The perfect packed lunch for a ramble - my way!

This summer the Ramblers are inviting us all to get out and explore the great outdoors with the #WalkYourWay campaign. There is no one way to ramble, but if you follow me on social media, you will notice that walking my way usually revolves around food and a good cup of tea!

Heaving off my backpack, choosing the right place to put my sitting mat and settling down for lunch is one of the real pleasures of hiking with my local Ramblers group. There’s a contented silence that descends as we all tuck in, knowing that we’ve worked up an appetite by breathing in fresh air and exploring several miles of beautiful countryside.

There’s a lot of information around about sustenance for major endeavours, but on a weekend my favourite type of walking is a more moderate day hike on Dartmoor. The pleasure of stopping to eat my lunch, at a specially chosen spot with a view, is just as important as fuelling my hike. My question is, how do you achieve both?
From a little poll of my group (i.e. a snoop around their lunch boxes), most people bring sandwiches, fruit and a small sweet thing. I also checked in with Dr. Anne Payne, a Lecturer in Dietetics, who agrees this combination is a good choice:

“A balanced mix of protein (from cheese, meat or nuts), slow release carbs (seeded bread fits this brief nicely) and a little fat (from nuts, spread or a little mayonnaise) together provides the body with all the fuel it needs for your walk.”

Prep for my perfect lunch starts by setting my alarm a little bit earlier on the day of the hike. First, I go through my ‘what to take on a ramble’ checklist on my phone notes to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything. Then, I’m down to the kitchen for the two most important things: breakfast and making something extra tasty to take with me.

Porridge is my go to breakfast these days and I peer at the scales with bleary eyes as I measure out 40g of oats then 280ml of water (1ml = 1g which is a handy tip). Once it’s in the bowl, all steamy and soft, I dollop a big spoonful of kefir on top. It adds a creamy tang to the porridge and is full of live cultures (really good for your gut). An added sprinkle of seeds, a drizzle of raw honey and some fresh fruit sets me up to tackle the steep tors on Dartmoor.  

Dr. Payne advises that slow release carbohydrate will provide the energy you need for the first 2-3 hours as the fibre in oat based cereals absorbs fluid, reducing its speed of digestion. A little honey gives a bit of extra energy too. 

Drinking fluids is important so I put the kettle on as walking my way depends on tea as well as water. I warm my two little flasks, then brew some Redbush leaves in the teapot. A ‘proper’ cuppa has eased my eyes open first thing but I find that too much caffeine makes me flag a bit later on. I think Redbush tastes great with milk and is nicer than the decaffeinated black tea you can get. Like most of our group, I’m gasping when we stop for a quick break after the first hour and I down the whole of one flask.

My lunch box is made of bamboo which is really light, easy to clean and also looks great in food photos for Instagram! It’s much more sustainable than plastic and cling film which takes hundreds of years to break down and is made of potentially harmful chemicals. Sustainability is important to a lot of my fellow Tavistock Ramblers. Like me, they use reusable paper bags or greaseproof paper to keep things neat or choose wax wraps. These are strips of cloth coated with beeswax, plant oils and natural resin (from trees). They can be folded around your sandwiches and other edible items becoming malleable by the warmth of your hands. One maker said he was inspired by the ancient Egyptian wraps on mummies! All of these stop you getting sweaty sandwiches too – a no no in my book.

So what’s my idea of the perfect packed lunch? I always plump for simple food with good ingredients: a hearty sandwich is always a pleasure to unwrap. Tavistock has become a foodie haven and crusty sourdough from the Mediterranean deli is my favourite bread. The specialist cheese shop mainly stocks cheeses from the South-West and I pair hunks of a nutty, crumbly Somerset Farmhouse Cheddar with chunky pickle. When perfectly ripe, their Brie-style cheeses ooze off the knife and almost pour through the holes in the bread. A crisp apple to munch alongside it is all you need. Another great combination is pear and Stilton, although a ripe pear needs a bit of careful packing. Salami, little cornichons and a slick of mayonnaise is a very good-tempered filling with cherry tomatoes on the side. Sliced tomatoes tend to make the bread really soggy so I always take them whole. 

Instead of sandwiches, I often bring a slice of Spanish omelette, leftover pizza or a quiche – I found a great recipe with bacon, onion, potato and loads of cheese recently which was delicious. All these things are satisfying and robust with the added bonus that they can be packed the night before and kept in the fridge. A Cornish pasty is designed for a rambler’s lunch (even though we are just over the border!). I get envious glances if I bring any of these things.

I’m always extra hungry by the time we stop to eat and also bring a slice of malt loaf or a homemade flapjack. I asked Dr. Payne about this and was surprised, “You probably only burn 300-400 calories more during your walk than you would burn in a normal day, unless you’re usually incredibly inactive. That’s equivalent to a Belgian bun, or two packets of crisps. However, the heart and muscle stimulation you get from walking is invaluable to your health. If you walk at a good pace your body releases adrenaline to increase your heart rate and stimulate muscles. Your blood glucose level falls, which is why you feel hungry (and why slow release carbohydrates are good). How much should you eat? That’s a personal choice, but walking on a full stomach might give you heartburn!”

It is tempting to sink into a food-induced relaxed reverie after lunch (except when it’s pouring down). But the perfect packed lunch means when we’re back on the path again, I feel refreshed in mind, body and soul… usually planning my next one! 

Note: Thanks to Dr Anne Payne for her great advice.

For hiking packed lunches and more find Sally on Instagram @mycustardpie and share your summer adventures with us using the #WalkYourWay hashtag.

Challenge yourself to reach new heights this summer and find inspiration for your summer walks with our Walking Inspiration Packs! #WalkYourWay