Open main menu

Preferred food when space and weight are at a premium

So for lightweight trips I tend bring several types of meals that use pasta noodles.  I always assumed that if weight and space are priorities, that angel hair pasta was the way to go since it packs very dense and can cook quickly with minimum fuel usage.  The only downside is that the noodles are long and somewhat awkward to pack.

I've also found meals involving cuscus and quinua cook fairly quickly and fit into a small space.  Anyone else have any preferred meals when space is a premium?

I have always like Top Ramen Noodle's because its a small dense mass and I break it up for easy eating. It comes in many flavors. I tend to eat two packages of it using just one bouillon packet and saving the other for a hot drink later. Ramen is also very inexpensive, it can be as little as $1 in many stores for 5 packages. And each package weighs just 1 ounce! One could have 8-16 simple meals for every pound of it.

I also usually spice it up with crushed Dorito chips mixed in for a Mexican flavor and sometimes chunks of cheese.

Crushed Frito chips pack a lot of calories into a small space while not adding much weight if that is your only criteria. Doritos work too but are a bit less calorie dense in trade for delicious cheese dust :)

I don't do any actual cooking on trail. Ditilini is my preferred pasta to use in freezer bag meals. It dries and rehydrates easily along with being easy to eat cleanly. I've used angle hair as it also works well in FB meals, but it can be harder to eat without dripping sauce somewhere.

On expeditions I have been on, we tend to include high calorie content food like peanut butter and Nutella (Hershey and a couple other companies also make sweetened nut butters) The idea is that fats and oils are very high calorie count per weight and have a fair amount of protein. Now, of course these do not make for a well-rounded diet. But they do supply a large amount of energy. Be aware that fats take longer to digest, especially if you are at altitude. Nutella is 100 cal per tablespoon and peanut butter is about 95 cal/tbsp. Some people I know take a bottle of olive oil to boost the fat intake (120 cal/tbsp). It is true that you can get pretty tired of such things in a pretty short time. Clif bars run 250 cal per bar.

For your angel hair, you can compact it by just breaking it in halves or thirds.

Dehydrated left-overs!

In winter, I bring fresh pasta because it wont spoil. It boils very fast and is easy to pack. Gnocchi is particularly good because it is fairly dense. I then dress it up with olive oil (great calorie per weight) and some dried herbs and spices.

As mentioned, nutella and peanut butter are excellent. Also, instead of coffee, I bring ovalteen to drink as it has 412 cal/100g and I enjoy the flavour.

Thanks!  Didn't realize nutella was more calorie dense than peanut butter!

Depends on the peanut butter I'd imagine :)


Jif Peanut Butter...168.1kcal/oz

There are a lot of folks out there who have done the math and science to figure out what foods make the best fuel in terms of calorie density and fat content. These numbers came from this site:

The importance of thinking about what food to bring is amplified at the extremes of both ultra light and ultra load backpacking, but the effort pays off where ever a person finds themselves on that spectrum. Of course if you don't balance the math and science with flavors and textures that entice you to eat, it doesn't matter what you carry if you can't make yourself choke it down.

I don't like dehydrated food much and have been spoiled by horse packing and boat trips. For backpacking I like to smoke some trout and bring jerked meat. I bring a bunch of dried and fresh fruits and vegetables. The weight is well worth it.  One of my favorite things to eat in the mountains is a salad. Dehydrated soups are good. I like oatmeal in the morning. For lunch cheese, salami, bread and fruit.

One thing to remember is that dried pasta is fuel hungry, as it has to be cooked. Another thing to consider is the amount of calories needed. On my longer canoe expeditions, I count calories, meaning I try to keep my calorie consumption up. On arctic trips, cubes of butter and cheese, peanut butter and other dense foods like malt loaf are good. However, few of us need to eat cubes of butter. 

Most of my trips are about a week in length.  I plan to lose a couple of pounds every time out  and butter, peanut butter, and Kendal mint cake are the last thing on my mind.  It is essential for longer trips especially in cold weather, to keep the calories up and fire the furnace.  I don't do those kinds of trips any more.

It is remarkable how important food becomes when we are exerting high levels of energy in tough conditions. I can remember hiking above treeline in British Columbia in cold rain and wind. Stopping to eat a Clif Bar can change everything.

