Tag Archives: High Sierra Trail

World’s Best Backpacking Rice

Last night in the Winters’ IGA, I almost bought a box of Minute Rice to compare cooking & tasting with the rice I’ve been using backpacking. If it hadn’t been 3$, I might have brought it home, but economy & common sense prevailed over my scientific desire for a true comparative review.

On the other hand, I don’t really need to cook instant rice in order to know that it will taste remarkably like nothing with a gummy texture. So why bother?

I like rice. My Cuban grandmother made plain white rice everyday when I was growing up. She cooked it on an electric stove in a dented saucepan with a square of brown shopping bag paper sticking out from under a lightweight lid. It was always perfect.

On my own, I have perfected the 2 cups brown rice to 3 cups water method in 30 minutes, an achievement of which I feel justifiable proud, even if the product is not quite as GQ as my pal Al’s Nicaraguan-style rice, which is rinsed and then toasted in a little olive oil with chopped onion before cooking. Al, in fact, is the fellow who revolutionized my backpacking relationship with rice 2 summers ago on the High Sierra Trail.

Guitar Lake, below Mt WhitneyOn a windy afternoon at the gorgeous & frosty Guitar Lake, Al introduced me & Mr. Jack to Kalijira Rice, the tiny aromatic rice from Bangladesh. Oh yum! This royally delicious & delicate Prince of Rice cooks in just 10 minutes. Yes, it might cook up just fine on the trail, but I haven’t tried that.

I cook it at home (yes, in 10 minutes) & then dehydrate it. On the trail, it rehydrates like a dream, while retaining its premium texture and taste. Even if this rice didn’t provide more calories, more carbs and more protein than instant rice, the eating pleasure more than repays the relatively small effort to cook & dehydrate it prior to the backpack. And the less fat, less sodium? Hmmm, you could add sea salt & a favorite oil when you cook it, whether or not you decide to add onions like my pal Al.

Mere Money Comparison
Minute Rice: $2.90/7 servings; 41c per cooked cp
Kalijira Rice: $4.20/8 servings; 52c per cooked cp

Basic Nutritional Comparison
Please be aware that instant rice does not have the full load of thiamin, iron or folic acid.


Uncle Ben’s Instant Rice, White

Serving Size: about 1 cp cooked
Calories: 190
Calories from Fat: 5
Sodium: 15 mg
Total Carbs: 43g
Dietary Fiber: 1g
Sugars: 0
Protein: 3g

Lotus Foods Tiny Rice
Serving Size: about 1 cp cooked
Calories: 200
Calories from Fat: 0
Sodium: 0 mg
Total Carbs: 56g
Dietary Fiber: 0g
Sugars: 0
Protein: 6g

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.