TGOC2014 – Food planning

I’ve been thinking about the food I’ll need on this year’s TGO Challenge.  I don’t have many resupply options (or pubs!) this time, so I need to carefully plan what to carry and make sure I have a contingency for if a shop is shut or closed down or has been stripped bare by a plague of Challenge locusts.

There is a perpetual Challenge debate about food parcels.  Some people like to plan weeks ahead and send parcels of their favourite (or diet dependent) food to one of their stopovers.  I can see the attraction of taking some of the lottery out of resupplying but it’s not something I want to do.  For me, this takes away some of the “self-supported” nature of the Challenge and I prefer to make use of whatever shops, pubs and cafes I can find along the way.   However, I do try to reduce the risk of missed meals by finding out – before I leave home – where I can find reliable resupply points.

Having had a stove fail a couple of years ago, I make sure I always have some food with me that does not need cooking.  And I always carry some water – usually less than half a litre, but just enough to survive the night if there’s a problem with the local water supply.

My desire for food is unpredictable after a couple of days on the Challenge.  Sometimes I am ravenous eg Invergarry 2012.  At other times, like Red Bothy a few days later, I don’t want to eat at all.  I know that I have to eat and I find that having a routine helps to ensure I don’t skip meals because of tiredness.

On my wild-camping days, breakfast will be porridge and prunes.  On my first Challenge, in 2006, I took ziplock bags of muesli with dried milk.  I added water to the bag and ate my breakfast from the bag.  It was OK at the time, but the thought makes me a bit queasy now.  I have tried Stoats Porridge Bars which are nice but heavier than the equivalent oats would be.  For the last couple of years I have been using Oat So Simple sachets, either plain or Golden Syrup flavoured.  I used to add raisins but last year I added prunes and they made it more of a meal, but the sachets are small (27g) and I don’t think it’s a big enough meal to give me a good start to the day.  The instant porridge market is HUGE and I know that there are different brands which have bigger portions but this year I have decided to do something radical and do away with the pre-packaged, overpriced convenience of instant porridge.  This year I will take actual proper oats and make my own porridge.

I don’t mind porridge made just with water but, for extra calories, I shall be adding some dried milk.  I have finally been able to track down some Nido full cream milk powder.  I had to email Tesco to find the nearest store that sold it [Toxteth, if you fancy a trip] as I think it’s only available in their World Food section and my local shop doesn’t sell it.

Nido has 503kcal per 100g of powder whereas Marvel, being a skimmed milk, has only 348.  Not a whopping difference but it will add a few calories to my porridge and coffee.  I’m not sure I’ll like it in my tea but I’ll try it out before I set off.

Dinner will be packet pasta ‘n’ sauce.  I used to alternate between pasta and rice, but rice takes twice as long to cook.  To save on gas I prefer to boil up the pasta then put it in my pot cosy for ten minutes.  I find that rice then needs to be brought back to the boil and I a) don’t want to waste gas, and b) can’t be bothered so I’ll stick with pasta.  Or couscous, but I sometimes find a whole (“serves 1 as a main course or two as a snack”) packet of couscous a bit overwhelming . . . although one of the nicest Challenge meals I ever had was a freebie packet of couscous donated by someone who’d had to withdraw at Fort Augustus.  Ah, the joy of free grub!

Last year, after buying a Best Before loaf for 15p in the Co-op, I augmented my cheesy pasta with a couple of rounds of white bread all mushed up in the sauce.  Sounds disgusting?  Well it was delicious and made me realise that I need more food.  I’m not sure where the balance lies between a numerical calorific value and the physical “fullness” of a big meal.  Would adding calories to my pasta, eg through milk powder or cheese, make me fuller?

