How to pack, plan and prep like a pro.
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Knowing what kinds and how much food to pack is possibly the most important element in a successful fastpacking endeavor. Food will constitute the largest percentage of starting weight in our packs for any trip that last longer than one night. Here you’ll learn about (1) how we plan our meals for all our guided trips and (2) the things we think about when deciding what foods make the cut.
Many people think that fastpacking must be about sprinting up and down mountains, where the only food you bring are granola bars and energy gels. This could not be further from the truth. In order to have the most enjoyable, well fueled experience, we bring stoves and cook hot meals for dinner and breakfast on all of our trips. Our fuel, stove, and cooking equipment weighs less than 8oz per person on our weekend long trips. This weight point makes it easily worth taking the cook kit.
For breakfast, we will have things like scrambled eggs, cheese, tortilla, bacon bits, and hot sauce, or oatmeal mixed liberally with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, butter, and brown sugar. For dinner, we may have noodles with homemade peanut sauce, or loaded mashed potatoes with cheese, butter, bacon, and house spice mix. None of the meals we cook are bought in or cooked in a bag. Wilderness Fastpacking Co-founder Natalie Ghelfi takes pride in cooking meals from scratch at home and in the wilderness. These are only examples and not necessarily the exact meals we will prepare on each trip. We are happy to accommodate the vast majority of dietary restrictions and preferences.
During our meals, we cook together as a group. Most often we pair up in cook teams of 2-3 people who will share one stove and pot. We do this because it’s nearly impossible to cook for groups of 8-10 people in a single pot and for everyone get their fill. We also think that it’s important for each of our guests to have opportunities to gain experience cooking in the backcountry since it will help you become more confident to tackle cooking in the backcountry on your own.
Between meals, we will find ourselves moving much of the time. Daylight hours are long in the summer. There are miles to cover, ridges to climb, and lakes to jump in! On fastpacking trips, we don’t think of eating like we might on a normal day where we have breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Between breakfast and dinner we are on the go and eating all the time. We like to bring a mixture of salty, sweet, and savory foods to keep our palates happy and our muscles fueled. This is by no means exhaustive, but here are a bunch of ideas: cheese, crackers, chips, nut butters, cookies, salami, chocolate, nuts/trail mix, candy, energy gels, bars, and the list could keep going for a while. For each full day we are out we like to have between 1000-1500+ calories available to consume between breakfast and dinner.
Fats, Carbs, Protein
Okay, we won’t get into the weeds too much, but getting a basic understanding of macro nutrients, and what foods they are in will help you understand how to plan for your fastpacking adventure as well as minimizing the weight of your pack.
Fat is the most efficient way for us to carry calories into the wilderness. It contains 9 calories per gram compared to just over 4 calories per gram for both carbs and protein. If you pack 1 pound of foods that are primarily fat like butter, olive oil or cheese you’ll get between 160-200 calories per ounce. When packing things like rice, crackers, candy, or other carb-heavy foods, you’ll get more like 100 calories per ounce. This does not mean that we want to carry ALL fat. That would be a mistake for lots of reasons. What it does mean is that we want to liberally add fat to dinner and breakfast as well as not shy away from fats in our trail food bag. We want to bring both protein and carbs because they serve specific functions in our bodies. Having a pack of gummy candy ready to help fuel tired muscles on the final climb of a long day is one simple example. For a rough ratio, we shoot for having about 50% of our calories from fat, 30% carbs and 20% protein. This is not the only way to fuel, but we believe it serves as a useful starting point for success on fastpacking trips.
Water is life. There is no question about this. When we are moving 10 or 20 miles per day over tough terrain, we need a whole lot of it. The good news is that the Wilderness areas we travel through generally have an abundance of water in the summer months. Each day we make sure our groups know what to expect in terms of where and how often they’ll have access to water. One of our favorite pieces of gear is the Be Free filter bottle from Katadyn. They make the bottle in 1L or 0.6L sizes, easy to carry and access in most fastpacks. All we do is fill the bottle in lakes or streams and then drink! The filter is built into the lid and rids the water of potentially harmful giardia or cryptosporidium. There is nothing better than having abundant, fresh cold water right from the source. It’s one of the things we miss the most any time we aren’t up in the high country.
This is by no means an exhaustive look at how to plan, prep, and pack food and water for your fastpacking adventures. Everyone is going to have quirks and preferences. Some people need to drink just two liters of water during the day, and others may drink 5 or 6. People might consume between 2,000-6,000 calories per day, depending on their metabolism and how much ground they cover.