The “Real” Big Three: Food
A couple weeks ago I started a series about my “Real” Big Three categories of gear that I think is sometimes forgotten but just as important. The first thing on my list was clothing, and now the second thing on my list is food! Everyone knows that a well fed backpacker is a happy backpacker no matter how much weight you like to put in your pack, but sometimes food is more of an afterthought. In my very humble opinion, food is very easily the most important thing I put in my pack. It is a backpacker’s fuel for their bodies and when you get past all of the fancy gear and technical stuff, if your body isn’t working, you are not going anywhere. You could also file water under this but water gets a good amount of attention. There are three things I think about when I’m prepping my meals for a trip: 1. Calories, 2. Nutrition 3. Weight
Calories is always the first thing I try to think about because calories are what your body runs off of. So no matter how much it weighs or what it costs, it HAS to provide me with the energy my body needs. I like to aim at a minimum of 500 calories a meal and then 200-300 in snacks that I eat 1-2 a day depending on how many miles I’m doing which usually gives me a minimum of 2,000 calories a day. I have a low metabolism, am short, and don’t eat very much on trail so that number will be lower than many people. Many of the guys I know take anywhere from 2,500 to 3,500 calories a day.
Nutrition is the second thing I consider because I believe that healthier food helps my body run more efficiently than junk food. With that in mind I try to eat backpacking meals that are made with natural ingredients or I make my own. There are a few options for nutritious options for pre-made meals Hawk Vittles is my favorite. But there are also a lot of options for making your own meals. There are stores like Whole Foods and Sprouts that have pre-dehydrated ingredients that you can make into your own meals and then there are many recipes out there to work with. Websites like Trail Cooking and Wild Backpacker offer some of the largest repositories of recipes and books like Lip Smakin’ Backpackin’ (My personal favorite!) offer printed recipe collections.
Weight is always important to me in what I carry and food is no exception. There are so many great foods that are packed with healthy calories that weigh very little. Starches like noodles, rice and other grains that are packed full of healthy and natural calories and they taste great with all kinds of flavors. Some of the other things that help is adding a variety of dehydrated fruits that have really great sugars that are also really flavorful and healthy. I dehydrate everything to keep the weight down and it just happens to have the added benefit of making fruits last longer and taste sweeter. The most recent change I have made is to add 1-2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil of my choice. I go between Olive oil and Grapeseed oil. Grapeseed oil has 130 calories per tablespoon and olive oil is fairly close to the same thing. It is a little bit of weight for a huge punch of energy.
If a meal hits all these marks, it makes it onto my favorites list. Things like my favorite GORP that hits 500 calories matched with homemade beef jerky that tops the meal out at an average of 700-800 calories is my favorite lunch because I can eat it while hiking and it fits into the hip pockets of my SMD Swift. Fruit leathers and granola bars make up my favorite snacks. Red Beans and Rice Wraps and Stir Fry are two of my favorite dinners. What recipes do you love when you are on the trail?