Whilst planning my recent Global Odyssey Gobi 100k expedition I was advised that it might be prudent to take along some ration packs to ensure that I had access to enough fuel before, after and potentially during the run.
The warning was that the Mongolian food is ‘not great’. Now, this same warning was given in 2017 when I did the Genghis Khan Ice Marathon, and I have to say that I was mildly surprised: the food was, whilst not haut cuisine, perfectly edible, especially the dumplings. When I pointed this out I was told, it’s different in the south, it gets worse the further south you go. I was prepared to be open minded, but also decided to have a contingency plan as it is important that get enough of the right calories on board. Plus being a bit of a foodie I prefer it if what I am eating tastes good.
After a bit of online research, I contacted Outdoor Foods about their Firepot Range. It was getting consistently good reviews and the meals looked interesting. Armed with a selection of the meals we set out on our adventure.
With a 5 am start I was up at 3 aiming to get plenty of calories in and leave time for everything to settle before starting out. The Gur camp was providing breakfast at 4 am which was great but a bit close to the start of the run for me to eat much, plus I wasn’t sure how suitable the food would be based on my requirements. So, first up, the Posh Pork and Beans and a couple of rookie errors on my part.
The lessons learned are: don’t expect hot water that has been in a flask overnight to be hot enough to effectively rehydrate and constitute the meal; and read the instructions carefully to know that each meal has its own fill line. The pack had a number of fill lines/points marked on it which I also failed to notice.
The combination of these two ‘user’ errors left me with a lukewarm watery concoction with crunchy beans. Setting that aside I thought that the flavours were good and that the pack had the potential to be a really warming wholesome breakfast with good texture. Just remove the ‘numpty’ user.
I had expected to use another one or two during the run, however, I found that my appetite was down and that all I wanted was fluids and small snack that were just a couple of mouthfuls. I completed the run late at night exhausted and beyond being able to think about food. Net result was that both I and my husband (my main support) woke up starving.
It was a tough decision: mushroom risotto or dal and rice with spinach. Now, I love risotto and a betting person would probably have put money the choice, but contrary to type I opted for the dal. With boiling water straight from the kettle, I filled the pack, noting which line to fill to and erring on the side of caution I stopped short of the fill line, closed the bag and gave it a good massage. As it filled out I added some more liquid to the required level.
The result was far more successful and appetising. The texture was good, the rice soft and the lentils firm, perhaps a little too firm but that really is a minor quibble. The flavour was lovely, mildly spiced warming and comforting. It was an ideal recovery breakfast that we both enjoyed.
Unfortunately we didn’t get the opportunity to try any of the other packs although were tempted when we arrived back in Ulaanbaatar early morning but too late for breakfast. I have further opportunities coming up with a trip to North Africa at the end of September and further expeditions in the planning.
The Firepot packs are light and easily packed. They are mess free requiring only hot water and a fork/spoon. They can be cooked in the bag or in a pot. The bottom of the bags expands enabling them to stand up with little risk of toppling over and the zip lock seal is strong. In spite of my rooky errors whilst stumbling around in low light at 3 am they are quick and easy meals. The instructions are clear, and the fill lines are clearly marked. I would recommend filling to below the line initially and then topping up.
Ration packs and dehydrated meals often get a bad press but like any other food products there will be the good, bad and indifferent out there. I can honestly say these are good in terms of flavour and nutrition. They are packed with calories and protein which is exactly what is needed when adventure racing especially when you just need something warm and savoury. I will definitely be including these in my kit going forward.