Bikepacking - Packing 10 days of food.
Updated: Jul 28
I took ten days worth of food with me up the Elliot and Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to Deadhorse. Here are a few thoughts and tips, as well as a list of what I took and a review of my choices.
Ideas and considerations
- A ratio of food that's easy to prepare
I always take into account the fact that I might have to prepare food without a stove. For all sorts of reasons: out of petrol, broken pump, stove failure, lost or forgotten. It doesn't just happen to other people.
So as not to miserably eat raw pasta on the side of the road, I make sure that I have a part of my food that can be eaten without using a stove, and therefore hot water.
In this case, couscous, oats or dehydrated mashed potatoes are some ideas. You can prepare all this with cold water. Ok, it's not crazy, it's far from appetising from here, but if you have a problem with your stove, you'll be happy to eat no matter what.
As well as having food that can be prepared without a stove, I also try to have food that doesn't need to be prepared at all, understand that doesn't require water. Peanut and almond butter, wraps, cereal bars, dried fruit, various types of nuts.
These are just a few examples, but they're a pretty good representation of what I usually pack when I have to eat for several days. It's the principle behind it that's important here: being able to do without a stove and potentially without water.
- Better quality (wholemeal)
This is already the case in everyday life with a healthier diet, but it's even more important over the long haul: the quality of the products.
So some people will say that wholemeal and other organic foods are more expensive than the average. That's not entirely true, because all you have to do is look at the contents of the products to realise that wholewheat or organic products nourish much more effectively, as well as being better overall.
So over and above the price, what this means above all is that for a similar weight and size, they nourish more and better! With a similar weight, you carry more energy.
- Weight/size/energy ratio
When space and weight count, it's a good idea to compare the ratio between the energy a food provides and its weight and bulk.
Which means that, unfortunately, the choices you make are often more technical and practical than culinary. And on top of that, you'll probably spend a good while in the supermarket comparing all the labels!
- Drinking pasta water
And yes, if you need to ration your water or if you feel you haven't had enough to drink, it can be a good idea not to drain your food and drink it all with it. This would probably startle the most gourmet among you, but it's far from the case when you're lost in central Australia or northern Alaska.
When I have to drain something that's supposed to taste good, I drain it into a separate cup and drink it like soup. It keeps you hydrated and allows you to recover some of the sodium from the sauces, powders and other condiments used in preparation.
- Cook more, pack a lunchbox for the next day
I always try to cook more than I intend to eat, for two reasons. I might still be hungry, so I can keep eating if I need to. And if by magic there's some left over, I keep it preciously in a lunchbox for the next day. It makes a perfect 10am snack or potentially lunch too.
In any case, it avoids having to take everything out, use up fuel or, above all, be frightened by all the logistics, tiredness helping, and putting off eating until later when your body obviously needs all that..
- Fuel and organisation
Being able to cook food quickly, even without a stove, means you don't have to worry too much about fuel.
Because even if petrol is easy to find everywhere, in desert areas you'll probably be relying on the one and only bottle you have.
In the morning I try to be efficient and boil water only once, for oats and for coffee. This avoids having to turn on the stove, which means pre-heating and therefore wasting fuel.
You can also build a small case in insulating material for your cooking pot, which will keep the heat in efficiently. Once the water has been boiled, simply leave it to cook without a fire. It takes longer, and for some foods you may eat a little more raw than you intended, but it can make a bottle of gas, alcohol or petrol last three times as long.
- Read the ingredients carefully
Don't rely on the often flashy packaging, but take the time to compare the products and their composition. You may be surprised to find that more expensive, more serious-looking brands have less interesting ingredients than low-priced products, since the whole package is stated on the packaging.
- Speed and pre-soaking
When choosing food, you have to take into account not only energy, but also the speed of cooking. I'd like to eat quinoa more often, but as well as being expensive, it also takes a lot of time.
However, a lot of things can be soaked in advance. Rice, quinoa, seeds... In a Nalgene, for example, or even in a jar of recycled peanut butter in an airtight tin! Not only does this allow you to store it and the water you need to cook it, it also firms up the food so you can cook it faster in the evening.
