Food Info - LONG!

The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Trail Foods

Eating right is an absolute necessity for a thru-hiker.  Planning and experience can help you maximize nutrition and calories while minimizing cost and weight.
Probably nothing you carry on a thru-hike represents your personality and style more than your food bag.  Here's an example of a typical day's food during my last thru-hike.  
Food Item
carbs (g)
protein (g)
fat (g)
Weight (oz)
1 cup granola
2 oz peanuts
4 flour tortillas
4 Tbsp peanut butter
1 Snickers
1 box Mac-n-Cheese
4 Tbsp Parkay
1 oz TVP

Let's Break It Down  
·         My diet for the day broke down to about 49% calories from carbohydrates (4 cal/g), 33% calories from fat (9 cal/g), and 18% calories from protein (4 cal/g).  This ratio is close to the diet recommended for long distance hikers by Dr. Brenda Braaten* (see sidebar).
·         3260 calories was sufficient for me to neither gain nor lose weight during my hike.
·         $4.14 seems like a lot to spend on a day's food.  I generally spent about $20 for a five day resupply, though, so it agrees with my last hike's expenditures.
·         27.1 ounces is about 1.7 pounds.  Again, this agrees with my approximate food bag weight of about 8  pounds (+/- 1 pound) for five days.
·         As you can see, I prefer quick and easy to prepare, calorie-laden foods.  None of the items on the sample food list are exotic or expensive.

Five Things You Should Know About Backpacking Food

1. The Nutrition Facts panel on every food item sold in the United States is an excellent source of objective information for the backpacker.  Compare and contrast your favorite food items to figure out what packs the most punch for its weight and cost.  Don't forget to consider the ratio of calories from carbohydrates to protein to fat:  shoot for about 50% calories from carbohydrates, 15% calories from protein, and 35% calories from fat.  Take a clipboard to the local supermarket and write down the nutritional information for all the foods you think might work during your hike.  If you're thinking about buy-along-the-way, go to a small market and then a convenience store and try the same thing.  It can be fun to try and fish a resupply out of a very limited selection.

2. It's really hard to get enough fat and protein in your diet.  Many of the foods sold today are the dreaded "low-fat" variety; I avoid these foods like the plague.  Parkay Squeeze Margarine is my main source of fat.  It does not contain the trans-fat that has been linked to arterial plaques and comes in a bottle convenient for trail use.  For protein, I eat Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) when I can get it to supplement the protein in my diet from other sources.   Some carry tuna fish, but I can't bring myself to carry anything that comes in a can. Were I to find a can in a hiker box, I'd be more apt to eat it right on the spot than to put it in my food bag.

3. Many of the pasta and rice dinners contain dried vegetables.   Often I can find dried tomatoes and other dried vegetables in the supermarket.  These really help add variety, and there are some vitamins and nutrients as well.   Unfortunately, though, dried fruits and vegetables have lost much of their nutrition due to oxidation.  Fresh vegetables are a much better source of vitamin and nutrients.  In addition, taking a multivitamin every day can help ensure that your diet isn't lacking in some essential vitamin or mineral.  Don't overdo it, though; shoot for 100% of the USRDA, not more or less.

4. Think simple.  Every food I buy can be cooked by the boil and soak method.  Stay away from non-instant rice and uncooked beans at all costs; they're both incredibly fuel intensive and will take forever to cook.  At the end of the day, most thru-hikers are interested in eating quick to prepare, calorie laden foods.

5. Freeze Dried Meals are very expensive.  The manufacturers take advantage of people's inexperience when it comes to backpacking food.  You can buy two whole days worth of food for the cost of a single freeze dried dinner. 
Don't expect your nutritional needs to be the same as mine.  I weigh 125 lbs, have a fast metabolism, and carry a very light pack.  Your caloric needs are particular to you; do your own research and figure out what works for you.  The information in this article can help to point you in the right direction but should not be considered a blueprint for what to buy.

*           *              *             *               *             *             *              *             *               *                *

How Much and When?

The body has a remarkable reserve capacity of nutrients, minerals and vitamins to buffer against short-term deficiencies or fluctuations in your diet. But long-term neglect will take a toll on your health, your performance, your enjoyment of your wilderness experience, whether backpacking, canoeing or skiing. For backpackers, it is critical to consider how to optimize nutrient quality, while minimizing the weight/bulk of both the food and fuel carried.
  • The Energy Machine is fueled by carbohydrate and fat.
  • Easy Rule of thumb: pack 1.5-2 pounds dehydrated food/person/day for easy-moderate hike; 2-2.5 lbs./person/day for moderate to difficult conditions. See Table 1. The Shopping List.
  • Endurance is most critically determined by maintaining carbohydrate/glycogen stores in muscles. Frequent snacking is necessary to sustain energy levels for the long haul. See Table 2. Trail Snacks.
  • Proper Training allows more efficient Oxygen delivery to muscles, allowing more efficient Fat burning (thus sparing carbohydrates).

How many Calories do I need?
If your load is less than 15% of your body weight and terrain is gentle, your caloric needs are not significantly different from normal (i.e, 2500-3500 Calories for active females, 3000-4000 Calories for active males). If, however, you are carrying 25-35% of your body weight over difficult (uneven/steep) terrain, you will need extra calories (500-1000, give or take). Body reserves will contribute a significant portion of your energy needs during the first few weeks of a thru-hike, but as bodies become leaner, dietary intake becomes more crucial.

How many pounds of food should I take?
If you choose a balanced diet with 30-40% fat, pack 1.5-2 pounds dehydrated food/person/day for easy-moderate hike; 2-2.5 lbs./person/day for moderate to difficult conditions.
For a long duration hiker, boost the fat to 35-40% by selecting foods that are calorie dense (that is, above 5.0 Calories per gram, See Fat), which means choosing high fat foods. Besides keeping your pack weight down, your food will taste better and your breakfast will hold you longer since fat slows down digestion, giving you a more even distribution of fuel being absorbed. (Note that the recipes are given with a "Plus Fat" option for long duration hikers.)

Isn't 30-40% fat too high?
Fat and carbohydrate, not protein, are the preferred fuels for muscle. Don't fall into the trap of thinking, Carbohydrates are good and fats are bad. A balance is necessary to achieve maximum performance over the long haul. Protein is important for building muscles and regulating the chemical processes within the body, so protein is normally not a significant fuel source (5-10% at most)].

Fat supplies 9 Cal/gram, over twice as many Calories as carbohydrate or protein, which supply 4 Cal/gram.
1 teaspoon of sugar (carbohydrate) weighs 5 grams = 20 Calories.
1 teaspoon of butter (fat) weighs 5 grams = 45 Calories.
Same weight, but fat can supply over twice the energy carbohydrate (or protein) can.
  • Note: Carbohydrates are referred to as sugar (the simple carbohydrates) or starch (the complex carbohydrates. Cereals, grains, fruits and vegetables are all good sources of carbohydrates.
  • Fats you know: oil, butter, cheese, nuts, egg yolks, ice cream, donuts.
  • Protein rich foods include meats/fish, nuts (again), dried beans and egg whites.
Most foods are a combination of all three, since all three are necessary to make healthy living cells. That is, they do more than just provide Calories.

But isn't fat bad for your health?
Not when you are burning off the calories as fast as you take them in (i.e., weight holding constant) and you are getting plenty of exercise. See Fat. 

 How can I avoid "hitting the wall"?
"Hitting the wall" is due to depletion of muscle glycogen/carbohydrate. You feel like someone has put lead in your boots and it is major anguish to move. You've just run out of carbohydrate stores and the muscle has to rely solely on fat for energy. Fat requires oxygen, so you can only move as fast as oxygen gets supplied to your muscles, and there's no backup from carbohydrates. CURE: eat/drink carbohydrates. But better yet, PREVENT it from happening by feeding your body small frequent doses (25-50 grams every few hours) of carbohydrates throughout the day, thus conserving your stored carbohydrates. (Refer to Table 2 below, Trail Snacks.)

  To maintain energy levels over the long haul, snack on carbohydrate AND fat. Like M&M peanuts, GORP, PopTarts, crackers or granola bars. AVOID excessive amounts of the high sugar snacks, especially just before beginning your day--they may cause insulin levels to rise, which will work against you, locking your fat in storage, rather than making it available to your muscles. Proper training will make your muscles more efficient fat burners, thereby sparing glycogen.

OVERVIEW of Carbohydrates: --> 4 Calories/gram
Glucose--blood sugar; preferred fuel for brain and muscles during high intensity exercise
Lactic Acid--half a glucose molecule, produced when oxygen supply is limiting and glucose cannot be completely combusted; lactic acid can be recycled back to glucose in the liver, thus restoring blood glucose levels after exercise. Training is critical to get plenty of oxygen to your working muscles and prevent lactic acid from forming in the first place.

Glycogen--"animal starch"; many glucose molecules joined together; mainly stored in liver and muscles. Glycogen is the competitor's edge--the source of energy for the last sprint up "Heartbreak Hill". Even though backpackers aren't likely to be sprinting, if you're in for a 20 mile day, glycogen may make the difference between 10 hours or 14 hours on the trail. As blood glucose levels fall, the liver will share its supply with the rest of the body, thus sustaining blood glucose levels, thereby keeping the brain happy. (Remember glucose is the brain's preferred fuel.) Muscles don't share their glucose with other tissues. It's not that they are selfish. They just can't--they don't have the necessary enzymes to release glucose back into the bloodstream. So for glycogen, once stored in muscle, always in muscle.

The size of the storage depot in the liver is nonnegotiable (predetermined by size, heredity, and all that--usually about 500 Calories), but the amount of glycogen stored in the muscle IS negotiable. With training and proper diet, the serious athlete can increase glycogen stores in the muscle from 500 Calories to 1,500-2000 Calories. Practically speaking, how much energy is that? Enough to last about 2 hours hiking up the Cathedral Trail of Mt. Katahdin. You may know when you "Hit the Wall''--when your glycogen stores are depleted and your muscles have to rely more heavily on other fuels. Fortunately, "hitting the wall" is not the end of the trip, but it does require some adjustment. Not all your energy comes from glycogen. There are plenty of fuel resources--branched chain amino acids, glucose which is being made in the liver from metabolic "left-overs" like lactic acid, but the main fuel supplying exhausted muscles is fat. Maligned, unappreciated Fat. When you think you can't go another step, Fat may get you home tonight. You just have to slow down to allow oxygen to reach your "burnt out" muscles.


GLYCOGEN is the first fuel to become depleted.
To avoid glycogen depletion, snack frequently (20-30 grams/hour) throughout the hike, and eat a high carbohydrate meal within an hour after quitting for the day.
DON'T eat a high sugar snack just before exercise, unless it is combined with other low sugar foods.

 Should I carbohydrate load?
No, there's no need to carbohydrate load. But yes, there is every reason for you to maintain your glycogen stores at optimum levels. If you don't, you'll hit the wall, or worse, "bonk" (run out of both liver and muscle glycogen stores).
Suggestions to sustain glycogen through weeks of endurance exercise.

 1. Snack, Snack, SNACK!
Throughout long treks, Munch. Because BOTH fat and carbohydrates are being burned in active muscle, the ideal way to maximize relative fuel consumption is to keep eating a mixture, but carbohydrates are especially critical during exercise. The body has an ample supply of fat stored up, so even if you don't eat any fat, there's plenty available in the bloodstream, being delivered from storage. Not so with carbohydrates. Storage is limited. See Table 2 below for Snacks ranked by carbohydrate content.

