Put any guy in front of a flaming barbecue and all of a sudden he thinks he is God’s gift to the cooking world. In reality, most people struggle to not burn marshmallows when cooking in the wild, let alone making anything tasty and nutritious, and so any good pointers on what to eat and how to cook it are usually welcomed with open arms!
The trick to cooking outdoors is, quite simply: Keep It Simple! See what I did there…? Cooking an amazing meal in the comfort of your kitchen is sometimes hard enough, so when out camping you need all of the little hacks that you can get. Check out below our top tips on the best food to take camping and how to cook it while you're out there.
Equipment will always play a big part in what you are cooking. If you plan on having loads of nibble little bits then you may not even need any cooking equipment at all. A cool-bag stuffed with treats and you're away! For the more adventurous of you, the aim is to do as much cooking as possible on as little amount of kit as possible - keep the list short and think of taking:
One word springs to mind here: Carbs. Depending on what you have planned for the day, whether it is a leisurely stroll through the countryside, a day’s rock pooling on the beach with the little ones or climbing one of the beautiful mountain ranges that we have here, you are going to need some real fuel to get you going for the day. Carbohydrates are what you should be aiming to fill yourself up on early on. The best types you can get are small packs of ready made oats which you just have to add boiling water to. This way, you're not burning porridge onto the bottom of your cooking pots at the start of the day and you have a good belly full of porridge to keep you going for the day!
If you're feeling really adventurous and have got enough pots with you, then it is super easy to fry up some sausages and boil some potatoes (yup!) to really fire you up as well. Potatoes are a great alternative to bread as they are much easier to transport without squishing in your bag, they don't go mouldy and they're a prime source of those carbs you desperately need for the day! Just remember that anything too complicated means a lot of cleaning up afterwards and so you don't want to be bogged down with that at the start of your amazing day!
When we are out on a hike or down at the beach rock pooling, the last thing that we want to be doing is cracking out all of the cooking gear and getting bogged down for hours making something complicated. Just as we always think on our feet, we always eat on our feet as well! Taking foods that you can eat on the go are a must, some of our personal favourites are:
When you're out and on the go with the family in those hills, it is important to remember that you're going to need a lot of energy to keep doing all of that fun stuff and to stop you lagging during the day. You shouldn't worry about how much ‘fatty stuff’ you're eating or feeding the kids, they'll burn it off today, just don't make a habit of it! Well, unless you're out here every day…
Now is the time to really shine! You've had a hard day’s walking and adventuring and now all you want to do is have a good hearty meal and relax. There are some interesting facts to talk about before we get onto what food to cook. Your body regulates warmth better when you have had a good sized meal. So, if its cold out, don't skip dinner! You will be warmer at night in your sleeping bag if you get some food in you. We have all been there - After arriving back at camp after a long slog, all you want to do is climb into your sleeping bag and sleep; well fight that urge!
Now onto the good food… Some of our real favourites revolve around an open fire. Always remember, when cooking with an open fire, that you should never cook with the flame. Always wait until the fire dies down to the point that you have hot embers, then you can rest your pots on top and get going. Some of our favourites are:
What foods to avoid…
As with every activity out there, there are some big foods to avoid. When you're relying on your body to be fuelled and set for the day, you really should be concentrating on putting quality nutrition in in order to get the best results out. You should avoid:
Cleaning up sucks, doesn't it? Well, be smart! If you're the last one using the pots and pans at night, throw some water in the pot while you're eating and stick it back on the fire. The water will simmer most of the yuckyness off of the pots while you eat and the rest should come away easily afterwards. A clever trick that saves us hours of scrubbing (because I am notorious at burning food onto my pans!) is to drop a denture cleaning tablet into a dirty pot and fill it to the brim with water overnight. The tablet will do the trick of breaking down the food and by the morning your pots are nice and clean again! Minimal effort all round.
Always be sure to take all of your rubbish away with you. We all enjoy our countryside as picturesque scenes and having rubbish blowing across it, harming the local wildlife, is definitely not what we all want to experience. All campsites will have space for you to leave your rubbish and if you're out and about in the hills, just keep a section of a bag handy to stick it all into until you find yourself back in civilisation.
Last but by no means least…
Water. Take lots and lots and LOTS of water. If you think you have enough water, take a bit more just in case. Your body uses water to break down food, to regulate temperature, to help you concentrate and of course to rehydrate you when you have been sweating in the glorious sun that we so frequently have here in the UK (ha!).