- Adapting to conditions and location
There are places where you can't linger too long. In this case, here on the Dalton Highway, there's a section that's quite chaotic with mosquitoes. But on top of that, you can't eat in a tent. Which means you'll be locked out...
In such cases, you have to imagine what life would be like outside when you have to eat. If you have to deal with flies, mosquitoes or other sandflies, you're going to want to reduce the amount of time you spend immobile, and therefore potentially not want to cook or even stop. Having a meal that requires no cooking and/or little preparation means you can get on with things quickly and easily, so you don't have to waste your energy and patience fighting an army of mosquitoes. A quick morning wrap with banana and peanut butter can be wrapped up and eaten easily on the move.
If you're in an area where there are bears, you won't be eating in your tent, so you'll probably be eating outside, with mosquitoes. In this case too, you want to reduce the time spent outside the tent. Efficiency, speed and simplicity will spare you the mental exhaustion that should not be underestimated.
One of the major factors in the choice of food is ease of storage. Preservation over time, but also storage on the bike. An apple, for example, is much more resistant than a banana in both the short and long term. Anything that contains liquid or sauce threatens to spill into the luggage at any moment.
Anything that can be easily damaged by water, damp or rubbing should also be carefully packed in a stronger, airtight container.
- Lunch box before you leave
To avoid having to cook on the first day, and to cook something more complex, I make myself a nice dish of vegetables and tofu before I leave, which I put in my container and use during the day to make wraps.
No need to cook, a slightly more tempting menu, and more varied products.
Calories are really just a unit of measurement for energy. And they come from three sources: carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
Carbohydrates: 1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories
Protein: 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
Fat: 1 gram of fat = 9 calories
So there are more calories in fat sources, and fat sources can be very good for your health. So the idea is that it's better to get your calories from 'good fat'.
Since carbohydrates are ultimately just sugar, in a complex form either, diets that find their calorie intake in fat sources are probably the best solution.
Examples include avocado, olive oil, cashew nuts and peanut butter.
However, it's a much more expensive diet, which is important for the long-haul traveller on a tight budget that I am. So carbohydrates are unfortunately favoured for economic reasons; it's fairly easy and inexpensive to find the calorie intake in a carbohydrate diet.
But there are consequences, because basically it makes the body work with a form of sugar. But that's another story, the subject of nutrition is as dense as it is fascinating.
- Sugar, sodium and bad fats
While these elements attract my attention on a daily basis to avoid consuming too much of them, I'm a little less careful when I'm cycling, and even more so when I'm on long, intense sections.
It's bad no matter what, but the body will burn it all up quickly in the effort. What's more, you need sugar and sodium to keep going and to keep your electrolyte balance afloat.
By the way, electrolytes. You can make your own, simply by making a little potion from sugar and salt. Store-bought ones are much more complex and dense, but can be just as expensive. So a little sugar and salt in water will do the trick, even if it's not perfect.
Having a balanced diet alongside helps with mineral management too. And a few electrolyte tablets every day or two will help compensate for losses through perspiration.
- Enjoyment !
I think the most important thing is to enjoy yourself. Taking and eating food that we don't like can lead us to stop bothering to eat, to judge the process as too long for what it brings. Eating well and enjoying yourself at the same time means that you naturally recover the energy you need to move forward, which is a double advantage.
You can have the healthiest meals in the world in your bags, but if you don't feel like eating them at all and end up eating less, that's not going to help anything.
- Lack of calories
Eating less than you need, not taking the time to do so or eating too few calories can have a major impact on your experience.
The body can struggle to function. It's hard for you to move forward, but it's also hard for your body to function properly. This can affect your morale, to the point where you become obsessed with the idea of eating more and better, to the point of devaluing everything around you. But it can also impair cognitive functions through exhaustion, and can lead to mistakes that seemed improbable under normal circumstances.
If you feel hungry or thirsty, eat and drink. If your body sends a signal, the withdrawal process is already underway.
