By Filippa Harrington
I recently returned from the otter trail, a 5-day trek along the Tsitsikamma National Park coastline, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. It was an incredible five days of walking along this wilderness coastline, landscapes of dramatic cliffs, milkwood forests, endless rolling waves, and valleys of diverse, and curious fynbos. Each night, we slept in simple camps, in awe-inspiringly beautiful locations, some placed at the edge of the water in secluded coves, and others on rocky outcrops overlooking dramatic views and heart-expanding sunrises and sunsets.
The 5-day hike is physically demanding, there are steep ascents, 16km days, and waist-deep river crossings to traverse and the trek requires that you carry all your essentials in your pack – that’s clothes, food, water for the five days all on your back. A light pack is essential, as is properly nourishing yourself over the days of your walk, so meal-planning, especially if you are whole foods plant-based minded, is something to really spend some time and energy contemplating.
Thanks to some tips shared from otter trail veteran friends, prior to leaving for the trail, I fared well with the foods I brought with me on this otter trail trek,but there was also a lot I learned along the way, that I would employ for my next multi-day trek! I was helped along the way, nutritionally, and in terms of fresh flavour with some foraging opportunities of seaweeds, Dune spinach, wild rosemary, buchu and pelargonium. The opportunity to scope this wondrous landscape out for wild edibles, really added a whole other level of connection and engagement with the land we were walking, and was a highlight of my experience!
It’s also a challenge to find a way to pack your trail foods with a #zerowaste ethos, avoiding the use of light plastics, but keeping your food dry and insect-free is a top priority in the limited space of your pack. But there are ways, and my trek friend Alex Glenday (of awesome organic Kombucha company, Brew) was a beacon of inspiration here!
Something I would ensure to do next time is bring my own gas canister and burner, sharing the few that we had was often tricky at meal times as there was a lot of boiling of water for teas, coffee, and meal warming to be done!
Two key things that are important to remember are:
- The lighter the pack the better, so whatever food things you decide to bring, evaluate their weight!
- After day two, keeping vegetables fresh is a challenge, so whatever fresh produce you decide to bring you need to integrate them strategically. Root vegetables fare better for meals later into the trip!
Below are some ideas for your three daily meals, and snacks!
Plant-based breakfast ideas:
Millet Porridge with plant-based protein toppings
In my experience you want your breakfast to be nutritionally rich but easy to digest, and as morning times are often a little on the chilly side, something warm to lift your digestive fire. If your digestive system is working hard to move a heavy meal through your system, your walking energy will be compromised, and you will literally feel the heaviness of this meal add weight to each step (especially on those uphills!)
My preferred breakfast after a few trial and errors was a millet porridge, with a plant-based protein rich powder mixed in (I used wazoogles), and a little nut butter swirled in. I am usually not a big advocate for ‘super-food’ plant-based protein powders, but when walking a multi-day trek, where you are exerting physical energy continuously, and have limited food and cooking resources, these can be very helpful.
Millet is an ancient grain, that is naturally gluten-free, high in non-animal protein, and fibre as well as containing a host of B vitamins, iron, calcium and zinc. It cooks within 13-15 minutes, and does not require soaking. Click here for my resource on how to best-cook millet.
Millet is also light in weight, and a little goes along way! It’s a trail foods hero!
Plant-based lunch ideas:
You will be eating your lunch on the go, and in terms of the otter trail at least, this meant at serene riverside campouts, before or after a crossing. You want your lunch, once again, to be easy to digest, as you have a lot of walking left to do afterwards, but nutritious and somewhat comforting.
– Fire-roasted sweet potato with avocado, nutritional yeast, olive oil and masterstock green flakes (or other dehydrated greens). This is filling, but light, energy-giving and nutritious. Throw the sweet potatoes in the coals of the fire you build at your camp each night, and wrap them in buzzy wrap and place them somewhere in the top of your pack so they don’t get squashed! Sweet potatoes are a little on the weighty side before they are cooked, so plan this meal for your first two days of the trek.
– Chickpea or Lentil pasta, with some sort of preserved goodness – like pesto, olive tapenade, sun dried tomatoes, or preserved aubergine.
This was Alex’s preferred lunch, and it worked really well! Just pop out your gas burner, add a little water to your pot, and the past cooks quickly in 6-9 minutes. Stir in your sauce, add a little of your olive oil, or hemp oil stash and nutritional yeast, and masterstock flakes and there you have it, a lunch that is light, comforting but high plant-based protein to power you on. Happy Earth People make a really great legume pasta, and this once again is a light food to carry, keeping your pack weight low!
– Sourdough Rye, with smashed avocado and sundried tomatoes and dehydrated olives.
Sometimes you need something very simple, and very quick, and I found this plant-based go-to hit the spot in these scenarios. The great thing about a sourdough rye, is that it won’t go stale quickly, it’s natural leaven acts as a preservative and keeps this bread moist and delicious for 5-7 days. Additionally, the natural sourdough leaven aids swift digestion, as well as the choice of rye flour, which is wheat-free. Avocadoes travel well… if you keep them above heavy items in your pack! For me, an avocado is a precious as gold in this sort of scenario, and so I went the extra mile of protecting it as though it was a fragile as an egg! Preserved sundried tomatoes are light and travel well, as do dehydrated olives!