I never take pasta or noodles for the exact reason that Eric stated; length of time to cook. Even the instant varieties take a lot of fuel and during the winter when melting ice and then bringing to a boil that can translate into a lot. My mainstay is always oatmeal, and not the instant variety. I prefer the slow cooking variety, but I never slow cook but instead just poor boiling water over it, seal it up and place the container in my sleeping bag for 10 minutes or so. There it does double duty; cooks the meal and warms the sleeping bag. This technique takes a minimal amount of fuel.

I also take butter, peanut butter and cheese and I make my own pemmican. Pemmican is equal amounts of dried meat and rendered fat. Its taste is similar to sausage and certainly no worse for you. Oats and pemmican keep my legs pumping all day and a little goes a long way. In the winter I can consume 5 or 6 thousand calories and still lose weight. Of course in the winter time everything needs to be precut into serving sizes. I remember taking my axe to a block of cheese on more than one occasion.

I also take some of these as treats.


By the way, my LDL cholesterol is well below healthy limits and my resting heart rate is around 50 bpm.


Thanks to North. Pemmican, bannock, dried corn, jerked buffalo meat, now we are getting somewhere.


I just got some Mint Cake for my birthday. Great energy food and won't melt like chocolate bars. I always make bannock on my long trips. An FN company makes Tanka bars, made with buffalo. Typically, the fat was from the liver, as it resists going rancid, but they use another alternative.

Mint cake is great for long trips. It's basically just sugar but the mint flavor is very appealing especially after eating pemmican all day. It's a nice treat. The pemmican in the photo I presented is of course Bear Valley Pemmican Bar, a kind of fruit cake; no meat ingredients. It might be a bit old school compared with today’s goops and gobs, but it’s as close to real food in taste and texture as you can get. Unless of course you prefer the extruded, pre-masticated bars that pass for food today. One bar has 400 kcal.

The pemmican I make at home is equal parts by weight dried meat (anything will do, I usually use black bear and grizzly) and tallow or rendered fat. I don’t endorse any sort of paleo-diet or anything but it is a concentrated food and keeps my legs pumping. For long distance trips I always tend to lean heavily on fats; they pack the most calories per weight. I find that hiking or skiing for weeks on end lends a certain spice to the most boring of foods. However, once the trip is over I indulge on pizzas and salad.

Doesn't melt and has plenty of fat plus tastes really good with "recovery" red wine after dinner if you're staying up to watch the stars.
 Mint cake may make your breath smell nice, but I don't think it pairs well with wine :p

I've made two batches of jerky this spring along with various bags of dried meats, sauces, veggies and pasta for making dinners. Easy to carry, easy to cook doesn't mean you have to suffer out there unless that is your thing.

Salad does begin to sound really good after a while out there though I admit. Stopping into an AMC Hut for an easy bag of water around dinner time is a dangerous prospect as it is tempting to bury my head into one of those giant salad bowls.

Romney's also makes mint cake with chocolate, also quite good.

I think much of a trail diet depends on what you can afford weight wise, and weather wise. For my long trips, even in a canoe, weight and space always seem to be critical. I usually calculate that a 60 liter food barrel, packed tight, will get two of us through 10-14 days. I always take flour for making bannock and supplement with fresh berries. Hard cheeses travel well, as do preserved meats. Every two or three days, I'll have a small can of mandarin oranges. A luxury, to be sure, but after eating dried and preserved foods a lot, the flavor of fruit is good. Dried fruits like figs also help. For trips under a week, nutrition is less of a problem. On longer trips, calorie intake, variety, and nutrition become very important to staying healthy and keeping the meals interesting. When climbing, sardines and cheeses were the mainstay.


Do you ever put choke cherries or some other fruit in your pemmican? That seemed to be the traditional third ingredient.

Cook time and fuel for spaghetti isn't any worse than anything that required boiling water.  As long as you use something like angel hair, the noodles can be added to boiling water and the heat turned off.  The residual heat is enough to cook them without wasting fuel by continuing to run the stove.

Thicker noodles do require more time, however usually bringing the water back to a rolling boil after adding the noodles is enough.  

Of course the downside is that you still end up having to boil at least 3/4 liter of water, most of which gets dumped out. If fuel is a concern, I will use the water I drain from the noodles to help rehydrate sauce.  

ppine, I've made pemmican a couple of times and used saskatoons. Though most below 48 degrees won't know them, they are like super blue berries. I also used some high bush cranberries I brought back from a northern BC trip. I think the tartness of the cranberries helps with the fat of the pemmican. I'd be curious what North uses as well. Maybe cloud berries?

