Fueling for the outdoor adventures/fast pack

Planning for a backcountry trip can be intimidating… here is a guide on how to manage calories and weight while building your pack (with nutrition in mind).

Carbohydrates break down to glucose: essential for your brain, nervous system, and much of your physical motion (4 calories per gram).

Eating too few is just as bad as too little protein or fat. In a study of Everest, the carbohydrate intake was about 5g/kg -10g/kg depending on intensity.

Simple vs. Starchy (quick energy vs. sustained energy)

Protein: a major part of all cells, especially muscle cells. It breaks down to amino acids which are the building blocks of new cells and important for repairing tissue (muscles) and maintaining immune system.

  • 1.2-1.4g/kg for endurance training (4 calories per gram)

Fat: often undervalued, is a dense form of energy while hiking and due to the low intensity that predominates, ends up being a major fuel source (9 calories per gram).

For backpacking the goal is high calorie and low weight especially if you are going out for a few days to weeks.

Normally you consume around 2000 calories, but hiking all day you will need upwards of 4000 calories per day, how does this help? You can plan backwards now.

If you hike for 5 days that is 20,000 calories – to mitigate the weight and space you want to choose energy dense foods:

  • 20.5 pounds at 60 calories/ounce (hummus, tuna, dried apples)
  • 15.5 pounds at 80 calories /ounce (raisins, jerky, bagels)
  • 12.5 pounds at 100 calories/ounce (instant rice, Clif Bars, candied ginger)
  • 10.5 pounds at 120 calories/ounce (Pita chips, Jolly Ranchers, doughnuts)
  • 9 pounds at 140 calories/ounce (chocolate, peanut butter pretzels, Cheez-Its)
Picture Credit: REI.com

You want to optimize calorie per ounce!

If you don’t want to do all the math aim for a high fat to water ratio

  • Fat clocks in at 225 calories per ounce
  • Water is about 1 pound per 16oz  (if you know you can find a water source on the trail you can take less water too)

One easy way to maximize fat is to carry a small bottle of oil like olive oil to mix with your food. The other option is to look at Honeyville for freeze-dried cheese or butter to boost the calories but not the weight.

If you have the time and really want to experiment with making your own backpacking food Aaron is a RD that has developed lots of at-home dehydrated meals:


Some easy calorie boosting tips:

  • Replace non-fat milk with whole milk (NIDO) and coconut milk powders
  • Replace rice with protein-rich chickpea pasta and quinoa
  • Add whole nuts, nut butter, and nut powders to increase caloric density
  • Choose lower weight dehydrated fruits such as strawberries versus apricots
  • Include olive, coconut and sesame oils in recipes as much as possible (oil to be added on the trail)
  • Use a variety of beans as an additional protein source
  • Add in drink powders for calories and electrolytes (especially if it will be hot)

Purchased ultralight energy bar, snack and treat options:

  • Variety of Honey Stinger products – waffles, chews, and nut butter bars
  • Clif nut butter bars or Bobo’s Oat Bars
  • Pita chips, goldfish crackers, and cheese crisps
  • Variety of nuts
  • Homemade trail mix
  • Chocolate covered freeze-dried strawberries, limoncello almonds, homemade cookies
  • Chocolate covered coffee beans (for some added caffeine)
  • Justin’s Peanut Butter packets

So what would a day look like?

Sample 4000kcal day:

  • Breakfast: 2 packages instant oatmeal, 1 tablespoon full-fat powdered milk, 2 tablespoon chopped almonds, 2 tablespoon raisins, 2 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 teaspoon roasted flax seeds, 1 teaspoon chia seeds, with 1 oz New Primal bacon stick
  • Morning snacks:  1.4 ounce (37) gourmet jelly beans, 1 Clif Builder Bar, 1 ounce (28) Peanut M&M’s, 24 grams hydration powder mix (Drip Drop packet)
  • Lunch: 1 bagel (260) with individual cream cheese, 3 oz smoked salmon (200), 1 oz dried bananas and 1oz almonds
  • Afternoon snacks: 1.4 ounce (37) gourmet jelly beans, Pro Meal Bar, 1 ounce (18) cashews
  • Recovery drink such as Tailwind Recovery Drink
  • Dinner: 2 serving GOOD TO-GO Thai Curry 6.6oz (760 kcal), 1 package hot chocolate mix, 1 tablespoon full-fat powdered milk, 2 ounces dark chocolate

Kcals: 4000  |  Carbohydrates: 518g    |    Protein: 133g    |    Fat: 156g

Packaging in individual bags helps to portion out what you need so you stay on track!

Always pack a favorite treat of yours! Enjoy and stay safe (i.e. use bear bins and appropriate equipment).

Picture Credit: REI.com

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