2001 Sierra Trip – Photos & Narrative

This trip marked the demise of my beloved Olympus XA rangefinder camera. Many of the pictures on this page are soft. I have since replaced the XA with a new camera, an Olympus 3.3 Megapixel C-3000 Zoom. Not as light or easy to use as the old rangefinder, but the digital camera makes loading up photos on to a web page a lot easier. With a 128 Mb of SmartMedia, I can take over 170 3.3 MP pictures. 2015 Note: my how things have changed in the digital world!
Kevin fishing the evening hatch at a remote back country lake.
Traveling ultralight on some smooooth granite: Kevin, Colin and Silvio.
Trekking poles make kicking steps a breeze on a late season snow field
The brothers at the summit. I always love a picture with a glacier in it.
On top of the world, or at least our part of it. From left to right, Kevin, Silvio, and Adventure Alan.
On our way down. Easy walking along a granite ridge
Camp mid-trip. The clouds are the very beginning of a huge cold front blowing through.Notice the neat two tarp pitch using two trekking poles and a stick (far left). We never got rain but had a very hard frost overnight. This was the morning that we went for the very early, very frosty swim.
Father and son enjoying a very cold water but what a bathtub!
Some of the weight savers on the trip. From L to R, Barricade Food Can, less food (inside the can), light plastic cup, SnowPeak Giga stove with homemade heat shield and windscreen, Primus 450 g fuel canister, titanium cup, 1.9 L ti pot, 2.5 L Platypus reservoir.
The hike out on the last day. Last big mountain lake <sigh>. Colin, AA, and Silvio in a communal hug. Next stop the ice cream stand at the Tourist Lake From Hell (TLFH). At the TLFH Kevin went on a 20 minute rant about power boats, SUV’s, summer homes, and mass consumer culture. Can’t blame him. It’s such a shock to the system after 7 days in the high country.
Colin strolling into camp. We got done hiking by 1 or 2 in the afternoon most days.
Enjoying the last bit of alpenglow glow and staying warm my a 8 oz Cirrus vest and 8 oz Montane Sirocco Smock. We saved over 5 lb. per person on clothing this trip. We were never cold.
Colin and Silvio heading back to lunch after filtering water.
Kevin running a streamer through a deep pool. As usual he’s hoping to entice a large trout.
Kevin leaning against his rod case and looking very philosophical. Not! I guarantee you that he is intently looking at the obvious drop off for large cruising trout. The aluminum rod case served double duty as Kevin’s walking staff for the trip.
Pitching the tarps as the winds pickup and the cold front comes rolling through. Notice the windward pullouts in the middle of the 10×10 Oware tarp. Lee edge is raised to for ventilation.
Adventure Alan enjoying a mid-trip layover day and fishing his heart out. This lake held some very, VERY nice fish. Put that streamer over the drop off and strip, strip, strip…. BANG!
Colin had a touch of trail sickness mid-trip. I got up, gave him two ibuprofen, and threw my bag over his. You can see he is warm and resting peacefully. Who wouldn’t the both a Marmot Hydrogen and Western Mountaineering Ultralight sleeping bag over you. Note the Photon light, Swiss Army Classic knife, and small whistle all on a lanyard by his head. The kid knows the drill!
Kevin making a long cast on a windy day. High altitude lakes are often difficult to fish in the middle of the day because of they are unprotected from strong afternoon winds.
In fine spirits and winding our way up to a rocky “pass.”
Kevin and Silvio skirting a small lake as we navigate our way cross country. Kevin was disappointed that this lake held no fish. Nice weed population though, and probably a good breeding habitat for the endangered Yosemite Toad.
Father and son getting ready for steep cross country descent.
It’s a delight traveling across large granite slabs.
Colin in a pensive moment at the end of the day.
A cheerful conversation over the morning’s tea.
A very windy afternoon. My hair is blowing straight back. I need the Montane shell to stay warm.
A refreshing swim after a hot 2,500 foot climb.
Silvio doing what the likes most, going to every snow field I had to walk him across a big moraine to get to this one.
Silvio and Colin hanging out after dinner. This was a deep canyon and quickly got dark. You can still see alpenglow on the peak at the end of the canyon.
Silvio having a sunny breakfast on a warm rock. The drying clothes are Kevin’s. He took an unexpected and fully clothed plunge into the nearby stream. As usual, concentrating a bit too much on the fish and not his feet!
Alpine meadow and stream meanders.
A drying lake. Lots of great tadpoles. And lots of fresh bear prints in the mud.
Too cute for words. Kevin and Silvio sharing a cup of tea.
The End!


