What food to take on a Drakensberg hike – All you need to know
One of the biggest questions we get asked- ‘what kind of food do I need for a Drakensberg hike ?’ We have been hiking in the Drakensberg for over 20 years and understand the crucial factor food and nutrition plays in a successful and relatively pain free hiking experience.
We have included some ideas that we have picked up over the years to assist you with maintaining your strength and vitality in the mountains. The article includes an eating plan on how to maintain your weight and possible eating habits over the course of an average multi day hike in the Drakensberg.
And yes maintaining your weight is crucial. I know a lot if you may be licking your licks at the precept of losing some of those ‘extra love handles’, but alas, losing weight means losing muscle mass which effects strength and endurance. In fact, when faced with any endurance activity, your body burns away muscle before fat. This is an incredible function that illustrates how intelligent the human body is. It recognizes that you may be in survival mode and needs the fat to prolong your humble humanely existence.
The Importance of food in the mountains
Basically food will play a purely functional role in your hiking adventures. So don’t spend too much time trying to work out some gourmet menu to cater for your selected culinary delights. Food always tastes better in the mountains.
There have been plenty of hungry moments after a lengthy days hiking where a bit of tuna on a cracker bread tastes like the best meal I have ever had. If I had to have that back home, I would be sure to be disappointed. And dare we mention how the taste of chocolate in the Drakensberg is a thousand times tastier? In fact, food is great motivator. As camp draws closer, the anticipation of food always spurs a weary hiker along.
Okay, so what are the main objectives when planning your menu for a Drakensberg hike?
Food will definitely play an important role and nutritional variations need a lot more planning. Here are a few objectives:
The amount of food you need is all dependent on a variety of factors. Every hiker is different. So many things can influence what you need. Some of these include, your metabolism, the weather conditions (in the cold we tend to eat more) age, sex and how hard the hike is. If you have been on hikes before, the chances are you have worked out how much food you need through trial and error. And it is sometimes more through error than trial. Or was it that overweight backpack that you had to carry for 3 days?
What we suggest in terms of weight?
We suggest that the average hiker should carry at least 1kg of food per day. And please do not try and eat all of that in one sitting. Your energy levels and overall stamina will be determined on how you eat this quantity.
How your food should be broken down
As we all know, food is basically broken down into 3 main areas: Carbohydrates, fats and proteins. And guess what? We need them all. Sorry to all you protein addicts out there. And yes, carbohydrates are also an essential element for energy. The mountains have a different set of rules when it comes to eating and ultimately surviving.
For multi day hikes were the compounded effects of fatigue will influence your energy levels, we recommend the following caloric breakdown:
- Carbs: 45-55%
- Fats: 35-40%
- Protein: 10-15%
The table below is a list of the foods I eat daily during an average multi day hike:
500g biltong ( yes with fat) and smoked chicken/salami
250g of trail mix
100g of wild rice/lentils/split peas
100g of cheese
200g of beetroot
150g of oats with peanut butter and honey
While Hiking, I generally consume around 5000 calories per day. Therein lays the problem. Depending on the gradient, length and difficulty of the hike (which is always pretty tough in the Drakensberg), I can easily whack out 6000-7000 calories. So how do I handle the deficit of calories? Peanut Butter!!!!!!!!!!!!
- Eat small amount often
The key to maintaining your strength and avoiding the slumps is to eat regularly. On our tours we stop every 2 hours for a break do hikers can fuel up. The logic behind this thinking is that you will not have a full stomach and digestion uses up a lot of energy. So you do not want your body to be processing a large amount of food.
A tip on packing your snacks- Make sure they are accessible. You don’t want to empty out your backpack every time you stop. Breakfasts and dinners will be the larger meals of the day. And there is nothing better than dinner after a long hike in the Drakensberg.
- Quality of food
Logistically, hiking in the Drakensberg can bring with it the challenge of the quality of food on the trail. Unless you are willing to carry a fridge on your back, the availability of fresh or perishable food is a problem. The one option is dehydrated foods. But they are extremely expensive. Taking vegetables like beetroots and lentils are always a good idea as they can last for days without refrigeration.
Wild rice and dried meat and salami that have been vacuum packed are also a good idea. Some hikers still don’t believe in the benefits of a nutritional meal. Food sources like 2 minute noodles, although lightweight and fill you up, have zero nutritional qualities. On a multi-day hike in the Drakensberg, that may just be your Achilles heal. And as a general rule.-If you eat crappy food, you generally feel crappy.
What about whey protein?
We can answer this from two aspects from our own personal experience. Firstly it is not easy to carry as the bags can break. Secondly you need a shaker which is an extra item to carry. They are also a mission to clean, especially in a mountainous environment. And thirdly, they can play havoc with your toilet routine.
Variety is the spice of life. You are all set to go and you have ticked all the boxes in terms of nutrition, weight etc. But after a long days hike, you don’t want to get all grumpy as you have the same meal planned for every day. That will definitely attract the metaphorical black cloud that will earn you an extra rick in your backpack when you not looking.
- Keep it simple
Trust us. We have been guiding in the Drakensberg for over 10 years and have been through the trials of trying to make complicated food in the mountains. You don’t want to have to worry about cutting up onions and waiting for beans to soak. And this is especially true when the weather is bad. Preparing food in a tent while a thunderstorm hammers at your tent is no fun. Pre-packed, ready to cook meals are the way to go.