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Confused About Food
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Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Confused About Food on 09/19/2009 23:37:25 MDT Print View

I've spent years refining the weight in my pack and when it comes to gear I think I have a good grasp of what I need to take and how to pack a light pack. My base pack weight is now about 2.5 or 3 kg (around 6 or 7 or pounds) and I'm more or less happy with the gear I have.

However, try as I might I just can't figure out how to bring my food weight down. As a Type 1 diabetic using insulin I have to be extremely careful going out to the mountains; twice I almost died due to running out of food. So I can't risk trying out experiments. I've scoured the web looking for information on putting trip menus together and see people like Andrew Skurka and Ryan Jordan or Glen van Peski walking for five days or more with just something like a Jam2 and all their photos always show a neatly trimmed pack without using the extension collar, and yet when I attempt just a 3-day trip, I always end up with a pack filled to the limit of the extension collar. And quite heavy. I'm still very crude when it comes to putting a food list together, and though I try as much as possible to stay as nutritious and light as possible I do end up bringing things that I really shouldn't be eating so much of. At least I think so. I'm not a novice at nutrition, but also don't really understand it very well.

Last month I walked the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail in Canada and, being very unfamiliar with the food and what is available in supermarkets there, I ended up buying almost exclusively those commercial packaged meals found at MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op). It came to more than a hundred dollars! While generally filling and healthy, most of it tasted bland and boring (they really need a lesson in making instant Japanese Ramen noodles) and I think that if I take the time to learn more about Sarah's Freezer Bag cooking methods, dehydrating food, and One-Pot meals I can improve my food choices... but then again there's the weight and bulk.

How do people do it? How do you get that much food into such small packs? It's like magic to me and I still haven't figured out the secret.

Dicentra OPW
(dicentra) - F

Locale: PNW
You're on the right track... on 09/20/2009 01:20:17 MDT Print View

Freezer Bag Cooking and One Pan Wonders (the FBC style meals). Feel free to contact either of us directly. :)

Repackage everything. I write out a complete trip menu for each trip so I bring the right amount of food (with a few extras - usually snacks)

What sorts of things ARE you bringing?

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Confused About Food on 09/20/2009 05:35:49 MDT Print View

Their food choices pack small especially when repackaged as needed. None of them, even if they took freeze-dried meals, would likely use the original packaging (a guess), which is bulky.

I don't know if there are BPL articles on food packaging, but there is a need for that demonstration.

Most importantly, we don't want a BPL forum without Miguel (noting your two times of running out of food). Get some help repackaging and maybe some different food choices, but don't skimp on food when you have type 1 diabetes mellitus.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Confused About Food on 09/20/2009 08:49:28 MDT Print View

I've been repackaging food for a very long time now (even do it at supermarkets now... Japan has special bins in the supermarkets for throwing away packaging), and I cut every superfluous edge and tab from any packaging that remains. I also have Sarah Kirkconnell's "Freezer Bag Cooking" book and have long followed a lot of the methods she uses. I put all dry food into medium sized ziploc bags to make it as easy as possible to just boil up the water before the meal and simply pour it into the bags, from which I then eat. So it's not the packaging.

I don't have a dehydrator and while Japan has a lot of commercial dried foods I either don't know enough about making traditional Japanese meals to make it pain free to set up a menu or I just can't continue eating the traditional fare for long in the hills (there's only so much ramen I can stomach, even though I love it). If I try to follow a lot of the meals here on BPL or from other American sources, though, a great many of the ingredients are simply not available, or I'm unfamiliar with them. I just have to compensate and try to fill in the gaps.

Since I am a diabetic I always make extra sure now that my food source is okay. Because I don't get out to the mountains as often as I want to and should, often I have a hard time gauging my dietary needs, since once I am out there the energy needs change so much. So I always bring extra, just in case. While going light is important to me, it's just too dangerous to skimp on food.

I'm going hiking for three days in the Tanigawa Range north of Tokyo. It's very steep and treeless terrain, with a good chance of heavy rains and very cold temperatures, so I will be consuming quite a lot of calories. Normally at home I don't eat a lot... keeping most of my daily calories to around 1900 kcal. (I am 48, 180 cm, 75 kg... that's 48, 5'10", and I don't know the weight...). But that's just not enough for the hills. I tend to walk somewhat long days, from about 5:00 am till about 5:00 pm., eating dinner around 6:00.