Plant-based dinner ideas:
On the first night, bringing along fresh produce is really not a problem, so I would recommend grilled vegetable skewers, stuffed mushrooms cooked on the fire, and a big salad. Even, take the opportunity of this fireside cooking and throw a few aubergine in the coals to make a babaganoush side. The weight of these ingredients is not of huge importance, because you will only be carrying them until dinner on the first night! By day two you will already notice the lack of fresh produce in your life, so if you can really fill yourself with fresh deliciousness on your first night, do so! Fire roasted bananas, split and stuffed with dark chocolate are a delicious fireside dessert for night one.
Lentil Dahl with rice.
This is a heavenly trek meal, high-in protein, wholly nourishing, warming and comforting. Lentils go a long way, so a small packet can feed many, as with rice. Carrots are a good vegetable choice to add into this dish, as well as onions, as they both travel well and stayed fresh up until using them on the last night of the trail. And a little foraged bitter green sambals, with lemon juice! Bring along some pre-squeezed lemon juice in a mini bottle, or vial to add a vitamin C kick to dishes. Pre-prep your favourite dahl spice mix at home before you leave, and bring along in a small container. A knob of ginger is also a relatively light, but important addition to this dish, and helps bolster your groups immune system, and adds a delicious kick.
Seaweed broth bowl with noodles, carrots, garlic, ginger and onions.
This is a simple, light, but deliciously comforting meal, that is highly nutritious and very warming. Excellent for those days of the trek when you are actually too tired to eat much, but really need to restore your nutritional, and mineral levels. Here, I made up a really simplified version of my no-bones broth recipe, working with what was available in our packs, and luckily I was able to responsibly forage seaweed from the coast line, but in other cases dried seaweed is an easy, and light ingredient to pack. Once again, carrots are an excellent vegetable to use for dinners a few days in, as they travel well, and stay fresh. Bringing along dried spices is really a no-brainer to add important nutritional and medicinal value to your meals, as they take up virtually no space in your pack.
Aubergine, sundried tomato and olive stew, with couscous. A hearty stew like this really hits the spot, and with brined olives, preserved sundried tomatoes, and the light, far-reaching couscous, it’s made with ingredients that are light, and travel well. Cook your couscous in water with some masterstock green flakes, a piece of seaweed, and some good quality sea salt to up the nutritional quality of this aspect of the dish. And if you are foraging inclined and the plants are present, whip up a little dune spinach pesto to go with it, with some cashews from your trail mix, your olive oil, lemon juice stash,nutritional yeast and salt!
Simple, comforting and nourishing meals fare well, and go down with a crowd on a multi-day trek like this, when you are adjusting to life outdoors and far from many home comforts.
Other essentials + tips:
-A small pack of nutritional yeast brings a lot of joy and a lot of flavour to trek meals!
-Bring along a mini bottle of hemp oil to drizzle on your meals, breakfast, lunch or dinner.
-Masterstock Green Flakes (or other dehydrated green) are an amazing nutrition addition to any lunch or dinner. I really felt the lack of leafy greens in my diet, and this is a convenient way to get your green fix along the way.
-Bring dried herbs and spices – they travel well and take up no space! And are important carriers of nutrition to add in cooking.
-A good quality salt, to help remineralise.
-Bring along a great stock powder, or broth base to mix with warm water – it was so helpful to make up a cup of warming, restorative broth to sip on after finishing a long day, before dinner time. And on that note, I walked in early autumn, and the nights were cold, but my Patagonia base layers made a huge difference once I put on the extra layers. Think thermals for the evenings! Cape Union Mart also have some reasonably priced options, but you can’t beat Patagonia’s commitment to environmental and ethical standards. Sometimes, reading the interior labels makes me wants to cry with joy. Fair-trade sewing, majority recycled materials, fair-trade fleece… they do it all!
Here is a great recipe for some dense nutrition bars that you can make and freeze ahead of time and bring along as trail snacks, or breakfast bites:
CHOCOLATE CHIP COFFEE BARS
Makes approx 8 individual bars
- 1.5 cups oats
- 1 cup sunflower seeds
- 0.5 cup almonds (or cashews or other nuts)
- 1 cup dates
- 1 cup soaked dates
- 2 tbsp strong black coffee
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of vanilla essence or powder
- Blitz dry ingredients into a coarse flour – transfer to a bowl
- Blitz dates + coffee into a chunky paste – add to the bowl
- Add salt, and vanilla if using and combine ingredients together in bowl until well mixed. Transfer to a square tupperware, lined with plastic wrap and push mixture down into the tupperware, evenly space and tightly compacted. Transfer to the freezer for minimum 30 minutes before cutting into desired bar shapes and enjoy!
Store in the freezer before you head out on the trail so they will slowly defrost over day one, and stay fresher for longer.
Have you completed a multi-day trek like the otter trail? What are your plant-based must-haves for a hike like this?
*the title of this article is fictitious. My pack was not all pantry, and I would not endorse this.
** drone photography by James Suter of Black Bean Productions. Thanks to Jess Suter and Alex Glenday for additional photos.
About the author:
Filippa Harrington is a plant-based chef, culinary consultant and food activist.
Her work is ignited by the space where environmental sustainability, nutrition and gastronomy meet and has actively contributed to this sphere over the past ten years.
Through creating and sharing good, clean and fair food, Filippa believes that we have the best chance at positively impacting the health of our communities, our food system, and our planet.
Follow her work at www.filippaharrington.com and @filippaharrington on instagram.