I have made pemmican out of numerous items such as dried meat from wild game mixed with tallow or seal oil and even tried Kraft peanut butter in a pinch. Some of this might sound disgusting to some peoples’ palates but it’s certainly no worse than the old Wilson’s Bacon Bar.

As for berries, choke cherries (Prunus verginiana) and saskatoon berries (Amelanchier alnifolia) don’t grow this far north. We do have blue berries (Vaccinium myrtiloides, etc.) and Bog Cranberries (Vaccinium oxycoccos) growing wild on the tundra. We pick buckets full in August and freeze them. I have put them dried into pemmican but don’t really feel it’s necessary. There is of course no one way to prepare pemmican aside from the dried meat and fat mixture; people have put almost anything into it at one time or another. This is just to enhance the flavor; after all a steady diet of pemmican for any length of time grows tiresome.

Erich, you mentioned cloud berries (Rubus chamaemorus) also known as baked apple or salmon berry in English, nadlare in Dene, kwakwakacoshimin in Cree and okpic in Inuvialuktun. They taste foul to me but a lot of people around here like them and eat them by the bucket full; to each their own. By the way, I will often use the taxonomic classification name to avoid colloquial entanglement.

All the berries mentioned above are circumpolar in distribution and can be found south to Maine and beyond. Anyone looking at going light weight and for a prolonged period of time into the bush could take advantage of what nature provides in the way of fresh berries and greens. By learning to identify just a couple of local edibles it can really help extend a trip by providing much needed nutrition. In the summer time I will often augment meals with fresh fish which is always tasty cooked on a stick over an open fire. I find by learning about the plants and animals inhabiting the areas we frequent for recreation can really help expand our understanding of the natural world.

 As Thomas Huxley stated over a hundred years ago, “To a person uninstructed in natural history, his country or sea-side stroll is a walk through a gallery filled with wonderful works of art, nine-tenths of which have their faces turned to the wall.”

North, when you mention salmon berry, we don't have the low salmon berry      ( Rubus chamaemorus) here in the PNW, but do have the more common one, Rubus spectabilis . I agree that learning about the flora and fauna, as well as the history of an area, enhances the experience greatly. A number of years ago, my friend Laurel Archer wrote a guidebook and included the Dease River. At the time, neither of us had managed to find the memorial marker for Warburton Pike. Two years ago, I managed to find it, quite overgrown.

All, as North mentions, not all wild foods meet everyone's criteria for tastiness. Sometimes, it can be a matter of time of year, or area in which it grows. Oregon grape (mahonia nervous and aquilfoium) usually tastesrather mealy to me. But I have eaten them combined with other, sweeter berries.

North's post is the best plant related missive I have ever seen on the interwebbage. thanks.

There can be no doubt that those that take the time to learn about natural history have a different and much more intimate relationship with native landscapes. I spent 4 days out in the rainy woods this week. It was like visiting old friends.

People ask me what I get out of forums on the internet. The answer is like minded people. I would travel a long way to sit around a fire with Erich and North.

My post should read, mahonia nervousa and aquifolium. I detest a spell check knows less than I do, but insists I'm wrong.

It has a lot to do with numbers.  Figure out how many calories you will be expending a day and make it up with food.   I've seen references on the web that a 200 pound man with heavy pack on moderate trail at altitude expends around 600kcal an active hour.   Don't plan on many 10 hour heavy hiking days.  It is difficult to carry let alone eat 6000kcal a day.  A pound of peanut butter, a pound of honey and a pound of tortilla's...yikes!

Pound of body fat - about 3500 Kcal

16 fl oz of olive oil   3900Kcal (16 (dry) oz more than 4000Kcal)
16 oz of butter (2 cups) = 3,200 calories
16 oz Peanut Butter (creamy) 2708

16 oz sugar (2 1/4 cups) = 1,733 calories
16 oz Corn Syrup 1920Kcal
16 oz Aunt Jamima's Maple (flavored) Syrup 1890
16oz Trader Joe Unsweatened Pineapple (freeze dried) 1760
16 oz Shady Maple Farms Organic Maple Syrup  1680
16 oz Honey 1320
16 oz of chocolate chips  2200Kcal


16 oz macaroni pasta  1680
16 oz spaghetti 1680
16 oz Krusteaz Pancake mix 1680
16 oz rice  1600Kcal
16 oz Kellogg Froot Loops 1656
16 oz (Blue) Cornmeal 1647
16 oz Bulgar (Wheat) 1520
16 oz General Mills Total  1500
16 oz Split Peas (dry) 1170
16 oz  Lintels (dry) 1040

Prepared:  Yum salt and fat added..

