As a general rule, you should eat around 1kg of food a day while hiking otherwise you will lose weight. The calorie content should be well above your normal daily intake. Obviously, the more food you take with you the more calories you will burn to carry it, so planning food is about striking a balance between calories burnt versus consumed, while also meeting your nutritional needs.
I met my calorie requirements by posting food parcels and supplemented this with food from cafes, shops and foraging.
I took mainly dried, long-life food with me on the Cape Wrath Trail. Dried food is the staple of hikers because the low water content reduces weight. But there is poor nutritional content in dried foods.
As it was Winter, there were not a lot of resupply points so posting food parcels to strategic locations along the route was necessary. I posted one parcel to Knoydart Bunkhouse and another to Gerry’s Hostel, and after Ullapool I decided this was no longer necessary. Further resupplies at Ullapool Tesco and London Stores allowed me to go on for the remainder of the trip without posting food packages.
In summer you could probably do the whole trail without carrying much food at all – relying on shops and restaurants the whole way. This is certainly the way I would go next time.
Foraging on the Cape Wrath Trail
There is plenty of foraging to do on the Cape Wrath Trail to supplement your diet. Although you may be moving too fast to dedicate much time to it. Here is a list of things to look out for.
Sea shore: Mussels,Limpets, Edible Periwinkles, Razorfish.
Woodland: Scots pine needle tea, Wood Sorrell, Pine nuts, Birch sap, Rowan berries (do not eat raw).
Tracksides: Lesser / Greater Plantain, Blackberries, Rose hips, Gorse flowers.
You could go stoveless on this trip if you wanted to. Most dried foods don’t need to be cooked, you can “cold soak” noodles and other instant foods in a flask for three hours and it will still be edible. I often do this on Summer hikes where staying warm isn’t an issue.
I took a gas canister stove, but I saw shops that sold both meths and gas along the route, (Shiel Bridge Petrol Station, Ullapool Northwest Stores, Kinlochbervie London Stores). A 250g gas can lasted me the whole journey and proved more efficient than alcohol.
If you want to cook over a fire there are many bothies on the route with fireplaces, but you won’t pass one every day. Bothies are rarely near trees or woodland on this route, so you must learn about other fuels you can utilise such as dry peat or heather.
If you are wildcamping, I’d recommend you choose to camp near a woodland area which will provide shelter, fuel and better drainage. But please take care to dowse your fire when leaving and to ‘leave no trace’. Peat and forest fires can be devastating to the ecology, wildlife and estates. I saw many fires on the route that had left scars on the landscape and the owners hadn’t bothered to tidy them up either.
When it comes to fuel foraging, take only what you need. Leave enough for others and the ecology.
Tinders: Birch bark, King Alfred’s cakes, birch polypore.
Kindlings: Dead bracken, Dead heather, Birch twigs, Feather sticks.
Fuels: Dried Peat, Driftwood, Birch, Pine.