Eating across the Sierras: < 1.5 lbs of food

Jack & I started our JMT backpack with an average of 1.24 lbs of food per person per day for the first 11 days and about 1.34 for the next 11 days, including the 10 oz of secchi salami Mr. Jack threw into the Muir Ranch re-supply box for “emergencies.”

Aside: In all fairness to Jack, although I whine mightily about his intractable penchant for bringing along salami, I am first in line when he starts slicing it up at the end of a long day. On this hike, as on so many others, the salami did not survive to fulfill its function as emergency rations unless one considers overwhelming desire to consume salami at the first opportunity an emergency!

In addition to the food we packed into our bear canisters—nearly all of which was gone by the time we got to our car, as I mentioned in the introductory blog—I also ate on the trail 3 chocolate-based food bars (avg 1.6 oz each @ 190 calories) given to me by Karen from Vermont and a handful of raw cashews (probably also about 1.6 oz @ about 260 calories) donated by a couple on top of Forrester Pass who were on their way out. She was eating a Snickers bar; I had politely declined to accept any candy.

You’ll notice that our daily food weight is slightly lower than the suggested range of 1.5-2 lbs per person suggested by most backpacking experts. How do we get away with such low food weights? It comes from understanding that all calories are not created equal and planning a menu that optimizes nutritional density and eliminates—as much as possible—empty calories and ounces. Which is not to say we are ever going to give up our tea!

We know this menu works because we’ve used similar food plans in the past

  • In 2008, on the 8-day High Sierra Trail backpack, ending over Whitney Portal (107 miles, 2 passes) Jack lost 5 lbs he was happy to see go, and I lost none, coming home at the 135 I’d left with.
  • In 2007, on the North Lake-South Lake semi-loop (55 miles, 3 passes @ 11,000’+ in 5 days), we came home with no remarkable weight loss.

So why, this year, did Jack lose nearly 20 lbs & I lose just over 5? Maybe it was the considerably longer backpack with many more passes, but I particularly suspect the unseasonably cold weather, particularly the hail storm through which we hiked for nearly 2 hours, including 3 frigid high-water crossings.

Next blog, I’ll provide a sample day’s worth of backpacking food with calorie count and the percentage breakdown of fat, carbs and protein, including a fiber report. First, though, I’ll have to plug all the foods into the Red Elephant’s Daily Plate account over at Mr. Lance Armstrong’s LiveStrong.com. Once all the information’s in, we can check details to see how our backpacking food plan compares to yours … and to the experts’ recommendations.