Hammock Camping Part III: Helpful tips and resources for a virgin hammock camper

“In locations where trees are readily available—nearly all of the eastern United States plus a fair amount of the Mountain West—a hammock is likely the best sleep system.”

This is part of a three part series

Hammock camping in cold weather is an advanced skill, perhaps even more so than ground camping in the same weather. For beginner hammock campers, test your system on low-risk, short-term outings first in order to develop your skills and know-how. Note the full-length under quilt for winter temps. Photo by Jack Tier of Jacks 'R' Better.

Hammock camping in cold weather is an advanced skill, perhaps even more so than ground camping in the same weather. For beginner hammock campers, test your system on low-risk, short-term outings first in order to develop your skills and know-how. Note the full-length under quilt for winter temps. Photo by Jack Tier of Jacks ‘R’ Better.

Shopping tips: How to assemble a functional hammock system

The hammock

Buy your hammock from a manufacturer that specializes in backpacking hammocks. Make sure it is designed for nightlong sleeping, not just afternoon napping.

A few light hammock models use smaller dimensions that may confine you. For example, the Grand Trunk Nano-7 Hammock, and the BIAS Weight Weenie Micro 52 Hammock are both only around 50-52 inches wide, versus the 65″ wide of the Warbonnet Blackbird. Shorter and/or narrower hammocks also limit your ability to sleep flatter on a diagonal to the hammock’s center-line.

Even a light hammock should be full sized and functional. The 12 oz, $75 Dream Hammock FreeBird is a full 11 feet long and 60 inches wide.

Even a light hammock should be full sized and functional. The 12 oz, $75 Dream Hammock FreeBird is a full 11 feet long and 60 inches wide.

Some campers pushing into the 175+ lb weight range are fine with lighter hammock body fabrics (e.g. 1.0-1.1 oz nylon). Other campers in the 175+ lb weight range feel that these lighter hammocks do not give enough body support even if they are technically within the hammock’s weight range, and therefore opt for 1.7-1.9 oz or heavier hammock body fabrics.

The tarp

Buy a tarp with adequate coverage. To sleep warm and dry in a hammock you need to keep wind and rain away from your hammock body. Smaller diamond or asymmetric tarps, e.g. the Hennessey Hyperlite Rainfly, affectionately known by some as a “napkin tarp,” may not provide adequate protection from blowing rain, or from the cooling effects of wind. While a few ounces heavier, a more pragmatic choice may be a larger hammock-specific “hex” tarp. A fairly standard hex size is a 10.5-foot ridgeline with an 8.5-foot width.

Due to spreader bar width, bridge hammocks may require a wider tarp than gathered end hammocks. (Pictured Warbonnet Ridge Runner hammock)

Due to spreader bar width, bridge hammocks may require a wider tarp than gathered end hammocks. (Pictured Warbonnet Ridge Runner hammock)

Due to the large tarps typically used with hammocks, some campers have opted to go with Spinnaker or Cuben fabric tarps to save weight. Compared to sil-nylon, Cuben fiber weighs half as much, but costs 2-3x as much (about $250-300 for a hammock tarp).

The under-quilt

Buy a good under-quilt for your hammock. Its performance will be much superior to a ground pad, even if you have a double-layer hammock to properly control the pad.

A good under quilt will make a critical difference for warmth and comfort. Some use a 3/4 length quilt and use a small pad under their feet, typically a foam sit-pad (which I prefer). Others opt for a full length under quilt.

A good under quilt will make a critical difference for warmth and comfort. Some use a 3/4 length quilt and use a small pad under their feet, typically a foam sit-pad (which I prefer). Others opt for a full length under quilt.

The top quilt

Buy a top quilt when you can afford one — they are much more hammock-friendly than conventional mummy bags. In the interim you can use an unzipped mummy spread out like a quilt.

