BACKPACKING FOOD AND NUTRITION
Food is overrated by our society. Just scan any TV listing guide and you will see a preponderance of cooking shows.
Yes we Americans have a food fixation and fat bodies to match. According to a 2014 Gallup poll Americans fall into the following categories:
- 2.1% are underweight
- 34.9% are normal
- 35.3% are overweight
- 27.7% are obese
Gallup uses the Body Mass Index (BMI) to determine the categories
- Less than 18.5 is underweight
- 18.5 to 24.9 is normal
- 25 to 29.9 is overweight
- 30 or higher is obese
If you want to know your BMI, Google will lead you to a calculator. At 65 years of age, my BMI ranges between and 21.5 and 22.2 on the index. When I was younger and a serious distance runner, my BMI was 20.2. The crucial factor, in my opinion, is not what you eat, but how active you are. Lead an active life and you don’t need to worry about what you eat or calories.
When selecting food for a backpacking trip I have 3 criteria
- Easy to prepare (see my post on freezer bag cooking)
- Light weight (most instant, freeze dried, and snack) foods contain 100-125 calories per ounce)
- About 1.5 lbs of food per day (varies by trip and days on the trail)
ON BEING A CURMUDGEON
I have often been accused of being a curmudgeon. I accept the compliment.
Before discussing backpacking food, it will be beneficial to discuss the curmudgeon point of view, or as I prefer, the Contrarian approach to living. Most people would define a curmudgeon as a grumpy old man – there was even a great movie about two curmudgeons, Grumpy Old Men. To understand a curmudgeon, think of the journalist Andy Rooney or the fictional Oscar Madison in Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple.
- Is an independent thinker
- Disdains collaboration and the pitfall of groupthink
- Doesn’t mind pissing off people
- Could care less about what others think about them
- Can easily make enemies
- Is a leader, not a follower
- Does not follow trends or fashion, but is a trendsetter
- Decide for themselves what is good in art, literature, and food – they usually go against the grain here
- Embraces traditional things that work, not new-fangled ideas or popular trends
- Is skeptical and question authority
- Knows everything in life is black or white, true or false; disdains the concept of gray areas or pragmatism
THE CONTRARIAN APPROACH TO BACKPACKING FOOD
Throw away your nutrition books, spreadsheets, or other preconceived food ideas. Don’t read up on it. You need three things in backpacking food: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. The best approach to a balanced backpacking diet is to go backpacking often and pay attention to what food your brain craves. If you are just starting to backpack, embrace the fact you can go several days without food – water trumps food. You need water.
When backpacking for extended periods you will burn more calories than you can eat, so it doesn’t matter what you eat; there is no such thing as junk food. Using my scientific approach of bringing the foods you craved on previous trips, keeping food preparation to a minimum, and eating around 1.5 lbs of food per day on trips under 7 days, you will become a happy, healthy backpacker.
Over the decades I have found the following work for me:
- Breakfast: Instant Quaker Oats brand Oatmeal in all favors – I buy it by the case and never tire of it!
- Day Foods: I don’t eat lunch but snack all day on chocolate, beef jerky, nuts, salted chips and similar foods
- Dinner: Mountain House freeze dried dinners – I also buy these by the case
I can go weeks at a time on this diet. I never tire of it. The food is never boring. As I said earlier, food is overrated; of course if you are overweight or obese you might have a food fixation and place too much emphasis on the overrated palate.
HOW TO BUY DAY SNACKS
On a long backpacking trip I will go to the super market for my food and then repackage it to eliminate the unneeded extra weight of the packaging. For short trips I often stop at a convenience store and pick up what I need on my way out of town.
THE CURMUDGEON CANDY BAR
On a recent trip, I stopped at a 7-11 at 0-dark thirty to pick up my day food. There I found the Curmudgeon Candy Bar!
Turning it over, I found that it is really my favorite backpacking snack and I never go on a trip without them.
Hint: To keep chocolate from melting in warm weather, wrap it in your down jacket during the day.
Bonus: Calories for a Snickers Bar is around 140 per ounce!