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LIGHTERweight Food/Nutrition?
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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
How about dropping some cal's? on 12/13/2004 00:19:49 MST Print View

OK. Try this on for size. This won't be a forum for your average long distance hiker, BUT coming from an alpine climbing background, at least consider this.

Save food weight by dropping calories.

Food is really heavy, I mean, any of us can probably eat 2 lb/day of caloric dense food pretty easily when backpacking.

I've been doing lots of short trips this winter - loooong days (18+ hrs) or 1-nighters (e.g., climbs with one bivy) and have been seeing what happens when I sacrifice calories, even on a very strenuous trip. My general conclusion: not much.

And, I'm not talking about saving 3-4 oz off your normal food rations. I'm talking about 800 to 1000 calories/day.

I've concluded that the body can adapt to this in the short term (certainly NOT in the long run, hence this won't be popular with thru-hikers).


What if you were on a long trip and carrying, say, 20 days of food with you. Consider hacking your food rations in half for, say, 5 of those days. Boom: 5 lbs saved right there, and most of us probably won't miss it - we'll learn to adapt on those days, or ration to make up for it.

Danger, Will Robinson on 02/12/2005 10:44:39 MST Print View

I don't think that works, Ryan. I won't go into all the details but you can approach your caloric needs from several standpoints, all of which end up at the same conclusion: on high energy outings, especially in the cold, you need about 1 kg of "dry" weight, well-balanced food per day. The good news is that you don't need more, because your body can't burn it--more just gets turned into fat. The bad news is that if you don't get it, and get it with the optimal FAT/PRO/CHO balance and at the optimal times during exercise and recovery periods, you'll not lose just fat but also muscle (due to gluconeogenisis). Hiking at 600 kcal/hr may be benign, but climbing at 800 kcal/hr and not replenishing what you burn during long days will result in undesirable, maybe even debilitating, catabolism.

reducing weight of carried rations on 02/12/2005 12:54:28 MST Print View

I'm not the most experience backpacker in the world by any stretch of the imagination. Nor do I try to cover tremendous distances in a day. (~ 8iles per day is my average.) I seem to consistently see people talking about carrying 1.5 - 2 lbs of food per day to cover similar distances/day and am somewhat surprised. While I'm not the best on the trail, I am fairly competent in the kitchen and have found that through the use of dehydrators, average (maybe advanced) cooking techniques and proper choice of ingredients, I can package three meals a day which are satisfying, have a reasonable number of calories, and weigh only about 12 oz. per day. I am not a 'light' eater I am a fairly large person and make no attempt to lose weight on the trail (although maybe I should). Maybe I just don't eat as much as others or maybe it might be helpful to spend time at home improving culinary skills. The truth is probably somewhere between the two. I just thought I would add this as 'food for thought' during the discussion.

Eric Kammerer
(EricKammerer) - MLife
Worked for me once on 03/20/2005 18:38:27 MST Print View

Long, Long Ago, when I was much younger, I attended an Outward Bound Course where the leaders deliberately did not tell us there would be a re-supply. As a result, we rationed 2 weeks of food as if it should last for 3 weeks. We had a lot of excess food at the re-supply point.

The group equipment included a shovel, hatchet, two large optimus stoves, ropes, etc. Everyone also had an ash-handled ice axe, carabiners, prusiks and heavy vinyl slickers. Much of the food we carried was canned. The average packweight at the start was probably in the 50-70 pound range.

Nobody was particulary harmed by this. Even with the large loads, we had no real issues with energy levels, strength, or endurance.

I've generally found that I carry way too much food, and that most estimates of calories required are way to high.

I'm still trying to figure out a way to reduce the calories and weight while still keeping my wife's sensitive stomach happy.

Reducing calories on 04/05/2005 17:54:57 MDT Print View

While I am still overweight (too much food, too little excercise, and a desk job to boot), I have found that an easy way for me to reduce calories on the trail is to dehydrate and snack on fruits & veggies instead of nuts, granola, or other high fat, high sugar foods. I found that the high calorie content in my snacks was more than offsetting any intelligent choices I was making when packing meals. (At least in my case.)