- Soy sauce
This is my little secret for adding a little flavour to anything and everything. With so much food to take on board, chances are it won't be great food every day. A little soya goes a long way, and for a small price. It's easy to attach a small bottle somewhere on the frame and use it whenever you want. What's more, it allows you to find a source of sodium to recover what you sweat out.
- Olive oil
It's always a good idea to have a little with you, because as well as adding flavour, it's a good source of fat and therefore energy.
With a bit of organisation, and especially if you have access to them, you can find vegetable protein powders that are good to add to your food for a supplement.
In the United States, you can even find dehydrated peanut butter. It also works for fat, if you can find coconut milk powder.
Sources of fat and protein that are easy to use and take with you.
- Special diets
Being vegetarian or vegan shouldn't be a problem in itself, it's an organisation like any other. If you're a vegetarian or vegan, it's already your daily mission anyway, so multiply the daily task by the number of days.
However, you may have to make concessions in order to get a bit of variety or to access food on the road. Let me explain.
If you take so much food, it's because there is little or no opportunity to shop on the road. However, there's often a little shop in the middle of nowhere selling food that's specific to these places. Meat, ready-made meals or anything else that is far from healthy and ideal. It's up to you whether you want to make the concession and eat a bit of what you find there.
For variety, I also take vegetarian menus that contain little milk or eggs. If meat and fish are out of the question for me, I turn a blind eye to products that contain just a few % dairy products, and even a little cheese if it's the only thing available at the roadside and I really want it.
Once again, pleasure is important, and if I have convictions, I don't want to live in frustration. So I sometimes eat foods with dairy products or eggs in them, but I do it consciously. It's up to each person to decide according to their own perception of the issue..
- Don't expect too much from outside
Sometimes it's better to take a little extra with you just to be on the safe side, rather than relying on a potential grocery shop that might be open in the distance. There are all sorts of reasons why small grocery shops at the end of the world might be closed, so a little extra food goes a long way towards avoiding the inconvenience, or at least waiting for them to open the next day or for a car to stop and offer you a packet of pasta.
- Plan for the unexpected
You can plan for the unexpected. Being stuck in a tent for a day, making slower progress than expected or being blocked at a border are all unforeseen events, but they can be planned for in advance. That's why I always try to have enough to eat for another day. You can easily survive a day without food, but I know far too well the consequences without my mood to take the risk!
- Pack everything neatly
You'll probably have to re-pack everything to reduce space, make it waterproof and limit odour dispersion if you're in Bear country.
You can also take the trouble to divide everything up neatly by meal and day, and why not spice everything up in advance. That way, you won't have to think twice when you're tired and hungry in the evening. However, this requires a lot of work upstream, and potentially a lot of zip-lock bags that you'll have to buy and, above all, try to reuse/recycle.
- Waste management
Another reason why I get rid of as much basic packaging as possible and try to store everything neatly in zipped bags is waste management. If you have to take so much food, it's because there aren't many facilities, and therefore not many bins. The less waste you have, the less you have to manage and store.
The advantage of storing everything in small zipped bags is that you can easily reuse them on the road, which is not the case with individual bags and packaging.
And of course, thinking about packaging when you buy helps to reduce packaging consumption altogether, which is a good thing as well as being practical.
- Instant noodles
Despite all the bad things you may think about them, the ratio between energy, price and weight is pretty good! They're often poor quality noodles, and for several days they quickly become cumbersome. I do find something comforting about them though. Maybe it's the soup aspect, which is good in the evening, as well as hydrating!
However, they're far too bulky to take with you over the long term.
- Dehydrated purée and couscous
These two items are rather interesting in that they can be cooked with just cold water, are inexpensive and fairly easy to find and transport. On the other hand, the calories are fairly meagre, and if you're short of storage space, this probably won't be a good solution.
The ultimate solution. If you're lucky enough to have access to a dehydrator before setting off on a long journey, go for it. It takes time and investment, but it's wonderful. A whole host of doors will open up to you, and will make your dinners and snacks a whole lot more interesting!
What I took: Here is the list of the things I took onboard.