Before I joined the National Trust, I thought that it was a bit of a waste to be a member in Northern Ireland as there seems to be less to see and do here with a membership that costs the same as it does across the water. It took a 2 week family holiday to England to encourage us to join but even then, we thought we would use it to visit lots of the places near where we were holidaying and then maybe use it once or twice at home before cancelling the membership when our year was up.
4 years on, we're still members and do you know what? We hardly used it on that original holiday as we were so busy exploring generally and simply didn't have time to see as many of the National Trust place to visit as we'd hoped. Where we have really used and enjoyed our membership is at home - here in NI - because we've so many more weekends and free days here and we're always on the look out for inexpensive days out with the kids.
Hand on heart, every National Trust property we've visited locally (and across the water admittedly) has been a wow moment....when you turn that corner and catch the first glimpse....you almost have to pinch yourself. Invariably, we say to each other on arrival 'why have we not been here before?' and I can guarantee you that one visit is never enough....they're that good. Not to mention the regular National Trust Events that bring us back - like Halloween trails, Christmas markets, kite flying and antique fairs. Apart from the Fermanagh locations, which are just that bit further away from our home, we've been to all the other properties more than once and closer to Belfast properties like Rowallane and Mount Stewart, we visit multiple times per season.
For me, the main thing that keeps me coming back to these local properties is the gardens. National Trust Gardens are truly something special and it's seeing how they change over the seasons that I most enjoy. Mount Stewart is a favourite in this regard as it's got its own micro-climate that means it has plants that you'd never see in a garden elsewhere in Northern Ireland. But it's the walled garden in Rowallane that is the most charming in my opinion and the kids love racing around the paths, hiding from each other behind yew hedges while I sit on one of the benches, soaking up some rays and wishing it was my own garden!
But you're guaranteed proper wow moments if you visit the North Coast properties, which are just over an hour from Belfast...after all, the Giant's Causeway is a World Heritage Site and the Carrick A Rede bridge is an iconic tourist site known worldwide. Both see hundreds of thousands of visitors each year from all over the world...and we can go there as often as we wish with free entry! To escape the crowds, Downhill and Mussenden Temple is another breathtaking spot where you can admire the rugged coastline and stunning beaches in this part of the country.
We no longer think of our National Trust membership as being an expense or a necessity....we consider it a complete and utter privilege and I commend the organisation behind it for the work they do to conserve these historic buildings, venues and gardens. We worked it out last year that each visit cost us less than £10 in admission charges for all 5 of us. A no brainer I reckon!
This year, we've decided not to holiday abroad but we're lucky enough to have the use of my sister in law's house in Donegal for a week so my mind has already turned to the packing dilemma that travelling with kids brings.
I'm a dab hand at capsule packing for myself but bringing the kids along adds another dimension to the holiday packing list. That and packing for every possible weather scenario.
But whether you're going away to the sunshine or staying closer to home, I want to share with you some great packing tips to make the whole process a bit easier.
If your kids are older than 4 or 5, teach them how to pack themselves. I've done this with my son since he was that age and now he's a dab hand at packing - making my life a lot easier! With my girls (who are 6), I give each of them a re-usable shopping bag and tell them how many days we're going for and they first pack all of their basics for each day..socks, underwear, PJ's etc.
After we've packed our basics, we make up each day's outfit and roll it up like a sausage before packing in the shopping bag. For a week, I pack about 5 outfits per child as that gives us enough mix and match to make a few more. Getting your kids to do this means they're happy with each day's outfit (if you have fussy dressers) but you also know that you've packed complete outfits for each day so won't end up with unworn items.
This is a rule our whole family packs by and it works SO well. Bring no more than two pairs of shoes. Shoes take up a ton of space and are heavy. Bring one open pair and one closed in pair. Sandals and Trainers - neutral colours. I promise you this works...and if it doesn't, sure you can always buy a pair to bring home #bonus
You'll obviously be packing a charger and adaptor for all your electronic items but I strongly recommend you bring an Anker charger in your carry-on luggage or in the car. They come in different sizes and powers - mine is roughly the size of a pack of cards and it's amazing as it fits in my handbag and gives 2.5 full charges to my phone (it's a 5,600 mAh). It obviously needs to be charged itself but I just make sure I do so the day before we travel and it's an utter godsend whenever you run out of juice. They work on iPads, tablets, laptops..as long as they have a charging wire with a USB connection.
There are some amazing travel games that you can get that are easy to carry with you while travelling. Current favourites in this house are Tenzi and Uno - you'll find them both in most toy stores or on Amazon....the best bit is that they don't require batteries and everyone can join in.