Suspension systems

Avoid fussing about exotic suspension systems and hanging hardware. The basic webbing suspension systems supplied by manufacturers like JRB and Warbonnet are excellent — inexpensive, easy to use, and strong. At most, they weigh a few more ounces than more expensive exotic suspension systems.

Drip lines

If you own a gathered end asymmetric hammock, make sure you have drip lines, or place a carabiner on the suspension system near the attachment to the hammock body. Otherwise, water will run down the suspension and into your hammock. Bridge hammocks do not share this problem.

Some Great Hammock Choices

In addition, I’ve listed key hammock manufactures and purchasing resources below. I own and like hammocks from all these companies. I know all their owners personally. They produce excellent hammocks that have widespread use and good reputations. Most also offer all the hammock accessories you might need, top quilts, under-quilts, tarps etc. Give them a call if you have questions on how to equip or comment below and I’ll try and answer.

DutchwareChameleon 17.5*Light & Superbly Versatile. Adaptable to every season from humid summer days to winter use. Full review here which also compares it to Hennessy and Warbonnet hammocks. [5 day turnaround time.]
HennessyHyperlight Asym Zip22Tom Hennessy is considered the man responsible for modern backpacking hammocks as we know them & has the patents to prove it. This is their lightest hammock & available at REI.
WarbonnetBlackbird 22A longtime hammock manufacturer. Blackbird is their most popular hammock. A well thought out and functional design. [Only 1 week wait]
Jacks ‘R’ BetterBear Mountain Bridge Hammock32Another veteran hammock Co. The Jacks ‘R’ Better hammocks use a bridge design that gives a flatter lie than the gathered-end (traditional) hammocks above. [Almost all JRB stuff is off-the-shelf and ready to ship.]
Dutchware11 ft Netless 8.0*Ultralight and only $42! It’s my favorite hammock for littel to no bug pressure (much of Spring and Fall). Simple and functional. [Only 1 day turnaround time.]
AntiGravity-GearQuicksilver UL10.4Another inexpensive, light, no nonsense, netless hammock that comes with a very light suspension system.
Hammock GearAll hammock accessoriesn/aGreat supplier of everything else you need for hammocks. Top quilts, under-quilts, tarps etc. Some very light gear and some great values including their $150 Econ +20F down quilt.

* Weights are approximate, and unless noted include MFR’s suspension (cord to hang hammock and wide tree straps to protect trees—important for LNT!). Dutchware Chameleon and Netless hammocks weights are with my own Kevlar tree straps.
approx. 24 oz if you can use your trekking poles as the spreader bars.

Hammock-specific How To resources

The Ultimate Hang: An Illustrated Guide to Hammock Camping, by Derek Hansen, is an excellent and comprehensive book for hammock camping. And the Kindle version is only $3.99.

Hammock Forums is the largest online resource for information on hammocks. Like any large internet forum, its well intended members offer an incredible wealth of information. Also, as with any large internet forum, there is a smidge of less-than-perfect information, plus a couple of folks who are hanging in a different planetary orbit.

Warbonnet Outdoors has two useful how-to sections on its website: Hammocks 101 and setup videos.

Hennessy Hammock also has very good how-to videos.

Dutchware Product’s amusing videos are fun even if you don’t buy his stuff, though he does design some good products too.

Hammock Camping — The Basics

Derek Hansen, author of The Ultimate Hang, is an advanced hammock camper and excellent illustrator. If you have learned nothing else from this 3-part series, study Derek’s illustration below.



What critical tips for first-timers are missing?

If you are a veteran hammock camper and feel that I missed some important tips — in this post, or one of the first two — for first-time hammock campers, please submit it as a comment, below.

Hammock Camping – Part II: Types of backpacking hammocks, and spec comparison to ground systems

“In locations where trees are readily available—nearly all of the eastern United States plus a fair amount of the Mountain West—hammock camping is likely the best sleep system.”
Types of Backpacking Hammocks: is the second part of  this three part series.

