I’ve spent the last year trying to lighten my pack. Moving from synthetic to down, and steel to titanium. One place I struggled is food. Food is heavy. So how much food do we need? The average male will burn 250 calories per mile while hiking. The average male burns 2000 calories a day doing nothing. This is your basal metabolic rate. Every mile you hike is calories on top of that. If we take a 5 mile hike, we’re at 3250 calories expended if we do nothing else that day. What does 3250 calories weigh? That is 13 oz of olive oil, 43 oz of steak , or over 180 oz (over 11 lbs!) of potatoes. The easiest way to make sense your food planning, is to pay attention to calories per ounce (or calories per 100 grams).
My target is 400-500 calories per 100 grams. Take a look at the Nutritional Facts label. It will tell you the serving size in grams (which is why I prefer calories per gram over calories per ounce), and the number of calories in a serving. Parmesan for example, one serving is 120 calories and 30 grams. Quick mental math says that’s about 400 calories per 100 grams. Great! A can of tuna in water is 150 calories and 85 grams. No mental math required, it’s not even close. Oily meats like pepperoni, salami, and summer sausage are great. Most nuts are also oily, and thus calorie dense. Peanut butter is a staple on the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail. Sugar is a bit below my target calorie range, but honey roasted peanuts and Snickers bars fall solidly in range. Fritos are 570 calories per 100 grams.
One of my favorite backpacking food ingredients is dehydrated whole milk. Powdered milk we see is skim or fat free. Nido (generally found in the Hispanic foods section) is whole milk, and over 550 calories per 100 grams. This makes assembling my own breakfast easy and efficient. Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch and Nido is my favorite, and around 450 calories per 100 grams. Granola and Nido works great as well. I add Nido and parmesan to Ramen to make my staple backpacking dinner. You could always drink Nido as well.
The majority of us will hike with a caloric deficit . Meaning we expend more energy than we consume. Our bodies will quickly switch to burning fat if available, and for most of us won’t mind. We’re still likely to need 2000-3000 calories per day of backpacking. If you plan your meals and keep them in the 400-500 calories per 100 gram range, this becomes a manageable weight. This will put you somewhere between 1 and 2 lbs of food per full day on the back trail. My last hike was 50 miles in 3 days on 4 lbs of food. That didn’t nearly cover the calories needed to hike it, but my wife hasn’t complained about the weight I lost.