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Last summer I spent 15 days hiking with my boyfriend, in Sarek National Park, where there are no places to restock with more food.

The food issue was a major part of the pre-planning, as weight was also of high importance. Looking back, I can already identify a few mistakes I made, but I'd like to hear from other people who are more experienced at taking long trips so that I can be even more efficient next time.

"Efficient" means being not-too-hungry at the end of the day whilst expending the lowest amount of weight. It's important that the food is going to last the full two weeks.

Assume I have no taste at all and don't care about eating the same tasteless thing every day if necessary.

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I would argue that for a 12-15 day hiking trip you wouldn't need to fulfill all your food needs anyway - just stock up on enough calories to sustain you through the day. You don't need a healthy and balanced diet for the trip. –  Noam Gal Jan 24 '12 at 20:54
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On one canoeing trip, we took a few summer sausages. An inch-thick slice will keep you going quite a while, and they aren't likely to go bad. –  Kevin Jan 24 '12 at 20:58
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and don't care about eating the same tasteless thing every day if necessary <-- This makes me sad. If you are suffering, you are doing it wrong ;) - when you have your tent set, your pot on the stove, and watching the sunset, who wants tasteless? You want a symphony of flavor with that back-drop. Delicious doesn't have to be heavy. –  LBell Jan 25 '12 at 2:03
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After walking 25km in a day everything tastes gourmet :) –  victoriah Jan 25 '12 at 9:00
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This questions is closely related to a-list-of-suitable-foods-for-a-long-hike –  Eyal Jun 18 '12 at 10:03

9 Answers 9

I made a 272-mile hike through the Sawtooth Mountains and this was my diet (which worked well for me):

2-3 oatmeal packets in the morning
trail mix as a snack
top ramen with powdered chili for lunch
then rice or mashed potatoes with a few seasonings mixed in for flavor such as garlic, herb, butter, cinnamon etc...

Rice, mashed potatoes, dehydrated milk, and oatmeal are the lightest foods you can bring.
Brown rice is healthier than white as well.
I had to carry all my food in because there was no re-supply but I used a filter water straw for all my water needs (worked great).

Cliff bars and Snickers or M&Ms both make a great snack but are weight if you are worried about it.

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Ben's answer above is good. I wish I could give him more than just one upclick.

Rules of thumb: Carbs and proteins run 3.5 to 4 calories per gram. Fats run aobut 9 calories per gram.

Working hard, especially in cold weather, you can tolerate a lot of fat in your diet.

When planning food for teenagers, I figured on 4000 calories per day. This is sufficient for days with 8-9 working hours per day. (Pretty hard core compared to most recreational use.)

With a 40% fat content diet, each hundred grams of food with provide 40 * 9 + 60 * 4 = 360 + 240 = 600 calories. So it would take 700 grams of food per day -- about a pound and a half. Our meals tended to be lower fat than that, and a rough rule of thumb was 2 lbs dry weight per person per day.

Two pounds per day means that the groceries for a 15 day trip are 30 lbs. With the high fat option (LOTS of nuts, lots of cooking oil) There really isn't getting around that.

So, as others have pointed out, you need to make the rest of your gear light, and minimize the parasitic weight (packageing) of your food.

If you do trips frequently, set up your food in a spread sheet. I had one in which I figured on the weight/volume per serving, had a constant for the number of people in the trip, another constant for the class of trip, and the spread sheet would figure out the packing weight/volume for everything. This makes things a BUNCH easier when packing for an expedition of 30 people for 3 weeks in the wild waters of northern Saskatchewan.

One aside: An external frame pack is considerably easier when handling lots of weight. They tend to be wider and flater, so keep the load closer to your own center of mass. They are however a true PITA in brushy country, as the extra width and exposed corners catch.

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Lots of people have posted answers saying what they like to eat. However, the OP asked a very specific question, which was: "What is the most efficient food to take a for a 12-15 day hiking trip? [...] Assume I have no taste at all and don't care about eating the same tasteless thing every day if necessary." She specifically stated that her only criterion was efficiency.