Types of Backpacking Hammocks

A complete hammock system: hammock, tarp + guylines & stakes, topside sleeping quilt (inside, not visible), and under-quilt (not visible). Pisgah National Forest, NC

There are two main Types of backpacking hammocks on the market:

  1. Gathered End Asymmetric Hammocks
  2. Bridge Hammocks

The sleeping position of both designs is relatively flat, not banana-shaped as customarily found with backyard furniture hammocks. Both designs normally feature integrated or removable no-see-um bug netting. Finally, additional components are usually needed to complete a hammock system:

  • Tarp for protection against rain and wind
  • Sleeping quilt, worn atop the sleeper, to reduce convective heat loss
  • Under-quilt, secured below the sleeper usually on the outside of the hammock, to reduce convective heat loss

Gathered End Asymmetric Hammock

This is by far the most prevalent camping hammock design. It is named for its two most distinct features:

  1. Its ends are gathered into a single bunch, and
  2. It has an asymmetric shape (i.e. not symmetric) that allows the sleeper to lay diagonally to its center-line, which is a flatter sleeping position than the banana-shape of the center-line.

It’s important to note that the diagonal sleeping position is enabled not just by the asymmetrical cut, but by the width of the hammock. An excessively narrow hammock, even if it is asymmetric, will not have enough material for a flat-ish sleeping position. There are two main advantages of a gathered end asymmetric hammock over the other common design, the bridge hammock (discussed below):

  1. Lighter weight
  2. Roomier, less constrictive feel
Types of Backpacking Hammocks

Typical gathered end hammock: Warbonnet (WB) Blackbird with Yeti under-quilt. Porcupine Mountains Sate Park, Upper Peninsula, Michigan

Types of Backpacking Hammocks

A gathered end hammock made by George “Tin Man” Andrews (self-portrait), being used as a camp chair during a thru-hike of the John Muir Trail in California.

Bridge Hammock

This design uses flat, non-gathered ends that are reinforced with a spreader bar. The resulting hammock shape is more of a flat, trough-like half-tube, versus the curved banana-shape (but not sleeping position) of a gathered end hammock. The bridge hammock provides a flatter sleeping position than the gathered end hammock, with less fuss and body adjustments, too. However, it has two potential drawbacks:

  1. The spreader bars add weight to the system; however, most designs allow trekking poles to be used as substitutes.
  2. Some sleepers may find that its tubular shape is more constrictive.
Andrew Skurka inspects a classic bridge hammock: the Jacks R Better Bear Mountain Bridge with Greylock 3 under-quilt.

Andrew Skurka inspects a classic bridge hammock: the Jacks R Better Bear Mountain Bridge with Greylock 3 under-quilt.

Bridge hammocks create a “flatter” lie than gathered end hammocks. Note that flatter does not mean absolutely flat. Most sleepers find it more comfortable to have their head slightly lower than their feet.

Bridge hammocks create a “flatter” lie than gathered end hammocks. Note that flatter does not mean absolutely flat. Most sleepers find it more comfortable to have their head slightly lower than their feet.

About those under-quilts

To insulate themselves against the ground, which will steal heat from a ground sleeper through conduction, ground sleepers use closed-cell foam pads or air mattresses. Hammock sleepers can also lose heat from their underside, but due to air convention, especially if there is a wind. There are two options for reducing this heat loss: 1. Use a double-layer hammock to capture and control the ground-pad. The pad is inserted between the two layers of fabric. This extra layer of fabric adds weight, but it will securely fix the ground pad in place. Double-layer hammocks are popular for this reason. 2. Use an under-quilt. A better solution is to use a hammock-specific under-quilt, which increases the warmth and comfort of a hammock. It also increases the weight and expense of a hammock system, but by no more than would a NeoAir mattresses from Therm-a-Rest, which are extraordinarily popular with ground sleepers. As an added perk, you will not get dizzy inflating an under-quilt.

A good top and bottom quilt make all the difference for a warm night’s sleep. Pictured above is my wife, Alison, cocooned in down -- a Jacks R Better High Sierra Sniveller top quilt and Greylock 3 under-quilt.

A good top and bottom quilt make all the difference for a warm night’s sleep. Pictured above is my wife, Alison, cocooned in down — a Jacks R Better High Sierra Sniveller top quilt and Greylock 3 under-quilt.

Hammock specs compared to ground systems

  • How much does a hammock system weigh and cost?
  • And how does the weight and expense compare to conventional ground systems?