More food for thought on 04/06/2005 22:22:54 MDT Print View

Let me just start things off with what I have found works for me up to around 19,000 ft. Since I have never been above 19,000 ft I can't really comment on that.

day 1: 2000 calories
days 2-3: 3000 calories
days 4-16: 4000 calories
days 17+: 5000 calories

And the nutritional breakdown:

high altitude days: 15% protein, 70% carbohydrates, 15% fat
"regular" altitude days: 15% protein, 52% carbohydrates, 33% fat

A couple of definitions. I consider Day 1 the first 24 hr period. So if I start at noon on the first day I will plan on the 2000 calories then lasting me until noon of the second day. Secondly, I consider a "high altitude day" any day in which I am going to a new altitude (above 8000 ft) that I haven't been to on the trip. Once I have been to an altitude, even say 16000 ft, I consider it a "regular" altitude day and adjust my food balance accordingly

What I have been able to gather from this over the years is that I do not seem to need as much food over the first 24 hour period. I believe this has a lot to do with the extra duress I am putting my body through from a typical work day plus the fact that I am usually going to above 10,000 ft in elevation. I also find that as I go to a new altitude my body tends to reject proteins and fat and also doesn't really tolerate a lot of calories at any one time. So while moving I am generally limited to 100 cal/hr of simple carbohydrates during these periods. Actually, that statement isn't entirely true, but for whatever reason I do seem to acclimate more rapidly this way so I maintain that philosophy.

Now, you can see from my numbers above that the first 72 hour period my body is going to be expending more calories than I am eating. For a variety of reasons my body seems to be able to accomodate this while still providing good performance. But after day 3 experience dictates that cutting short calories doesn't bode well for my performance. And around day 17 I really start needing the calories.

Al Shaver
(Al_T.Tude) - F - M

Locale: High Sierra and CA Central Coast
Putting our diets on a diet on 06/07/2005 02:47:36 MDT Print View

While I'm only beginning to test your suggestion, I think it's a very smart and logical place to look for weight savings. On my unsupported, 12 day John Muir Trail trip last summer I drank 5 fl.oz.(1200 Cal) vegetable oil out of a 3700 Cal/day diet. The higher energy content of the oil (9 Cal/gm versus 4 Cal/gm for protein and carbohydrates) helped to keep my food weight just under 2lbs./day. I'm experimenting with doubling my oil intake and commensurately decreasing my carb and protein calories for ultralight high speed trips such as an unsupported speed record attempt on the JMT.

Adding to this, your caloric decrease idea could really lighten my load. I envision a sub 20 lb. total load including 1 quart water in my GOSSAMER Gear G6 Uberpack to start the 5 day trip.

Observation: We recently returned from a backcountry ski trip into the heart of the Eastern Sierra. We live at sea level. Trailhead is at 6300'. We lugged 45-50 lbs. of ultralight camping gear, ski gear, mountaineering gear and food to the 12,000' Sierra Crest. In the process we all experienced significant Acute Mountain Sickness symptoms; not the least of which is anorexia. Consequently we returned with substantial amounts of food. On trips such as this one, why not carry less food for the first few days in anticipation of the inevitable AMS?

I have heard from a few different sources that extremely reduced Calorie diets (such as 800-1200 Calories/day) can be a key to longevity. The body is stressed by this and the cells become stronger as a result. I don't know if this is true or relevant, but I thought I'd throw it out there.

Cheers Al

Not uncommon on 06/21/2005 00:55:11 MDT Print View

It's not uncommon for the top mountaineers to deliberately not bring much food on their alpine style ascents of big walls and mountains. Mark Twight, for example, doesn't bring much food when weight is a concern. I've read other accounts from Messner, John Roskelley, Galen Rowell on their big climbs where they don't have much food in their packs; it didn't seem to hurt them or their performance much in the short term. Of course, these climbs are not slated to last more than 3 or 4 days at most.