Finally, when we go away, we give each child a holiday allowance. This means that every time you hear 'can I get one of those/go on that ride' and so on, all you have to say is 'do you have enough money in your account?' It's amazing how frugal kids are when the money's coming out of their allowance!
Oh and although you'll probably be ok if you travel to warmer climes, you can't holiday in Ireland without a Target Dry lightweight jacket! Check out my post from last month where I show you the ones we are using this summer...they've served us well so far!
The 5.30am alarm stirs me and my stomach sinks… In the haze of waking from my short sleep I remember what today is… It creates a kind of nervous sinking feeling a bit like the butterflies you get before a presentation. I love what is ahead of me, but I’m also nervous because as thrilling and adventurous as it to challenge yourself, it is almost always painful and uncertain… today my mate and I are running the Mourne Wall again!
I am a 32 year old Freelance Graphic Designer who is quite obsessed with the great outdoors! Before I go any further, let me make this clear - I am not the fastest, fittest or most talented of outdoors people, I simply love the challenge, adventure and freedom that the outdoors can bring and I seek it as often as life allows! In any given week I’ll be cycling over the Antrim Hills, sailing around the coast, running in the Mournes, surfing in Portrush or mountain biking in my local trails. Like any addiction it is about finding the next fix…
The Mourne Wall is a beautiful route that takes in the heart of the Mournes in 35km loop (22miles) covering a painful 3000 metres of ascent (9842 feet) while summiting over 14 peaks (the route also skirts along the edge of Rocky Mountain but not its summit). My mate Matt and I test ourselves on this route every summer. We think it will keep us young and fit with a challenge always on the horizon. It is hard, but it is wonderful.
Years ago, when we first challenged ourselves on the route we took massive rucksacks with loads of food and water, wearing big heavy hiking boots and it ended up taking us a whopping 13hours! Now, a few years on, fitter and with more experience we turn up in fell shoes and shorts with tiny bags filled with jelly babies and bacon sandwiches and bang it out in around 7 hours. It’s not amazing considering the top fell runners probably look for a sub 4 hour time, but every year we are getting faster, and thats what counts!
Northern Ireland is a wonderland for outdoor adventure. We have so many options for different activities within our reach. From the Mournes to the Sperrins, from our coast line to Lough Neagh, from our local forest trails to the tow paths there is somewhere close by to get out and enjoy the fresh air. We even have amazing trail running & hiking routes in the outskirts of Belfast in the form of Cave Hill!
As a Belfast based clothing company I think Target Dry have seen the possibilities for local ‘micro’ adventures for everyday people and produced a well thought out range of waterproof outdoor clothing that covers everyday adventures from family trips to the beach to long wet hiking days in the Mournes. With this thought process in mind I will be blogging with Target Dry every month now and as I do so I hope I can share a little bit of the passion I have for the adventures and challenges that are just waiting for us all to just give them a go!
Over the next few months I’ll be cycling around Donegal, running the Mourne Wall (again!), preparing for the Mourne Mountain Marathon, training for a fundraising ultra marathon and tipping my toe into some wild outdoor swimming! There will also be some last minute camping trips, sailing races and surf sessions mixed in there as well!
I look forward to sharing these with you.
Right, thats enough writing… I’m off out for a run!
Unless you are lucky enough to work in the great outdoors, did you know that on average we spend 90% of our time stuck indoors? That seems like a scarily high figure, considering how much we all love the outdoors, right? I am going to go out on a limb and guess that most people’s excuse is that they don’t have time to get out after work or on days off… Well look at it this way: the average person gets 112 days off every year. Add that to time off after work and that equals 6736 hours free every year. Now tell me that you really can't spare 12 hours to go camping…
With that excuse out of the way, lets have a look at what the next big hurdle usually is: Having the right kit.
The discussion of what you need to take camping with you can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. The thing to bare in mind are: you are not tackling Everest. Unless you’re going to be heading right into the hills then you really only need a few basics. Lets have a look at those basics now.
We have two amazing options when it comes to shelters. We have the option of the traditional tent, easy to pitch, enclosed space, great for bad weather and they keep the bugs out (most of the time!). Tents are a super option for beginners, they give you the added sense of security when it comes to being in the great outdoors. I have never really managed to be comfortable in a tent though, I feel too trapped. This led me to my second great discovery: Bivi bags and tarps. A bivi bag is an enclosure for your sleeping bag; nothing more, nothing less. It is essentially a big, breathable, waterproof sack that you crawl into. The downside? Well, it’s not for the claustrophobic. It’s a lot smaller space than a tent, meaning that you don’t have the comfort of being able to get changed inside. In fact you don’t have the comfort of being able to do anything but lay down! The upside? You can fall asleep looking up at the stars. A tarp is a sheet of fabric that you suspend above your bivi bag to keep the worst of the weather off of you. It takes some practice to get right but it allows so much more freedom on where you can camp and makes it lighter to drag along on a trek with you!
