This has become a tradition that around the time that the days lengthen and sunburn becomes a realistic risk, I try and put up my summer edition of preparing one’s kit for the summer. Most people are wise enough to already do most of the things I write about, but since this has become a tradition I enclose below links to my previous posts on preparing for fests / larping in the sun and write something new for my regular readers.
My main thoughts from the last few years are:
Layer for the weather and try not to overheat ~ drink plenty of water, especially if you wear armour ~ wear sun cream ~ look after yourself pre- and post- LARP
However, this Summer LARP post focuses especially on food.
The LARPing Larder – storing food at events
LARPing often takes us out into the woods for several days without the distraction of electrical devices, video games, the internet and our phones (though I did go to an event recently where we were encouraged to use our phones to advance the plot …). And as much as most of us enjoy the digital detox that comes by the end of the weekend (perhaps not during the first few hours, but once we’ve accepted that the phone signal is awful and the internet is slower than a snail’s crawl we’re all ok) there is a problem with having no electricity easily available. We are used to having electricity for everything! How on earth can we store food if we don’t have a fridge?!
Never fear brave adventurer. With the help of some more experienced friends and my own google-fu I enclose below suggestions and tips for storing food at events that either: don’t have a meal card; or where you choose not to partake of a Feed-Me option. I am ignoring the fact the referees and the crew often have access to facilities with electricity and kitchens and you could, in theory, loot or liberate space / electricity. My assumption is that such perks are crew perks and unavailable for general consumption / use, though this is not to say that some campsites might have access to an electrical hook-ups etc amongst the camping pitches – use your best judgement.
What’s in the Larder?
You’re going off into the woods and you’re going to run around and be active for several days – either setting up camp, packing down camp, or by involving yourself in the event as your character or as crew. I’ve always found being out in the fresh air puts a serious edge to my appetite and I probably eat way more food when out on site than if I was at home in a usual week. This is partly due to being more active and using more energy through concentrated bursts of action (like running away or reacting to the late night camp attacks) and partly due to the exertion of carrying your weight of gear around with you. And whilst I am lazy and extremely grateful to the kitchen staff that plan and prepare the Feed-Me options at the events I attend, I often take a few extra things in my camping kit to cater for the sudden 11 o’clock munchies and the crash around 3 o’clock. However, I know that at times the Feed-Me options are not to everyone’s tastes and that some people are forced / choose to cook for themselves at events to cater for their own needs.
The best food to take are store cupboard staples, by which I mean things that are packaged / canned and do not require refrigerating. These have been preserved to last and are unlikely to suffer unduly by being out in warmer climes, but plan your meals so that you consume most of what you take with you (and prevent anything that’s been warmed in the confines of your tent from having time to gain intelligence and breed …). I doubt that tinned corned beef that’s been away to LARP and then returned to the cupboard for a number of months can be good for you.
Hot dog sausages (in the jars or tins) are delicious when cooked over a camping stove (see the equipment guide below) and can provide a filling and tasty protein addition to noodles or pasta for a hearty meal. Bread and cheese and apples are quick and easy meals and appropriate for the ‘middle-ages’ many fantasy LARP are set in. Salted, smoked or dried meat like smoked sausage or beef jerky are appropriate too as they were originally methods of preserving food for travel. If you open a packet you should probably consume that before opening another, but that might just be because I like to eat.
Depending on how keen you are to cook or how much time you can set aside for meals at an event depends on what you can take with you to make. Certain foods should be frozen before leaving for the event to give them a chance to last (like bacon or other fresh meat products), though cooking with frozen food requires patience and a good eye. Alternatively you could just stock up on super noodles or pot noodles and just add hot water.
Milk and most dairy products aren’t going to last very well over the course of an event. If you can’t drink your coffee or tea black then take milk powder separately or the pre-made pots of coffee that come with milk powder. You can’t control how milky your drink will be, but it’ll be better than nothing if you are reliant on your get-up-and-go-go juice in the mornings. If you like sugar in your hot drinks either take stuff premixed or take sugar cubes – cubes travel better than loose sugar and will store better once you’ve opened the packet. The one exception to dairy products is cheese, though it’s better to take the harder cheeses that won’t suffer as much in the heat as some of the delicate soft cheeses like brie or camembert. However if you are a cheese fiend and cannot be denied your soft cheesy goodness, consume the delicate stuff first and move onto the rest as the event goes on. Cheese will keep if you store it away in a cool box and if you are cunning you could prep it pre-LARP into meal/snack sized portions to avoid having to take out a large block and cut it when sitting by your camping stove.
I’m a fan of porridge pots for breakfast, even if I’m on the Feed-Me option as I struggle to tackle meat so early in the morning. All they take is filling with hot water from the kettle and a good stir and you’ll have a quick and tasty breakfast (in various flavours depending on which you buy!). If you’re fussy about being ‘period’ you can dump the contents of the pot into a wooden bowl and sit eating your porridge whilst in-character too.