Here is a quick summary of my meal plan for the next three days:

• 1st Day:
- Breakfast: at home, (will wake at 4:00 to catch the train)
- Snack: apple-pear
- Lunch: store bought ready made meal in train station, usually rice with chicken and stir fried vegetables
- Snack: apple-pear (will have started on the trail by then)
- Dinner: beans marsala (wet, in a package), freeze-dried rice (pour water into the pouch and afterwards the marsala and eat directly out of the pouch), mushroom potage, tea

• 2nd Day
- Breakfast: ramen noodles; dried, brown rice o-mochi (a hard rice dough that gives energy and brings up the glycemic index of the ramen... Takahashi Naoko, the Olympic Marathon champion, swears by it); dried vegetables (corn, soy beans, peas); dehydrated egg drop soup; powder coffee
- Snack: chocolate bar
- Snack: cheese sticks with crackers
- Lunch: (cooked) curry (wet, in a package); parboiled rice in a pouch (pour curry into pouch, eat from pouch), tea
- Snack: Powerbar, coconut
- Snack: ramen chips (like potato chips)
- Dinner: Parboiled rice; raisins; cashew nuts; dried cheese risotto mix; asparagus soup mix; tea

3rd Day:
- Breakfast: granola cereal mix, dried powder milk, kinako and bean powder mix (kinako is made from soy beans and has a lot of protein and good calories), dried mango flakes; powder coffee
- Snack: salami bits
- Snack: chocolate bar
- Lunch: (cooked) chicken thai yellow curry (wet, in a package); parboiled rice in pouch; dried tom yam kun soup; tea
- Snack: leftover cashew nuts from night before
From here I am back down the mountain and on a train heading home.

Any thoughts? Thanks!

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Re: Confused About Food on 09/20/2009 09:14:21 MDT Print View

The two thoughts that jump into my head on this topic are

(1) Look for calorically dense foods --- i.e., high number of calories relative to the weight. You can search this site I would think as well as other places for existing threads about this (thru-hikers obsess a bit on getting high calorie foods).

(2) Some foods are inherently more packable. Some discussions on threads about "how to cram the max amount of food into a bear can" apply, and you can web search for that too (I'd say "Google" it, but I live in the Puget Sound area, and by law we have to say "Web Search" or "Bing" :-)).

Lots of powders are one key that people use, but that in turn impacts your cooking gear and process. I.e., if you're willing to have the gear and take the time to *bake* some of your food, you can carry more food that's absolutely dry and in most compressible/fits-into-the-cracks powder form.

I'm not that extreme myself, I inclined towards freezer bag cooking with a significant shift towards KISS.

Dicentra OPW
(dicentra) - F

Locale: PNW
Bentos! on 09/20/2009 09:17:36 MDT Print View

I didn't realize you were in Japan. (or diabetic)

You might look into taking Bento boxes, or something similar. They are MADE to travel. They are made to be compact yet filling. Some travel better than others. It just depends on what you put in it... You should have access to all kinds of yummy stuff. I can find more info for you if you are interested.

Looking at your menu, it looks good, but it is obviously not enough if you are running out of food. 1900 calories a day isn't enough for backpacking.

You don't need a dehydrator to eat well. My book illustrates that. One suggestion I would have is to add a dessert to your menu.

It looks like your weight may be coming from the "wet in packaging" meals. Look closely at the markets when you shop and see if there are other options...?

This is my friend's (and Sarbar's too) site on hiking with diabetes:

I'm very interested in hearing more about what kinds of foods (especially those suitable for backpacking/hiking) you can find there. :)

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Confused About Food on 09/20/2009 09:18:17 MDT Print View

I'd say this: if your food works for you, don't sweat it! Lower your weight everywhere else and enjoy eating well :-)

Having said that if you take what you love and figure out to make things smaller that is how you lower pack weight. So lets say you like whole wheat pasta or brown rice - you want to carry instant versions (which you can do at home - cook and dehydrate, even in your oven) or maybe you can dry up a favorite curry, etc.

You have a major health issue where food has to be healthy and well balanced - you should see how big GoBlueHikers food bag is - he is Type 1 as well.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Confused About Food on 09/20/2009 15:18:54 MDT Print View

Hi Miguel

You seem to have a lot of wet meals. Hugely heavy. The only 'wet' stuff we carry is jam and honey. A thought.


Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Confused About Food on 09/20/2009 15:54:18 MDT Print View

My favourite add on bits are olive oil (extra virgin) garlic and Parmesan cheese (or parmesan cheese if I feel cheap)
You can add oil to a lot of your food.
As suggested, try drying some food in the oven. I do have a dehydrator but use the oven as well . I make my own stock that way .
( onions/carrots/celery/ my chicken stock /herbs and spices /salt and pepper) with some ramen that is soup for lunch.
I usualy take Parma ham for protein, if not too hot it lasts 3 days or so repackaged in aluminium foil.
( I avoid salami because they often have MSG)
Hopefully your powder milk is full cream.
"chicken thai yellow curry (wet, in a package)" try drying that at home. As well as drying my meat (lean pork,beef,chicken and lamb) I dry full meals like curries and stews. I then vacuum seal them. I find the vacuum seal pouches very strong and of course minimise the space used.
( you can use them for "boil in the bag " style)
Mostly I will have meat in those pouches and add ramen/cous cous/rice and dry veggies to it. Top up with some herbs and spices and or my stock. The only "wet" stuff for me is tuna in foil.

Spruce Goose
(SpruceGoose) - F

Locale: New England
why full cream? on 09/20/2009 17:06:22 MDT Print View

>>Hopefully your powder milk is full cream.<<

Just due to caloric density?...or taste?...or is there some other reason?

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Confused About Food on 09/20/2009 17:11:35 MDT Print View

Only problem is that very few people in Japan have real ovens. They don't come as standard in homes. For someone like me who loves to bake bread, this is truly hardship (think of all the different foods you bake or roast or broil... I still after all these years find it astounding that the Japanese never incorporated baking into their culture before the last 100 years). And I don't have a dehydrator (yet), so all your suggestions for drying things out sound scrumptious, but not very practical at the moment. (yes, I know I could use solar drying, but I live in a small apartment with no place on the concrete jungle streets around to lay food out in the sun).

The comments about a lot of wet food are right on the mark. I know I have to reduce that. But unless I want to subject myself to processed foods and carbohydrates with very high glycemic indexes (foods that burn fast and cause you to bonk quickly), it's hard to find dried foods here that allow me to eat without worry of getting high calories, but quickly losing their effectiveness due to the insulin I take. Bentos are great, but they are wet food meals packaged in plastic containers and not suitable at all to backpacking (great for traveling on trains and buses, though).

Admittedly I've been somewhat lazy in learning more about available food; just to find good sources is a lot of work and traveling around the city, plus being much slower in reading information of what is available and what the labels say makes for pretty frustrating research. I don't know any Japanese hikers who do dehydrating, almost everyone I've met in the mountains relies either on wet food or the pre-packaged dried foods found in camping stores. Also buying things in bulk here is next to impossible, so things can get very expensive (a 100 gm (3.5 oz.) bag of cashews, for instance, costs about $3.80). I find that I end up with the wet foods I use above simply out of necessity and because I want to get on with planning the rest of my trips, rather than spending all my time looking for the right food.

Still, often I see the food lists here on BPL and other American sites and am amazed by the amount of sugary carbohydrates and simple, processed starches that people eat. It's light, but surely it can't be healthy over the long run? I see great fluctuations in my diabetic blood sugars depending on how much simple carbohydrates I eat compared to a complex carbohydrate diet. Most Japanese would balk at the sugary diets of so many of you Westerners. When I went to Vancouver last month I was shocked by how sweet everything was, all the time! There really needs to be more slow-burning food that will last over the course of the day, rather than just fill the needs of a short while. Somehow that must bring down the amount of food you bring, too, no?

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Confused About Food on 09/20/2009 17:50:36 MDT Print View

In my case for both calories and taste. Finally got to try out the Nido version over there, not bad at all.
Here in Melbourne a couple of the brands of skinny (or whatever) powder milk I had to buy ( last moment purchase) have been "less than satisfactory" . I use powdered milk in soups as well as a very milky coffee and my hot chocolate at night (when cool/cold)

I have enough problems avoiding MSG (hence my home drying..) , hard for me to work out how you manage...
If I remember correctly one or more of our ladies have something about drying using a microwave oven.
I don't have one of those (possibly the only house in Melbourne not to have one. It causes panic attacks with some of my guests)

BTW, I have no idea of what works/doesn't with diabetes...

