The National Outdoor Leadership School estimates that backcountry travelers burn between 2,500 and 4,500 calories per day, depending on their individual physiology and their activity. That translates into roughly 1.5 to 2.5 lbs. of food per day.
In a diet-conscious society, that may sound like a huge caloric intake. But food is the fuel your body burns as it powers up and down wilderness terrain. Finicky eaters typically morph into indiscriminate chow hounds after a few high-output days on the trail.
Anticipate that you will feel hungry often and that much of your quiet time on the trail will be spent thinking about food. It's true! Plan ahead for this stomach-gnawing reality.
If you're facing a borderline decision about how much or little to carry, take a little more. Feelings of unsatisfied hunger can distract you from the other sensory joys of a great hike. One of the 10 Essentials for an overnight trip, in fact, is a supply of extra food. One day's worth of food is a smart emergency backup.
On the other hand, don't overdo it. A common beginner's blunder is to bring too much food on a trip, forcing you to lug unwanted bulk and weight in your pack. Experience will teach you what amount of food works for you. Consider a few basic guidelines:
Backpacking breakfasts can range from something fast and basic (an energy bar) to a lavish spread involving pancakes, eggs, meats and coffee. A hot meal can give you an extra boost, true, but a quick snack means no cleanup and a quicker start to the day.
Ideas: Instant hot cereals, dehydrated eggs, pancake mix, breakfast bars, granola, dry cereal, instant tea, coffee, powdered milk, juice, fresh fruit, dried fruits.
Rather than take a prolonged break for a midday meal (involving unpacking, preparation, cleanup and repacking), a smarter strategy is to eat a series of modest energy-boosting snacks throughout the day. Such gradual calorie consumption is known as "grazing."
Ideas: Dried fruit, fig bars, bagels (which you can lug along on a shorter trip), energy bars, jerky and nuts.
The evening meal is your reward for a full day of exhilarating exertion. If you possess elevated culinary skills that translate well into a backcountry setting, you're set for a powerful sensory treat—great food amid great scenery. If you don't mind the expense of packaged, freeze-dried or dehydrated food, the simplicity of a tasty, just-add-boiling-water meal is a relaxing treat.
Ideas: Packaged meals, pasta, instant rice, ramen noodles, instant soups and sauces, instant stuffing, instant potatoes and tuna. Consider bringing along some favorite spices (onion and garlic powder, basil, oregano).
By T.D. Wood
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Last updated: 10/05/2012
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