Food hacks for hikes – snack notes from the Otter Trail

Posted by Matt Sterne on 2 June 2021

Sometimes it feels like we hike just so we can eat. That might sound silly, but I notice it every hike I go on. Food takes up about half of the conversation. We’re either talking about what we ate, or what we’re going to eat and – the favourite – what we’ll eat when we get back to civilisation. Burgers and pizzas are always the top choices for an end-of-trail reward. Other topics of conversation: ‘Do you think we’re almost there?’ That’s about 10%. Admiring the beauty we’re in… about 25%. Complaining about your backpack, fart jokes and dreaming about how the world ought to be all come in around 5% each. Don’t act like your friends are any different. We all become basic neanderthals in the mountains. Hungry neanderthals.

I recently completed the Otter Trail with friends. We shared cooking duties. Otter Trail MasterChef was a hit. It helped us carry less, eat better and gave us the satisfaction of watching our friends work while we rested, three out of four nights. Team Dahlicious definitely won. Anyway, these were some of the tricks that helped us along the way.

There are worse places to have a morning coffee. Credit: Matthew Sterne

Coffee
This really depends on the type of coffee drinker you are. If you’re not too fussy, the sachets you can find in any supermarket will work well enough. Aeropresses and Bialettis can be used for the connoisseurs. Ella, a shake-and-add-hot-water drink makes a decent frothy cappuccino, although their weight will add up on a longer hike.
Top tip: Take sachets of hot chocolate to drink at night. They’re light and delicious.

Breakfast
Oats are the popular choice. They’re light, filling and pretty tasty. Some like to add honey, peanut butter or sprinkle nuts into their oats. Henri, a man often with his own plan, would mix a sachet of coffee with his oats every morning. Two birds, one bowl kinda thing. He loved it, but no one else was even tempted to taste it.
Top tip: Get the mixed pack of oats so every day you can try a different flavour. And don’t be afraid to throw in some leftover trail mix onto your oats.

The stretches help to make space for the Jolly Jammers. Credit: Matthew Sterne

Mid-morning snack
Dried fruit, breakfast bars, biltong, nuts, honey-coated almonds. No sweets, keep those for later in the day. I always find that by the end of a five-day hike you end up snacking on so many sweets all you want is something salty or savoury.
Top tip: Mango pieces are my favourite here, although home-made date balls are in a league of their own. And dried ginger pieces were a revelation for us on the hike.

Lunch
Tuna sachets are a popular choice. Although I think Seaspiracy may have given people second thoughts. I like to have wraps. You can have peanut butter and honey wraps or combine cheese wedges (Laughing Cow or Melrose) with a salami or chorizo. Quick, easy and tasty.
Top tip: We had an ‘oodles of noodles’ lunch one day. Everyone brought two-minute noodles and we cooked it up on a riverbed. Takes a little extra effort than a wrap but was filling and brought back lots of childhood memories for the team. Durban Curry flavour was, surprisingly to some, the most popular.

‘Greetings fellow hikers, I am here for noodles. I hear there are oodles of them.’ Source: Matthew Sterne

Snack bags
My friends used snack bags, with a bag allotted for each day. Nuts, Speckled Eggs, droewors, jelly beans and other treats filled the bags. I like them but I find that by day four or five, the nuts taste like Speckled Eggs and the jelly beans taste like nuts. It helps a lot with packing and allocating snacks per day though. Variety in the snack pack is key. Look to create a mix of sour, salty, fatty, spicy and sweet.
Top tip: In my experience, I always pack 25% too many snacks. I have this dried apricot roll that has been passed from hike to hike for years. I’ve recently taken to consciously taking less than I think I’ll need and am getting it right now. That might just be my personal experience, but could be something to keep in mind.

Wood is supplied at every hut on the Otter Trail. Credit: Matthew Sterne

Evening snacks
You’ve arrived in camp, you’ve showered/dipped in the river/swum in the ocean/rubbed some leaves under your armpits and are ready to kick back for a bit before dinner. A warm drink is welcome now. Sure, that hot chocolate sachet or tea bag will do the trick, but if you want to tackle thirst and hunger in one, look no further than the old Cup-A-Soup. Again, it ticks the hiker’s requirement – light and tasty (kinda). Another option that was a hit was popcorn. A little goes a long way, the only thing is that you need to carry oil too. But split that up between bags, bang it in a pot and pop, pop, pop, you have a very convivial snack time.
Top tip: Pour the oil into a smaller container so you only take the exact amount you need.

Dinner
The big one. On the Otter Trail, you can braai the first night, which is what we did. The other nights we had a mushroom risotto, a pesto pasta (with lots of parmesan) and a lentil dahl. All three of those were perfect hiking dinners in my eyes.
Top tip: If you’re travelling in a smaller group, Mama Alles is worth checking out. They have five lightweight meals for outdoor adventures (such as Moroccan Butternut Tagine and Central African Peanut Stew). They cost R85 a pop, are made from local and organic produce as far as possible, and they also do hummus spreads, oats and other snacks. The Dri Food Co offers similar meals too. 

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