw carrots are brilliant as they don't spoil quickly, don't need cooked, and are quite tasty and refreshing when you have been eating too many biscuits! On our usual trips, we are able to top up with fresh ingredients as we go like milk and cheese, but for places like Iceland's interior, Mongolia, and I assume, the Atacama, supplies can be very limited, so you will want to be self-sufficient as possible.
If you can't get regular fresh supplies, milk powder is a fine substitute, just mix it through the oats before adding water for no lumps. Coffee is best enjoyed black unless you can figure out a way of getting rid of the milk powder lumps - I can't! Most cheese will last for a good few days as long as you keep it out of the sun. Even when you can easily pick food up, and have a vehicle for it, storage space, especially cold space is usually very limited, and you don't want to spend half your trip trying to decide what to have to eat that day, so we find it's best to keep things simple, and you can always pick up more exciting culinary treats along the way! And just as the best value hotel night you will ever spend is following a stint of wild camping, the best meals out you will eat will be straight after a stretch of wild camping eating, so when the opportunity arises, eat out, it will taste fabulous!
Adding a baby into the mix makes things a little more complicated - most of the camping food we eat is too salty for her. Oats are fine for breakfast, and that what she's used to at home any way. I'm hoping to be able to pick up lentils, tins of tomatoes and tins of vegetables, and make her up a stew that will keep for a few days at a time in the little fridge/cool box we have in the camper. We also normally give her a little bit of what we are eating for dinner or lunch so we can all enjoy a family meal together, but oatcakes are a bit tricky without teeth! And there is little enough to go around of the pouches never mind splitting three ways! And these probably won't be available when we get there, so we'll have to bring them with us. If we go for three pouches per dinner for five weeks, that's 105 pouches, plus 21 boxes of oatcakes - we couldn't fit in any clothes! This is the longest trip we've been on (just over 5 weeks) and we've never had to pack so much (bumbo, backpack carrier, travel cot), so bringing all of our food just isn't an option.
So the plan is - some pouches of baby food from home to keep us going through airports and travelling until we get to a supermarket to stock up the camper van. We'll then buy as much non-perishable food as we need to do us for three weeks in the Atacama, and then do a similar stock up for second leg of our trip when we get to Patagonia and pick up our next camper van.
My planned shopping list is:
Tins of tomatoes
Tins of vegetables
Sharp knife and vegetable peeler
Flavourings (Garlic powder, Onion powder, Black pepper, Cumin, Coriander, Tumeric)
Oats, Raisins, Seeds & milk (UHT or powdered)
Cereal bars, crisps, nuts, biscuits (for the adults)
Yoghurt (stays fresh for 2-3 weeks unopened in fridge)
Eggs (stay fresh uncooked for 3 weeks in fridge)
This will hopefully allow for enough variation that we don't all completely sicken ourselves of the food we have brought, a lesson we learnt the hard way when we brought nothing but couscous for 10 days to Norway on our cross country skiing trip - it's taken literally years before we have been able to stomach it again!
I'm not sure that we'll be able to get all of these things where we are going, but from shopping in Mongolia, Jordan and Iceland, I've found that you can generally get something close enough to keep you going. One thing is for sure, they have babies in South America, so I'm sure we'll figure it out, and no-one will go hungry!