As explained in Part I of this 3-part hammock series, it’s very difficult to compare hammocks and ground systems. Each system has several popular designs and an almost infinite number of configurations; there is no “standard.” Moreover, it’d be a challenge to find two systems that offer the exact same features and user experience. Nevertheless, I have tried, below. Each system offers a standard level of protection against rain, ground water, wind, and bugs. Each system also includes underside insulation, through either an under-quilt or a sleeping pad. Topside insulation (i.e. sleeping quilt) was not included into the weight or expense of these systems because this component would not change across systems.

The conclusion you should reach is that hammock systems weigh and cost about the same as “comparable” ground systems. Other considerations—such as where you normally backpack, whether you want a one-person or multi-person shelter, if you have already invested in gear that is optimal for one system or the other, and if you are struggling to sleep well with your current system—will drive decisions about whether you are better off with a hammock or ground system.

Gathered end asymmetric hammock system

  • Blackbird Hammock, including webbing suspension ($190, 21 oz)
  • Yeti 3-season under-quilt ($190, 12 oz)
  • Edge Tarp with guylines and four stakes ($85, 13 oz)

Total: $465, 46 oz (2.9 lbs) Based on Warbonnet Outdoors products and pricing

Bridge hammock system

  • BMBH Hammock (UL) , including webbing suspension ($190, 23 oz)
  • Trekking poles (as substitute for spreader bars)
  • Greylock, 3-season under-quilt ($190, 14 oz)
  • Hex Tarp with guylines and stakes ($100, 16 oz)

Total: $480, 53 oz (3.3 lbs) Based on Jacks ‘R’ Better products and pricing

Ultralight hammock system (no bug net)

Total: $464, 26 oz (1.6 lbs)

Ultralight hammock system (full bug net)

  • Dream Hammock Darien UL, including suspension hardware ($180, 13 oz)
  • Hammock Gear Phoenix 3/4-length, 3-season under-quilt ($144, 9 oz)
  • MLD Cuben Hex Tarp with guylines and stakes ($300, 10 oz)

Tarptent system

  • Tarptent Contrail  ($225, 24 oz)
  • Guylines and stakes (included, 2 oz)
  • NeoAir, Air mattress ($160, 12 oz)

Total: $385, 38 oz (2.4 lbs) Based on TarpTent  and Therm-a-Rest products and pricing

Ultralight tarp/bivy system

  • Gossamer Gear SilTwinn Tarp with guylines and stakes ($175, 16 oz)
  • Closed-cell foam sleeping pad ($20, 5 oz)
  • Moutain Laural Designs Water-resistant bivy sack ($170, 8 oz)

Total: $365, 29 oz (1.8 lbs) Based on Gossamer Gear and Mountain Laurel Designs products and pricing

Backpacking Food

Backpacking Food List – Simple and Nutritious for 7 days

NEW June 2016 – Meal Recipes are Posted. See Nutritious Backpacking Meal Recipes here

This list is packed with nutritious backpacking food for a “week long” trip of 7 days

  • 6 nights of dinners and breakfasts
  • 7 days of lunches and daytime snacks

That is you don’t eat breakfast on the day your go in. And you don’t eat dinner on the day you come out. This is equivalent to around 6.6 full days hiking. I’ve organized the food so that it should be easy to scale to more or fewer hiking days.

Note: any entry with a blank in “qty” means the food item is an alternative that may be a) added and/or b) substituted for another item on the list. For example if you are veggie, you could substitute one of the soy jerkies (Primal & Stonewall) the meat jerky. And to easily add vegetables to my homemade dinners I use freeze dried vegetables from Just Tomatoes. I like the “Hot Just Veggies.”