 2. REST!
Give muscles a chance to replenish their carbohydrate stores. It takes several days to fully replete stores after they are exhausted/depleted. On a long trek, you may find your energy level flagging earlier and earlier with each passing day. Feeling tired, weak, anemic. You don't have the same stamina. It's likely not because you are suddenly iron deficient, but rather because you are running out of stored carbohydrate. Plan a day of rest following a particularly long grueling day and eat plenty of complex carbohydrates (i.e., whole grains, starchy vegetables). [Notice how many through-hikers do just the opposite. They eat high carbohydrate meals on the trail, then bee-line to town to gorge on a pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream and a dozen donuts after single-handedly inhaling a large pizza with everything on it. Where does all that fat go? It's NOT replenishing depleted glycogen stores (humans can't convert fat to carbohydrate effectively). If it doesn't go straight through you (diarrhea), some of the fat goes to replete the fat stores in the heart and muscle, but most of the excess goes right back into storage to be lugged around a few more miles.]

Eat frequent carbohydrate snacks, especially during and immediately after a hard workout (15 minutes to 1 hour after quitting for the day, so keep your dinner menu simple). During the day, about 20-30 grams of carbohydrate per hour is a reasonable goal. 20 grams for easy hiking; 30 grams for more challenging terrain. And the sugar can come from complex carbohydrates (="starch"/ "whole grains"/"high fiber" foods), which are better nutrients all around. Complex carbohydrates release sugar over a longer period of time, rather than getting one big dose all at once. A second benefit of complex carbohydrates is that they are more likely to supply the B vitamins and minerals you need. (Refer to Table 2, Trail Snacks, below.)

 4. Never eat a high sugar snack just before exercising.
Insulin, a hormone released when sugar is eaten, stimulates cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream, thus causing blood glucose levels to fall. If you then begin to exercise, glucose levels will further plummet, thus decreasing your endurance. A drink of water or milk would be better than drinking a sugar-laden soda just before you exercise, since the sugar will cause you to run out of energy faster. If you must mainline sugar, eat it in small doses during or after exercise, but not before!

Hypoglycemics/diabetics: A special alert: a high carbohydrate diet (70:15:15) can work against you. If you're trying to preserve your glycogen stores for the long day ahead, insulin says, " Burn carbohydrate, not fat", but you really want to preserve that glycogen as long as you can. What to do? Avoid eating excessive amounts of simple sugars, so insulin won't be released. Spare glycogen by eating complex carbohydrates (starches) or small quantities of combination foods--foods that contain protein, sugar and fat (i.e., cheese and crackers or a Pop Tart), so that absorption is delayed and insulin response is lower. 
The Perfect Food--What is it?
There is no perfect food. In order to get a balanced diet providing adequate minerals and vitamins, select a variety of foods as suggested below.

Note to the Ultralights/Minimalists: Sure you can get by without a stove. No morning coffee, no hot soup on a rainy day. Just cold cereal, chips and dip, tabouli, cheese and sausage. . . and frequent trips to town to gorge yourself. There are plenty of food choices that require no fuel/preparation, but seriously consider what you are trading off. Are you carrying heavier (hydrated) foods in place of 2 pounds worth of stove + fuel? Are you adding 5 miles per day to your itinerary just to access food? For short term hiking, it is easy to plan an appealing menu that is light weight and requires no stove. For months on the trail, try to imagine what you will feel like when you try to swallow the 1,346th Mocha flavored energy bar. But for the insistent, the Shopping List below allows enough flexibility that you should be able to plan a reasonably varied, nutritionally adequate diet, even without a stove. Just select foods within the same category. Example: Since you cannot prepare rice, Ramen or couscous, buy an extra 5 pounds of bread, crackers, cereals and chips.

The following Shopping List will provide approximately 75,000 Calories--enough for 2 people for 7-12 days, depending on elevation change, climate, load in their pack, trail conditions, and number of miles covered each day. Expect to burn more Calories after about six weeks on the trail. Your body eventually adapts to the added stress by "turning up the heat." On a through-hike, muscle protein gets turned over faster, more blood cells and new capillaries are being made, and you will feel voraciously hungry. Well into the through-hike, 75,000 Calories may only be enough for ONE person for 12 days. See Recipes. 

QUANTITY (lb.)  
Pack Light  
QUANTITY (lb.)  
Ultra Light  
COMMENTS for Ultra Light



Oil is more calorie dense than margarine
Peanut butter 



Buy dried cheese
Dried fish/meat 
Instant Breakfast



(vitamin/mineral rich)
Pack Light 
Ultra Light  
COMMENTS for Ultra Light
Drink mix: cider, gatorade 
Pudding mix 
Soup/Gravy mix  
Cereals (hot or cold) 
Rice or couscous 
Ramen noodles (10 pkgs.) 
Potato flakes 
Baked cookies/breads  
Granola bars/PopTarts  
Flour/baking mix  
Dried vegetables 
Dried fruit 



Cream/cheese-based mixes  
Add Cremora 

Dry mix (eg. Trail Brownies) 
High Fat 
Include high fat Summit Bars 

Include Banana Chips  
High fat, not hard candies
Total weight (75,000 calories): 40 lbs. 35 lbs.
Fuel required for either category: less than 4 lbs. (2 quarts) 
Return to OVERVIEW of Optimizing Fuel, or Proper Training.                                                       go to TOP of page 

Portions Providing 15-30 grams carbohydrates
HIGH Carbohydrate (>90% Carbohydrate) 
 Hard candy  
*Dried apples  
*Dried apricots  
*Dried figs  
*Fruit leather 

1.5 Cups  
1 oz. 
7 pieces  
2 T (25 g)  
5 pieces  
10 pieces  
2 pieces  
1 oz.




MODERATELY HIGH Carbohydrate  
(70-90% Carbohydrate)
*Fig bars 
*Graham crackers  
*Plain bagel  
1 oz. 
2 bars  
4 squares  
1/2 piece  
1/2 tart
MODERATE Carbohydrate  
(40-70% Carbohydrate)
*Granola bar  
*Peanut butter Granola bar  
*Cracklin' Oat Bran  
*Natr. Valley G’ola  
*Tropical Trail Mix 
*Stoneground crackers  
 M&M plain  
 M&M p'nut  
*Tortilla chips  
*Ritz crackers  
*Better Cheddars  
*Banana chips  
*Bagel + 1 T p'nut butter 
10 crackers  
1 oz. 
1 oz.  
1 oz.  
1 oz.  
1 oz.  
8 crackers  
1/2 pkg (.88 oz.)  
1/2 pkg (.85 oz.)  
1/2 bar (1.1 oz.)  
1 oz.  
8 crackers  
20 crackers  
1 oz.  
1/2 piece
LOW Carbohydrate  
(20-40% Carbohydrate)
Peanut butter cups 
Trail mix (Nuts/fruit)
1 piece (0.9 oz.)  
1 oz.
VERY LOW Carbohydrate  
(<20% Carbohydrate)

Dry roasted peanuts 
Cheddar cheese 
1 lg. piece (0.7 oz.)  
1 oz.  
1 oz. 
*Complex Carbohydrates
Return to OVERVIEW of Optimizing Fuel, Hitting the Wall, or Carbohydrate Load.                              go to TOP of page

 Do I need to train to prepare for a long distance hike?
Properly trained muscles are more efficient fat burners. If, however, you insist you don't have the time to properly train, give yourself a gentle itinerary the first few weeks you hit the trail. You'll be "On-the-Job" training, whether you had time for it or not.

Because fat is a major fuel source in low-moderate intensity exercise, limited only by the amount of oxygen available, training should maximize oxygen delivery and utilization. The more oxygen, the more efficiently energy is produced. That's what training is all about--how to improve the oxygen delivery system to your muscles.

Endurance training almost doubles the % Calories derived from fat while sugar (carbohydrate) use is cut almost in half. Thus, trained muscles burn a richer fuel mixture (high fat), conserving carbohydrate stores, so you are getting maximum return on your investment--the most Energy for the least amount of weight in your food bag (see Table 1).

So how do I "endurance train"?
Endurance training is different than the aerobic workout typical of a jogger. The difference is a matter of duration, and intensity (or effort) expended in the activity. For long duration exercise, the target heart rate (and VO2 max) will be less than 70% while more intense aerobic workouts are generally above 70%.

Target Heart Rate
In an aerobic exercise program, the target heart rate is the rate that will stimulate changes to produce the benefits of training. Generally 50-85% heart rate reserve is the desired range, calculated as follows:
1) Determine Resting Heart Rate, RHR, by taking your pulse for one minute while at rest (sitting for cyclists, canoers; standing for joggers, hikers . . .)

2) Calculate the minimum (50%) target heart rate by subtracting your age from 220, then subtract your resting heart rate and multiply the difference by 0.5. Add back your resting heart rate.
RHR (220-age -RHR)0.50 + RHR = minimum target heart rate

3) Calculate the maximum (85%) target heart rate by again subtracting your age from 220, then subtract your resting heart rate and multiply the difference by 0.85. Now add back your resting heart rate.
(220-age -RHR)0.85 + RHR = maximum target heart rate

 **The Short Cut: you'll know if you are exercising within the 50-85% target range if you can pant out "Old MacDonald had a farm . . " as you hike/jog. If you can't string two words together without gasping for air, you are exercising anaerobically. You are over the maximum target heart rate and should slow down.

The Ideal Training Program
Alternate days of low intensity and high intensity exercise, low intensity one day, followed by higher intensity the next. The purpose of the high intensity exercise is to increase the number and efficiency of the powerhouses (mitochondria). The days you climb three 4000' peaks in a row, you'll be grateful for every minute of high intensity you have ever done. The high intensity workout also allows you to get the maximum benefit for your heart in the least amount of time (eg. a 30-40 minute aerobic workout 3 times a week).

The days you are not jogging/working out at the gym, try to find time to Walk, walk, walk, walk. Preferably with a load on your back. The best training for backpacking is backpacking. Steady daily walking with boots on your feet and a load on your back will train muscles and toughen up feet, hips and shoulders. Aside from aerobic exercise, a strengthening program will reduce risk of injury and increase lean body mass. Knees and ankles are obviously important, but don't neglect the upper body either. [If you need more information, check a local health club or library/bookstore.]

A word of Caution: "Use it or lose it"applies to any training program you undertake. The benefits of crash training (8-12 weeks) will be quickly lost (6-8 weeks) if exercise ceases. Easy come, easy go. The benefits of prolonged training are more likely to be retained.

 To summarize,
  • Make walking part of your life style.
  • Maintain some form of regular aerobic exercise throughout the year (ideally, at least 40 minutes in duration, 3 times per week).
  • Alternate days of walking (lower intensity) with days working out at higher intensity. Strengthen your vulnerable spots
Return to OVERVIEW of Optimizing Fuel,  or  hitting the wall text.


  • Don't go to extremes in supplementing your diet. More is NOT better! Too much of one mineral will likely cause you to lose another. Stick close to the RDA.
  • Iron -- unaffected dehydration, so still present and absorbed in dried meats; fortified cereals, legumes, etc.
  • Calcium -- add powdered skim milk at every opportunity, dried/fresh cheese, sardines, BUT if you normally take a supplement, continue to take it on the trail (Be consistent!).

Why do I need minerals? What do they do?
There are over 2 dozen minerals which your body requires to function properly. Minerals are critical for keeping the metabolic processes running smoothly and for maintaining your bones, muscles and red blood cells (to name a few). See Table 9 Minerals -- RDA & Function. Fortunately, minerals are stable to light, heat and air, and are stored in sufficient quantities in a healthy body so that you may skip a day and not feel any ill-effects. That is, unless you began the trek already depleted/compromised. And that's not altogether unlikely when it comes to iron.

