Ever noticed that hiking food is typically packaged into individual plastic bags? That ain’t cool. Caitlin Weatherstone hiked for 15 days on the Northern Territory’s infamous Larapinta Trail single-use plastic free. Since it’s Plastic Free July right now she thought this was the perfect time to share what she learnt.
Plastic’s Bad, Mkay?
We all know that plastic is bad for the environment and our health, we just can’t keep away from the stuff. It’s an ethical dilemma. We explore wild places because we enjoy them, and we want them to stay that way. However, you come across other people’s crap all too often on long-distance hikes. Whatever happened to leave no trace?
Plastic-Free Is Possible
With a bit of extra planning it is possible to help out these wild places and hike single-use plastic free, all whilst eating food that’s tasty as, simple to make, quick to cook, nutritious, lightweight and cheap. And it becomes even more ethical (and cheaper) if you do it sans animal products (aka. vegan).
It’s All In The Planning
Start sussing out your plastic free options a few weeks before your trip. Do you have a bulk-food store nearby? What do you want to eat on your trip? Are you taking a stove? Write down some meal and recipe ideas, giving yourself enough time to track down the ingredients.
In the week before your trip, start buying up your dry ingredients such as grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, powders, spices, herbs and treaties. These items can all be bought in bulk from places like The Source Bulk Food stores. Remember to BYO bags and containers when you go shopping.
For my hike, which was estimated to take 16 days, I opted to make my own meals from scratch using dry ingredients. I needed my food-fuel to get me through 230km of some of the toughest conditions I’d experienced. Apparently, variety is the very spice of life, so I made 3 different breakfasts, 5 main meals and 4 snack packs (there’s nothing worse than eating porridge for every meal). In total, I made 64 meal packs with a weight of 10kg (~160g per meal). I was hungry, okay. It’s actually really hard to estimate how hungry you’ll be. I went for the more is more attitude. Just in case. And then if I had too much, I shared with my fellow hikers.
Packaging And Storage
A few days before the trip, I made up each recipe and packed each of my 64 meals into brown paper bags, tied together with rubber bands. I put the meals into bundles (Day 1, Day 2 etc.) and put each in a bigger paper bag, in case the first layer tore. I put everything into the fridge until departure day to keep it fresh! Luckily (and I highly recommend it), I had food-drops every 4-5 days thanks to Larapinta Trail Trek Support.
I stashed my 5 days of food in the bottom of my hiking backpack in an open, reusable dry bag (it needs airflow otherwise it might get condensation, which equals soggy food!) and kept my current day’s food in the top of my bag for easy access. My biggest anxiety was that I would get to my next food-drop box and everything in it would be mouldy! That didn’t happen – except for one orange – so phewf!
- Where to shop — I shopped with these guys. Plastic free shopping is their thing. Or do a google search for local food co-operatives or other bulk foods stores.
- Storage — paper bags and reusable dry bags are your friend. Food drop-off items were stored in big, reusable plastic tubs.
- Dehydrating vs. dry — if you have access to a dehydrator, great! Make all meals in advance and dehydrate them to save you some weight.
- Cooking with gas — If you dehydrate your meals, they’ll take less fuel to cook which equals less weight again.
- Pack weight — 10kg of dry food was sufficient for me for the trip. Luckily, I had food drops so only carried up to 5 days’ worth at one time. Next time, I’ll dehydrate!
- No bins — ALL rubbish had to be kept until returning back to Alice Springs. Even more reason not to take any plastics and keep it simple!
- Hiking buddies — People kept giving me food! I couldn’t say no #FOMO #alwayshungry.
- Cost. All up 10kg of dry food for 16 days cost me $200 ($13/day). Pretty damn good I reckon! I also splurged on some other (plastic-free) items for my food drop tubs to eat on the night of the drop.
- I felt more connected with nature as I was noticing my environmental impact more — and picking up other hikers’ rubbish!
- I started conversations with strangers about my plastic-free lifestyle choices. Food is a MASSIVE topic whilst on the trail and a good way to relate to people and share knowledge.
- I increased the nutrient content of my food by soaking and sprouting some meals on the trail.
- I ate less than I thought I would, and my meals kept me going for hours at a time.
- Food-drop boxes saved my life as I could shove some heavy, luxurious items in there such as fresh fruit and veg, tinned food, pasta sauce in glass jars and most importantly, chocolate.
Inspired To Ditch Plastic Off The Trail Too?
Great! There are lots of alternatives out there to help you go plastic-free when you next travel. Here are some resources to get you started:
- Clean Coast Collective sell plastic-free alternatives with the proceeds funding Trash Tribe missions around the country
- Plastic Free July challenge people to go single-use plastic free for the month of July (and beyond)
- Take 3 For The Sea encourage everyone to pick up three pieces of rubbish when they visit the outdoors
- Boomerang Bags work with volunteers in communities to sew reusable shopping bags
- Be part of the solution! Download this free e-book (a collab between Grumpy Turtle Designs and WAE Explorer and marine biologist Alice Forrest) to find out how.