By this criterion, there is one very well-defined answer to her question, which is that she should bring food that is purely composed of fat. Fat has an energy density of 9 calories per gram. This is a pretty good approximation for all fats. If you look around for pure-fat foods with very little water in them, basically all you find is cooking oils such as olive oil. For comparison, granola is about 3 cal/g, oatmeal 2 cal/g, cookies 6 cal/g. So by the stated criteria, the OP should put a large jug of olive oil in her pack.

If you use calories per liter as your figure of merit, you get about the same answer: cooking oil. This is because oil is about twice as dense as most foods that you'd actually want to eat.

Do I recommend a diet of pure olive oil for a 2-week backpacking trip? Of course not, but that just shows that the OP needs to state more realistic criteria. Not only would any human be miserable on this diet, but carbs serve as the primer for fat metabolism. The human body can't digest fat without having carbs as well. Without any carbs, you get ketosis. See, e.g., McArdle, Exercise physiology: energy, nutrition, and human performance, 1986.

A good starting point in setting more realistic criteria would be to decide on some balance of fats, carbs, and protein. A standard recommendation is about 50% of calories from carbohydrates, 35% from fat, 15% from protein.

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That's a good example why I like physicists. Yummy, more oil cooking! –  EverythingRightPlace Apr 23 at 21:28

Dates are the best. Delicious, healthy and durable. When combined with milk I can easily keep going for a week with nothing else. No wonder this combination is the desert nomads's favourite.

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I agree. Dates are extremely an calorie dense, natural food, that is usually super tasty while on the trail. As a side note, try to vary your diet. If all you eat is dried fruit, you will eventually get the runs. –  theJollySin Mar 27 '13 at 20:37

I can offer my favorite hiking food rotinue, but I usually just had it for 4-5 days max, between resupplies.

  • Quaker Oatmeal for breakfast (usually two packets with the powdered milk, add cold water to each packet)
  • 3-4 snacks during the day (2 sneakers snickers, 2 m&ms, sometimes other variants. Sometimes Cliff bars/Oatmeal snacks instead)
  • A big tortilla with yellow cheese and pepperoni slices for lunch
  • 1 Lipton meal (Made by Knorr in Europe) of pasta with sauce, or rice with something + some powdered mashed potatoes in the mix + tuna (I found them in bags in the US - much nicer than cans, for hiking) for dinner, also in a tortilla.

That mix kept me going for a long while, but as I said, I never carried more than 5 days of food on me.

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I would also recommend something along these lines. Plenty of carbs during the day to keep you going, higher fat content meals at night to keep you sustained while you sleep. Don't forget the protein to keep your muscles fed. –  Timothy Strimple Jan 24 '12 at 21:11
    
cold water in your oatmeal? Take 10 minutes and heat up water for coffee and hot oatmeal. Your day will be nicer for it. –  Kate Gregory Sep 6 at 18:05
    
I just completed a long hike, eating two oatmeal packets every morning. Cold. I admit that on two extra cold mornings I had it with hot water, and it was nice. But I wouldn't want to carry the extra fuel to be able to boil more water every day. I guess it's a matter of taste. But I still vote for cold oatmeal, personally. –  Noam Gal Sep 28 at 15:12

Rice.

If you have fresh (or purified) water, an amazingly small amount of rice would suffice for 14 days. I've trekked the Cordillera Real for 12 days, and rice was the only reasonable option in terms of weight. A small set of spices - especially salt and pepper - dramatically improve its taste.

If you don't want to eat the same food for 14 days, take other kinds of food (e.g. Pasta) and eat them the first few days, so that you'll carry a reasonable weight afterwards.

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Rice can also be easily made delicious! Dehydrated black beans don't weight much and add some flavor. All sorts of spices can be added that also don't weight much. Powedered cheese is a good addition too. As an alternative, couscous is good and similarly light-weight. –  nhinkle Sep 5 at 23:01

Good Ol' Reliable Peanuts (GORP), or Trail mix:

Trail mix is a combination of dried fruit, grains, nuts, and sometimes chocolate, developed as a snack food to be taken along on outdoor hikes.

