ADVENTURE, COMPLETE ULTRALIGHT BACKPACKING GUIDE FOR BEGINNERS

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Bring Nutritious high-colorie foods

You can save a lot of weight and even money by selecting the right backpacking food. My nutritious and high calorie Backpacking Food gives me 3,000 healthful and filling calories of complex carbs, protein and healthy fats for around 1.5 pound/day. Over a 3 day weekend backpacking trip I get as many calories and as much nutrition, possibly more than someone carrying almost double the food weight.

Save food weight:

  • My three days of food at 1.5 lbs per day = 4.5 pounds 
vs. the standard “recommendation” for a 3 day trip: 3 days at 2 lb food per day + 1 day backup food = 8 pounds
  • 1.5 lbs of my food = 3,000 calories (my food is 2,000 calories per pound)
  • 2.0 lbs of regular backpacking food = 2,800 calories (~1,400 calories per pound)

Maintain nutrition:

  • Try to get the most calories per unit weight in your food but not at the expense of a poor diet. You want a balanced diet with good protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins and other nutrients.
  • I take unsweetened, unsulfured dried fruit, freeze dried vegetables, nuts, homemade gorp, whole grain crackers, whole grain pasta, healthier-higher-calorie trail bars, and lean jerky and powdered milk and powdered soy for my protein.
  • See my Backpacking Food Page for more examples of healthy backpacking foods.

Don’t carry extra food:

  • The standard advice to carry an extra day of food is hooey. I figure I can make it at least 3 days without any food. I’ve had to do this before and feel comfortable with my choice. Some mainstream outdoor training courses (NOLS, Outward Bound) have two to three food-less days in their programs. This is not a recommendation for others to do the same. You’ll have to make your own decision on extra food. Maybe you will just bring a bit less extra food next trip. Again, think carefully about packing for “the worst case scenario”.
  • “Skip” one day of food: I eat a big breakfast or lunch before I start hiking the first day and I eat a big meal when I get out. By boosting my off-trail calories on the first and last day I eliminate carrying a whole day’s worth of food in my pack. So for a weekend trip (three days and two nights) I might carry 3.4 pounds or less of food.
  • Drink when thirsty and carry less water:  I carry only the water I need to meet my thirst. This means I rarely carry more than a liter and usually a lot less.
  • “If you are thirsty, it’s already too late” and “If your urine is yellow, you are dehydrated,” are myths! My article The Best Hydration – Drink When Thirsty is based on the current best science (from experts in the field of sports hydration not beholden to sports drink and bottled water companies). It suggests that “drinking to thirst” is the safest and healthiest strategy for hydration during exercise. It turns out that your body’s natural thirst mechanism works well to keep you hydrated and healthy during exercise. In fact, the amount of water your body requires is probably far less than what the Sports Drink and Bottled Water companies have been telling us.

Conclusion

People pack heavy, because they pack for their fears—for their wildly imagined “what if the worst happens scenarios.” Rather than relying on their camping skills (which should be more than adequate) and the predicted weather and conditions for their hike, they choose to overcompensate for their fears by packing heavy, over-kill gear, extra clothes, extra food etc. But heavy packing doesn’t make you all that much safer, warmer, well fed or comfortable. It just makes your pack heavy and walking slow and unpleasant. So try backpacking ultralight.

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