Lightweight extended tripping food

I am planning for a four week kayak trip. I am running into a probably very common problem, space and weight. I do not want to resupply on food. Right now my problem is lunch. I was wondering if anyone had any experience with nutritional gels. I need to make sure I am consuming enough calories. I am 5’10" 200 pounds and hope to achive fifty miles or more a day. Based on past trips that is in my ball park.

For breakfast I am considering a cliff bar. I have had good luck with those in the past. For lunch I am looking at two power bars. For dinner powdered mashed potatoes, and when I have a fire I will eat rice/pasta.

I am comfortable with being a little hungry throughout the day, and being full at night. I am willing to sacrifice taste for lower weight and mass. At this point I am on the very low end of calories.

I would love advice on different tactics, and meal plans.

Thank you in advance for any help you can give me.


lightweight but add boiled water
I like jerky and dried fruit for lunch no cooking needed. Pancake mix that you just add water (honey or syrup is heavy, but powdered sugar is light), instant coco, instant oatmeal, or grits for breakfast are fine with me. I also like to vary freeze-dried Mt. House meals in the evenings, sometimes pouring the beef stew over instant potatoes. Energy and granola bars are also part of my meal plan, but they do weight more, and in cooler weather I carry chocolate bars. I plan to at least boil water for morning and evening meals.

If one has the time and the area provides for some easy foraging and fishing then you can add food you don’t have to carry.

I use and recommend Cytomax drink mix for long days of paddling. You need the liquids anyway, and it provides enough sustained energy that I don’t get hungry, and have in fact cut down on how much other stuff like granola bars/nutragrain/gorp/aprocots that I bring for lunch. The stuff works very well for me - the harder I work, the better it seems to be. I buy the large containers, and pre-package two or more pint servings in baggies sandwich bags - use a folded piece of paper for a “funnel” to pour it from the baggie into the water bottle - (I use small opening bottles).

Bulk snacks section of Whole Foods
They sell a lot of wholesome bite-sized snacks that combine protein, fat, and carbs. Besides the obvious choice of nuts, there are some tasty cubes of minced nuts-cocoa-wholegrains that pack a lot of nutrition into a small space.

I should’ve brought some of those on my long trip; I was quickly losing weight. PB and jerky were well-appreciated.

For more common snacks that pack well, I bring Corn Nuts. No crushing threat.

another light just add water meal
is stovetop stuffing.

Another light cooking option
Is a boxed mix of macaroni and cheese that you add water too, and you can find it at the grocery store.

nuts have huge amounts of calories. A handfull will have more than what you named for lunch.

jerky, candy, energy bars, to add too for lunch.

I have a number of items for
eating on the go…

We are paddling 1000 miles on the Yukon and have to do fifty miles a day. We use jerky, cheese, nuts, gorp, power bars and dried fruits for lunch. I personally have never used any of those power gels. I find I work best on protein and and some carbs and fats.

Same for the Everglades where getting off the water for lunch is a problem. Its usually easier to eat on the go and snack every two hours.

enough calories?
You are probably going to want ~4000 calories per day, as you will burn a lot while paddling. More if you are paddling flat water (so currents not helping you achieve that 50 miles a day - truthfully 50 would be a big stretch for flat water).

Clif and Power Bars are maybe 200 calories each, so breakfast and lunch would get you 600 calories. You may want to look at meal replacement bars instead of regular energy bars. Only slightly larger than an energy bar, but twice the calories. I like ProBar.

That said, even switching to a meal bar for breakfast and 2 for lunch will barely scratch your caloric needs.

High caloric, but low volume, foods:

  • look for pastas with no hollow space. Tube pastas (macaroni, ziti, etc.) should be non go - lots of wasted space in them. Strait pasta could be Ok, as it is relatively efficient. Grain style pasta, like orzo or cous cous, are best.
  • nuts are high energy, but they often have a lot of air space between them due to odd shapes. One way to make them smaller is have them in butter form - peanut butter, almond butter, etc.
  • eat dried grains, like instant oatmeal.
  • you can dehydrate lots of stuff if you have a dehydrator (or just use your oven, but that is less efficient). I think there was a recent article on this site on dehydrating foods. Some is available dehydrated (guess you could call jerky dehydrated meat).