Why do I need iron?
Iron is the "active ingredient" (the cofactor) for hemoglobin, myoglobin, cytochromes and catalase,, and many more enzymes/proteins. As a component of hemoglobin and myoglobin, iron is involved in delivering oxygen to the muscles. You may have sufficient iron to supply the oxygen transport molecules during your quiet days at the office, but what happens when you begin to demand more? The red blood cells transport more hemoglobin and the muscles make more myoglobin, which means more iron is necessary. On top of your increased oxygen demand, you'll also be needing more ATP, which is generated by the electron transport system through the action of iron-dependent cytochromes. So in order to supply oxygen to the muscles AND thenturn fuel into energy, iron is necessary. [This is one very good reason to train before you hit the trail.]

Iron serves as a cofactor in many other enzymes, but one worth mentioning is catalase, an antioxidant enzyme. Since active tissue is more likely to be exposed to oxidative damage, more catalase will be required. So to stay healthy and fit, get adequate iron. ("Adequate" is defined as 10 mg for males and 18 mg for females "of child-bearing age.")

What are good sources of iron?
Meat, ( beef, tuna, chicken --even jerky) will have a readily absorbable form of iron ("heme iron"). The rest of the food sources do not supply iron in a form that is most readily absorbed, but if you drink/eat Vit.C along with your iron-rich food, it will aid absorption. Other non-meat sources: iron-fortified cereals, beans and peas, tofu, dried fruit and even dried broccoli.

Supplements are not necessary for individuals on a balanced diet, but if there's a nagging doubt about how "balanced" your diet is, and you opt for a One-A-Day multiple vitamin with iron, be forewarned. Supplemental iron is not readily absorbed--most will go right through you, turning your stools black, and making you constipated. Never exceed the RDA, or you may "rob Peter to pay Paul." Minerals are delicately balanced within your body. If you get too much of one, you'll inhibit absorption of other important minerals such as calcium and zinc. So stay within the RDA. And be consistent. The iron transport proteins will adapt to a certain normal level of incoming iron. If you vary radically from that level, most of the iron will be wasted on days when you take a larger-than-normal dose.

Aside from iron, what other minerals are "At Risk"?
Calcium warrants special attention, since it is critical for muscle contraction, nerve transmission, and the obvious--building strong bones. Even if you think you're not building strong bones, subtle changes are going on as you hike. By carrying an unaccustomed load on your back, the skeletal system will be receiving messages to increase bone density in your spine and lower extremities. The pull of the muscles on your skeleton will also send signals to lay down thicker bones. (Women: backpacking is a wonderful way to decrease your risk of developing osteoporosis because it strengthens your skeleton. Exercise can be as important as getting enough calcium for building strong bones, so do both! With the additional demands on your system, you'll be needing more calcium than usual. The "usual" is supposed to be between 800 and 1200 mg calcium/day. Set 1200 mg/day as a reasonable goal. That is easily achieved if you eat/drink 3-4 servings of milk or dairy each day. If you don't, good alternatives are salmon, sardines (or any fish with bones in it), eggs, dried beans and peas and dark green vegetables (broccoli again!).
If you normally take a calcium supplement at home, continue to take it on the trail. Familiar lesson, repeated: enzymes need a consistent message. In this case, it's the calcium transport molecules that need a consistent message, but the outcome is the same. The transport molecules get accustomed to seeing a certain level of calcium and adjust their activity accordingly. Don't send them mixed messages, or your bones will pay the price. Be consistent!

What are good sources of calcium?
On the trail, try to add 1-2T powdered skim milk to every meal. Even if you are allergic to milk, 1-2 T mixed with your meal is not likely to cause you intestinal discomfort. If you don't "do" milk, nuts and seeds (including sesame seeds) are rich sources of calcium, so eat some everyday. In baking trail goodies, use blackstrap molasses rather than white sugar. Molasses is a good source of most minerals--calcium, iron, zinc, copper, chromium--you name it. BUT beware sulfur. Sulfur promotes excretion (loss) of calcium and some people are allergic to sulfites (headaches, disorientation, GI problems). Sulfured molasses is a "mixed blessing"--providing calcium but then promoting its loss. Unsulfured molasses allows better utilization of calcium. Dried fruits generally have sulfites added to prevent browning. To avoid sulfites, dry your own fruit or shop at the health food/organic store, and always, read labels.
Can I know if I'm not getting enough calcium?

Although there are other causes, "Charley horses" or muscle cramps are often caused by inadequate calcium, so your body may send you a message loud and clear if you are not getting enough calcium. Fortunately, the calcium deficiency may be quickly remedied by boosting your calcium intake. Iron deficiency, on the other hand, leaves you feeling tired/lethargic and it will take weeks to correct an iron deficit. So prevention is the best medicine. Get 4 servings/day of calcium rich foods. 


Calcium (mg) 
800 / 800
Bone formation, enzyme regulation, muscle contraction, nerve transmission, 
Muscle cramps, osteoporosis 
Phosphorus (mg) 
800 / 800
Bone formation, acid-base balance, the P in ATP! 
deficiency unlikely 
Magnesium (mg) 
350 / 280
Stabilizes ATP, regulates enzymes in glucose & protein metabolism
Muscle cramps & twitching, weakness 

Sodium (mg) 
500 / 500
Muscle contraction, nerve transmission, acid-base balance, glucose transport 
Muscle cramps; dizziness, nausea, vomiting 
Potassium (mg) 
Muscle contraction, nerve transmission, acid-base balance
Muscle cramps, irregular heartbeat 
Chloride (mg) 
750 / 750
Muscle contraction, nerve transmission, digestion in stomach 
(rare: convulsions) 

Iron (mg) 
10 / 15
Oxygen transport in hemoglobin & myoblobin; functional part of cytochromes (ETS)
Zinc (mg) 
15 / 12
Functional part of many enzymes involved in producing energy, protein synthesis and immunity
Delayed wound healing 
Copper (mg)
3.0 / 3.0*
Synthesis of connective tissue (muscles & bones); assists in utilization of iron
(rare: anemia) 
Chromium (mg) 
0.2 / 0.2*
Part of glucose tolerance factor, enhancing insulin function
Glucose intolerance 
Manganese (mg) 
5.0 / 5.0
Fat metabolism and bone formation
Poor growth 
Selenium (mg) 
Part of important antioxidant, glutathione peroxidase 
Heart damage 
Iodine (mg) 
0.15 / 0.15
Part of thyroid hormones, regulating rate of energy production
Enlarged thyroid (goiter) 
Fluoride (mg) 
4.0 / 4.0
Bone and tooth formation 
Increased tooth decay 
Molybdenum (mg) 
0.25 / 0.25*
Fat and carbohydrate metabolism-->ATP

*           *              *             *               *             *             *              *             *               *                *


  • Recommended diet: 50-35-15 or 50% carbohydrate, 35% fat, 15% protein (see Table 3. How to Keep the Fat In).
  • FAT is the most energy-dense fuel and the preferred fuel for moderate exercise.
  • Fat consumed in the diet spares muscle glycogen.
  • Starvation robs you twice: less energy for the immediate day's work, and fuel demand is met by digesting your own muscle.

 The Ideal Fuel Mixture for Optimum Performance
 For Shorter Distance hikers:
  • Eat the same amount you would normally eat;
  • Get at least 4 vegetables a day. And drink plenty of water.
 For Long Distance hikers:
Half the fat that you burn is from storage, half is supplied by the food you eat. To minimize pack weight, choose a higher fat menu. A 50-35-15 Diet on the trail is reasonable:
  • 45-55% Calories from carbohydrate
  • 35-40% Calories from fat
  • 10-15% Calories from protein
If you are maintaining or losing weight, the fat you are eating is not likely to accumulate on artery walls ("atherogenesis"). Fat is more likely to go to where it's needed--to fuel the working heart and skeletal muscle.

A higher fat diet not only provides the fuel your muscles are using, it weighs less (about 20% less) than a high carbohydrate diet (70-15-15). Unadjusted for water, 3000 Calories will weigh 1.5 pounds/day on a 70-15-15 diet. (That's a diet composed of 70% carbohydrate, 15% fat and 15% protein). With a 50-35-15 diet (50% carbohydrate, 35% fat, 15% protein), 3000 Calories will weigh only 1.3 pounds. Since carbohydrates and protein are more likely to bind water, the difference will be even greater when corrected for water weight (approximately 20% difference).

What about the 30:40:30 diet? 
This diet abuses one of our precious planetary resources--protein. Millions of children around the world are starving for protein and there is no justification for consuming excessive amounts of protein. Your body will just remove the extra nitrogen and treat it like a carbohydrate. But you have to drink extra water to get rid of the nitrogen waste. Double whammy, considering you are treating and carrying every mouthful of liquid.

How to compute % Calories from fat 
Aim for at or below 30% if you are a weekend hiker, above 35% if you are a long distance /long duration hiker.To Calculate:
(#grams fat)(9Cal/g)100 divided by (Total Cal) = % Calories from fat
For example, a package of instant Quaker oatmeal lists 94 Cal and 2.0 g fat per serving. 
(2.0g fat)(9Cal/g)100 divided by (94 Cal) = 19% fat
-- Fine for a short-term hiker

Notice: If you eat sugar, hormones and enzymes alike adjust to burn sugar and will lock fat in storage. Simply stated: Eat fat, burn fat. Eat sugar, burn sugar. If you want to burn fat, avoid sugar. Instead, eat fat mixed with protein and complex carbohydrates.

Depending on the intensity and duration of exercise, the ideal fuel mixture changes. Muscles engaged in long duration moderate intensity exercise burn about
  • 25% Fat within the muscle (triglycerides),
  • 25% Fat from diet or released from storage in adipose tissue (Free Fatty Acids),
  • 25% Carbohydrate within the muscle (glycogen), and
  • 25% Glucose, (carbohydrate) delivered from the liver. This glucose may come from recycled products or may be from the diet.
When exercise intensity increases, you still burn about the same absolute amount of fat, but the increased energy demand will be met by burning more carbohydrate, so the ratio of carbohydrate to fat increases. That's why a marathon runner is more likely to deplete his/her glycogen in 2 hours of running than a long distance hiker is to deplete his/her glycogen in 6 hours of hiking. And that's why a high carbohydrate diet makes terrific sense for a runner, but may be less than ideal for a hiker. Both run the risk of depleting glycogen stores; the strategy for prevention depends on training and snacking (see Snacks).

So won't my body pull what it needs from stores? 
Yes and no. Whether or not you eat the "perfect balance", the body is going to depend on its own resources to some extent. Does that mean you can eat whatever you want? Not if you want to continue going day after day after day. You need to #1) supply supplemental energy sources and #2) replace the losses from your storage depot sites.

What if I don't eat enough food?
Running low on fuel can be good news for some, bad news for others. Some desire to lose weight and intentionally reduce their food intake so that they no longer have to transport 5-10 extra pounds of spare tire/flab. Others are, intentionally or not, starving their bodies, causing their own muscles to be torn down to fuel the Energy Machine and consequently seriously impairing their own performance. How can you know the difference between a desirable weight loss and an undesirable consumption of your own body?

