The Outdoor Type’s Camping Milk Products of Choice

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The Outdoor Type’s Camping Milk Products of Choice

By Blair Paterson, David Rutter, and Garry Sonter

Isn’t it amazing the variety of different milk products filling the fridges and shelves of modern supermarkets these days? Naturally then, these products have pros and cons in the world of camping.

On a recent bicycle trip the three of us Outdoor Types discovered we were each travelling with different fresh milk substitutes – we thought this topical and trivial but interesting nonetheless. Here we discuss why we choose the milk products we take on our camping trips:

Dave’s choice: Condensed Milk

As teenagers, me and my friends lied around campsites sucking this sweet, white syrup straight from the tube for what seemed like hours. We also added it to our tea as a milk substitute. Following this, I went off condensed milk, and sought other forms of long-life milk. After years of carrying long-life milk and powdered milk on hiking and lilo trips, I happened across a tube of condensed milk in a small general store in Mt Victoria, and now it is hard to use other forms of milk for my tea.

Normally, I’m a “milk and no sugar” person. The perfect balance of black tea and milk needs no additives, and any form of sweetening serves only to pollute the flavour. In the bush though, the sweetening of my tea by condensed milk only seems to enhance the flavour. Perhaps my sugar levels are low after a day’s walking or biking. The extra sugar is not only pleasing to my palate but also acts to replace my depleted energy levels for the following days’ activities.
Condensed Milk
The problem, as I see it, with powdered milk, is that it does nothing to the consistency of the tea. Tea shouldn’t simply be watery – it needs a certain creaminess which milk provides. Condensed milk provides this in spades. Since it is available in a tube, you don’t have problems with spills which can occur with the small cartons of long-life milk, it doesn’t need refrigeration after opening, and you can add the right amount to your tea with a simple squeeze without opening several of the small long-life milk satchels.

In my twenties I learnt that condensed milk was one of those universal foods which have a variety of uses. Back then I was introduced to dulce de leche – a thick caramel-like paste used extensively in South America for sweets and sandwiches, which is made by reducing milk and sugar together for a long period over a stove. You can however “cheat” and make it by cooking condensed milk slowly in a pot. Condensed milk is also a favourite in Asia, used in tea and coffee, or again on toast.

Condensed milk, with all its qualities, is now an indispensable component of my outdoor kit.

Garry’s choice: Powdered Milk

If my youth still influenced my choice of fresh milk substitute for camping I’d still be sucking the end of a tube of army edition condensed milk. I didn’t mind its rich taste and the ease with which it oozed from the tube.

These days though, I can’t go past the versatility of powdered milk. I can accept that powdered milk isn’t as creamy as condensed milk in a cup of tea. But it more than suffices in my morning bowl of cereal. If I used long-life milk with my cereal I’d need to carry litres of the stuff, which simply isn’t practical. And while you can dilute condensed milk in water, for me the sweetness just doesn’t work over my cereal.

I have to admit, it’s not the taste that keeps me going back to powdered milk. Or is it? The taste is very average. But powdered milk delivers an ample supply for my breakfast, it can be transported easily without the risk of leakage, and it adds a totally negligible weight to the gear I’m carrying. I usually take the quantity I think I’ll use on an adventure in a plastic satchel bag or small sealable container.
Powdered Milk
There could also be an element of ‘camping nostalgia’ for me with powdered milk. At home on the odd occasion, I confess I’ve reached into the back of the cupboard for the powdered milk, being too lazy to make the three-minute walk to the shop to buy fresh milk. In fact, sometimes I’ve found myself intentionally running out of fresh milk just so I can use the taste of powdered milk to remind me of camping.

And just to make writing this story an experience, I drank three consecutive cups of tea – the first cup made with powdered milk, the second with baby formula and the third with fresh organic milk.

The first and third cups tasted okay but the baby formula made me feel sick. It just felt wrong!

Blair’s Choice: UHT or Long-Life Milk

I dared Garry to take baby formula on our next camping trip; I don’t think he’ll succumb but it’d be funny to see.

Don’t listen to those other two mugs! They don’t know what they’re talking about with their condensed and powdered milks. Yuck! In my opinion, ultra high temperature (UHT) milk is the way to go on camping trips.

I particularly like those single serve, pasteurised UHT tetra-packs which are readily available in most supermarkets. Coming in 20mL serves, they are perfect for one cup of tea, which is generally the only purpose for which I use milk on camping trips. The UHT tetra packs are easy to use: simply peel the tag and tip and squeeze the contents into your hot beverage. Regarding creaminess, I think UHT milk lies somewhere between condensed and powdered milk, but without the sickliness or blandness of each alternative product respectively.
Condensed Milk
I find the little UHT packages to be durable – they squash into any corner of your luggage; they have a long shelf life – unopened and unrefrigerated for six to nine months; there’s minimal waste – once used the packages constitute very little rubbish to carry away from the campsite; and they’re excellent for rationing on extended trips – simply allocate the little packs among each days food and drink packs and you’re away.

On my last camping trip I had an incident with a UHT tetra pack which provided much amusement for my camping buddies. The hole through which the milk is meant to pour didn’t release properly so I used the talon of my fork to pierce the opening. Very resourceful I thought, until I tipped the pack and squeezed only to have the milk squirt sideways and up, and straight into my eye. My vision was cloudy – milky if you will – but thankfully as you’d expect there was no long term damage beyond my own hurt milk-pride.

UHT single serve milks also come in plastic containers which have a peeling top similar to a yogurt container, you often see these packages at fast food outlets and budget motels. They’re harder to find in supermarkets but I prefer the tetra packs instead of the plastic ones anyway.

Most of all I prefer UHT milk because in my tea I find it the milk substitute which tastes most like fresh full-cream milk, which in my opinion leaves those other camping milks for dead.

About Garry Sonter

To say Garry is excited about camping would be an understatement. Given a choice between a luxury hotel and a tent, he would probably opt for the tent. Garry loves introducing people to the outdoors and nature. And in return enjoys seeing them make their own connections. Garry strives for perfection with his photography. He has held exhibitions in his homeland of Australia and in Japan and he is in endless pursuit of photographic opportunities to illustrate how he interacts with life and the outdoors.
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