For me the weight of food while out on a long distance trail is typically 60-65 percent of the total weight of my backpack. This revelation has been causing me to evaluate the wisdom of some of the food I have been using the last few years.
As with all of my “Applicational Hiking” articles, what I do within these articles is purpose a few ideas, none of them any better or worse then another, and try to draw out thoughts and ideas from other hikers, so that we as a world-wide hiking community may be able to gain wisdom and insight into better methods of how to approach hiking.
Within this article I am going to take a very simple example of how dehydrated or freeze-dried food can potentially result in a heavier backpack, and a greater ounce-to-calories weight ratio than off-the-shelf food bought in just about any local trail-town.
What I have is a single serving pro-pak bag of Mountain House ‘Chili Mac with Beef’ – a freeze dried meal of chili, beef, macaroni and beans. By far not the best meal out there, but one that stays in my food back for one of those long hard wet trail days. On my scale it is 136 grams (4.797 ounces) for the entire package.
Now, here is where I want us all to stop and go “hmmm” for a moment.
Is 136 grams, or 4.8 ounces, really the true weight of that meal?
No, am not talking about the weight of the bag…
Rather, I am talking about the weight of the water and water container required for us to carry for potentially miles and miles, so that at the end of the day we can enjoy that hot cooked meal of chili mac and beef.
Stop and ponder on that a moment. It is not just the weight of the bag of food that we have to take into consideration, but we also have to take into consideration, as long distance hikers, that we typically do not have a nice creek, river, or water source sitting right next to our campsite every night out on the trail. We might have to carry the 14 or so ounces of water needed to hydrate the meal, for potentially miles and miles.
The weight of the water to cook your single meal, carried inside of a smart water bottle is around 500 grams, or 17 ounces.
This just took a single meal from around 136 grams to around 636 grams (4.8 oz to 22.5 ounces).
Seriously, think about that for a moment.
Now I am not out to be some kind of evil person set on destroying the “food in a bag” outdoor industry – I have bought thousands and thousands of dollars of food-in-a-bag over the last few years, and for Christmas I acquired the very awesome Excalibur dehydrator and have been using it a lot to make myself meals in a bag for the 2013 hiking season.
Part of my process of dehydrating my own food has been the process of grinding up food such as corn, peas, beans, pasta and such, in an attempt to move away from consuming solid food and into a quest to consume power-style-drinks. I have been doing so mostly because it allows the body to process the foods easier and, from what I have come to understand, the body can obtain more of the healthy parts of food when it is in a powder form. One of the interesting aspects of this, however, is that it results in much less water being needed per meal. Instead of using 14-20 ounces of water to rehydrate a given meal (soup, spaghetti, whatever) I only end up using 8 to 10 ounces of water – thereby saving myself at least 236 grams per meal. Is this a viable approach to consuming food for a long distance hiker? I have no idea, I have never tried it before. I have heard of vegan long distance hikers taking similar approaches, but I do not think I have ever read of any long distance hiking consuming 100% powder based meals. I would love to talk to anybody that has.
I suppose all of this is an indication to me that this whole idea of what is the true weight of the food that we carry is a serious indication to me that it is time to stop and really start thinking about how I approach the issue of food. To see if I can find ways to obtain the high calorie and high protein levels needed as a long distance hiker, yet do so in a manner that does not require the additional weight of such a large quantity of water per meal.
And lets just be honest here, what it is I am presenting is nothing new, far from any new revelation to the hiking world. It has been discussed and hashed out for years. As of late though I have seen very few people talking about this matter, and thought this would be a great time to bring it up and see if we can get hikers thinking about this again.
So, what are your thoughts on this topic?