If you don't get enough food on the trail, you won't die--as long as you have enough water. You'll lose weight. And for most of us, that's not a problem. Backpacking is a lot like pregnancy--a healthy outcome is dependent upon being properly nourished before you start. You likely have a good supply of stored fat ready to stoke the furnace for climbing mountains and exploring canyons. Regardless of the composition of your diet, that stored fat will be called upon to contribute to the energy needs of the muscles. So you can expect to lose fat out of your adipose tissue. If it goes out faster than it comes in, you'll lose weight
If 500 Calories are coming out of fat stores each day and NOT being replaced, you'll lose about a pound a week. For most of the population that would be a desirable weight loss. But for those who are already slim and trim, you run the risk of burning off muscle, particularly if you are male. Don't purposely starve yourself. There are other ways you can trim weight off your food burden; see Savings.
  • GOOD: Loss of less than 1 pound/week = Painless weight loss (representing a Calorie deficit of about 500 Calories/day).
  • BAD: Loss of more than 3 pounds/week may imply muscle wasting. Eat more food, especially carbohydrates to spare protein.
APPETITE and WEIGHT LOSS--Difference of the Sexes
You've heard it said that guys are different from gals. Regarding weight loss and fuel utilization, it is certainly true. Males are more likely to burn off muscle protein when fuel supply is limiting. Females are more likely to burn fat. When males do burn fat stores, they are more likely to lose their internal padding, whereas females lose their subdermal (surface) layer of fat. (Digression: The loss of a pound of fat IS a pound of fat; the loss of a pound of carbohydrate is really only one fourth carbohydrate (glycogen). The other 3/4 is water. The glycogen stores replete overnight, so it is easy to gain a pound or two in your sleep, as water is trapped with the glycogen.)

Back to losing fat. Whether it comes off the surface or from deep within, every hiker that has been on the trail more than a week has experienced the loss of abdominal flab and the hardening of the thighs and quads. Too bad it doesn't last, hm? Within a week off the trail, the weight is back on seeming to target around your middle. This is the proverbial "weight cycling" game that engages most of America, and you're better off if you avoid it. As you decrease your activity, your body (LPL--lipoprotein lipase, specifically) will be more efficient than ever at pulling fat from the bloodstream into the adipose cells, so your weight is likely to rebound beyond what you previously considered "normal". So use the energy stored in fat to build muscle while you're on the trail. But once off the trail, try to maintain an exercise program that will sustain your new muscles and burn off any tempting extra calories. And avoid all those high fat foods I told you it was OK to eat earlier.

Starvation robs you twice!
If you seriously under eat day after day, (more than 1000 Calorie deficit per day), you not only deplete your glycogen stores, you also digest your own muscles. When carbohydrates stores are gone, your body takes the most "expendable" fuel available. That happens to be fat stored in adipose (first choice) and muscle protein (second choice). Tearing down your own muscle means you have less endurance; you compromise your own performance. Less muscle. Weaker body. Less miles/day. More work per mile. Agony.
Solution: know how many Calories (= pounds of food) you are likely to need to maintain stable weight or, at worst, only lose about 1 pound per week (See Snacks). Recognize that male hikers generally burn more calories than their female companions, so a marginal diet will decimate their energy reserves before that of a female. If you are losing more than a pound a week, make sure you follow the snacking strategies to provide enough carbohydrate to spare your muscle protein. If you are losing more than 3 pounds per week, expect your muscles to begin protesting. There are fewer of them doing all the work. If you are losing more than 3 pounds a week, and want to prevent it, Eat more! Hike less!
[Note to those whose weight is rapidly restored. Rehydration is the most likely cause, not muscle repletion. A few pounds lost that are instantly regained are due to water.]
(Caution: Advice for Long distance hikers, for On the Trail only. Do Not Try This At Home!)
·         Buy tuna packed in oil or oil-roasted peanuts.
·         In making GORP, add high fat cereals like granola, rather than Cheerios.
·         Add nuts to top off casseroles and cheese to soups (or vice versa).
·         Instead of spaghetti or egg noodles, use Ramen noodles--they're fried in oil (& cook faster), or better yet, Chow Mein noodles (high fat and require no fuel).
·         Buy potato chips and donuts, rather than pretzels or English muffins.
·         Take high fat crackers, not bread.
·         Choose cheese/creamy sauce-based soups, rather than broth.
·         Add margarine or Cremora to any recipe to which you would add milk (puddings, cereal, soups, gravies, sauces).

*           *              *             *               *             *             *              *             *               *                *


  • Eat at least 4 servings/day of Protein-rich foods: legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy or meat.
  • Do NOT take an amino acid supplement or eat excess protein (>15% diet). It will increase the work demanded of the kidney and waste water.
How much protein do I need?
Proteins contribute a little, not a lot, but a little to your energy needs--10% at most. More in males than in females. Protein will not make a perceptible difference on your performance level, so it's not the fuel needs you're concerned about, but the building of tissue--especially muscle tissue, that is taking place. For the muscle-building/restructuring that is going on, an adequate supply of protein is necessary. The general recommendation for athletes is 1 g protein/kg body weight or 12-15% of your diet, only slightly higher than that recommended for the general population. Most Americans regularly consume twice that much protein, so your trail diet may have considerably less protein than you normally eat at home and still supply more than ample protein for the muscle building and energy needs of your body.

To calculate you protein needs, take your weight in pounds, divide by 2.2 lb/kg. to get the number of grams protein (refer to the chart below).
Example, with 174 lb. hiker:
For a "Normal" hike, 174 lb. divided by 2.2 lb/kg = 79 kg x 0.8 = 63 g protein/day 
For Sustained/strenuous hiking, 174 lb. divided by 2.2 lb/kg = 79 kg x 1.0= 79 g protein/day
That's not a lot higher than the usual recommendation, but it may be less likely you are getting enough because of dietary preferences (Overheard: "Jerky makes me thirsty, so I don't eat it."), or the anxiety about properly storing /refrigerating protein over the long haul. So you need more, but you may be getting less. If you are concerned, do as I have done and add up all the grams protein in all the food you pack or buy along the trail. Easier: just try to get 15% of your diet from high quality protein sources. (Recipes include number of grams of protein.)

 Vegetarians: Do you have to eat meat to get enough protein? No, but you DO want to think carefully about your food choices if you go vegetarian. Plan to get at least four servings per day of dried beans, nuts, seeds, and dairy, if dairy is included in your diet. To make sure you are getting high quality protein, the following combinations are suggested:


    • Cereals/grains + legumes (dried beans and peas)
    • Lentils & couscous
    • Nuts/seeds+ legumes
    • Split peas & sunflower seeds
    • Dairy products + legumes
    • Bean & cheese burrito
    • Dairy products + cereals/grains
    • Macaroni/sphaghetti & cheese
    • Dairy products + nuts/seeds
    • Instant pudding with nuts
 If you are left feeling vaguely uncomfortable, the easiest way to assess whether or not you are getting proper amounts of protein is to look at the "weak link", lysine. Lysine is one of the 20 amino acids that compose protein. If any are likely to be inadequately supplied in your diet, it would be lysine. The recommended level is 58 mg lysine/gram protein. From the example above, if you require 63 g protein, then multiply 63 x 58 (=3654 mg lysine required/day). If you require 79 g protein, multiply 79 x 58 (=4582 mg lysine/day). Then look on Table 4 (Lysine Content of Common Trail Foods) to see if you are getting the amount you need. If you are, then it is likely you are getting plenty (more than enough) of the other 19 amino acids. Keep doing what you are doing. If you aren't measuring up, consider replacing some of the no/low lysine foods (cereals) with high lysine foods (legumes/nuts/dairy/meat).

Now that your mind is at ease, do you have to calculate your mg lysine every day? No here's the short cut: Get 4 servings per day of protein rich sources--dairy, legumes, nuts, and if you want, meat. As long as you are eating enough food to give you the energy to keep going, the remaining protein you need will be supplied by even relatively poor protein sources, such as potatoes, rice and spaghetti.

Should I take an amino acid supplement just to make sure I am getting enough protein?

NO! If you are eating carbohydrates and adequate amounts of protein, there is no need to supplement your diet with ANY amino acid. At worst, supplements may be harmful to your health; at best, unnecessary supplements put a greater demand on your kidney to excrete the extra nitrogen, and it just gets flushed down the toilet (or the pit, depending on location). Instead, eat a balanced diet.



dried salami, pork & beef (5 slices)
beef & chicken jerky (0.7 oz. smoked stick)
chicken, canned (1 oz)
tuna, white, canned in oil (1 oz)
egg, dried (2 T)

cheddar cheese (1 oz or 1/4 cup, grated)
powdered skim mild (5T -->1C liquid)
parmesan cheese (2T)
instant pudding, choc. with lofat milk (1 cup)
Ben & Jerry's ice cream (1 cup)

black beans (1 C)
chili beans (1 C)
hummus (1 C)

peanuts, oil roasted (1 oz)
peanut butter (2T)
cashews (1 oz or 18 med. nuts)
10 M & M peanuts
trail mix (nuts & raisins)(1 oz)


dried apricots (10 halves)
dried tomatoes (1/2 C)
dried onion (1T) 
inst. mashed potatoes (1C)

barbecue potato chips (2 oz)
bulgur (1 C)
couscous (1 C)
granola, homemade (1/2 C)
choc. chip granola bar (1 oz bar)
inst. cream of wheat (2 pkt.)
inst. oatmeal (1 C)
inst. rice (1 C, cooked)
spaghetti, enriched (1 C, cooked)

EXAMPLE: If you drank 2 glasses of milk (made from powdered skim milk), and ate half of a 6 oz. can of tuna (= 3 oz.), then multiply the mg lysine given in the chart by 2 (for two 8 oz. glasses of milk) and multiply the tuna value by 3 (since you ate 3 oz., not 1 oz).

Powdered skim milk (5T-->1C liquid) 631 x 2 servings = 1261
Tuna, white, canned in oil (1 oz) 758 x 3 servings = 2274
TOTAL 3535

So your total for this simple lunch was 3535 mg lysine. Even if you're a 220 pound athlete, you are well on your way to meeting the protein needs of your body for this day.

*           *              *             *               *             *             *              *             *               *                *


  • Water is the most critical nutrient, not only for survival, but also for your performance.
  • Avoid Heat Related Problems: wear a hat, light colors, rest in the heat of the day, and drink frequently, see Table 5. Treatment of Dehydration.
  • Hidden water-- the water should be in your bottle, not in your food, see Table 6. Water Content of Trail Foods
  • Excess salt can cause retention of water and burden kidneys, see Table 7. Salt Content of Trail Foods.
  • To avoid excess salt: avoid processed foods, buy reduced salt products, combine high salt foods with low salt foods. Do NOT take salt tablets.

Water is without debate, the most critical nutrient for your performance and your survival.. What you need when energy flags and your head spins is WATER, WATER, WATER!

How much water do I need each day?
It depends on the temperature, on how hard you're working, on your physiological state--too many variables to give a pat answer. BUT you can know if you're getting enough water. You should need to urinate more than three times a day, and your urine should be pale yellow-to-clear, NOT dark yellow. If in doubt, drink some more. Don't wait until you're thirsty, or you're past the point of "impaired performance." For a ballpark estimate, figure at least 3 quarts/person/day.

  • Drink at least 3 quarts of water/day; more in hot, dry climates.
  • If you don't need a "potty stop" in the morning before your first cup of coffee, you're dehydrated. DRINK!
  • If you drink a quart of fluid and don't see any of it appearing out the other end, you're not drinking enough. DRINK!
  • You'll know when you've had enough by the color of your urine. It should be clear amber, not cloudy dark yellow.
  • Dilute sports drinks slightly--(1/4 Cup mix in 3 Cups water); the sports drinks are formulated for runners, high in salt and sugar for a quick recharge. You need a slow, steady dose.

 Why is water so important?
#1) It's the SOLVENT and reactant for the chemical reactions that keep your muscles moving and your mind alert. Without sufficient water, you dehydrate and collapse.