Sleeping bags come in many shapes and sizes. The two primary types are synthetically lined bags and down lined bags. Synthetic doesn’t pack as small, isn’t quite as light but is just as warm and still retains it’s heating capacity when wet. Down filled bags pack much smaller, are lighter, but usually more expensive; the other, major, downside to down bags is that when the down gets wet, it loses it’s warming capability and so it is important to keep your bag dry when you are out and about or you will have a chilly night! Fact is though, if you’re simply heading out on a one night camping trip then you don’t need to spend hundreds of pounds on a sleeping bag! £20 from your local supermarket will usually get you a great synthetic lined mummy style bag. The trick is to just take a jumper with you if you think it won’t hold up to the weather and you have just increased the capability of your sleeping bag no end! Result!
Cooking Gear & Food
Open fires are very pretty and all but they’re not ideal for making sure that the beautiful countryside that you’re visiting is left undisturbed after your visit. You generally have three options with camping stoves: Gas canister cookers, liquid fuel cookers and solid fuel cookers. Gas canister cookers are super simple: screw your stove head into the top of a camping stove and away you go - pop your cooking pot on, throw in some water and pasta and Bob’s your uncle! Liquid fuel stoves are almost the same but they require a bit more prep - you have to pressurise the fuel canister and heat the fuel before you can really get cooking. The benefit of liquid fuel over canisters? Liquid fuel is more efficient at higher altitude. Not really something we need to worry too much about in our part of the world… The last option is solid fuel. Solid fuel comes in the form of small pellet type capsules that sit in an enclosure and you simply set fire to them, pop your stove on and you’re done. The downside to this final option is that there is no cooking heat adjustment - you’re either cooking or you’re not!
Food wise, keep it simple when you’re heading out. The best, easiest option is to simply have a great meal before you leave and take some milk and cereal for breakfast! No cooking involved - result! For the more adventurous, it’s not a huge jump to being able to fry up a few sausages in a pot, put them to one side and then cook some beans in the same pot over a stove. You will be surprised at how simple it is to cook in the outdoors. The main thing to remember is to avoid high sugar foods such as chocolate and sweets - they’re great for a pick-me-up but will leave you crashing afterwards which is never fun. Keep it simple on the cooking front and it will be easier in the long run.
Summer in the England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. It’s the best time of year when it comes to getting outdoors and enjoying the beauty of this part of the world that we live in. The downside to this part of the world is that summer usually means just as much rain (just slightly less snow) than the winter months. For this reason always pack waterproofs. Something simple for your top and bottoms such as this waterproof jacket and these waterproof overtrousers will pack away into a side pocket on your backpack and you can forget about them until you need them. For the super prepared and creative, you can probably use a poncho like this (which will also cover your backpack) and then use it as a tarp at night… Nothing will make you quite as miserable as being soaked through, so be prepared!
The next layer down is usually a thermal layer. Again, you never can really trust the Summer here and so making sure that you at least have a jumper or fleece with you will keep you happy. Worst case, you can use it as a pillow when you bed down for the night! You will get cold when you least expect it, even if it has been a super warm day, by the time the sun sets you are usually left with quite a chill so make sure you have something to keep you warm.
The final layer is your base layer. The base layer is what you wear directly next to your skin - it helps to wick moisture away from your skin and to keep you dry and warm when you need it. Layers are the key when it comes to keeping warm and to flexibility. It is better to wear three thin layers than one very thick layer. When you are trekking for miles you will sweat regardless of the weather, it is always good to be able to strip back a layer or two when you need to and add them back on when you really need them.
That is a lot of information for a beginner to take in! Lets look at the basics again though:
Shelter: Tent or Bivi - keep it simple and fun.
Sleeping bag: Synthetic or Down - keep it cheap and cheerful and wear an extra jumper if you think it might be a bit chilly.
Cooking: Gas, Liquid or Solid fuel - make life easier by eating before you leave and taking food that doesn’t require cooking.
Clothing: Layers, Layers, Layers! - Base layer, warming layer, waterproof layer. In that order.
Finally… keep it simple, keep it fun! We all love the outdoors and there is little point in hiking and camping if it’s not fun. Enjoy the world! Keep exploring…