Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Backcountry Nutrition: How Much Food Should You Carry on a Backpacking Trip?

This is another post derived from a presentation given at the 2011 Annual Summer Meeting of the Wilderness Medical Society.  Liz Edelstein, MD gave an excellent presentation on nutrition in the backcountry. This is an “underserved” topic, in that nutrition is not emphasized enough in traditional medical school education, and there is a fair amount of misinformation about the topic. What follows is some of what we learned.

The three basic food groups with which we are familiar are proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. For the immediate energy needs, fats and carbohydrates are the main sources. Cutting through all the explanations, Dr. Edelstein informed us that for backpacking, a diet should be composed of 50 percent carbohydrates (500 to 600 grams per day) with “constant carb snacking,” 35 percent fat (200 grams per day) and 15% protein (65 grams per day). Different nutrition bars provide different ratios of these nutritional components, so it’s important to read the labels carefully. 

How much food should you carry? On a standard trip, carry 3,500 food calories per person per day, which is approximately 2 pounds. In very cold weather, you might need 5,000 calories per day, which is approximately 3 pounds. If you wish to be more precise, for a routine backpacking trip, carry your weight in pounds times 22 to determine the number of calories you should carry and consume per day.

I loved to hear how good food improves morale, because I like to eat so much. Life is good when your food tastes good, you have enough to drink, you eat sufficient fiber to avoid constipation, you are able to avoid extreme hunger or fullness, and you ger to eat in an enjoyable social setting.

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Tags: Backpacking , General Interest

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.