#2) Water is the COOLANT that carries away the excess heat you generate working so you can maintain the ideal "98.6oF" (or whatever is normal for your body temperature). In short, it does for your body what the radiator does for your car engine. If you can't evaporate off the heat fast enough or are dehydrated, you collapse (heat stroke or heat exhaustion, respectively). In this situation, water outside of the body is almost as important as water inside the body. In very hot climates, make sure you douse your head and torso at every opportunity; wear a wet bandana around your neck. The water outside your body will help as well as the water inside your body to conduct the excess heat away from your body.


mild dehydration 
muscle cramps 
rest, ice massage, increase fluid intake
severe dehydration 
feverish, dizzy, nausea 
cool with ice bath, rest, get to Emergency Rm.
severe dehydration 
high fever, uncoordinated 
cool ASAP (ice bath)
exposure to cold 
depressed body temperature 
replace wet clothes with dry


What do I do in case of dehydration or heat exhaustion?
In either case, the victim will lose consciousness if the dehydration or exhaustion is severe. Cool their body with wet cloths and fanning (pour your water bottle on them, if necessary, especially on the chest and neck). When the victim is conscious, encourage them to sip water and rest in the shade. Don't allow them to get up until they have consumed at least a quart of water. (Their spinning head should tell them if they haven't had enough yet--drink more.) This is the most common ailment of summer travellers in the Great Southwest. Thankfully, it's easily remedied if you're carrying sufficient water. Once rehydrated, you can go on and finish the 20 miles you set as your goal, but go gently.
Better, however, is an ounce of prevention.
  • Don't hike in the heat of the day. Get started before the sun comes up. Find a quiet place by 1:00 p.m. and rest for 2 hours.
  • Wear a hat with a brim; wear white colors to reflect the sun's heat.
  • Wear plenty of sunblock if you choose to expose your skin.
  • Relax your muscles as you walk. Going downhill? Shuffle/duck walk, using different sets of muscles on the outside and inside of your leg, rather the the relentless pound, pound, pound of the normal downhill stride. Going uphill? Zigzag, again using different sets of muscles.
Now that you're properly convinced that water is critical for your well-being, performance and survival, I'm going to flip the message. When it comes to food, leave the water behind. Get thewater INTO your water bottle, but OUT of your food bag.

What is the most efficient food --the food that weighs the least but provides the most calories?

As you can see by comparing the values in Table 6, the best you can do is 8.6 calories/gram (vegetable/olive oil). If you carry foods that are not dried, the values can be less than 1.0. For a 50-35-15 diet, try to keep close to the 5 Cal/g, with less than 10% water in the foods you select. Thus, you might choose Pringles over Pretzels, banana chips instead of dried apricots, gingersnaps rather than fig bars. The lower % water, the less unnecessary weight you carry. The higher the caloric density, the more efficient the food weight you carry. Even foods that you consider "dry", like spaghetti or bagels, are likely to carry more water than you expect. Water content and caloric density of Trail Foods are listed in Table 6. The higher the density, the better. It may help you decide what to take, and what to leave home next time you travel.

   To reduce water weight even without a food dehydrator:
  • Buy dried onions, fruits, mushrooms, soups, etc. readily available at grocery stores.
  • Extend soups with your own dried vegetables (and reduce salt concentration).
  • Bake thin-sliced bagels/breads for 10 minutes at 350oF to cut the water weight in half.
  • Make fruit leather in any conventional oven (See Saving Fuel).
Items are arranged from most energy dense to least dense in each category.

% Water 
Caloric density  

Pringles potato chips
Tortilla chips
Cheese crackers
Stoneground crackers
no info 
Trail mix 
Choc. chip granola bar
Granola (Nat. Valley
Quaker 100% Natural
Saltines (Premium)
no info
Cracklin Oat Bran 
Bagel, dried
Bagel, fresh
Whole wheat bread
English muffin 

Reeses peanut butter cups 
Oreo, dbl-stuffed 
no info 
M&M peanuts 
M&M plain 
Oatmeal cookies 
Chocolate chips 
Choc. Chip cookies 
Graham crackers 
Brownie (baked) 
Hard candy 
Fig bar 

Banana Chips (crispy) 
Onions (dehyrdrated) 
Raisins (seedless) 

Eggs (dried) 
Peanuts (honey roasted) 
Peanuts (dry roasted) 
Peanut butter (chunky) 
CoffeeMate Creamer 
Parmesan (grated) 
Cheddar cheese 
Dried buttermilk 
Instant breakfast 
Powdered skim milk 
Chicken McNuggets 
Tuna in water 

Chow Mein Noodles 
Ramen Noodles (approx.) 
Spaghetti, uncooked 
White flour 
Couscous (approx.) 
Oatmeal, instant 
Minute Rice (approx.) 
no info

*My home-dehydrated fruits and vegetables are dried to the crispy stage, so they contain less than 10% water. Less water means less opportunity for bacterial/fungal activity, and lighter weight for me to carry.
Return to OVERVIEW or efficient food text 

What happens if I don't get enough salt?
Not likely, if you are eating enough calories to sustain you day after day. (see Table 7.) However, if you drink coffee/caffeinated beverages rather than water/juice, the diuretic affect may induce dehydration and electrolyte depletion. In this case, rehydrate with a quart of dilute Gatorade or another electrolyte-supplying drink. (To get optimum absorption, make a 5% sugar solution, by mixing 2 scoops (4 T) Gatorade per 3 cups water.) If you're thirsty, more caffeine will only make you thirstier.

If you are taking medications, read the labels carefully. Many induce electrolyte loss and therefore you would need to choose moderate- to high-salt foods/drinks, rather than a strictly low salt diet.

What happens if I get too much salt?

Much more likely to have long- and short-term consequences, compromising performance due to the strain of carrying excessive weight, loss of water, fatigue, and for some, increasing their risk of heart disease.

Water follows Salt:
Normally, when too much salt is consumed, a healthy kidney has to work harder to correct the salt imbalance (get rid of the excess salt). When you consume excess salt, you must absorb more water so that you can "flush" out that salt. Remember from high school biology class, osmosis is the movement of water from a region of low salt concentration to high salt concentration. If you eat salt, then water follows that salt. Thus, it follows that a steady diet of salty foods increases the blood volume, requiring that the heart work harder. When you're hiking, the last thing in the world you would want is to pump "diluted" blood, rather than pumping the oxygen-rich blood your starving muscles demand. So the kidney works harder to flush out the salt, the heart works harder to deliver oxygen to the muscles, and YOU work harder because you have to transport and purify all the water necessary to keep your body reasonably balanced. Would you deliberately choose to carry extra weight along the trail? That's what you are doing when you eat excess salt. 

But don't I need more salt when I'm exercising?
Simply stated, "Salt in" should equal "salt out", i.e., you only need to replace the salt that is lost. Most salt is lost through urine and perspiration. Under normal conditions, the human body requires only 200 mg sodium ("salt" = sodium chloride) to maintain balance. The Daily Reference Value (or more familiar, RDA), based on a 2000 Calorie diet, is 2400 mg sodium, ten times more than you "require", but enough to make your food taste good. At that, most of us still eat twice the RDA/DRV in a day, so we consume more than 10 times what we need. Thus, even if you increased your perspiration volume and urinary output tenfold on the trail, you would still be getting enough sodium, given the typical American diet. (Depending on acclimitization, approximately 1000 mg (1/2 teaspoon) sodium are lost in one quart of perspiration. Therefore if your weight decreases by 6 pounds in the course of a day of strenuous hiking, you have likely perspired off 3 quarts --"A pint's a pound the world around". You could justify consuming an extra 3000 mg sodium that day.) 

I really sweat a lot. Don't I need salt tablets?
Not if you are eating over the course of the day. Even food as "unsalty" as a fig bar contains 45 mg sodium. Do you snack on jerky, or trail mix with salted nuts? Do you dine on instant soups or prepackaged meals? Do you drink a sports drink such as Gatorade? A salt tablet contains 500 mg sodium, so a handful of trail mix or a helping of instant soup provides the equivalent of one or two salt tablets. (Compare values in Table 7.) As long as you are eating sufficient calories to sustain your exercise (approx. 3000-4000 Cal), it is not necessary to take a salt tablet. Salt tablets would only be necessary if you were sweating profusely (over 4 quarts/day) and drinking only water (not eating food or drinking other beverages). [Note: caffeinated beverages do not count as "drinks". Caffeine is a diuretic, so you lose almost as much fluid as you gain by drinking the beverage. Highly sugared beverages also "draw water" out of the body.]
With all that said, for any PCT hikers that are trailing across the Mojave desert or the Oregon lava beds in late spring or summer, you should be especially wary of salt depletion. You of all hikers will likely be losing quarts of sweat each day and you may not be consuming adequate food. Unless you are genetically predisposed to hypertension, go ahead and eat those high salt soups/pretzels! Dehydration due to excessive sweating and inadequate fluid intake can be life-threatening, but if you drink enough water so that what goes in comes out, you avoid the danger of dehydration.

What is the most reasonable way to reduce my salt intake?
If you are presently consuming over 4000 mg/day and you think your intake is excessive, here are some suggestions for moderating your salt intake.

1. Wean yourself gradually. Do you use salt in cooking and salt your food again at the table? Try eliminating one of these "exposures". (Removing the salt shaker from the table is the most effective, but meets with the most resistance with unconvinced consumers.) For example, fry eggs and potatoes without adding salt. Let each individual salt his/her portion at the table. Count shakes, and work from 6 down to 3 in the course of three weeks.

Cut the salt in half in your favorite recipes--you'll never miss it.
Same idea: Use 1/2 the spice packet with a package of Ramen noodles. To serve twice as many people, use three times as many noodles with the Macaroni & Cheese, adding sauted onions, mushrooms, and peppers for added flavor.

2. Select foods from the low salt column to balance out the foods you select from the high salt column. For instance, double the amount of water added to soup then add 1 cup additional vegetables. Vegetables are low salt. The soup then serves two, rather than one. Salt is cut in half. Or balance the high salt soup with a low salt cracker. With high salt processed/canned meats, eat low salt cereals/grains (like yeast breads or pasta) and vegetables.

3. Read labels! Compare brands. Buy reduced salt products. Many manufacturers are aware that there is a growing market for low salt alternatives. Note that natural cheeses are much lower in salt than processed cheeses. This is true for processed meats (bologna, sausage, pastrami, etc.), canned products and prepackaged meals. Eat all the dried fruits and vegetables you want. They are naturally low salt unless processed with added salt.

Select the foods you are likely to eat when hiking.

= (>2 mg sodium/1 Calorie)
= (approx. 1 mg sodium/1 Calorie)
= (<1 mg sodium/2 Cal.)
Instant oatmeal (270 mg) 
Quick oats + dash of salt (<100 mg) 
Quick oats, no salt (0 mg)
Gatorade (110 mg) 
Hot cocoa mix (104 mg) 
Orange/fruit juice (<25 mg)
American/processed cheese (406 mg) 
Parmesan (93 mg/1 Tablespoon) No Added 
Salt Swiss (12 mg)
Pretzels (486 mg) 
Trail mix (seeds & fruit)(65 mg) 
Unsalted pretzels (0 mg)
Instant pudding (410 mg) 
Cookies/graham crackers (90 mg) 
Fruit, fresh or dried (<5 mg)
Instant chicken noodle soup  
(1284 mg/cup) 
"Fantastic" instant soup (<300 mg/cup) 
Vegetables, dried (<35 mg)
Bread (125 mg) 
5 Saltine crackers (180mg) 
Uneeda unsalted carackers (100 mg) 
Rice cakes (no salt added, 0 mg)
Kraft macaroni & cheese 
(650 mg/3/4 cup) 
Macaroni (salted water) (<100 mg) 
Pasta, rice (no salt in water, <5 mg)
Ramen noodles + spice packet 
(465 mg/half serving) 
Ramen noodles + 1/2 spice packet 
(260 mg/half serving) 
Ramen noodles (no spice packet) 
(70 mg/half serving)
Van Camp's chili beans (canned) 
(1215 mg/cup) 
Homemade chili beans (<200/ cup) 
Tuna (Canned in water) (310 mg) 
Powdered milk (125 mg) 
Dry roasted peanuts (210mg) 
Lightly salted dry roasted peanuts (90 mg) 
Peanut butter (150 mg) 
Sodium free p'nut butter (0 mg)
Value in ( ) is mg sodium/serving. 1 teaspoon table salt = 2300 mg sodium, the RDA 

*           *              *             *               *             *             *              *             *               *                *


  • Vit. C -- water soluble antioxidant; take along Tang, Spiced Cider or a "One-A-Day", because dried food loses 75-90% of its Vitamin C activity.
  • Vit. E -- fat soluble antioxidant; eat seeds/nuts, peanut butter, oil or margarine and whole grains
  • Omega-3 fatty acids -- natural anti-inflammatory agents; less likely to cause stomach upset than other anti-inflammatory agents

Vitamins are required to maintain health, but we must eat them in our diet, since we can't make them. Vitamins are generally divided into two categories, the fat soluble and the water soluble vitamins. The fat soluble vitamins, Vitamins A, D, E and K are stable to heat, light, and air, but they require fat in the diet to be absorbed and transported. Conversely, the water solublevitamins, Vitamin C and the B complex, are NOT stable to heat, light or air, and they are readily absorbed, with/without fat in the diet. 