    Harvesting foods en route can save you space and provide variation for meals. Had lots of blackberries on a pair of trips I did in the Pacific Northwest. Even just getting a kelp salad added to the meals along the CA coast. Read up on what is in your area and bring some gear (like basic fishing gear). You could stick to safe stuff (so no mushroom harvesting if there are dangerous ones in the area you will be), and still find a lot. Fish, shellfish, wild rice, berries, etc.

I am paddling the lower mississippi. I made fifty miles on the lower wabash, and had no problem getting fifty on the ohio river. So as long as I don’t get to exhausted that shouldn’t be a huge problem. I am doing a week on the the St. Croix next week, and I am trying some new foods out. I like pasta but the cook time is what concerns me. Right now I switch between a pocket rocket and jetboil, I haven’t decided which one I’m taking. Anyway as you all know those canisters take up a lot of space, and I want to take as little as possible. I am not a cook so this might be a stupid question, but what if I add the pasta and water to a naligene bottle in the morning and let it soak all day? In past trips I have taken a squeeze bottle of butter substitute, it adds some flavor. I do not want to take fishing equipment with me. I have taken poles with me on other long trips and just end up getting in my way.

If you haven’t tried freeze-dry
With the Mountain House and other brands all you do is just bring a cup or two to a boil and pour the water into the bag they come in. Then let them sit about 10 minutes and eat. The pancakes, stove top stuffing, and mac&cheese require more cooking time. The large canister of iso propane for my pocket rocket is good for 8 meals plus hot beverages for two people. That is four days cooking for two with each canister. Cooking for 1 you should get more meals than that.

I have no idea about soaking the pasta in a nalgene bottle.

might want to check out backpacking foods. do a google search or you will find food averages out to about 100 calories per oz. at 4000 a day (5000 towards the end) comes out to 2.5-3.1 lbs per day. on most of my trips am OK with 2500 cal for the first 7 days, but when the hunger kicks in there is no stopping it. for pasta i would use like Knorr instant noodles and rice. packs of instant oatmeal do not have to be cooked, just wait about 15 minutes. i add raisins and nuts to it. lunch was 2 packs of tuna, bagel w/peanut butter, snickers or granola bar. i drank about 4-5 liters of water a day. i’ve done 2, 60 day drips, but i re-supplied every 5 days. have you considered a mail drop mid-trip?


liquid option
I’ve had pretty good luck with the mix-with-water powders from Hammer Nutrition that are formulated for endurance events.

I’ve also found that using a protein supplement shortly after I finish paddling helps my muscles recover better.

Think about real food
you need a balance of protein, carbs and fats, especially for long distance.

We just finished up a two week trip on a large river covering some six hundred miles. (the entire river is much longer at over two thousand miles). Its the scene of two endurance races. Checkpoint property owners report that those that are young tend to run hard and use only chemically energized foods that you find in the health food section. The winners tend to eat real food and paddle at a more measured pace. This pace covers some 500 miles in 56 hours.

Nuts dried fruits, dried meats and whole grains are going to keep you going. A Cliff Bar simply lacks punch.

Dont forget the water. We did some 65 miles in six hours one day with real food and remembering to drink two or three liters of water each. Another day was a Clif bar day and we simply forgot to eat. We were done after only 40 miles.

Too many carbs and too little water leads to a very bad paddling problem…constipation. Just another thought.

I paddle the BC coast…

– Last Updated: Aug-21-12 11:27 PM EST –

....2 to 3 weeks at a time.
I figure that I burn ~425 calories per hour.
Each day I eat:
Breakfast - 2 qty packets of instant oatmeal = 420 calories and 1/2 cups of water plus one cup of Starbucks Via instant coffee.
Approx 2 hours later I eat a Probar = 370-400-ish calories.
Two hours later is Lunch. A flour tortilla with salami and cheese + 425 calories.
Approximately 2 hours later I eat a Hammer Bar (~220 caloies and 9-ish grams of protein.
Dinner is freeze dried (add 1.5 - 2 cups) boiling water and eat out of a bag = 425 - 700 calories depending on the meal.
Whenever I feel myself flagging in between I take a hit (100 calories) of Hammer Gel from a jug that I carry in my PFD.
I can feel my energy level and when I need a hit I take it and feel the results.
I also budget 5 pounds of personal fat burn per week (I can afford it).
This works for me. I feel strong and paddle well using this program.