Lunch will be oatcakes, or – more likely – other crackers, with a hard cheese.  You can now buy various types of biscuits-for-cheese in individual portions which is handy as I seem to have become pathologically averse to oatcakes.  I used to love them, but familiarity has bred contempt and the thought of having to eat the blooming things every day does not appeal to me.   The same goes for the cheese.  Whereas Primula used to be perfectly nice enough, I now can’t bear the stuff.  I now start off with a block of rucksack-friendly Leerdammer and then buy whatever sliced cheese I can find.  No, I would not buy pre-sliced cheese at home but, hey, I’m on my holidays and it does makes things easier.

Snacks will be dried fruit, salted peanuts and maybe Garibaldi biscuits or fig rolls.  I’ll probably take some Macademia nuts too, as they seem to have one of the highest calorific values amongst nuts.

All of the meals above are what I would plan to eat based on a balanced ratio of weight to calories to volume in rucksack to tastiness.  However, I can’t carry 12 or 13 days food from Day 1 so I will have to decide how much I need to take with me and how much I can pick up along the way.  Packets of pasta are usually available from all grocery shops (even if I do end up having macaroni cheese every single night) so I don’t need to take more than a few days worth of that.  And if the shop doesn’t have a Veggie pasta it will probably have soup or Pot Noodles.  I’ll probably take a couple of cup-a-soups or Mug Shots as emergency rations.

I may take enough porridge for the whole trip – unless I find it’s taking up too much space in my rucksack before I leave home.  I should be able to buy cereal bars or flapjacks at my resupply points.  Lunch will be whatever I can get.  If possible I will buy bread rolls, cheese and tomatoes and make sandwiches for the next couple of days.  Hopefully I will find pubs, cafes, shops etc that I did not know about.  It is a wonderful feeling when you find an open cafe that you weren’t expecting.  In fact, most of my happiest Challenge memories revolve around food!

One thing I haven’t mentioned is pudding.  I marvel at the three course meals some Challengers rustle up.  I never plan a pudding but have found that The Glenlivet goes down nicely in the quiet hour between dinner and bed!

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24 Responses to TGOC2014 – Food planning

  1. Martin Rye says:

    Calorific dense food matters when backpacking and some interesting ideas Judith. Thanks for that and off to look at Nido. Good find.


  2. Martin Richardson says:

    Is there any way that I could be a re-supply base at Fersit?


    • Judith says:

      Thanks for the offer, Martin, but I will have been shopping at Spean Bridge – that’s assuming the Spar has what I need.
      You can certainly make me a cuppa, though!


  3. louse4 says:

    I think the biggest challenge I have found when Challenging has been food. Knowing what to take is so hard as I never fancy what I have with me, I don’t know what I will or do fancy, I know I have to eat but I can’t force myself, aaarrggh!
    This year I’m carrying/posting main meals and resupplying everything else as I go. Oh, and Squeeze and Stir, they can still be tricky to find but so useful.
    I love my food, but hate it on the Challenge, it’s so hard!


    • Judith says:

      I know what you mean, Louise. I seem to need less food as the days go by and I can’t predict what will tempt me. I think the secret is to have a range of flavours, even if they’re not balanced meals, and hope that one takes your fancy.


  4. Laura says:

    Good post! I’ve given up taking home-made meals with me – I never fancy eating them. I usually take just ingredients I can assemble in various ways. The best meal I ever had was an emergency packet of instant mashed potato with some dried cheese mixed in, made in a mug – not something I would plan to have normally – but at the time, delicious!
    For breakfast I take plain rolled oats, ready mixed with some milk powder and just add hot water and maybe some nuts or dried fruit (more often than not cranberries and macademia nuts) – it’s not exactly porridge but not bad! You can make it in a mug and that saves the washing up, not easy with cooked porridge.
    I haven’t really decided what to take this year yet. There was some dried egg advertised on Ebay a few weeks ago which might be something to try if it’s still available nearer May. I suppose I’d better start thinking about it soon!


    • Judith says:

      Dried egg? Now that’s an interesting thought. I wonder how I could use that – and does it taste nice and does it have loads of calories? I shall investigate.


