Rations are always a problem. As rucksacks get heavier, a vicious circle develops; any increase in weight means that a person has to do more work and therefore needs more energy-producing food. The Army Regiment has solved this problem by expecting its members to survive on light rations or, where necessary, live off the land.
The other problem is that on operations, vital equipment has to be crammed into every pocket and every corner of the bergens. There is often little or no space for rations. There is only so much you can carry! Even under ideal conditions, a soldier can only carry water and rations for about four days, and we could be out in the field for weeks at a time.
The little food that can be carried must be of a high calorific value for its size and weight. Tins and bottles are out!
The soldier carries freeze-dried and dehydrated rations. Freeze-dried foods are the better, being more palatable. Dehydrated food lacks both texture and taste, and the process of removing the water from the food also removes vitamins and minerals, although these are sometimes put back later. Freeze-dried food can be either eaten as a ‘munch’ or reconstituted.
A wide range of menus are available, offering meats such as beef, lamb, chicken and pork. Complete meals are also available from outlets specialising in supplying equipment for mountaineering and outdoor activities.
Among the meals offered are real delicacies such as spaghetti bolognaise, chicken supreme and lamb tikka. These can be very tasty if you follow the simple cooking instructions. Usually, you are told to add a measure of boiling water to the bag and then stir until the food is fully reconstituted. Even puddings such as creamed rice and apples and custard are available. Not bad when you are living rough on the hills!
One important piece of kit must find a place in your pack and that is your brew kit. There is nothing like a hot drink to kick-start your whole system into action after a long, cold night on the hills or a punishing hike in driving rain or snow.
More importantly, warm drinks keep hypothermia at bay and are great for the morale! A nice cup of tea will pour stimulating caffeine into your veins, while stock cubes and hot chocolate are almost meals in themselves. On hot days, isotonic drinks and lemonade powders offer a pleasant alternative to luke-warm water.
On operations, SAS and Navy Seals patrols usually eat one meal a day. Often, lunch is an energy-rich snack that can be eaten quickly during a five-minute rest stop. Nuts and raisins, dates, dried fruit, Mars bars, oat bars and Kendall Mint Cake are all packed with energy. A high blood glucose level will be really appreciated when the going gets tough.
In really cold weather, when you are using a lot of energy just to keep warm, or when time is not pressing, you can always enjoy a hot cup of soup. Powdered soups come in all varieties, they taste good and are packed with energy and nutrients. Breakfast should be simple and hot. A warm, sweet cup of something and a biscuit may be all the breakfast you need. A ‘full breakfast’ could be oats and reconstituted milk, powdered egg or biscuits and cheese. But remember, what you pack into your rucksack will have to be carried, so get used to living simply!
The main meal of the day became a real ritual for us. We spent a long time preparing it since we knew it would be our last good meal for another 24 hours. Everybody found a place for their packets of spice. They really made the curry and rice come alive!
The way to prepare your rations for short and long-term expeditions is to use the ‘brick system’. Divide your total rations into three different types of ‘bricks’, each containing around 1,500 calories. Brick ‘A’ is the lightweight ration. It can be eaten with the very minimum of preparation and no cooking should be required.
Brick A Rations
Cheese and biscuits Chocolate or Mars bars Nut and oat bars Nuts and raisins Boiled sweets Oats and dried fruit
Isotonic drinks or powdered lemonade
Meat ‘bars’ such as Pepperoni, cured sausage or beef jerky
Sweet biscuits These are just some of the foods you might think of putting in your lightweight rations. This type of ‘brick’ will form the majority of your rations when you are climbing, canoeing or on the move across the hills.
This type of ration complements the lightweight rations and it either forms the main meal of the day or the meals you would eat in a forward base camp. These rations require cooking and therefore time-consuming preparation. Once again, each ‘brick’ should offer a 1,500-calorie meal. The sort of food you would expect to find in these rations would include:
Complete one-course main meals
Egg powder, oats and biscuits (breakfast)
Energy-rich bars, nuts and raisins and/or soups (lunch)
Tea, milk and sugar and/or stock cubes
As with the lightweight rations, this is only a guide. Be creative and pack the goodies you most like to eat.