Richard Nelridge
(naturephoto1) - M

Locale: Eastern Pennsylvania
Not uncommon on 06/21/2005 01:51:00 MDT Print View

But of course let us not forget that the late Galen Rowell was carrying his 35mm camera and lenses for these climbs, so this added substantial weight to his pack (believe me I can appreciate the weight as a photographer).

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Not uncommon on 06/21/2005 22:47:20 MDT Print View

Is the phrase "not uncommon" a double negative? My college professor used to say that, the first place I heard it.

Merriam Webster

David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
Re: Putting our diets on a diet on 06/21/2005 23:51:51 MDT Print View

I think in practice nearly everyone does this on a long hike. Intentionally or unintentionally. It is a very rare individual who doesn't lose weight on a hike of a week or more. My own observations are that most people can end up losing a pound or more of weight per day. That obviously stabilizes at some point, and I can make the parallel observation that two or three weeks into a long trip major hunger usually kicks in, and food requirements go way up.

If you are otherwise healthy, you can probably go for five days without any food at all and not do serious injury to yourself. It certainly wouldn't be very fun, and a big part of the hiking game is about psychology and morale. If you aren't having fun, you'll probably give up more easily from whatever it is you are trying to do.

Re: Not uncommon on 06/22/2005 00:47:12 MDT Print View

Galen Rowell brought his camera equipment along on his climbs but he always made sure that he didn't carry very much of it. I remember reading from his books that he rarely brings more than a couple of lens and a couple of camera bodies on a climb. Unless he's on a specific assignment, he won't bring his pro tripod either. In all, it seems like his camera equipment weighed less than 8 lbs or so and probably around 5. One of the quotes that I remember from his books is to buy lightweight equipment and know how to use it.

Richard Nelridge
(naturephoto1) - M

Locale: Eastern Pennsylvania
Galen Rowell/Very unusual Photographer on 06/22/2005 05:14:19 MDT Print View

Yes it is true that Galen did not carry a lot of camera gear; he carried maybe one or a couple camera bodies (frequently his lighter "amateur" nikon cameras) and several lenses. He often went with either a very small tripod or no tripod at all, and tried to use methods to prop his cameras up to keep his gear weight down. Also keep in mind that 35mm is/was generally the smallest acceptable (film based) camera format to yield good photographic results.

Galen also designed some of his camera pouches, cases, and lens cases which were later marketed by Photoflex (I have several) to protect his equipment and so he could have the equipment readily in hand.

Galen pushed the envelope as a photographer, taking photographs that almost no other photographer took prior or subsequent to him. I had the opportunity to hear him speak and meet him once (at one of the New Jersey Federation of Camera Club meetings) and took a photo workshop with his friend and fellow Outdoor Photographer Editor and National Geographic Photographer Dewitt Jones. But, it also should be noted that from what other photographers (who were familiar with his actual photos not what is seen in his books and the National Geographic [which were significantly smaller]) have told me, certainly some of Galen's work was printed larger than perhaps it should and had to be "really worked". Many of these images were not that sharp due in many cases to the lack of use of a sufficient sized or lack of use of a tripod.

Also, Galen's earlier work was shot on Kodachrome 64 (by todays standards grainier and not as sharp as some of the more recent E6 type slide films) and he knew his filter pack sets that he needed for his desired results. When he started to use the recent more bold and more color saturated slide films (such as Fujichrome Velvia) he had to relearn which filters he needed.

With the death of Galen and and his wife, Barbara Cushman Rowell, several years back in a small plane crash in California, Outdoor and Mountaineering lost one of its most prolific, best known, most loved photographers. Those of us in the field as fellow professional photographers, amateur photographers, the National Geographic, Outdoor Photographer, readers, etc. were stunned at his death being he was so close to home and considering the chances that he had taken in his climbs, visits to places like Tibet, and his many bush pilot flights in places like Alaska.

Edited by naturephoto1 on 06/22/2005 15:20:36 MDT.