View Full Version : Densest" Foods For Food Value

The Weasel
09-04-2002, 14:21
If you're packing to save weight, and don't have (as I do) serious cardiovascular issues, go for foods that are high in fats (although DO me smart and limit saturated and poly-unsaturated fats), such as tuna in oil, butter/margarine/mayo, and others. The reason is that fats contain 9 calories per gram, while carbs (including all sugars) and protein (you gotta have SOME but no more than 30-40 grams a day, which is like 1 oz of meat) only have 4 cal/gm. In other words, you get twice as much "food" per gram from fats. Yes, you need some balance (that's why you don't see a lot of people on the AT carrying ONLY tubs of Parkay!) but that's why a Snickers bar is actually pretty smart.

"Well a promise made, is a debt unpaid, and the Trail has its own stern code." -- Robert Service

SGT Rock
09-04-2002, 20:42
I totally agree, and the secret ingredant to carry is a bottle of olive oil.

A lot of you dried foods loose water - and OIL. They often don't taste as good as the real thing because they lack oils. If you add olive oil (which also tastes good) you are putting the oils back. Mix some olive oil and butter buds and it tastes like real butter added.

And the reason this food is also good, olive oil is a mono-unsaturated fat, so it is heart friendly - and it weighs .92 ounces per fluid ounce. It has 240 calories per fluid ounce - over twice what carbohydrates have. If you consider all that it is healthy and a good pack weight strategy.

09-10-2002, 14:30
To avoid carrying a glass bottle or buying a special container, what sort of carrying device is good for a larger amount of oil? For short (2 days) trips, I carry oil in old beer yeast tubes. But, these are not large enough for, say, a week or 10 day supply I don't think the seal on soft drink bottles will be good enough. Thoughts?

09-10-2002, 15:56
well you may not have any laying around the house, but nalgene makes well what i guess you could call pill bottles, but some are rather large, which seal pretty well and can be used to transport oil.

SGT Rock
09-10-2002, 18:47
Actually I've been using the same Dr Pepper bottle since last year's section hike to store olive oil on all my hikes. I also have a Coke bottle for Italian dressing.

09-14-2002, 09:26
AHHH... Good to see another “connoisseur” of trail food. But remember that all olive oils are not created alike. There is a much bigger gap in quality and taste between the bottles on your supermarket shelf labeled “Extra-virgin” [top of the line] to “Refined” [bottom of the line] than there is from an outstanding “Petrus” to an ordinary “Chianti”, in good red wine. In descending order of taste:

Extra-virgin - -is the label to look for when you opt for healthy, delicate flavored, olive oil. It is the first, cold-press of the tree-ripened olive, lowest in acidity (1 %), and the grade most prized for odor, flavor and fruitiness of taste. But you may pay a little more for it. Extra virgin olive oil can range from a crystalline champagne color to bright green and, generally, the deeper the color, the more intense the olive flavor. And it is that dash of flavor, which you want to add to enliven and enrich your dull, dried food.

Virgin olive oil - -is also first-press oil, with a slightly higher level of acidity, but is slightly less perfect than extra-virgin.

Fino olive oil –-is a blend of extra virgin and virgin oils (fino is Spanish & Italian for "fine")

Olive oil --(once called pure olive oil) contains a combination of refined olive oil and virgin or extra virgin oil.

Light olive oil --contains the same amount of beneficial monounsaturated fat as regular olive oil...and the same number of calories. "Light" indicates that -because of an extremely fine filtration process-this olive oil is lighter in both color and fragrance, and has little of the classic olive-oil flavor.

Even though most of the oil on your shelves will come from Italy, I consider the Extra-Virgin from Spain to have the better bouquet and flavor. Try it; you’ll love it!

SGT Rock
09-14-2002, 09:28
Wow, thanks for the education. I need to head out to the store and look for the Sapnish olive oil.

09-14-2002, 09:40
No, what you want to look for is Extra-Virgin; cant imagine the wording is that hard to remember! That from Spain, in my opinion, just tastes better.

