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Calories per day or Food Weight per day?

Just thinking as I put together a food plan for my next trip. I am always interested in the great variety of opinions and expertise from you all....

I know some folks go big picture and basically gather a variety of their favorite foods adding up to what their experience and metabolism says is the right weight (mine is around 1.5 lbs of food per day for the average miles I do).  Others detail each item and come up with a calorie count per day that meets their goal based on the same experience (mine is around 2,800 - 3,000 per day for a short trip with average climbs - adjusted higher for more elevation gain or longer miles).

I tend to balance both methods but make sure I have a variety of foods to keep things interesting.  I do much less planning for a weekend trip (often just throw a lot of stuff in from the kitchen) than I do for a 5-7 day trip.

Which do you lean toward, or are there other options that I don't practice? 

pounds per day the calorie stuff is like eating Chinese food 30 min later you don't even feel like you ate. And I grew up eating oriental  every day rice every meal. A man needs something solid meat and potatoes IMO

Like you mention Phil, how much thought I put in depends on the length of the trip. Difficulty and weather also factor in a bit as both can dictate more or different food if things may get intense. As trip length approaches or exceeds a week I tend to look more closely at nutritional values.

My planning is sort of modular in nature so for anything up to 5 days or so I can just plug in a breakfast and dinner for each day without much thought with snacks filling out the rest of the menu. Then I add in a box of cookies and a few apples as bonus luxury items because those make me happy :)

For longer trips I've spent some time looking at nutritional values to add in more fat so the snacks change around a bit. I'll also add in roughly 4 lunches for every 5 days in hopes of stopping my deathmarch for a long mid-day break. Those are usually tortillas and cured sausage of some sort, but may be bags of soup making materials I put together in colder weather.

I find about 5 or 6 days is enough for the Hunger to kick in so I try to account for that and have larger meals ready for late in the trip. The meal bags are 25-50% bigger and the chocolate rations go up too. For my upcoming 15 day hike I'm breaking the food bag up into three, five day bags. There will be larger portions and some bonus treats as I work my way towards the bottom. Just have to keep from eating it all by day 10 heh.

either or. I plan to lose a few pounds every time out.

On short "snippet" backpacking trips your food menu can be anything you like to eat at home, even stuff in a can.  What's the harm in hauling 3 cans of food on a 3 day trip?  It amounts to nothing, even though canned food has become the bane of trekkers.

On the other hand, if you're pulling a 15 or 20 day trip w/o resupply, food choice is important.  I divide my food into 3 separate food bags---

**  Cookables.

**  Snackables.

**  Lightweight overflow bag.

A home dehydrator allows you to take all the prepared and canned foods you like and dry them at home and it's not hard drying 20 days worth of dinners---the main cooked meal on the trail.  This makes up your Cookables bag.  On my last 24 day trip I also took a large 3 lb bag of old fashioned oatmeal and oats became both my breakfast and dinner on several occasions.

The Snackables bag can be anything you like to eat out of hand w/o cooking:  peanut butter, jam, nut butters, corn chips, crackers, fresh fruit, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, Clif bars, cashews, cheese, loaves of Ezekiel bread, etc.  VARIETY is the name of the game.  You can even take some tubs of fresh hummus for a weekend trip without spoilage.

The overflow bag contains bulky light stuff like corn chips or rice cakes or bread loaves or dried broccoli or butternut squash or whatever else.  Most people though can get by with two large food bags.  And I factor 2 lbs+ of food per day on a long trip.  This number corresponds to the experiences of Ray Jardine and Andrew Skurka and Disco Grinter.

All of my trips include 2 energy bars per day and these can be anything from Probars to Guru chews to Clif bars to larabars to a hundred other choices.  So on a 20 day trip my bar bag contains 40 bars---sounds like alot but you need something to eat while on the move.

Oh and don't forget to haul out that occasional WATERMELON.  It's a time honored tradition in the mountains of NC and TN and every backpacker worth his salt humps out a watermelon during a trip.

Here's backpacking buddy Johnny B bringing up a watermelon on a one mile trail and a gain of a thousand feet to my Tipi site on a ridge in NC.  Several years before this I humped in a melon on Upper Creek trail in Pisgah NF and went up Heartbreak Hill with sad results.  Long story.  And no pics of the spartan challenge.

