By Road & Track
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By Road & Track

Trail food: a never-ending quest

The search for lightweight, compact trail foods leads us to the Patagonia store.

I turn the package over to look for the ingredients, expecting the usual unmemorable, numeric and sometimes suspicious sounding ingredients. All I find is toasted buckwheat, cracked barley, rolled oats, freeze dried banana, nonfat dried milk, flax seeds, vanilla powder, ground rice hulls, sunflower oil (all of these organic) plus salt. Unlike many of the ingredients of supermarket foods, I can pronounce them all and I can also recognise them as food. No sweetners are added, the package suggests adding your own preference. My partner, Fi, adds maple syrup. She also adds other grains such as pepito and sliced fresh banana.

Cooking takes a minute at the boil followed by a nine minute maturing. Taste? Wholesome, if that qualifies as a taste. I’m cooking up a packet of Patagonia’s Breakfast Grains foods.

The search continues

We were continuing our years-long search for lightweight and compact trail foods. This time, breakfasts.

Lightweight are the freeze dried breakfast packets by manufacturers like New Zealand’s Back Country Cuisine. The company’s breakfast offering sells for almost $12 in Australia’s Paddy Pallin stores. That’s starts to add up the dollars when you add in your lunches and evening meals for a multiday walk. I’ve never tried that company or any other company’s breakfast foods, preferring to make my own.

We’ve tried a number of different foods to start a day on the trail. Rolled oats with a few sultanas thrown in and moistened with reconstituted powdered milk has done us when we’ve wanted something warm. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Muesli? You can’t beat it

For those days when we want something fast, filling and nutritious with enough carbohydrate to sustain us along the track, we always come back to muesli. It is simple and capable of innumerable adaptations. Try making and packaging it into daily serves at home. Take a handful of the quantity you like to eat. Work out how much powdered milk to add to give it the milkiness you prefer. Add some dried fruit like sultanas. Put it into a reusable plastic bag. All you need do on the trail is add water, warmed if you prefer, to reconstitute the powdered milk, and there is your breakfast.

Breakfast Bakes. Trail food for breakfasts.

An alternative trail breakfast is oatcake. By that I mean what Australian supermarkets sell as Uncle Toby’s Oats Breakfast Bakes. They come in a box of four, packaged in separate 65g bags of around 1100kJ in energy density and carrying a Health Star rating of four out of five. The packaging claims each packet contains the same amount as a bowl of porrige. I find that to be right. They come in plain oat flavour as well as peanut butter, apple and cinnamon and honey and almond. You can break up a package and reconstitute it in a bowl by adding milk powder and warm water. For those early starts with many kilometres ahead of you when you want to get out on the trail at break of day and can’t be bothered with breakfast, you can eat your Breakfast Bake on the go. They also make a carbohydrate-rich snack food, a much cheaper alternative to snack bars.

A different breakfast to start the day

We discovered something different when we walked into the Patagonia store. The company produces a range of breakfast and main meals sold under the Patagonia Provisions label. We’ve tried a few of their main meals and find them adequate in quantity and good in taste.

Like their other meals, their Breakfast Grains preparation is lightweight and compact, easy to carry in the pack. Would one packet do two of us? It makes enough for two moderate eaters but maybe not for two gluttons. I would also use it as an evening meal with other ingredients like seeds thrown in. Would I carry this stuff on an overnight bushwalk or longer as a change from our usual breakfast of muesli? Sure would.

The Patagonia product, like freeze dried foods sold in adventure equipment stores, is more expensive when compared to DIY muesli or breakfast oats. What it has going for it is the convenience of brekky for two in a single bag, easily prepared and a tasty and nutitious mix. Think of it as a way of disrupting the predictability of trail breakfasts.

The Patagonia product carries the organic certification logo of the USDA. Patagonia Provisions are the company’s attempt to introduce ecologically sourced products to the bushwalkers’ diet, products that support small farmers and fishers. They are sure to appeal to bushwalkers and others whose preference for product sustainability already orient them to Patagonia’s efforts.

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Russ Grayson

Russ Grayson

I'm an independent online and photojournalist living on the Tasmanian coast after nine months on the road in a minivan.