How to Eat on a Bikepacking Trip
The Apidura guide for how to eat on a bikepacking trip, with practical guidance and expert advice.
One of the main advantages of bike touring is that the mode of transport – a bike – requires no fuel to run. However, the person powering it certainly does, and this means that keeping on top of nutrition is of vital importance on any tour – regardless of how long, short, or intense the riding involved.
Life on a bike is very changeable though, meaning the ways and means of staying fueled can vary greatly from day to day. From one-pot wonders rustled up on a stove, to local street food, sit-down restaurants, and packets of sweets and biscuits, any one day on the road can throw up a variety of mealtime solutions. This, of course, is part of the joy of bike travel, and as long as you go into a tour knowing which of them to expect, you should have no trouble staying nourished.
What kind of tour are you undertaking?
In order to plan how you’re going to feed yourself, consider the type of tour you are undertaking. Are you going to be venturing off-grid, where there will be few – if any – resupply points? How quickly will you be riding between resupply points? How long can you handle eating freeze-dried food, biscuits, and energy bars before you need something more to keep you going? Can you afford to eat at a restaurant for every meal – for days at a time?
Will you need to be self-sufficient?
Riding in remote areas will often mean that you’ll need to carry and prepare all of your own food, as well as the stove you’ll need to cook it. Even in areas that aren’t remote, if you want to set up a campsite in the daylight, as well as have an end-of-day meal before bed, it may mean that you need to cook it yourself too. If none of these apply, but you’re on a tight budget, then self-prepared food might also be the best solution.
Will you be able to string together food stops at restaurants in towns along the way?
In many parts of the world, taking advantage of local eateries and restaurants to dine can often be cheaper and more convenient than sourcing ingredients and cooking for yourself, and it comes with the added benefit of introducing you to local cuisine and culture. If you’re travelling in such a place, perhaps you don’t need a stove at all.
How much spare luggage space do you have?
While cooking a bolognese, chili con carne, or Thai curry with all the trimmings might be perfectly possible on a camping stove, carrying all the necessary ingredients probably isn’t. In order to stay light and agile, compromises often need to be made in the kitchen department, so get used to the simple life and don’t bring the spice cupboard.
Does the place you are visiting have any noteworthy food habits?
If you do intend on relying on shop-bought or restaurant food, it is often worth researching local food habits and availability, particularly if you are vegetarian or vegan.
There are three main options if you are considering the use of a stove: A small gas canister stove (like MSR’s Pocket Rocket) will be compact, lightweight, and boil water extremely quickly. A simple alcohol-burning such as a Trangia is possibly the simplest, lightest possible stove available, but it takes a little longer to bring water to the boil. A multi-fuel option such as the MSR Whisperlight has a very adjustable flame, and will ensure you never get caught out with fuel, wherever you are in the world, but they are bulky and produce quite a lot of soot. Be sure to think about the type of tour you’re undertaking, and choose what works for you.
Like the rest of your kit, any food you transport will need to conform to rules of simplicity and efficiency, meaning foodstuffs with a low volume and high calorific yield, which are easy to cook. For breakfast, oats and honey is perfect. For lunch and dinner, try rice, quinoa, couscous, or instant noodles as a base for a meal, adding tinned fish, cured meat, or pulses for protein, and a stock cube, pesto, or a small spice pouch for flavour. Avoid easily damaged and perishable foods.
If you’re not carrying a stove, you’ll find yourself eating a lot of ready-to-eat, packaged food. While not as pleasant, some pre-cooked meals can be eaten cold, which is worth considering, but a diet of sandwiches, dried fruit, nuts and chocolate bars is the most common result. Try to stop at a restaurant for a proper meal once a day if you can – even if you ask for your food to be boxed up, before you take it away to a camp or bivvy site.
Transporting water is obviously a top priority, and with the number of cage bosses on bike frames these days, along with the use of a water bladder inside a Pack, it’s possible to carry a lot if you need to. Be sure to keep supplies topped up at every opportunity, as you don’t know when the next one will be, and if you’re uncertain about the cleanliness of a water source, use a filtering device or tablets. Coca-Cola, coffee, and sports drinks can be used for a quick hit of energy, but be sure to always drink them alongside water.
“There’s a few food items I always carry on tour. Firstly, spaghetti or noodles in the Frame Pack – because they just fit perfectly. On top of that, I always carry dried milk powder for adding to hot drinks and porridge oats as a protein top-up. Also Snickers bars. I’m a big fan of these in the snack pouch at all times, and yet to find a country where you can’t buy them!”
George Huxford, Apidura staff member
“Unless it’s really cold outside, consuming hot food offers no extra physical benefit. When you consider the extra weight of a stove and saucepan, as well as the wasted water involved in cooking, it could be better to ditch the stove, only carry cold stuff, and buy the odd hot meal when you get the chance.”
Josh Ibbett, Apidura Ambassador
“Just eat whatever you can get your hands on! When touring in a more densely populated area, staying well-fed isn’t so much of an issue. You have a range of options, from sitting in the car park of a supermarket to enjoying a civilised meal in a restaurant, but if you intend to camp and cook your own food, you will need to plan ahead. Rice is a quick and easy staple food, as it cooks easily and doesn’t take up too much room, but if you prefer pasta then I’d recommend spaghetti for its space efficiency. I prefer to cook really simple food on the road as it takes less time, and uses less ingredients and water. I’ll usually base a dish on rice or pasta, add some cured meat or tinned fish for protein, and some kind of sauce for a bit of flavour. As for vitamins, try to eat fruit and vegetables when they’re available, and enjoy a nice nutritious meal in a restaurant when you can.”