Which vitamins are of major concern for backpackers?
Both Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Vitamin C because of its instability in air/light. And Vitamin E because hikers need more and may be getting less, due to their change in dietary habits. The requirement for other vitamins does not vary significantly from the normal recommendation and no benefit will accrue by eating excessive amounts. Excess water soluble vitamins will simply wash out in the urine. Excessive intake of the fat soluble Vitamins A and D can kill you--or at least cause severe problems. So DON'T exceed the RDA if you decide to supplement your diet with a pill. (A "One-A-Day" provides the RDA.) For a summary of the
vitamins and what they do, see Table 8. Vitamins -- RDA & Function.

Why is Vitamin C of special concern for long distance hikers?
Vitamin C is critical for building healthy connective tissue (muscles, ligaments, blood vessel walls--everything that is keeping you going, mile after mile) and for preventing oxidative damage in the water-soluble compartments of your body. It is also beneficial in assisting in iron absorption and utilization. So where does it come from? Normally, fresh fruits, fruit juice and vegetables. But because Vitamin C is NOT stable to heat, light and air, dried fruits and dried vegetables have lost over 90% of their natural Vitamin C. Since fresh oranges are not likely to be included in your menu, and wild berries along the trail are not to be depended upon, you will have to make a conscious effort to find Vit. C fortified foods/drink mixes (Spiced Cider, Tang, Instant Breakfast, some cold cereals--read the labels), or take a supplement (a "One-A-Day") to get the recommended 60 mg/day.

What is the function of Vitamin E?
Vitamin E is an antioxidant in cell membranes and organelles. It is of major concern because exercise may promote more free radical damage within the tissue and Vit. E protects cell membranes from oxidative damage. Since you may need more on the trail, look for good sources of Vitamin E: vegetable or olive oil, nuts, whole grain cereals, wheat germ, seeds, peanut butter. All you need is 10-15 mg/day, so it only takes 3-4 servings/day of Vitamin E-rich foods each day.

How can I prevent oxidation of my food?
Dried food is generally safe food. It will keep for weeks without refrigeration . However, the food can/does become damaged by exposure to oxygen (air). Before you can taste, smell or see the damage, oxygen will be at work "oxidizing" your food. Oxidative damage goes on whether or not your food is refrigerated or nonrefrigerated, dried or undried. Fortunately, naturally occurring antioxidants provide protection from oxidized products. But you can assist the vitamins by intervening to prevent some damage.

First, wrap individual portions in sandwich bags, then fill a ziplock baggie with multiple portions. For example, when instant rice is on sale and you buy a large package, then portion out 1 Cup instant rice, a dash of salt or Butter Buds in each of 15-20 sandwich bags, ready for the next adventure. Stack about 5 bags in a ziplock baggie (label it) and then store it in a dry place (5 gallon bucket with a lid) or the freezer. By filling the bag with food, you exclude air (which contains oxygen). Remove as much remaining air as possible by squeezing the filled baggie. For the truly zealous, use a plastic straw to suck out the excess air as you zip the baggie closed. Or you can buy a plastic bag sealing device (eg., Seal A Meal) at most major department stores. 


A, retinol et al. (RE) 
Maintains healthy skin and bones,  
Enhances visual perception (night vision)
Carrots, fortified cereals, eggs, margarine, vegetables
Toxic in excess 
D, cholecalciferol (IU)
200 / 200 
Enhances calcium absorption for bone & tooth formation
Toxic in excess 
E, tocopherol (mg) 
10 / 8 
Antioxidant in cell membrane protecting cells from damage 
Vegetable oil, margarine, nuts & seeds 
K, menoquinone (ug) 
80 / 65 
Blood coagulation and bone formation 
Microbes in the gut, Vegetables 

B1, thiamin (mg)
1.5 / 1.1
--> Energy from carbohydrates & fats, (removes CO2
Fortified cereals, grains, beans, seeds 
B2, riboflavin (mg) 
1.7 / 1.3 
-->Energy from carbohydrates & fats (transports Hydrogen -->Energy)
Fortified cereals, grains, milk, meat, nuts 
Niacin (mg) 
19 / 15 
-->Energy from carbohydrates & fats (transports Hydrogen -->Energy)
Fortified cereals/drinks, meat, fruits, vegetables 
Pantothenate (mg) 
7 / 7* 
-->Energy from carbohydrates, fats & proteins (transports Acetyl units)
Fortified cereals, grains, milk, nuts -- everywhere! 
B6, pyridoxine (mg) 
2.0 / 1.6 
Critical in utilizing proteins and glycogen to --> glucose & amino acids
Fortified cereals, beans,meat, milk, nuts
Biotin (ug) 
100 / 100*
--> glucose by recycling lactic acid, glycerol, alanine (gluconeogenesis) 
Eggs, beans, vegetables & gut microbes
Folic acid (ug) 
200 / 180
-->DNA for growing cells, especially red blood cells 
Fortified cereals/drinks, beans,vegetables
B12, cobalamin (ug) 
2 / 2
-->DNA and maintains the nervous system 
Meat, dairy, eggs
C, ascorbic acid (mg) 
60 / 60
-->collagen for muscles & ligaments, Antioxidant, favors Iron absorption
Fortified drinks, fresh fruits or vegetables

*           *              *             *               *             *             *              *             *               *                *

What kind of special planning is necessary for hiking in the extremes?
  • Extreme heat, extreme cold.
  • Extreme elevation.
  • Extreme moisture!
EXTREME COLD (below 10oF)

  • Take at least four times more fuel than you would for summer hiking.
  • Avoid high protein diet. Eat frequent high carbohydrate/high fat snacks.
  • Have a substantial snack just before bedtime.
  • Pack No fuss meals: instant hot soups or cereals, hot drinks.
  • Do the prep work at home: wash veggies/fruit, slice cheese/sausage in the warmth of your kitchen;
  • Pack dehydrated/low moisture foods.

Remember in extreme cold to add 250-500 Calories/day. Your body will be running the furnace at full blast to keep your core temperature within reasonable limits, but the layers you are wearing should keep you from using excessive Calories to keep warm. The real Calorie burner is the extra effort it takes to move more gear over worse terrain. Even relatively level terrain is more challenging if you are post-holing into knee-deep snow at every step. Small, frequent snacks are the most effective way to fuel your muscles. Add 4-8 extra servings of high carbohydrate/high fat snacks per day. (Avoid high protein snacks, as they increase your water requirement and reduce your cold tolerance.) Timing your meals will also make a difference in how you feel. A hearty snack just before you go to sleep (500-1200 Calories) will help you sleep warmer and more soundly.

Beside needing more fuel yourself, you'll need at least 3 times more stove fuel to melt snow and heat it to boiling (not correcting for additional environmental losses due to conductance, exposure to wind, etc.). Everything will take longer--take plenty of fuel.

Be mindful of the effect subzero temperature will have on your food rations. Take chips or cheese crackers instead of bread or bagels. Generally, the less water in any food, the better. The lower water content makes them less likely to freeze solid. Pack dehydrated soup and instant cereal mixes, candy bars or granola bars--foods that require little/no preparation time and that contain no water. (See Water.)

Keep snack breaks short and put on another layer before you get chilled. Or rather than stopping, plan to nibble as you hike along. 

EXTREME HEAT (over 100oF)

  • Take twice as much water as you think you will need. Enough to get you to the second water hole, if the first source is dry.
  • Salty snacks/foods are not only permitted, but encouraged, especially if you are sweating off more than 4 quarts a day.
  • Avoid coffee, high sugar soft drinks and other diuretics.

  The most critical nutrient is water, and all the more critical at temperatures over 100oF. The kind of temperatures you'll encounter in the Grand Canyon, the Mojave Desert or arid sections of the Continental Divide Trail. Water will determine your itinerary. Water will dictate your survival. If temperatures go over 100oF and your water supply has evaporated, you had better stay put and pray someone misses you enough to send a rescue team. If you have 1 quart of water left, you may survive 5.5 days if you stay where you are. You only have 3.5 days if you try walking only at night, resting when exhausted. Not much room for error, is there? Refer to John Annerino's Hiking the Grand Canyon. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1993), pp. 110-111.

With every breath, you are losing water. At high temperatures, sweat will be draining you dry. Watch the color of your urine. If it is clear, you are not in the danger zone (yet). Try to drink enough water so that what goes in comes out. Drink before you are thirsty. Reduce your body temperature by keeping a wet bandana over the back of your neck, a hat with a brim on your head, and rest frequently at any shady opportunity.
Expect your appetite to be suppressed, but now is the time to include those salty snacks in your menu. Jerky, peanuts, or pretzels--it will not require a lot to replace the salt lost in your sweat, but you can justify eating them with a clear conscience, knowing the salt will be washed away in your sweat, rather than creating an extra burden on your kidneys or circulatory system.

About 1000 mg sodium (almost 1/2 teaspoon salt) is lost in each quart of sweat. Avoid diuretics such as coffee, which will only make you lose more fluid. 

EXTREME WET (more than 4 days of rain)

  • Keep smiling. Mildew and all.
  • Plan ahead: pack a Special Meal/treat for just such occasions.
  • Prepare any labor-intensive meal you have on the menu, preferably hot and spicy!
  • Appreciate the sun when it reappears (it eventually does).
  • Line stuff bags (sleeping bag, pad, food bags, clothes) with plastic bags before you set out.

If you haven't experienced this one yet, your time is coming. Expect it. After 4 rainy days, the odor of mildew will assail you at every step. The squish and slog within your boots will rot your feet. Mud will cake your legs, adding insult to injury--carrying unwelcome weight down a slippery treacherous trail. And you ask yourself, "Why did I think this was fun?"

First, don't let the weather dictate your mood. Remember that one of the reasons you are in the Wilderness is to be reminded that there is more to your existence than beating the traffic to work and beating the traffic home again. You WANT to be reminded once in awhile that there is something bigger than yourself--Out of your control. What better reminder than four solid days of unrelenting rain? 

You CAN walk in the rain, but if the threat of lightning impedes your progress as you approach a summit, find shelter and catch up with your journal, sketch the flowers at your feet, or just take a nap. Use the time creatively. Have a special treat hidden away for these kind of circumstances: a Dark Chocolate Milky Way, an instant Cheescake, something special. Use this opportunity to prepare a labor-intensive meal: burritos or a 4 course extravaganza. DON'T whine about the lousy weather to your partner--he/she doesn't control the weather any more than you do. If, by some lucky chance, the skies relent, halt where you are to spread damp tents/tarps/socks in the sun. If you put off an opportunity, you have likely lost an opportunity.