  5. AlanR says:

    Hi Judith. Microwave rice is a good alternative. I especially like the Mexican because it includes veg. Its heavier because its partially reconstituted. So I am only thinking of the odd packet bought at a resupply place and using half that day and half the next. You can add this to pretty much anything as it only needs re heating. It is also nice on bread. It will keep a couple of days once opened.


    • Judith says:

      Hi Alan. The microwave rice wouldn’t be too much to carry if, as you say, it was only for a day or two and it was quick to heat up. I’m confident that there will always be something to eat wherever I end up. And I don’t want to eat too many yummy things or I won’t enjoy the feast at Montrose(!)


  6. John J says:

    I could always dehydrate some cheese & macaroni pies for you….



  7. Dawn says:

    Hi there, re Nido milk powder,if you are really stuck and cannot find any Teso,down here in that London has it. It would be no problem to get you a tin.


  8. Martin B says:

    Crumbs, this is all very technical. Won’t the microwave be a bit heavy to carry? Surely you’ve got room for some Marmite – you’ll find it dissolves beautifully in The Glenlivet to provide a warming nightcap.


  9. Phil Cook says:

    Portion control on couscous is something I used to struggle with. I have it just about sussed now with my DIY mix of herbs and stock cubes and know how much water to boil up and how much grain to add. I have it in two day pots which which used to have 500 ml of Co-op ice cream in them (no longer made though) which will nest when empty.

    I have thought about getting a vac-pac machine which would enable me to pack it in single portions and would take up less room. You could also do yummy sauces in a sous-vide stylee.


    • Judith says:

      Portion control is one reason I have tended to use pre-packaged food.  The whole packet = one portion.  However, I don’t think some packets are big enough, eg Oat So Simple, so this year I will be measuring out more appropriate portions before I leave home. Yes, it will weigh more but a couple of hundred extra grammes isn’t a huge amount….. and it will get less every day.


  10. Hi Judith

    I keep banging on about it in blogs and things…..Carnation Condensed milk which you can buy in a tube. It’s my luxury item, being rather heavier than dried milk, but it is so yummy and must have loads of calories. And you can slurp it out of the tube for a quick energy boost or just for comfort when the going is tough!

    I’ve just ordered my food for May – I do take the expensive commercial freeze dried stuff, simply for the easy of cooking ie just add hot water.

    David (


    • Judith says:

      Yes, David, I’ve seen you going on about Connie Onnie in a tube….. and I think it’s horrid! I took it on one TGOC and found it was far too sweet for me. I carried it across Scotland and chucked a nearly full tube into the bin in Montrose. I keep looking to see if Carnation are making a half-as-sweet version but I suppose people expect it to be sweet so that’s the way it will stay. I’ve been looking at the commercial dried food too as it’s so simple to make – ie just add water and let it stand. Some of the Mountaintrails veggie meals look tasty so I might treat myself.


  11. Stef says:

    Really interesting post. To add my own tuppence worth, I’ve found that Eccles cakes are a brilliant snack food, sort of like mince pies with flaky buttery pastry. Not sure calorie-wise but I bet it’s loads. I also read an interesting idea for lunch on the Section Hiker blog and also comes up in Keith Foskett’s book about his PCT trip and that’s using tortilla wraps (e.g. part of Old El Paso meal kits) rather than crackers or other biscuits. Unopened they keep for ages, don’t get crushed/broken in your bag and are less fiddly/breakable than oatcakes. You can spread anything you like on them (Keith Foskett talks about peanut butter and Nutella amongst other things). I haven’t tried tortillas myself yet but fully intend to next time I’m out.

    All the best with your preparations and the walk,


    • Judith says:

      Hi Steph. I haven’t tried tortillas but it sounds like they’d be good. I’ve occasionally had Staffordshire Oatcakes which are more like a flat pancake than a Scottish Oatcake. I’ll look out for those Old El Paso kits; I’ve seen them in shops but never considered them for camping/walking.


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