Nothing fancy. No snacks. No special meals.

I just returned from a two week trip on the BC coast feeling strong and was 10 pounds lighter. This plan works for me.


Freezer bag meals
They may be too heavy for everyday but they would make a good treat. Their website

My own version uses 1pkg whatever flavor mashed potatoes you like, 1/4 c shelf stable bacon bits, 1 tsp chicken bouillion (low salt) optional butter powder (for popcorn), and a pack of chicken. makes 2 average or 1 large serving.

Good luck


Done both…
Real food and freeze dried.

I find freeze dried to be the best option because they don’t take up a lot of space, they are water tight until opened, they are very light, and the will not spoil.

A freeze dried one-serving mail will be balanced with protien, fat, and carbs that you need to maintain your energy, they are easy to prepare (boil water, add to pouch, set your tent and sleeping bag up, dinner is ready. They take up almost no space in your trash bag, there are no dishes to wash, and no special pots and pans to carry (only your pot to boil water in.)

As far as lunch and breakfast go, that’s really the place to vary your menu. I find Cliff’s bars and beef (or other meat) jerky to be a good breakfast (I usually eat the Cliff’s bars in camp, then gnaw on the jerky for the first 30 minutes or so on the water.) I also like bagles and peanut butter with pre-cooked bacon. For lunches, hard salami and cheese in a pita or tortilla is a good lunch, and for me at least, satisfies the craving for fresh food. Pitas and tortillas are great because they don’t squish, and you can carry several days’ worth in a smaller space than bread. And if they get wet, they don’t fall apart. I prefer pita, but they are both great.

Cooked bacon is available. No refridgeration needed and the several small packets are great for 1 or 2 people. Weight is almost zero too. The uncooked stuff is available sealed but is much greater in weight and volume.

Quinoa is a super grain
One grain I would suggest is quinoa (keen-wha). It’s originally from the Andes and was a prized grain of the Incas.

Quinoa has excellent nutritional value, as its protein content is very high (12%–18%). Unlike wheat or rice (which are low in lysine), quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. This is extremely rare for a plant source.

Quinoa is also a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. It’s a gluten free complex carbohydrate that is filling with a slow “burn” rate.

And it come in an instant form with a variety of mixes.

There are some great ideas here…

– Last Updated: Aug-21-12 11:35 PM EST –

.....and one thing that you have to figure out, aside from storage space, is what will work with your digestive system. Also, are you making a trip on fresh water that you can filter and use or salt water where you may have to find, filter and carry water.

A very important consideration is that what you take on an extended trip is that you will probably not be eating what you normally eat on a daily basis and your body may take some time to think about it, especially if you are considering using energy and food replacement bars as your main food source.

Some of these ideas, including my own, may be "unsettling" and most wilderness experiences aren't equipped to gracefully accommodate the realities of diet change so be aware and conscious of local and environmental requirements.

I clearly recall using pages from Mark Twain's "Roughing It" for personal hygiene due to a toilet paper shortage.

Maybe too much information but at one time I was really broke but needed to compete in a national sporting competition. I scrounged around for sponsorship and, not being a high seed (for a good reason), I didn't secure the support I hoped for but did find a meal replacement bar company to provide me with a diet very similar to what you suggested.

I can tell you that the support provided the required calories but kind of slowed my digestion (if you get my meaning). Kinda made me uncomfortable. I would never go that route again unless faced with Armageddon.

On the other hand if your trip diet produces loose bowels you have this other, environmental and resource intensive, problem and you may want to carry lots of toilet paper and be prepared to squat over a hole below the next expected high tide line. Am I being too graphic?

From my standpoint I am thinking about 4 weeks and supplies. If you are paddling on fresh water and can filter what you spend your day on that is a bonus because you don't have to carry a supply. Salt water will complicate your storage question.

I think that 4 weeks produces a supply issue and that energy bars aren't a reliable food source for that period of time. Resupply or the expectation of defining the limits of considerable gastric experimentation within testing parameters should be tested now and established before being planned and implemented.