ALWAYS line your sleeping bag stuff bag with a plastic bag, protecting your bag from a downpour OR from immersion in a stream. The same for clothes. Always have one (knit/polypro) shirt protected in a plastic bag so that when everything else is water-logged, you have at least one warm dry thing to wear to bed or around the shelter/tent as you wait for gear to dry. All your socks wet? If dry socks are a high priority, wring out the cleanest pair, wrap them in fleece if you've got some, and sleep with them inside your sleeping bag. 

EXTREME ELEVATION (over 10,000 feet)

  • Because appetite is suppressed, avoid high fat foods (harder to digest).
  • Eat at least 55% carbohydrate and 15% protein to reduce muscle protein loss.
  • Drink frequently to avoid dehydration.
  • Get adequate Vitamin E.

As elevation increases (over 1 mile high), the most noticeable changes are a loss of appetite and decreased endurance. Oxygen is harder to extract from the air, hormonal changes are going on that increase the availability of muscle protein to fuel muscles, and you feel weary! If it is simply weariness, rest assured that the body will adjust within about 3 days to the new altitude--if you remain at the higher elevation for that long. If nausea is severe, however, you may be experiencing altitude sickness which can be fatal. Get off the mountain! Reduce altitude.

At extreme elevation (over 3 miles high), food may not be as well absorbed, which may cause diarrhea. As a result, dehydration is more likely, due to increased respiratory and intestinal losses. Drink fluids in small, regular doses. Plan ahead for transporting/purifying water--it will most likely be frozen.

For those spending more than a few days at high elevation, consider Vitamin E supplements/sources in your diet. Because the atmosphere is thinner at high elevation, your body is exposed to more oxidative stress. Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant (see Vitamins), so make sure you get slightly more than the RDA (1.5 times the RDA is plenty.) 

*           *              *             *               *             *             *              *             *               *                *


How do you know whether or not you should eat the plants?
Whether or not you eat the local flora depends upon circumstances.  Sometimes it's a matter of environmental impact, at others it's a matter of your personal safety.  Some guidelines are listed below.

    • Only if there is an abundance.
    • Only if you harvest just as much as you know you will eat. Never pick an area "clean". Pick some here, some there, so the plants have a chance to reseed themselves in that area.
    • Only if you know what you're eating. If it's not familiar 1) don't eat it, or 2) try just a nibble. Wait a day. If you live, you might try a little more the next day. If you really want to know what you're eating, buy a book on Edible Wild Plants and study it.
This is only a brief introduction to the common uses of some very familiar "weeds." If you wish to learn more, there are dozens of Field guides on edible and medicinal plants. Your investment will be well rewarded the first time you have the courage to taste a wild blueberry. As you learn to discern one plant from another, you will add a new dimension to your wilderness experience.

    • Deadly nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) -- tempting orange and red berries have caused the death of more than one curious child. Be safe--don't eat wild red berries.
    • Devil's-club (Oplopanax horridum) -- that about says it all, doesn't it?)- shrub with thorny maple-like leaves that aggressively attack innocent passers-by, causing painful irritation. Topped by a terminal spike of bright red berries. (West coast)
    • Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) -- although the young shoots are edible, the attractive dark purple berries and mature leaves and stem are poisonous.
    • Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) -- similar to wild carrot (Queen Anne's Lace), but causes paralysis and death. Leaf stalks are hairless, root is ill-smelling and ill-tasting. Blooms in summer.
    • Poison oak/summac/ivy (Rhus radicans) -- leaves of three, turns brilliant red early in fall; contact produces rash, inhalation of smoke can constrict air passages. Treat rash with calamine lotion if available, or make a mash of Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) leaves and stems and apply over affected area.
    • Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)-- treat with Jewelweed mash, as for Poison Ivy or count to 600 slowly. Nettle irritation generally subsides after 10 minutes even without treatment.

Blueberries/Huckleberries/Bilberries (Vaccinium spp.; Gaylussacia spp.) -- Thornless low shrubs (1-2') on exposed mountain slopes, shrubs grow taller (6-8') when found along the shores of lakes/rivers; prefer full sun exposure, so often found in powerline clearings or burnt clearings. Berries produced in clusters, dusky blue to black, but always with "eyelashes"--the 5-lobed star patterned fringe on the crown of the berry (the side opposite the stem). Some blue/black berries are distasteful/poisonous, but they don't have the eyelash fringes. Stick to the berries with eyelashes.
Berries are smaller than the domesticated version by half but twice the flavor. Eat them fresh, in pies, dried or as jelly. June-September.
Cattails (Typha spp.) -- Tall (6-10') marsh plants with sword-like leaves and sausage-shaped brown flowering spike.
In early spring, young shoots and stalks (less than 3' tall) can be eaten raw or boiled. (But don't confuse with Poison Hemlock shoot, which also grows along the water's edge. See above, for description of Poison Hemlock.) In late spring, the green flowering spike can be boiled for a few minutes and eaten. In summer, the yellow pollen may be shaken into a bag and used as a flour substitute. In fall, short sprouts from the rootstalk may be eaten raw or boiled. In winter or early spring, the mature rootstalks may be peeled, boiled and mashed (like a potato) or made into flour. The starch can be extracted by mashing the roots in several rinses of water. Discard the fiber. Dry the starch and blenderize for flour.
In emergencies, the downy fluff of the seeds may provide insulation/padding or even serve as diapers! This is such a versatile, multi-purpose plant, you may want to plant some in your garden next year!
Chicory (Cichorium intybus) -- weed found growing along roadsides and waste places; blue blossom (sometimes white or pink) appears May-October.
Dandelion-like leaves are edible when young (Early spring). Boil 5-10 minutes. Roots can be dried and ground as a coffee substitute. A laxative preparation is made from 1 oz. ground root per pint water. (Fall to early spring.)
Clovers (Trifolium spp.) -- What they lack in taste appeal, they make up for in abundance. Weeds with 3 leaflets and little pea-like flowers growing in dense clusters (round, oblong, or spiked).
Young leaves are edible raw or cooked; dried flowerheads and seeds may be ground into flou. Tea may be made from the dried flowerheads, especially when mixed with other herbs. (Spring-Summer.)
Curled/yellow dock (Rumex crispus) -- tall weed (1-4 feet) growing in fields, along roadsides.
Late spring-summer, small green flowers give rise to heart shaped seeds along central stalk.
Young leaves may be eaten raw or boiled 10-15 minutes, but eat in moderation as they are high in oxalates, which decrease calcium absorption. (Change the water once or twice to reduce the bitter taste.) (Early spring.)
Stems may be used as a rhubarb substitute. The dried seeds may be ground to flour. (Summer)
Dandelion (Taxacum officinale) -- weed with one yellow-rayed flower atop the 4-12" stalk which forms a spherical white seed at maturity. Found in lawns, along roadsides and waste places.
A rich source of Vitamins A and C, the YOUNG leaves may be eaten raw or boiled for 10 minutes. (Change the water once for milder flavor. Eat in moderation--leaves have a laxative effect.) If the yellow blossom is present or gone to seed, you've waited too long to eat the leaves, but the blossom can be boiled 5 minutes and eaten. (Spring.) Roots can be dried (bake) and ground as a coffee substitute, eaten raw in early spring, or boiled (Summer-fall.) Caution: the root acts as a diuretic, so use moderation.
Fiddlehead ferns (best from Bracken Fern or Ostrich Fern, Pteridium aquilinum or Pteretis pensylvanica, resp.) -- if you can see the mature fronds, you've waited too long. You have to identify these plants a year in advance, then return in early spring to harvest the young unfurling fronds. The Bracken fern has a 3-forked leaflet, common in woods, pastures and meadows. Ostrich fern grows in a vase-like cluster consisting of small stiff erect fertile fronds still standing in early spring, surrounded by large green sterile fronds which are broader near the apex.
Three carcinogens have been isolated from mature plants and are poisonous, so only eat young coiled/curled plants and eat in moderation. For the desperate/courageous, the familiar curled fronds are covered with a wooly covering which should be rubbed off before cooking. Boil 30 minutes to deactivate thiaminase, an enzyme which destroys vitamin B1. (Early spring.)
Greenbrier (Smilax spp.) -- green-stemmed thorny vine growing in woods and thickets. Stems remain green throughout the winter, hence the name "Greenbrier".
Young shoots, leaves and tendrils may be eaten raw or cooked. (Spring to early summer.)
Hobblebush or Nannyberry (Viburnum spp.) -- also called "Wild Raisin"; Tall shrub common in the understory of cool moist woods. Leaves heart-shaped or elliptic with a pointed tip, respectively. Both bear flat clusters of white 5-petalled flowers, which produce blue-black fruits when ripe. [Caution: there are many inedible blue-black smooth berries, so don't sample these fruits, unless you know your hobblebush/nannyberry plant.]
Ripe fruit each bear one large seed and may be eaten raw or cooked. (Fall through winter)
NUTS -- All the following produce nuts which are good raw or toast them for a milder flavor. Nuts can be ground to make nut paste/meal. All are good sources of iron and protein
Hazelnuts (Corylus spp.) -- small tree bearing nuts encased in a fringed husk which is easily removed.
Hickory (Carya spp.) -- (Shagbark hickory is the easiest to identify, with vertical strips of bark peeling away at both ends from the trunk, giving the tree its "shaggy" appearance.) The husk of hickory nuts is divided into 4 sections which loosen as the nut matures. Gather nuts when they fall to the ground, before the squirrels get to them. (Pignut and Bitternut hickories produce nuts which are bitter/inedible, but they do not resemble hickory nuts, so should not cause confusion. If the taste is not familiar, don't eat it.)
Walnuts (Juglans spp.)-Nut is encased in an impenetrable green fleshy husk which eventually darkens and dries. Gather nuts as they fall to the ground.
Onion/garlic/chives (Allium spp.) -- Follow your nose. If it smells like onion, it is onion and therefore safe to eat. Grasslike leaves surround a flowering stalk with a cluster of white or pink flowers.
The young leaves (before the flowering stalk appears) and the bulb may be eaten raw or cooked. (Harvest the leaves in spring; the bulb can be eaten year-round.)
Pine (Pinus spp.) -- evergreen trees with woody cones (the "leaves" of the cone are called "scales"). You can often see the remains of a squirrel's feast, where he sat on an exposed rock and systematically stripped the scales off a pine cone as if he were eating a corn cob. The Pine cob remains in the scale litter, all the pine nuts gone.
Pine nuts are good raw or toasted. (Fall.) Tender green needles may be chopped fine and steeped to make tea. (Spring-summer)
Plantain (Plantago spp.) -- Low-growing plant, often found invading lawns. Leaves form a basal rosette from which a flowering stalk arises, bearing many tiny seeds.
Young leaves may be eaten fresh or boiled 10 minutes. (Early spring.) Medicinal tea can be made from dried or chopped fresh leaves. A leaf poultice can be made by crushing/chewing the leaves and applying the mash to wounds (antimicrobial and stimulates healing). The seed is the source of psyllium, used to decrease cholesterol. (Summer-Fall.)
Queen Anne's Lace/wild carrot (Daucus carota) -- Don't confuse with Deadly Poison Hemlock, or Fool's Parsley whose white roots looks like a carrot, but are not carrot-smelling! They stink. Lacy-leaved Queen Anne's Lace has a hairy stem. Fool's Parsley is smooth-stemmed. Poison Hemlock is hairless and spotted with purple. All three grow in wastelands/meadows. Don't eat Queen Anne's Lace unless you are starving.
White root smells like a carrot, tastes like carrot when cooked. (Fall to early spring.)
Raspberries/Blackberries (Rubus spp.) -- Thorny brambles growing along roadsides/clearings. Fruit looks exactly like raspberries/blackberries; tastes exactly like raspberries/blackberries. (Raspberries and strawberries are the only red berries I recommend you try eating if you are a novice.)
Eat berries fresh, cooked, dried or in jelly. June- September. To make tea, add 1 T dried leaves or 5-8 young Raspberry leaves chopped fine to 2-3 C simmering water. Steep 10 minutes. (Leaves may be gathered throughout the summer.)
Rose hips (Rosa spp.) -- prickly/thorny shrub with showy white or pink blossom; red fruit, referred to as a "rose hip" produced in late summer-early fall. Plants prefer sunny locations (fields, beaches, fencerows, etc.).
Rose hips are a good source of Vit. C; peel the outer layer (calyx) and eat raw, baked or boiled. Tea can be made from fresh or dried hips (steep 10 minutes). Summer through winter, as the hips remain on the shrub until spring.
Strawberries (Fragaria spp.) -- plants and fruit smaller than our garden variety, but unmistakably strawberries. Found growing in recent clearings, abandoned logging roads, moist fields.
Fruit is tart, but flavorful. Eat fresh or cooked in jams and pies. (Summer). Dried or fresh crushed leaves make a Vitamin C-rich tea. (Make sun tea to preserve the Vitamin C: just immerse the leaves in a water bottle exposed to the sun for 30 minutes or more.)
Smooth/Staghorn sumac (Rhus glabra and R. typhina) -- Tall shrubs (4-15') found along roadsides, fields and fencerows. Large leaves (1-2') with 11-31 leaflets. Fuzzy red fruit (not to be confused with Poison sumac's white fruit! See above.) grows at the tip of the branches, remaining on the tree through the winter.
Fruits may be made into a medicinal tea (gargle) or a refreshing lemony -- tasting drink. Soak about 1/3 C bruised fruit (rub in hands or mash with a fork) in 1 quart of water. After 10 minutes, strain off the seeds. Add sugar to taste and drink. (Summer.)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)- Don't mistake this plant for Poison Hemlock! Try it only if you are confident you know what both look like through the various growth stages. Yarrow bears feathery leaves on a central stalk, topped by a flat umbrella-shaped cluster of tiny white flowers (1-2' tall). Grows in fields and along roadsides.
Leaves make a pungent aromatic tea. 3-5 fresh leaves or 1 T dried leaves from a mature plant in 2 Cups simmering water. Steep 10-15 minutes. Also a poultice can be made from crushed leaves and flowers may be applied to wounds to stop bleeding.

