Iceland: Food!

Iceland-2008-121-small

Most trip reports seem to gloss over the food preparation. But I thought I’d try to cover some of the detail of taking food for a few days walk, particularly since I tend to point people at this blog who are just starting out.

We really would have preferred to have simply carried boil in the bag freeze dried meals (that’s probably how other trip reports gloss over this!). But with LB’s potato allergy and my discovery that tomatoes, sweet peppers and chillis are what caused my painfully swollen sinuses – there aren’t any that work for us. (Though it seems antihistamines may be a work-around for me in future…).

We still wanted the weight saving and “fresh” tasting food that freeze drying gives. So we simply went for single-ingredient freeze dried items and made up our own meals.

We carried a fair amount of food for the main walk since there is nowhere to buy anything between Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk (Thorsmork), and although there is a small shop at Þórsmörk we weren’t at all sure of what it would have in stock. And since we originally planned a night at the top between Þórsmörk and Skógar we actually carried enough food for six full days.

So we bought from two sources;  (Edit Dec 2012: European Freeze Dry don’t sell direct, instead go to Mountain House’s single ingredients page) and the excellent Wilderness Dining.

Getting the food there

The restrictions on bringing food into Iceland are not too onerous. There is an allowance of 3KG (not exceeding the value of ISK 13,000) below which you are not required to pay tax. Above that a percentage of the value of the food that you bring with you is charged. We had a very friendly email exchange with the Icelandic customs when we were trying to establish exactly how the charging worked. In essence we never did find out and they finished by saying “Don’t worry about it!” – so we didn’t.

One thing to ensure – that all your meat is cooked. Just being dried is not good enough (though one customs email implied it was…). So when we bought our freeze dried chicken we asked European Freeze Dry to label it specifically as cooked (it is cooked – but the standard label doesn’t normally say it is).

We kept most food in its original packaging so that any customs official looking at it wouldn’t bin it because they couldn’t identify it. We also brought spare bags to repack it in on the first night.

Iceland-2008-21-small One thing that we found well worth doing is making a list of all the food that we planned to eat, on which day.Not that we stuck to it – just for ensuring you have enough. And then ticking it off against the list as you put it into a bag. It’s surprisingly easy to think you’ve kept it all in one place, all ready to pack, when you have actually left some in another cupboard.

And then, and this sounds nuts, do it again. We did and inexplicably noticed two things we’d somehow missed on the first pass. (My theory is that it’s so plain boring doing this that you simply make mistakes – but I’d rather go through the boredom twice than be without some food).

We bought some food like porridge and chocolate in a supermarket in Iceland (in Kringlan) and discovered just how expensive food really is in Iceland. Or perhaps was? The Krona is not really that strong at the moment for some reason.

The meals

A lot of the detail of what we ate is in the spreadsheet linked below but for some of the thinking and methods we used see below.

IcelandFood.xls

(Spreadsheet was created in Open Office. It edits the same files as MS Office. It’s free and it works really well).

iceland-2008-6-small BreakfastWe had porridge, in bags that are intended for roasting (the bags are intended for roasting – not the porridge!) mixed with nuts, freeze dried fruit or chocolate.

Pour the boiling water in the bag (hence using ones suitable for roasting – less likelihood of plasticisers leaching into the porridge) and stick in the pot cosy for five minutes before eating from the bag.

I find it surprisingly easy to eat too much porridge and carrying too much would go against the grain – I’m trying to save weight here. On the other hand carrying too little has even worse consequences. So we’ve been weighing what we use and deciding on how much is just right: 75gms + 30gms of “other bits” seems to be the Goldilocks Value.

So, whilst we were still at home with access to digital scales, we weighed out one of our normal bag 75 gram bags of porridge (just the porridge). Then we pushed it all into a corner and tightly rolled up the bag, as if we were about to cut the corner and “pipe” icing onto a cake from it.

Then we took a permanent felt tip marker pen and drew around the rolled up bit. After emptying it we had an easy way of measuring out roughly 75 grams of porridge without using scales.

