Backcountry Food Guide

We’ve been following the 2/lbs of food per day rule of thumb for backcountry trips. 1.5 lbs/day would have worked on some trips, and some of the younger guys need 2.5 lbs/day. I pay attention to calories per gram for various foods because two pounds of food averaging 4 cal/g, comes to ~4000 cal/day. Even with 4000 cal/day, I can lose as much as 0.5 pounds of body mass per day. I try to gain weight before big trips.

An excellent (and fun) resource for calories/gram is Calorie King.

Day food


My priority for breakfast and lunch is 4+ cal/gram and bringing foods that will taste good. I don’t carry anything specifically for breakfast, though I’m in the habit of ramen in the morning, especially on winter trips. If it isn’t cold or I want to conserve water, I eat it raw. Otherwise, I cook it in extra water to help with hydration.

  • nuts and trail mix (as much as 0.5 lbs/day. Whenever I’m in the continental US I load up on Trader Joe’s mixes.)
  • pizza
  • meat (jerky, hunter sticks, smoked salmon)
  • cheese (individually wrapped string cheese is great for thawing in pockets on winter trips)
  • chips (Fritos, Pringles, etc.)
  • crackers (Ritz, Wheat Thins, etc.)
  • ramen
  • chocolate
  • candy (swedish fish, hard candy, bars)
  • bars (Clif, etc., low-sugar)
  • Shot Bloks with caffeine
  • sweet breads (raisin bread, muffins, donuts, etc.)
  • cookies
  • anything with coconut (macaroons)



I carry 0.5 lbs of dinner food per day. The Mountain House ProPaks (slightly smaller portions, vacuum packed bags that are significantly lower volume in the pack) are extremely effective fuel for me, enough that I don’t even flinch at the cost (they are cheapest at WalMart). Part of the appeal is that I can tuck the re-hydrating pack into my jacket for a bonus heat source. This has resulted in explosions in our jackets and sleeping bags.

The ProPaks weigh 0.25 lbs, and I ‘boost’ them with butter, cheese, meat, or coconut butter to reach my 0.5 lb goal. We call these ‘ProPak Pluses.’ Everyone has their own preferences, but the stand-out is Lasagna. Chili Mac with Beef, Spaghetti, Beef Stew, Biscuits and Gravy, and Pasta Prima are next for me, in that order. I avoid all the others. I don’t like most of the other brands either.

*Hot tip: The Lasagna cheese doesn’t stick to wooden spoons!


I really appreciate flavored drinks, they help me motivate to keep drinking. I like the crystal light packets. EmergenC is nice too, but I get tired of the flavors and I always resent that it doesn’t work as an electrolyte. Electrolyte pills/powders are very effective for me, but the cost usually limits how many I carry.


We strip as much of the original packaging as possible and smash everything down for volume. Kids are especially appreciative if they get to watch you smash ships and roll pizza into balls. I like having my food divided into 2-day packages so that I can monitor consumption. 2 days of day food fits in a one-gallon ziploc bag, and I add food until the bag is at 3 lbs.

I leave my Mountain House dinners in their original packages (some guys repackage them to save weight).

2 days, 3 lbs
2 days per bag, 3 lbs each
John Sykes


  1. I like the idea of good quality prepacked dehydrated meals but also some baking as a treat. I used a NOLS frybake and would love to hear what sort of baked dishes you prepare for breakfast was well as dinners to give those meals a special surprise for fellow paddlers.

    1. I’m usually too weight-conscious to bring many treats. When we have a food drop or other sort of resupply we pack a ‘heavy meal.’ My favorite treat in the heavy meal is to have removed a pie from the foil pan and placed it in a one-gallon ziplock bag … the pie doesn’t usually maintain its shape, but is still a real treat.

  2. Have read this with great interest, and note that many other long distance folks pack/eat that way. Have always been curious about the performance downsides of what seems to me to be a pretty low nutritional value (albeit high calorie) diet heavy on the junk food. In town, eating that way makes me feel gross and sluggish. I take it that out in the woods it works for you? Do you do anything to mitigate?

    1. It always feels wrong to pack ‘junk food’ for time in the mtns. I’d say that less we carry better food now that we did 10 years ago … most of my weight is trail mix, dried meat, cheese. Chips and candy are probably the junkiest of what I still carry. Those foods haven’t made me feel gross/sluggish—they have been good fuels for me.

      1. Gonna experiment w phasing in more chips. I do like to eat them! Granola w lots of nuts/seeds plus protein powder was a nice breakfast for me on a recent trip.

        1. My wife and I alternate themes on shorter trips so that we don’t burn out on the same foods … cheese/crackers/meat, pizza, trail mixes (nuts, dried fruit).

          Ramen for breakfast and dehydrated meal for diner are still staples.

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