    • Birch (Betula spp.) -- familiar white-barked tree, generally found invading recently disturbed areas. The bark burns, even when wet, but don't ever strip the bark from living trees! Burn only dead branches/litter as firewood. Peeling bark from a living tree will leave it vulnerable to insects and disease.
    • Gold thread (Coptis groenlandica) -- Shiny, strawberry-shaped green-leaved perennial covering the forest floor.
Bright yellow root may be chewed to heal canker sores (contains berberine, which is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial).
    • Jewelweed/Spotted Touch-Me-Not (Impatiens capensis) -- Yellow or orange lipped flowers give rise to a seedpod which springs open when held in your hand, releasing a delicious nutty seed. Grows near streams, bogs or other moist shady places.
To prevent/relieve itching, crush the leaves and stems to make a mash/poultice. Apply to skin recently exposed to poison ivy/poison oak or stinging nettles. (Return toPlants to Avoid.)
    • Willow (Salix spp.) -- Tree found growing along river banks.
Bark chewed raw or steeped in hot water to make a medicinal tea containing aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) for reducing pain, inflammation and fever.
    • Wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) -- Cloverlike ground cover in woods or meadows, bearing white blossom streaked with fine pink veins.
Fresh leaves may be eaten raw in moderation. The leaves are high in Vitamin C, but contain oxalic acid, which inhibits calcium absorption. The crushed leaves may be steeped for 10 minutes in hot water then cooled to make a tart drink. Add sugar to taste. Of more benefit on the trail, a mash of crushed leaves can be used to remove pitch.
    • Yucca (Yucca spp.) -- Stiff dagger-sharp leaves grow in a cluster, surrounding a stalk bearing showy white flowers (6-petaled). Found in sandy woods, clearings.
The root was used as soap by the Native Americans. Flower petals may be eaten raw. (Summer.) The fruit can be split open, seeds removed and baked for 30 minutes. (Summer-Fall.)

*           *              *             *               *             *             *              *             *               *                *

1. Save Fuel and Time: Rehydrate on the trail.
Start rehydrating your dehydrated foods about 1 hour before dinner time. A wide-mouthed container with lid (eg., a plastic peanut butter jar or Tupperware-type bowl) supports the plastic baggie filled with enough water to cover the contents of whatever is in the bag. The sandwich baggies get "dirty", not the jar, so only the dirty baggie goes into the ziplock trash bag.

 2. Save Fuel: Don't simmer.
To cook oatmeal, ramen, couscous, instant rice, soups, or to simply rehydrate any food, bring water to a boil, add food, cover then turn the stove off. Let the pot sit for the recommended time. The contents do indeed simmer for at least 5 minutes (in 60o weather). Even in cold weather (30o), whole/quick oats (and, of course, instant) will cook in a covered pan if you just add boiling water and allow it to stand 5 -10 minutes.
 3. Save Fuel: Choose the right cook kit.

Water will heat faster in a shallow broad pan, than in a narrow, tall pot. To further improve fuel efficiency, paint the outside of your pots with flat-black stove paint and use a windscreen. Use a fuel exchanger only if the fuel bottle is separate from your stove--check manufacturer's instructions. Don't carry more cook kit than you need, but do take the lid. It saves its weight daily in efficient use of fuel. Get a cook kit that is slightly larger than your stove top.

 Use plastic containers with tight fitting lids for dishes, rather than the metal plates supplied with the cook kits. You can use them as serving bowls, they retain heat longer with the lid, and they make great mixing bowls, especially for foods like mashed potatoes or "Rocket Fuel" (see Pudding Variations in Recipes). For cold weather, insulated cups are well worth their weight.

 4. Save Fuel: use No-cook/instant Foods.
Instant pudding, instant mashed potatoes, Minute rice (not instant rice), Ramen rather than spaghetti, instant soups. Walk through the grocery aisles with an open mind, especially in the "ethnic foods" sections. Dehydrate your own favorites. 

Commercial Dehydrators are well worth the investment if you spend significant time in the wilderness. Unfortunately, dehydrating reduces Vitamin C content, so take a supplement (seeVitamins).
1. To save money, dehydrate foods when they are in season.
  • Roots and fruits in the autumn (carrots, potatoes, apples, and pears),
  • flowers and shoots in the spring (broccoli, asparagus),
  • and berries in between (and squash and tomatoes and peppers . . . ).
DO NOT dehydrate onions. It’s not worth the complaints regarding the odor of the house and all that’s in it. Buy dehydrated onions.

2. To save time and (your) energy, dehydrate frozen vegetables, canned stews/chili/meats.
Another quick 'n easy idea: dehydrate thin sliced deli meat (low fat ham, turkey, chicken or beef).

3. Saving Money: make your own Fruit leather.
Even without a dehydrator, you can make fruit leather from any fruit with any stove. Wash and peel fruit, heat to a boil with or without sugar, according to your taste. (No sugar is necessary, but tart fruits may appeal to you more with sugar added. For a natural sugar alternative, just combine high sugar fruits with tart fruit, such as strawberries with rhubarb or peaches with plums.) Simmer for 10 minutes, then pour on plastic wrap-covered cookie sheets. Spread to 1/4" thickness. Dry in a warm oven (135-150oF) until leathery, (6-20 hours, depending on how full your oven is). Crack the oven a bit to allow the moisture to escape. If you have a gas stove, the pilot light provides enough heat to keep your oven at a reasonable temperature. Electric stoves require more watching, since they generally heat erratically, which may cause the fruit leather to dry unevenly. To prevent scorching the leather, remove strips of fruit as it dries (generally along the edge first). Allow to cool, then store in ziplock baggies. Freeze for future use, or store in airtight bucket.

4. Saving Money: Buy Ready-Made or Dry It Yourself?
It depends on how much you have to pay for your produce, and how much leisure time you have. Drying your (or your neighbor's) abundant FREE zucchini harvest is always a good bargain. But drying food you have to pay top dollar for does not make good economic sense. Appreciate that dried vegetables have lost about 75-90% water, so less than 1/4 "solid" remains; dried fruits have lost about 50-70% their water. Adjust the price accordingly.

* I dry to the "crispy" stage, so fruit is about 10% water, and vegetables are less than 5% water.


anything dried (cereals, fruits/vegs) 
any food that you normally refrigerate 
mustard, oil, vinegar, syrup 
mayonnaise, after opening
margarine, peanut butter, jelly 
wax-coated hard cheeses 
soft cheeses
crackers, chips 
bagels, pita (mold after about a week)
dried eggs 
raw eggs never, boiled eggs for a few days
powdered milk 
liquid milk never, yogurt for a few days


1. Saving Time: Combine ingredients at Home
Get everything together but the water. For example, to make "Rocket Fuel" (See Pudding Variations in Recipes), measure out the 2 oz. instant chocolate pudding, 1/3 C powdered milk and handful of walnuts/chocolate chips into one baggie before you leave home. A bit of tape on a sandwich bag will keep it adequately sealed for hundreds of miles on the trail if it's tucked snuggly in a second ziplock baggie. Write cooking instructions on the baggie, or insert a recipe into the bag, if you need one.
Further Benefit: Repackaging will save you a garbage can full of trash on the trail.

2. Saving Time: Get organized.
Experts debate which is better--The 3 Bag Method or the Series Method.
  • The Three Bag: put all your breakfasts together in one bag; all your lunches and snacks in a second bag (preferably a different color or shape); all your dinners in a third bag.
  • Series Method: All one day's supply of food in 1 bag, second day's food in another bag, and so on.
Whichever suits you, LABEL bags, preferably with indelible marker, including cooking instructions (eg. "Rice-1C Hot Water" tells me to add 1C boiling water to the contents of the bag). I stack the sandwich bags of food into the ziplock bag in the order I intend to use them, one ziplock for breakfast cereals, one for soups, one for desserts, etc. Crackers, peanut butter and snacks go on the top of the pack or in the pockets for ready access.

Miscellaneous: CLEAN UP
1. Drink your dishwater. Of course, you don't use soap in the "dishwater". Simply pour a mouthful of water into the cup/bowl containing a remnant of oatmeal, pudding or casserole, swirl and drink. Soap is generally not necessary, since its purpose is to remove grease. How much grease do you use to fix your oatmeal? Probably none.

2. Use a stick, sand, or a penny for a scouring pad, rather than carry a foul-smelling, bear-attracting dishrag with you for days on the trail. Discard the stick or sand well away from the campsite and from water sources (i.e., 200 feet). To make cleanup easier, buy a cook kit that has no ridges on the bottom of pans as they are hard to clean.

3. Reduce your trash. I recycle my plastic bags, separating "clean" used sandwich bags from dirty plastic sandwich baggies (eg., the baggies in which I've rehydrated spaghetti sauce or turkey-vegetable gravy). The dirty bag gets thrown away at journey's end. The "clean" plastic bags get washed and recycled when I return to the comforts of home (the bags that just held instant pudding mix or oatmeal). Because the bags are recycled over and over, it pays to buy Heavy Duty freezer bags. Remember to keep all used baggies (and toothpaste, deodorant, etc.) in the food bag, properly hung to prevent marauders during the night. 

*           *              *             *               *             *             *              *             *               *                *

No comments:

Post a Comment