Crackers, oat cakes and cereal bars can help bulk out a meal or provide a tasty snack in amongst. They often come in plastic but minimal packaging and are small enough to tuck in a pouch to nibble during the game – so as long as you don’t mind having crumbs in your belt pouch they are good snacks to have in amongst. If you like having fruit and nuts to snack on, whip up a batch of trail mix from your favourite dried things – it’ll be healthier and less likely to melt on you than a chocolate bar (though chocolate and some sweets do have their uses when looking for a quick sugar pick me up). Fruit juice cartons and concentrated squash mixes can also help keep your fluid intake up. To avoid the plastic taste of camp water I usually mix in some squash to mask the taste, and since I carry my own bottle of water I find I keep myself mostly hydrated when running around. Being hydrated at LARP is important, especially during the warmer months if you’re in layers / armour, and the signs of dehydration and hyperthermia (and how to deal with this) can be found here.
There are a number of blog posts available online with tips on suitable camping food – here are just a few if you fancy some further reading:
The LARPer’s Kitchen (everything you need and the kitchen sink)
When you’re off camping for LARP you don’t want to be taking loads of equipment with you on top of your kit and in-character gear. However, if you are choosing to take your own food and cook for yourself, you have little choice. The difference between taking too much stuff and just enough stuff depends on your planning, and putting some thought into what you need ahead of the weekend away will help significantly (and I don’t mean opening the camping box the night before and going “what the heck do I need?”).
If you are taking food which is best kept cool (e.g. cheese, meat etc) you need a cool box, ideally something that can keep things cold for an extended period of time. I have no experience on taking stuff like this away and so cannot offer personal advice, but one word of advice I have been given is to freeze products before you go away, pack them frozen, and allow them to defrost as your weekend progresses. Add ice blocks or some bags of ice to your cooler, as this helps keep the box cooler for longer and gives your food a better chance of being fresh and wholesome when you get around to eating it. Other advice on some camping websites talks about storing your food box away from your tent to prevent animals from getting into your food stores – I’m not sure how relevant this is for us in the UK as we don’t have rampaging bears, however having something sturdy with a lid you can fasten down will probably deter most creatures and prevent you having to trek back to the car for your supper. If you can orientate your tent so your larder is in the shade this might also help keep your supplies cool, though I’ve found that my tent can get very toasty when the sun’s shining.
Take two coolers if you intend to have cool drinks or snacks to hand to prevent your ‘fridge’ box from heating up every time it’s opened to rummage for a snack. This is probably not ideal if you’re only cooking for yourself or another, but if you and some friends are clubbing together for meals or you’re away for several days, it would be worth have a couple to separate your food from your snacks and keep your proper food cold and your drinks cool. You can probably drink your beer lukewarm, but I wouldn’t like to risk food that’s been sat at a toasty ‘room temperature’ for several days.
Here is a suggestion of what things you should take to kit out your camping kitchen:
- Gas stove and plenty of spare bottles – you wouldn’t want to run out mid-event just because you needed that cup of coffee or your hot water bottle late at night
- Kettle – that is compatible with your gas stove
- Cutlery (knife, fork, spoon) and camping crockery (plates and mugs) – take a spare plate for raw meat during food prep
- Water carrier – useful to carry water back from the main tap so you’ve got it to hand
- Kitchen paper – helps keep things clean and mop up spills
- Heavy duty bin bags – useful for being an actual bin, useful for tidying up wet or dirty kit for the return journey, useful in so many ways
- Lighter or matches or both – just in case your automatic striker on the gas stove doesn’t work
- Tin opener – if needed
- Salt and pepper and any spices you need for cooking – if you like to season your food during / after cooking
- Frying pan / mess tins / camping pot(s) – things to cook food on / in depending on what you’re cooking
- Spatula or cooking spoon – something to stir your fry up or food whilst cooking
- Some form of table (static or folding) to put your gas stove on or use as a stable surface to prep food / eat
- Chopping board and at least one sharp knife
- Cooking oil
- Tin foil – wrap up food to cook later or jacket potatoes for the bonfire
- Washing up bowl and scrubber and at least one tea towel – once you’ve cooked you’ll need to wash up, though you might be able to wash up at communal facilities on the campsite
Plan your meals in advance and pack your cooler so your last days of food are at the bottom and the stuff you need first is at the top. Coolers work better when full and it saves you having to rummage when you’re keen to get some food and get back to the game.
For other tips on packing for camping or taking a camping kitchen, I include “Camping With Style’s” helpful topics.
For further guides to LARPing and camping, I include the links below to previous articles. Happy fest season!