Edited by Franco on 09/20/2009 20:21:59 MDT.

Laurie Ann March
(Laurie_Ann) - F

Locale: Ontario, Canada
send me a message on 09/20/2009 17:58:39 MDT Print View

Miguel... I too am diabetic and I spent much of this summer fine-tuning what I would need carb-wise and insulin-wise when out in the wilds. I dry 95% of all my foods and choose many foods that have high enough calories but I also look at the glycemic index. I find by balancing the foods (mixing a higher gi food with a lower one) I have less issues with lows. If you want, you may send me a private message and I can send you some of the menus that have worked well for me.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Confused About Food on 09/22/2009 12:52:12 MDT Print View

My hiking partner is also Type 1 diabetic. Our most recent trip had us hiking an average of 12 miles a day; we are also canoe trippers and will sometimes cover lots of miles. Either way, the trips are relatively demanding. (Last paddle trip was 120 river miles in two days.)

My friend's breakfast these days is a big bagel with peanut butter. For many years it was nearly a liter of cooked oatmeal fortified with dried milk and dried fruit, but it was hard to choke down that much oatmeal. He also has about 2 ounces of summer sausage/hard salami. Lunch is 2 Clif bars, 2 individually-wrapped cheese sticks (keeps better), and GORP. (Sorry that all my measurements are US...) A full 1-quart baggie lasts him about six days. He has a baggie of dried fruit "just in case," but rarely dips into it; one of the Clif bars sometimes gets eaten further down the trail. Dinner is a pre-packaged pasta or rice dinner, about 500kcal (we use Knorr, formerly Lipton, "sides" packets) fortified with instant dried potato flakes. He has two small granola bars and one or two individually wrapped fig newtons for snacks each day. He carries two 1-Liter water bottles, one for water and one for "juice." The juice is dried/powdered Gatorade mixed to double-strength, and he sips on it periodically through the day as he feels the need. I'm not saying a nutritionist would like the menu! But it's worked well for him for years.

EDIT: Incidentally, GORP is pretty ideal but often ignored as too simple or old-school. The stuff actually gives you a really good balance of fats, proteins and quick sugar. Also, as others have sorta mentioned, fatty foods are your trail friends... lotsa calories for less weight.

Edited by 4quietwoods on 09/22/2009 13:12:03 MDT.

Darin Butler
(darinbu) - F

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Count your calories on 10/06/2009 23:39:21 MDT Print View

I can't speak to the diabetes issue, but I would like to make the case for counting calories in the same way most of us count ounces of pack weight.

I've noticed that most packaged dry foods are roughly 100 calories (technically kilocalories) per ounce. (You can determine this from the label on nearly all packaged foods, at least in the US.) This is approximately true for a wide variety of foods like oatmeal, chips, Clif bars, freeze-dried backpacking meals, etc. I use that as a baseline, and have the philosophy that any food under 100 calories/oz is a luxury, which certainly applies to any fresh foods like apples. For a short trip, most people can forego these luxuries with no ill effects, but for longer trips it's good to have the occasional dose of fresh food.

There are, however, some foods suitable for backpacking with quite a bit more than 100 cal/oz. I believe Top Ramen noodles are about 125 (if you don't count the fuel it takes to cook them!), almonds are about 135, Chips Ahoy cookies about 125, GORP (depending on exact type) about 140, and beef jerky something like 130. So these foods offer a lot of calories per weight, and most of them (except maybe the Top Ramen) offer a lot of calories per volume as well, which speaks to your question.

For each backpack trip, I now make a detailed list of all the foods I take, their weights, and their numbers of calories. When I get home I count up how many calories I had extra. Over time this has helped me to figure out how many calories/day I need, and has allowed me to lower the total amount of food I carry with confidence, while still having an emergency reserve whose size depends on the details of the hike itself (how far from help, elevation gain, distance, alone or with others, etc.) It also makes shopping for each trip quicker and easier. It's been worth the effort.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Confused About Food on 10/07/2009 12:58:23 MDT Print View

You may not have an oven, but I'll bet you can buy a food dehydrator and just dry down your wet meals and repackage them in vacuum sealed bags (or freezer bags).