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I combine peanuts and raisins with chili powder, and that full-fills most of my snack needs when hiking. –  Sdry Mar 29 '13 at 8:36
    
-1 totally un-creative answer. Plus 15 days of GORP? C'mon man . . . –  Jim Beam Sep 8 at 15:45
    
@JimBeam Oh please. I'm not suggesting 15 days of it. Plus, creativity is not the target here. A correct answer is worth more than a creative one. If you want to critique my answer, say that is it incomplete, that it should mention more than one option. Or say that it doesn't answer the original question. I agree that his is not the best answer, but I think your comment is much worse than my answer is. –  Shawn Sep 8 at 21:48

Dehydration is key. Water weighs a LOT.

Breakfast -- Any variation on oatmeal. You can make your own or buy prepackaged meals.
Lunch -- Peanut butter on hard tack. (did i mention water?)
Dinner -- Any dehydrated meal will do. I've used both Mountain House and Backpackers pantry.
Snacks -- I prefer Clif bars and Justin Nut Butter for a good weight/calorie/taste compromise. Luna bars are more calories per ounce but (IMO) taste horrid.

By far the biggest weight factor in food is going to be water. If you know your route will have water, carry minimal. I have went so far as to carry only one liter (emergency) and drink from a .5 liter bottle that I sterilize with a steripen or other purifier. Needless to say, you have to be pretty darned sure, because not having water is a huge issue.

Secondly, repack all your food. Even with dehydrated meals you can cut ounces by repacking them all into ziplocs.

Use a very lightweight stove & fuel. A lot of hikers swear by the beer can method here, but I find my pocket rocket to be fine. But if you really want to cut ounces, go with the can.

I use a snow peak .7L titanium cup for all of my cooking.

Get a titanium spork. Great weight ratio.

I went a little beyond just food into the whole eating plan, but I hope it helps.

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I never carry or purify my water, where I hike it's totally clean, so that's not a consideration for me, but probably for other hikers finding this it will be I guess :D –  victoriah Jan 31 '12 at 23:34
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@victoriah -- That would be awesome and I wish I could. Last I read there is no place in the US that does not have a potential for Giardia. Domesticated animals, including the increased popularity of hiking with dogs, over the entire US has spread this protozoa to virtually every stream in the continental US. Now that's not to say that you can't get lucky in the US drinking untreated water, just that it's not a good idea here. –  Russell Steen Feb 1 '12 at 17:07
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Dehydrated dinners are extremely expensive for what you get. Consider buying or making your own dehydrated veggies/meats and pairing with couscous. –  Corey D Jul 9 '12 at 13:25
    
@CoreyD -- They can be. But by shopping sales and such I can generally get it down to $6/meal. You can do cheaper by dehydrating at home, but $6/meal is less than what most people average on food so I'm not sure I'd call that "extremely" expensive. –  Russell Steen Jul 9 '12 at 19:02
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@CoreyD -- It's just my experience, I'm not assuming anything. I do high mileage hiking and this works for me and I eat 4k to 5k cals/day when hiking. Different people are going to have different calorie needs, which is a separate issue entirely. We buy our food on a compromise of cost+time compared to calories, weight, and required preparation at camp. Freeze dried meals for dinner make a good compromise for me and are not in my experience, "extremely" expensive, even less so when I factor in my own time spent trying to do dehydration at home. –  Russell Steen Jul 10 '12 at 15:43

I go with a couple of Mountain House dehydrated meals per day, and check the calories per ounce of snacks and other food that I buy. Everybody does this differently. I have carried a watermelon before. I found this to be somewhat inefficient.

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Sounds like the time we carried in two (small) roaster chickens for lemon/beer can chicken. That didn't turn out so well. –  Clare Steen Mar 14 '12 at 13:06

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