These are the little luxuries that you may choose to carry. Although these are ‘luxuries’, each ‘brick’ should still contain around 1,500 calories, giving you value for weight. On a long expedition, these rations can make a welcome change to your diet. Typical foods to be considered are:
Rice and/or pasta
Dried onions, garlic and spices
Sweet and savoury spreads These rations are designed to make life a little more pleasant, even under the very worst of conditions.
Choosing and Packing Your Bricks
With your rations divided into the three types, you can now decide how you will mix and match them to suit the particular activity you are planning.
On a short, three-day outing, when you know you will be constantly on the move, I suggest that you carry three ‘A bricks and one ‘B’ brick. On a seven-day hike across the hills, you will need something more substantial and you could opt for seven As, three Bs and one C.
The beauty of this system is that the choice is yours and the combinations are endless! You should find almost everything you need to put these rations together on the shelves of your local supermarket. Of course, you should adapt each ration to your planned activity, the area to which you are going and the time of year.
In winter, or in cold, wet areas such as the mountains, the main problem will be keeping warm. Your rations should reflect this need and should contain more fatty foods, starch-rich foods such as rice and potatoes and Instant-energy’, sugar-rich foods such as Mars bars. Make sure that you also pack enough ingredients for plenty of warm drinks.
In summer or in hot, dry terrains you will not want to carry an over-loaded bergen in the energy-sapping heat. Keeping warm will not be a problem, so you will need fewer calories. You can afford to carry a high proportion of lightweight rations. This will be a mercy if you cannot find water sources along your route, since you may have to carry water with you! Remember that you will lose a lot of body salt in sweat, so carry some isotonic drinks, a little table salt to put on your food and some fruit juice to replace that all-important lost potassium.
When you have put your food together into ‘bricks’, make sure that you pack them well. Place all individual items in strong polythene bags, then fold over the tops and heat-seal them with a warm iron. Finally, seal all the individual items in a large polythene bag and mark it clearly ‘A’, ‘B’ or ‘C You will also need various sundry items such as matches, salt, chewing gum and toilet paper. These, too, should be sealed in polythene bags and then placed in an outer pocket or on the top of your rucksack.
In the military, we used to cook our grub on solid hexamine blocks. These were not very good. I mention them because they are exactly the sort of solid-fuel cooker to avoid! Hexamine burns with a relatively ‘cold’, smoky, yellow flame. In a wind, most of the heat was blown away, although that was sometimes a blessing as the fumes were toxic! The fumes also had a very distinctive smell that could spread quite a long way, persisting on the still, moist air under the tree canopy.
Later, some members of the Regiment carried liquid gas stoves. Unlike hexamine, these burnt with a hot, smokeless flame but they were far from perfect. There were two problems. Firstly, you had much the same problem with the wind taking away the heat from the bottom of your mess tin. Secondly, at high altitudes the gas is released at a reduced pressure and, consequently, does not burn as well. I prefer the Coleman’s solid-fuel stoves which avoid these problems.
The Peak One Multi-Fuel Stove can burn Coleman’s Fuel or paraffin and one filling will burn for up to six hours. The windshield and pan support on this cooker are designed to direct 80 per cent of the available heat towards the mess tin. The manufacturers advertise their Peak One Multi-Fuel Stove as an expedition cooker, able to operate efficiently under quite adverse conditions. Coleman also market a slightly cheaper stove which can burn either Coleman’s Fuel or petrol. The Peak One Petrol Stove also comes with a sturdy tripod and a windshield which directs most of the available heat at your mess tin.
Once again, the fuel tank is quite large and the stove comes equipped with a pump, fuel lever and self-cleaner. The Petrol Stove is advertised as ideal for ‘brewing up on the summit of Pen-Y-Fan on a sunny day’. However, as I always seem to miss the sunny days on Pen-Y-Fan, I tend to lean towards the slightly more expensive Peak One Multi-Fuel Stove. Mini cookers have some of the disadvantages of the old hexamine cooker but they make good survival cookers and can be slipped into a pouch on your belt kit. Like the hexamine cookers, they are small, cheap and burn solid fuel at a relatively low temperature. There the similarities end. Most mini-cookers burn alcohol jelly which produces a smokeless, non-toxic, odourless flame. This means that they can be used inside a survival shelter or tent. This is a great boon in bad weather.
A new cooker comes equipped with enough fuel to burn continuously for about two hours. Refills burn for around 90 minutes.