Patman has joined the elite rank of Melon Humpers when he surprised me with one in the Bald River wilderness in July 2012.

In November 2015 Patman surprised me with another watermelon which he humped for several days in the Big Frog wilderness of TN.

the elite rank of Melon Humpers

I have no response because there are too many directions I could go with this...and have too much respect for you and Patrick to go the low route. 

Grinning- one thing who supplied the salt? LMAO

Most of my trips are in the winter so calories always rule. But, I can never carry enough so always lose weight. Which isn't such a bad thing.

I don't measure out by weight or by calories but by volume. Basically, I know how big a meal should be and how much snacks I'll eat in a day.

 Tipi, you didn't know this but I wasn't going to carry that watermelon much longer than I did in the Big Frog. If you hadn't night-hiked to find me that day you may have missed out. lol


My normal trips are short, two day two night affairs so I can pretty much carry whatever I want.  Like JR I kinda know what I need but don't really count calories that much (sometimes) and have only weighed the total for longer trips (5-9 days). I mostly just count meal types (two breakfasts, two lunches, etc..) and start stacking in little piles until it looks right.

But I often bring fresh fruit and veggies, frozen leftovers for night 1 (not dehydrated), or whatever strikes my fancy. I've carried convenient food that I just didn't want too many times at this point. No more bringing marginal items for me.

I've also been through phases of burn out; I can't stomach the prepackaged backpacking food much at all anymore. I went through a Mary Jane's Farm phase, an Alpine Air phase, a Pack-it Gourmet phase, and so forth.

I too went the whole Mary Jane's Farm phase and the Hawk Vittles phase and the MRE phase (don't do it, boys!!) and the Mt House travail and the Pantry whatever phase and all the rest.  Too salty, too expensive, too weird, etc.

Oddly I never get burned out on just plain old oatmeal.

Years ago when the Tomato Head restaurant was in Maryville TN (gateway to the Smokies) I often got a big brown rice burrito to go and these babies always accompanied me on the first day of a trip.  There's nothing like hiking all day and getting to camp and sinking my teeth into one of these burritos with cold mt spring water.

A Tomato Head burrito in the tent.  From their menu:

Jose Jose Burrito



Sadly they moved out of Maryville and now have two stores in Knoxville.  Footnote:  This baby is BIG.

Tipi & Patrick - I can see burnout happening with you guys as the time you spend on the trail is a significant part of your diet compared to probably most others, including me. 

I do the same for short trips - usually just rummage through the kitchen for enough stuff including leftovers to suit me for a couple of nights, and then just supplement with a quick trip to the store on the way out of town (I keep ziplocs in the car to repackage last minute items).  

I get into the weight and calorie count on longer trips.  Looking back, I usually take a look at weight when I get to 3 or 4 nights, and then take a more serious look at weight and consider calories when I get to 6+ nights like I am planning this month.  I think a more careful look at that length of trip, for me, keeps my energy up at the back end of the trip and makes sure I have variety of food enough to not get bored.  By day 4/5 my appetite is usually much higher than the first couple.

Never hurts to lose some weight on the trail at my age - its about the only way I can easily get rid of the middle age spread.

For a 1 or 2 night hike I will just bring whatever I want without regards to weight.  For something one week or longer I plan out a menu and calculate calorie plus carb, protein, and fat composition to total 3500-4000 kcal per day.  

I work the details to make sure I am carrying less than 2lbs per day so generally I am light on carbs and heavy on protein and fat.  Within this generalization breakfast is mostly complex carbs and fat.  I "slow drip" food throughout the day instead of eating lunch and this slow drip is a fatty and proteiny as I can tolerate.   Nuts, jerky, etc.  Dinner is probably the most balanced but always contains a protein shake right before bed.  

Just saw this...I do the 2 lbs when it long distance or a long trip...But I calculate the calories in my snacks and meals to round it upwards...Short I bring food that I would normally not...I   just went on an overnighter last weekend and we brought fresh chicken breast, Rice, Corn and snacks...Cooked over an open fire...

January 28, 2021
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