A Simple and Nutritious Backpacking Food List for 7 days

Breakfasts (6 mornings)qtyoztotc/ozComments
Familia Breakfast (with Bob’s Red Mill Muesli)25.511.0125see Recipe Page
Grape Nuts/Kashi Seven Nuggets (my recipe)25.010.0124see Recipe Page
Oatmeal Breakfast (my recipe)25.410.8115see Recipe Page
Coffee, Starbuck’s VIA ($0.72/cup @Amazon)60.10.84g pkt  = 130-140 mg caffeine
Coffee for gold filter brewing 25g per 12 fl-oz0.9 alternative to instant coffee, less $
Tea – bag or loose leaf (4-6g per 12 fl-oz)0.1if using bags, sealed packets are best
Lunches (7 days)qtyoztotc/ozComments
Dense whole grain bread (lunch serving)32.06.080
Almond Butter (2 oz serv)32.06.0155pers fave – eat w bread/crackers
Tuna in olive oil 2.6 oz pkt (2.9 oz incl packet)2.965eat w bread, oil adds cal’s & healthy fat
Crackers, Dr Kracker (lunch serving)21.53.0125Awesome, high calorie & indestructible
Cheese (lunch serving)22.55.0115eat with crackers
TJ’s whole wheat tortillas22.04.080
Dry salami (without nitrates)22.55.0105eat with tortillas
Mustard packetsn/ato eat with cheese or salami
Bison Jerkey (3.5 oz bag)3.560 online, or TJs and Whole Foods
Turkey Jerky4.090 online, or TJs and Whole Foods
Primal Strips Meatless Vegan Jerkey (teriyaki)1.0100vegan protein option – up to 11g prot.
Stonewall’s Jerquee (soy based)1.5110veggie protein option – up to 14g prot.
Dinners (6 nights)qtyoztotc/ozComments
Black Beans & Rice w Cheese & Corn Chips (yum!)25.511.0115see Recipe Page
Chili Mac Dinner25.511.0120see Recipe Page
Curry Cous Cous Dinner26.012.0135see Recipe Page
Desserts (6 nights)qtyoztotc/ozComments
Snickers Bar or MilkyWay Midnight22.14.2135daytime snack or dessert
Chocolate (dark)42.08.0153great when eaten with dried fruit
Cocoa Nibs1.0150tasty when added to dark chocolate
Snakwell Cookie Packet21.73.4123great with hot chocolate
Hot Chocolate (make your own with Nido)22.24.4130see Dessert recipe Page
Snack Bars (for ~7 days)qtyoztotc/ozComments
Kind Bars41.45.6150
Lara Bar1.8130
Pro Bar Meal Bar23.06.0125healthy, easy to eat
ProBar’s Base Protein Bars22.54.9114adds 20g of soy protein
Cliff Builder’s Protein Bar22.54.9115adds 20g of soy protein
Snacks (for ~7 days)qtyoztotc/ozComments
Gorp (50% walnuts, 50% dried fruit – raisins?)72.014.0150 usually mix my own
Honey sesame sticks71.812.6150 online or at Whole Foods
Candied nuts (TJs has a ton of varieties)31.54.5150
Almonds, raw42.08.0165
Walnuts, raw185
Dried mango un-sweetened/sulfered32.06.090also great dessert with dark chocolate!
Apricots (dried, un-sweetened, un-sulfered)41.56.087also great dessert with dark chocolate!
Papaya (dried, un-sweetened, un-sulfered)100 at Whole Foods
Raisins, organic (Thompson, TJs)95
Generic dried fruit85
Jelly Bellies93
Tic-Tacs0mindless fun to eat on trail
Pringles150tasty, high in calories
Lb of food for trip11.5
Lb food per day1.7
Calories/oz of food127

How much food should I take? The detailed answer

There is no exact answer to this question. In my “The Best Backpacking Food – simple and nutritious”, I threw out the best guess of 1.4 to 1.7 lb of food per day. But how but much food you need depends on who you are and what you do.

2015 Note: In the last 15 years of backpacking I personally seem to have settled on around 1.7 pounds per day of food give or take a bit. This is for warm season backpacking with 12-18 miles per day (possibly more) with some off-trail travel. If I am going for killer trips, like 10-12 solid hours of hiking per day I will be more like 1.8 pounds of food per day.  But trips 12 miles and under, mostly on trail 1.5 pounds of food would suffice.

Over the years I have lowered my hiking pace, but hike longer and take fewer breaks. I find that a slower hiking pace of 2.5 miles per hour (average including stops) is much more efficient calorie-wise than hiking at a faster pace. Most accomplished long distance thru-hikers I have talked to use a similar approach. Also, I find the slower pace beats up my body less and I get up the next morning fresh and ready to hike another day.

Estimating How Much Food You Need

In an example below, in order to not lose weight, a 160 pound male hiking 10 miles a day, with a 3,000 elevation gain, would need around 4,000 calories per day, or 2.0 pounds of food per day (assuming a caloric density of 125 calories per ounce). This is a very rough estimate, and should not be taken too seriously. You will need to do some experimenting to determine you own caloric needs for on the trail.

