Is Specialist Camping Food Worth The Money?

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If you’re out for a wild camp in your usual UK conditions, over a few days then do you really need to be spending top dollar for specialist camping food? We take a look at the alternatives to the expensive specialist camping food that you can pick up in your local supermarket and don’t involve any more preparation at home than packing them. You could also produce your own dehydrated food with a dehydrator cheaply and is as good or bad as your cooking, but that’s another story.

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Why do we need specialist camping food in the first place seems a good place to start. Personally, I find that the dehydrated meals are exceptionally light, simple and convenient. For any trip I just pack a main meal and, if I’m splashing out, a pudding for each evening. Lunch is a second meal, while I’ve even been known to have a dehydrated breakfast while I’m at it. That’s four in a day, adding up to somewhere between £20 and £25. To save a bit of weight and avoid the washing up, that’s steep.

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So can we find something that’s cheaper as well as reasonably light and easy to prepare? If it also tastes good then that’s a bonus! It should also be found in the ‘ambient’ section of the supermarket. Nothing to do with Brian Eno, though I could imagine his next album being called Music for Supermarkets, but just food that does not spoil when not refrigerated. That generally limits us to dried, tinned or pouches of food that’s practical to carry in a rucksack.

Breakfast.

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Mountain House scrambled egg with bacon and crispy potato is a wild camping luxury, but it’s an expensive luxury. About the most convenient budget breakfast we can find is the Oat So simple in a pot – around a £1 a shot. However, they’ve recently launched a new version without a pot, which is cheaper, as light as you get and doesn’t take up a lot of pack space. You do need to wash up, but that’s no real issue.

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Our verdict? We do however, love the all day breakfasts from Wayfarer. You can get similar in a can, but we do draw the line at carrying a can unless it’s a last resort. At £4 a pop, they’re not cheap and nether are they light. But they beat porridge any day, so the specialists Foods get this round… We’d much prefer a proper cooked breakfast, but that’s something for the Luxury Wild Glamping trips only!

For more ideas – see the No Nonsense Wild Camping Breakfast.

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Lunches.

Simply skip the meal and take oatcakes and primula.

Other options include a thick soup, which come in too many different varieties to mention, along with either a slab of bread on really short trips, or long life bread (like the Bridgeford) and rye bread on longer trips. You can also seal leaks in dry bags with the rye bread if needed.

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Our verdict? We’re somewhat mixed here. Oatcakes, Primula and soup are fine, but I know I’d much prefer a hot lunch.

Main Meals.

You’ll struggle to find anything as light as a dehydrated meal, but half the problem is easy to solve. You can bring dehydrated carbs, from rice to pasta to Smash instant potato onto the mountain quite easily. Egg noodles are a personal favourite as they come in portion controlled ‘slices’ as well as cooking rapidly, even by soaking in boiling water.

You can even cook the rice in a bag, and wrap it in foil to keep it warm while cooking the main. Or you can put your pasta in a mug? Pricewise, we don’t think you can get any cheaper than 20p noodles from Tesco (or similar) which pack in over 250 calories for 60g in pack weight. Not haute cuisine, but cheap and cheerful.

The main is a bit more tricky. You can go a bit retro with a small tin of corned beef making a hearty meal with Smash, involving little more than adding water to the potato mix and eating.

Dolmio do some bolognase pouches and mini meatballs that are OK, if nothing special, but could be spiced up with some chilli or herbs to make them more palatable. You may also need a couple if you’ve got the slightest appetite.

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We won’t deny that our personal favourites are the Look What We Found pouches. They’re cheap at just over £2, reasonably convenient and have the added bonus of being tastier than most prepacked meals. While there’s a wide range to choose from, our favourites have to be the Chicken Tikka and the meatballs. They’re obviously heavier than a dehydrated meal, but you can bulk them out with rice and pasta which you never get enough of in dehydrated meals.

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There’s a load of other dried options, though they’re mainly snacks, with the exceptions being the pasta and sauce type meals and what fuelled me through uni.

Pasta and sauce isn’t a personal favourite. It starts off OK, but the appeal soon wears off about half way through. By the end of it, I’m struggling to get it into my mouth. Other than that, it’s about as light and cheap a meal option as you’ll find. Just beware that they may require milk and butter to taste (or in other words in order to be palatable).

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Beanfeast is likewise not to everyone’s taste, but the Bolognese variety does make a passable mountain meal considering the price. Add a bit of parmesan, and a lot of imagination, and you might think you’re eating proper food. They used to do a Minced Beef version that is currently our camping food holy grail as it provided the perfect base for a meal. We just can’t source this anywhere any more!!

Our verdict? We’d go for a Look What We Found pouch over any dehydrated meal we’ve tested! You can also bulk it out with more rice or pasta as many dehydrated meals don’t seem to come with enough of it for my tastes. Even better is a home prepared meal, such as a curry, that’ll beat any store bought meal hands down, or some fresh ravioli or tortellini, Though this is only practical for one night!! However, if you’re travelling for anything more than two nights then you’ll need the dehydrated meals!

Pudding.

We did a run-down of the best no-nonsense wild camping puddings here.

None of these however, come close to besting the Chocolate mousse from Trek’n Eat. They also do a vanilla rice pudding which was much tastier than the recicpe we tried ourselves, but which could probably be improved with a bit more cream and some vanilla.

So the pudding has to go to the dehydrated pouches.

However, keep your eyes peeled as we will be trying out a new supermarket based recipe soon!

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So we think there are still some times where store bought food just doesn’t cut it on the mountain. The Wayfarer’s all day breakfast, unless you want to carry tins on the mountain is a justifiable luxury, which you could take for the first morning of a trip and have porridge on the second. Likewise for puddings, there’s nothing that’s as convenient, light and tasty as the pouches by Trek ‘n Eat But for weekend trips, where you can carry a bit more weight, you can easily get away without specialist food.

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In reality you’ll end up taking a mix of both, especially for long weekends. Enjoy a wet meal on the first night (a home prepared meal being our favourite option) and a pouch breakfast for the first morning. You can then have dehydrated meals for the second night and perhaps some oats so simple for the next. In that way, you’re carrying the heaviest food for as little time as possible. We’d take that logic on any trip, with proper food for the first night and dehydrated for the rest of the trip.

Of course, if you’re passing through any towns and villages then they lightest food is that which you buy on the way!

Dave Roberts

Dave Roberts founded Walk Eryri in 2004, with the aim of providing routes that are off the beaten track. Walk Eryri is now part of Mud and Routes which continues to provide more off beat routes and walks in Snowdonia and beyond. Dave has been exploring the hills of Eryri for over thirty years, and is a qualified Mountain Leader.
Dave also established Walk up Snowdon, Walk up Scafell Pike and Walk up Ben Nevis just to mention a few.

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