- 500ml olive oil
- 25 packets of 43g pre-spiced oats
- 300g snacks (buffalo pretzels!)
- 3 bananas
- 4 avocados
- 2x450g peanut butter
- 25 wholemeal wraps
- 8 small carbohydrate-free wraps
- 2x170g dried cranberries
- 1 chocolate bar 85%
- 2x1kg dried fruit mix
- 33 various cereal bars
- 14 packets dehydrated pasta/rice
- 2 sachets of pre-cooked rice
- 300g peanut butter powder
- 300g dried mango
- 1 box filled with vegetables/rice/beans for the first two meals!
Retour et notes pour moi même : - First of all, it wasn't much left at the end ! - It's hard to swallow so much olive oil! Even though it's a superb source of energy, I struggled to consume half my bottle of olive oil. It's not my basic preference, especially not in large quantities. I forced myself a bit, conscious of what I was swallowing and the good it was doing me.
- It's hard to eat as much as you need. And yes, in reality, the calorie calculations work if you manage to eat everything throughout the journey. But between theory and practice, there are plenty of reasons why you won't eat as much as you need.
- Between the logistics with the bears and especially the mosquitoes, it's hard to take the time to eat, to stop regularly and to take the time to consume what you should in terms of calories.
- It's hard to eat what doesn't appeal to you. You're stuck with resources for ten days, but your mood and cravings fluctuate. Yet you've only got what you're carrying, and the contents of your panniers have been chosen according to a rational mix of practicality, weight, price and calories. It's not necessarily what you want at the moment, but you have to eat, so you have to force yourself a little.
You really need to eat things that give you pleasure, and not just eat because you have to. - The best food is the kind you enjoy preparing and eating, the kind that makes you want to stop. You can carry around what is rationally best for your body, both generally and in terms of effort, but if you don't enjoy it, and therefore resign yourself to not eating, it won't work. You have to find the right balance between not eating bad food and enjoying eating.
- The menu is not entirely vegan, for various reasons. First of all, good-quality, dehydrated, calorific vegan food is hard to come by. It's also quite rare and expensive. So in terms of quantity, that's quite a budget.
It's hard to find, the variety isn't extraordinary either, and to get a bit of variety, you'll often have to dip into low-dairy meals. Once again, unless you have the budget for it.
- I took two packets of pre-cooked rice with me. It's a bit of a change and quick to heat up. But the ratio of calories to weight is pretty poor. Because it's pre-cooked, it contains water, so it weighs a lot more and takes up more space. What's more, it requires a bit more organisation when it comes to storage, as it's not as sun- and temperature-resistant as dry food.
- It's very easy to eat cereal bars. It's good, it's full of calories, fibre and protein, and it eats itself. You can eat them with one hand, on the go and without any preparation. However, they often create a lot of plastic waste and are often too sweet.
- Electrolyte tablets are good for recovering in the evening what you've lost during the day and bringing everything back into balance. On top of that, it's a change from river water, which sometimes has a taste. It's sweet, and often flavoured, so it makes you want to finish your bottle, so it's easier to drink a litre in the evening and hydrate before going to bed.
- Caffeine-free tea is also a good way to drink something other than water in the evening, and above all to stay hydrated.
- The little pleasures really shouldn't be neglected. Even if it's not vegan and not necessary, a few small M&Ms in the evening bring a little comfort. It's amazing how little things can help us to go on to do big things.
- Not surprisingly, I brought a lot of oats. I didn't eat as much as I'd planned because I can't eat large quantities. But it was also a safety feature, as it meant we could have a bit of food in reserve just in case, which can be done quickly and with just a little cold water.
- If possible, try out what you're going to eat before you leave, especially as sometimes you buy in bulk, and it would be silly to throw it away because it's not suitable.
This is particularly the case with meals that say they can be prepared in 7 minutes but end up taking almost 45 minutes, all with a terrible taste.
If you guys have any questions, hit me up, I'll happily help out and answer. And if that's been any interesting of helping, please consider helping me out as well ! You'll find how to in the About section of this website. Thanks heaps !