It’s much easier to do than to write down believe me!

Lunch

For lunches we wanted things that needed no cooking. You don’t want to get a stove out and wait for water to boil in lashing rain.

We counted our GORP as part of the lunch food. About 100 grams a day of whatever you fancy does wonders to lift the spirits after battling through the clag.

We keep it in a Simblissity Unslack Pack so that it’s really easy to get to.

iceland-2008-19-small DinnerThe dinners all started with a simple “soup” made from Kallo Organic Stock Cubes. We’d boil enough water for two cups of that and for re-hydrating the dinner.

The dinner was re-hydrated in the large pan, and then halved into the smaller pan and we ate directly from there.

On thing that the much-mentioned two French guys introduced me to that I really enjoyed was buttered Harðfiskur (dried fish). Carrying the butter might be fiddly but it was extremely tasty and not very strongly fishy.

We also took dried herbs and home-made curry powder (no chilli!) as well as ground black pepper and sea salt (it’s stronger flavoured and has more potassium and less sodium than table salt). They were all packed in tiny Backpacking Light MicroZip bags.

Dessert

Dessert was usually a bag of freeze dried strawberries. One 100 gram bag apparently re-hydrates with 900ml of water – meaning you’re effectively carrying a kilo of strawberries per bag!

We find that one last us for two nights (four desserts). Once you’ve opened a bag you’ll need an freezer bag or Aloksak to keep it in. You’ll also need a rubber band so you can roll the top down and wrap the band around to keep the contents from dusting themselves everywhere (strawberry dust is almost as insidious as volcanic dust – but far tastier).

Iceland water

I am generally fairly paranoid about water but even though I carried a couple of tiny bottles of Aquamira I never decided to use them.

Mostly our water came from the supply at the huts, but failing that we used melting snow-pack streams. Would I carry the 25grams of Aquamira again? Well… probably – since the weight is so small and it does mean you could drink something suspect if you had to.

22 Replies to “Iceland: Food!”

  1. Thanks David gives me more things to explore in my plans to wander around Lapland in June or July. And as usual an informative readable report.

    Thanks

    PS Back to rereading your waterproof outer layer report

  2. Thanks Baz and Roger – It’s always a relief when someone lets me know that the detail I put into these things is actually useful!

    I just try to put things on here that people coming to this fresh would want to know. And also I hope there’s the odd bit of info that more experienced people think “oh that’s handy – I’d not thought to do that!” :)

  3. I am looking at my kit and whole way of backpacking right now. Call it a review. Food is a big part of the weight carried, energy needed. I want to get it right. Baz has a lot of good ideas on food and yours have helped lots. Real good discussion this one.

  4. I’ve also become extremely meticulous about packing, weighing, and cataloging my food bag in order to make sure I have everything and to keep the weight down. Besides tracking calories per day, I also track fiber to avoid explosive decompression. Trail food can do that to you – sort of like spontaneous combustion.

    I love the desert idea with the dried strawberries. They are very light and this would make a lovely winter course with hot water, providing much needed calories and addition hydration.

  5. Chris – sorry my last reply was eaten by a BSOD

    Your home made energy gel does sound very interesting. Though rather counter to our general low-carb way of doing things I can see that eating carbs during high exertion makes sense.

    We don’t explicitly look at calorific content. It’s more a matter of the food we take having changed incrementally over a few years until we arrived at the above. If it wasn’t adequate calorifically, we’d be hungry. That’s as close as we’ve come to working it out!

    As for fat/carb/protein that’s more a matter of being driven by a combination of what’s convenient and what fits with our view (and experience) of what is a healthy set of things to eat.

    We never eat pasta at home or rice, lentils, oats or almost any grain. LB is allergic to potatoes so none of those either.

    So what do we eat at home? Well veg and meat/fish. For each meal. Almost all our food goes in the fridge.

    Lots of fresh veg is not practical hence the freeze dried veg and the buckwheat pasta.

    The buckwheat pasta included in the meals has no wheat (just like soba noodles). It provides a bunch of carbs and some easily digested protein.