16 oz Trader Joe Madras Lintil (heat and eat) 416Kcal (2 x 160kcal servings in 10oz package)
16 oz Mountain House Beef Teriaki 1224 ( a package for two is .55 pound 680Kcal  per individual)
16 oz Mountain House Beef/Noodle Stoganoff 1582  (package for four is .79 pound  1250 Kcal )

** I am thinking following was from a previous post here years ago.

This formula is taken from a United States Marine Corps book on fitness.  I
can't vouch for it's accuracy, but I think these guys have things pretty
well worked out.

 Use this simple formula to estimate your calorie requirements:

#1 Change your weight in pounds to kilograms: Your weight divided by 2.2.
Your basal metabolic rate is approximately 1 calorie per kilogram per hour.
#2 Multiply your weight in kilograms by the 24 hours in a day. This is the
number of calories you burn just being alive each day.

Now factor in activity: Multiply your calories needed per day (from #2
above) by the following factors, depending on your activity level:

Light activity: multiply #2 by 1.3

Moderate: multiply #2 by 1.4

Heavy: multiply #2 by 1.5

Thanks! that's really helpful!

Thanks!  Didn't realize nutella was more calorie dense than peanut butter!

Nutella is mostly sugar. Read about ingredients on a label.

Peanat butter has more protein.

Thought you might like this article..There's more at thru hiker..Hit this link then go to the index page has more to help you..I read this and have a copy I use and share to people...

This is the whole article and paper if anyone is interested in a professionals opinion on the subject..I had to add it because I couldn't edit the post..

On one long trip I carried ten pounds of mixed grain cereal mixed with powdered milk, brown sugar, and cinnamon. I also carried a pound of butter and a pound of jerky. I added to this whatever fish I could catch and grouse I could shoot. There was not enough energy in this diet to keep my weight up and, over the course of fifteen days, I lost fifteen pounds. Now I carry more rice, more fat, and still carry the cereal. I like the dehydrated meals but they also don't provide enough calories. As I get older, I move more slowly and probably won't need as much. GD

There is no doubt about the importance of fat in an outdoor diet, especially one in winter and/or large expenditures of energy. I do not get the focus on carbos and sugar in the posts above.  Where are the fruits and vegetables? Maybe living with a vegetarian is rubbing off on me.

I carried a lot of quick rolled oats as my staple food. It is not necessary to cook it, in fact I still eat it every day uncooked, I just add milk and some raisins. On the trail, the milk would be made from dry whole milk powder, with a small amount of hot water to improve mixing, and, of course, plenty of water. If I wanted a snack for the next day, I could cook some thick oatmeal at night with plenty of raisins and some honey. Then leave it to cool and harden overnight. It wouldn't necessarily be hard the next morning, but carried in a plastic bag it was finger-licking good. Oh, also a tube of honey; to add to anything, or to take straight.

ps - that was the staples, it is assumed that other food in season would be available in the woods. Fish are a great food source, IMO.

I met a guy from Whitehorse, YT backpacking in Alaska. For a 4 day trip he little besides a large sack of rice and a bag of raisins, and some coffee. He planned to find a few berries and a few fish on the way. It made me realize how simple food can be in the outdoors.

Cream of wheat in the a.m. doesn't need to be cooked, the instant variety, just add hot water and stir.  Mountain House turkey tet and mac + cheese for dinner, a good combination of protein, carbs and fat; easy to cook (boil water, pour, zip it up for a while, then eat); and they both taste good.

worth getting and using the NOLS cookbook. i have been pretty happy with their recipes, and home-made means you can package it to suit your needs. my only beef is that some of the recipes take a fair bit of cook time.  

+1 on the instant cream of wheat. I preload a FB with two envelopes and add either NIDO or a package of cocoa for some added fat and calories. Haven't had the nerve to try it with instant coffee mixed in so I don't have to make a cup, but I've pondered the idea :p

While much of what I carry for food has changed over the years, old-fashioned oats with hot water poured over them is something I have stayed with. The only thing I do differently, and I haven't seen mentioned here, is that I add a scoop of protein powder to a cup of oats. This mix uses a lot of water but I need protein and it works for me. Have used different products over the years for the protein powder. Any of the body builder products from the vitamin store work fine for me. 

November 28, 2020
Quick Reply

Please sign in to reply