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What Kind of Backpacking Food?

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Some people don't worry about the wieght of their food when backpacking. Ray Jardine, for example, says you can find your weight savings in other areas. He even brings fresh fruit and vegetables when backpacking. It is easy to understand his argument for the necessity of healthy food on a three-month trip, but experience tells me that we can enjoy weight reductions and worry less about healthy food on short trips.

I've eaten 60 granola bars in five days with no ill effects. It kept my pack very light (no stove), and was very convenient. Of course, I almost always supplement my backpacking diet with berries and other wild foods, so it probably wasn't all that unhealthy.

Different Food for Different Backpackers

We are all different. I don't suffer any when I have no cooked meals, but you may. So there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution to the food question. You will have to balance the weight/health/taste/cost issues in your own way. There are some important things to understand, though.

For starters, the lightest food is generally that which has the most calories per ounce. Pure fat wins the contest, followed by high-fat foods, low moisture carbohydrates (granola bars), proteins (beef jerky), and then bread, fruit, veggies, etc. Nuts, for example have 50% more calories per pound than pure sugar, because of their fat content. There is a rough guide to calorie counts of the most common backpacking food items at the bottom of the page.

Also, look at the labels. Find the foods you like, and then choose the ones that are higher in calories for their weight. That way, you get what you want, what your body needs for energy, and you keep it light. I plan for about 3000 calories a day. This is not quite enough (I'm 6'3", 160 pounds), but it's no disaster to lose a pound or two on a weekend trip.

With high-calorie foods like mixed nuts (2700/pound) and tortilla chips (2100/pound), I can get by with about 20 ounces of food per day. On a four day trip I'll carry around 5 pounds. If you eat a big meal before you go, you can carry less food (although you'll carry it inside you anyhow). Also you can cut weight if you know which berries to eat along the trail. I have eaten 500 calories in raspberries during one break while hiking in Colorado.

Healthy Backpacking Food

To stay healthy, try this: Eat a good salad right before you leave, and right after you get back. If you then also eat some berries and herbs along the way, you can concentrate on bringing only light backpacking food, and your health shouldn't suffer. The other, more obvious alternative, is to spend some money. With enough money, you can feast on nutrition-packed, calorie rich foods the whole time you are hiking. Bee pollen, spirulina, raw nuts and seeds, molasses, dried papaya - I could go on, but you get the idea.

Backpacking Food Calorie Counter

Here are some backpacking foods, with their calories-per-ounce. Multiply by 16 to get the calories-per-pound. Any food can be brought on a lightweight trip, but balance out low-calorie foods with high-calorie ones, and you should be able to bring the foods you like, while keeping your food weight to less than two pounds per day.

Almonds................165
Beef Jerky.............. 70
Bread..................... 70
Cereal...................110
Cheese.................. 80
Chocolate.............140
Cookies................130
Crackers...............110
Fruit........................ 20
Fruit, dried............ 90
Granola................110
Noodles...............110
Nuts, mixed..........170
Olive oil.................240
Pasta....................110
Peanuts.................160
Peanut Butter.......160
Potato Chips........150
Raisins................... 90
Ramen Noodles....130
Snickers Bar..........140
Sugar......................110
Tortilla Chips..........150
Vegetables.............. 10
Dried Vegetables... 70

For more backpacking food options, visit the pages on edible wild plants and edible wild berries.



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