    The protein is also in there by virtue of the meat of course.

    As for the fat, that’s partly from the meat (though chicken and prawns can leave it rather low) and partly from the stock cube used for making the soup.

    But we were unsure that we had enough fat with us so we also took a 0.5 litre Platybottle of olive oil with added herbs.

    To be honest we didn’t find that we needed it. But it was nice!

  6. Philip – yes explosive decompression whilst out in the hills is not fun!

    Having several stiff courses of antibiotics last year for a dental implant that went wrong has left me prone to the occasional urgent need to leave my companions and spend some quality alone-time with nature…

    Plenty of probiotics seem to be sorting that out nicely thankfully. And I survived the whole of Iceland without incident!

    The other thing I probably should have mentioned is taking a multi-vit. I take one anyway but on a walk I’m sure your vitamin demands go way up and without the fresh (usually organic for us) veg then a multi-vit seems a smart move.

  7. Hi, I am going to Iceland in August of this year and I thought I would bring my trangia for cooking. Does anyone know how easy is it to buy methylated spirits in Iceland, I won’t be in the bigger settlements most of the time so I’m hoping you can buy it in garages and/or small shops? Any feedback would be brilliant.

    Thanks!

  8. Hi Will,

    We used gas and petrol on our trip so have no personal experience. However this has some notes under Iceland (including one from me as it happens!) that may be helpful.

    http://fuel.papo-art.com/

    In essence, assuming you’re arriving somewhere large, I’d make some effort to find it wherever I arrive, since there’s simply more chance of being able to find it in a larger place – simple as that.

    You might try calling whoever you’re staying with on the first night (assuming, that you are?) and asking them – the Icelandic generally speak excellent English and are a very friendly, helpful lot!

  9. Thanks, that’s useful to know. Me and my brother are traveling around Iceland for a couple of months, mainly camping. We will probably look into other cooking options too, as it looks like we might struggle to find meths most of the time.

    Also, this is a really useful and interesting blog, I’ve found lots of good tips and info.

    Thanks again

  10. Couple of months? Wow – sounds great! If you’re putting up anything online feel free to post a link in a comment!

    Fuel choice is hard. The easiest thing to cook with (and generally the lightest for the power overall) is always gas. However gas can be the hardest to find (depending where you are – some places it’s easy!).

    Meths gets heavy for more than a few days and again can be tricky, or can be easy, depending…

    Petrol (or ideally, white gas) is pretty efficient weight wise if doing a multi day trip (even with the weight of the stove) and has the advantage that it’s pretty widely available of course. And there’s always the fun of firing up liquid fuel around (or inside!) expensive, gossamer thin nylon… If I was in the market, I’d be looking at the Muka Stove OD-1NP (can’t find it in the UK but REI stock it and ship internationally last I checked)

    Not an easy choice.

    Glad you’re finding the site useful! Wish I had more time to finish the postings I have half written…

  11. Sorry for not writing back in such a long time. Had an amazing two month in Iceland, was well prepared for everything we faced and would go back in an instant. Regarding the fuels we used, methylated spirits wasn’t easy to come by as expected but we found a replacement which I have forgotten the name of. It wasn’t ideal but was very powerful and got the job done. My brother has put a few photos up from our trip on his own site, http://georgecowan.photium.com/

    There were obviously a lot more but there a few of the good ones on there.

  12. Wow – just had a nose through some of those pictures and will nose through the rest tomorrow – they’re amazing!

    Looks like you had a brilliant trip Will. Is there any write-up online at all?

    Thanks for stopping by with the link!

  13. No problem, I’m glad you like them. Its easy to forget places and things that you’ve done unless you have visual evidence!!

    We wrote a daily journal of what we were doing and what we experienced but it is only hand written and not typed as of yet… If we do manage to put anything online then I will let you know where it can be found but doubt we will have the time as we are both back at uni.

    1. No worries Will – I am painfully aware of how long it takes to get stuff like that written up and edited. LB transcribed my whole audio-diary from the GR20 last year but I’m still less than half-way through editing it into something readable!

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