From this it is clear that 1.5 pounds of food per day (a figure often used by ultralight hikers) does not work for all situations, and for all people. Although that 1.5 lb of food per day may work well for many people on a short trip (e.g. a 3-day-weekend)–where they not doing long miles and long hours of hiking per day. And for most of us, if you end up metabolizing/burning off a pound of fat on a trip [since backpacking is one of he supreme fat burning activities], all the better!

But just because you can get by on 1.5 lb of food per day, doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to eat in all situations. In my opinion, running a significant caloric deficit, particularly on longer trips, is not a good idea. If you are a fit person, hiking many miles and hours per day, 1.5 lbs of food per day  is also not a good idea. See my example below for more details.

Factors to consider for how much food you pack

  • How much do you weigh?
  • Does your metabolism run high or low?
  • How far will you hike each day?
  • How fast will you hike?
  • For how many days?
  • How much elevation gain?
  • At what altitude?
  • At what temperatures?
  • How difficult is the terrain?
  • What type of shape are you in?
  • What are you used to eating?
  • How much excess body fat do you have?
  • Do you want to lose weight? Etc., etc.

In 2000 I took 1.6 lb of food per day (Approx. 125 cal/oz.) on a 5 day trip in the Rockies. I was hungry on the days when I hiked 8-10 miles mostly on trails. But I could deal with it. I would have felt better, and in the long run hiked faster with more food per day. One day, I did an 18 mile hike, most of which was off trail, with elevations over 13,000 feet. Boulder fields. Class 3 routes etc. I brought only 1.6 pounds of food with me. By 7:30 PM, when I got into camp, I was almost psychotic with hunger. My fault, I realize. I could have easily used 2 lb of food for that day.

An (over) simplified example of food need calculations. An estimate! (see Note 1):

  • A 160 lb person has a base metabolism of approx. 2,200 cal/day
  • 10 miles hiking with a 30 lb backpack at 120 cal/mi, is another 1,200 calories.
  • Assume 3,000 elevation gain is another 600 calories.
  • Total caloric expenditure: 4,000 cal/day
  • 1.5 pounds of food at 125 cal/oz = 3,000 calories. (see Note 2)
  • Caloric deficit = 1,000 cal/per day. Or around 1/3 lb of hiker per day (this is fat metabolized/burned)

Under this very simplified estimate, our 160 pound hiker runs a 1,000 calorie per day deficit. They would lose about 1/3 lb per day or around 2 lb per week. If our hiker was a bit overweight and didn’t mind being hungry this might be OK or even desirable. But it’s probable that they would feel better and hike faster if they weren’t running a caloric deficit.

For someone near their ideal weight, running a 1,000 calorie a day deficit might not be a good idea. It might be OK for a few days, but not for long outings. It’s not that you can’t do it if you have to. I’ve hiked 3 days without food. But is it a good idea to hike running a caloric deficit?

  • Is it good for your health?
  • Will you feel great and enjoy your outing?
  • Will you hike your fastest?
  • Will your body have the nutrition to recover after a hard day of hiking?
  • Will you be more injury prone?
  • Will you be alert and make safe decisions?
  • What will your moods be like around others?

After answering these questions for myself, I’d say that hiking with a daily calorie deficit is not a great idea.

Note 1: I realize that this is a this very simplified estimate. Base metabolism, hiking efficiency, etc. are variable. The best approach is to do some on or off trail testing and see what caloric intake works best for you. Note that you may be able to get by on a low calorie intake but your athletic performance may go down as well. I know that I can eat 2,200 calories a day and ride my bike 175-200 miles per week. I also know that if I do this, I feel terrible, I loose around 2 lb per week, I can be cross with those around me, and my overall riding speed drops 1-2 mph. At around 3,200-3,500 calories a day I feel great, don’t gain weight, and can train at high intensity.

Note 2: I believe that most of us will end up averaging around 125-130 cal/oz even when packing high fat items like chocolate and peanut butter, etc. as part of our food. I know that many try to hit the 150 cal/oz range, but I don’t think this is a realistic or healthy way for most people to eat. Just my opinion.