SGT Rock
09-14-2002, 09:59
LOL, I intend to get extra-virgin, it's my favorite, but I've never specifically looked for Spanish, I like Greek. I'm going to try and find me some.

I think that info-post is a real keeper. That is good to know info that I will file for future reference.

09-15-2002, 19:49
I, too, prefer Greek olive oil to Spanish. Don't overlook Californian stuff. I also like Turkish olive oil, although it is not as pungent as the Greek. I'll give the container idea a shot on my next overnighter, which should be this upcoming weekend.

09-18-2002, 11:58
I often pack the green extra virgin. Compared to the cost of freeze dried meals, the extra expense per calorie is very minimal. I use free sample or "hotel/motel" size shampoo bottles (cleaned thoroughly) for my oils.

On the low end side, I've stopped using butter buds and mix butter flavored popcorn oil with cheapo vegetable oil for use as a butter substitute (the popcorn oil is too intense for me as a butter substitute). Good olive oil has so much flavor that it clashes with butter flavors.

Other favorite high fat treats are macadamia nuts (almost as high calorie per weight as butter) and hard salami (you should be able tofind some at over 160 calories/ounce). Hard Salami is a staple for me when I go stoveless.

SGT Rock
09-18-2002, 12:17
I like the idea of butter flavored oil, a small bottle should be enough, but I go through about 12 ounces of olive oil on a one week trip.

09-18-2002, 13:02
Wow! Nearly two ounces a day of olive oil for a week. That could mean more than 10% of your caloric intake from the oil. I haven't used oil that extensively. If I did, I probably wouldn't use the highest grade of oil because I'd worry that I'd tire of the flavor.

Now you've got me thinking about working more oil into my trail diet, maybe alternating between good olive oil and a buttery concotion.

SGT Rock
09-18-2002, 13:16
I put about 1/2 ounce in my breakfast, 1/2 ounce in my lunch, and 1 ounce in dinner. That is about 480 calories a day on my 3000 calorie diet.

The Weasel
09-18-2002, 19:24
Well, all you la-di-da folk who wanna debate between kinds of "extra virgin" Italian oil go right ahead. But if you're talking compact weight for maximum calorie value, you'll go for a solid fat, such as squeezable margarine (which takes forever to spoil), or you'll make your own ghee (clarified butter) and let it solidify as much as possible. Shortening/lard accomplishes the same thing. Yummy...fried Lipton Noodles. GAAAAAAAAACK!

The Weasel

09-19-2002, 08:17
Hmmmm.... Gobs of lard. Now there's an idea! But do you think its 'lip smackin good'?

09-19-2002, 15:53
hard salami is great, and other types of hard meat. it can last you for days and its great as far as calories plus if you want you can get a block of cheese and have that on the trail while hike (assuming you can chew and hike at the same time) then cheese can be added to dinner as well, i always like some cheese in with whatever im eating.

09-19-2002, 16:05
Sugar roasted almonds.

Hammock Hanger
09-19-2002, 18:14
During my 2001 hike some of the male hiers who were still losing weight and had NO weight to lose, started drinking liquid/squeeze margarine. Yuck! But it seemed to work for them. HH

09-20-2002, 07:23
The normal American diet is based on 2000 calories per day. The typical thru-hiker needs about 4000 calories per day. Now, add up all the calories on the little packages and wrappers, and you will discover that that's a lot of food. Hence, the need to inhale squeeze margerine, etc.

I suspect that many thru-hikers starve them selves, whether they realize it or not. When they can't get enough to eat, and there is no more body fat to loose, then the energy level goes down, and then they loose the desire to continue. This is probably the fundamental reason why many thru-hikers drop out on the second half of the AT.

Hammock Hanger
09-20-2002, 08:41
Some of my males friends that dd summit were just a bag of bones. Most of the women looked Great! Hammock Hanger

09-29-2002, 17:26
Hi, I've always wondered how anything can be "extra virgin" but it is a debate better left to the purists. Any way, I do use extra virgin olive oil but only the certified organic brands. Yes, the dark green varities are very tasty.
Eating a healthy diet on and off the trail for me is the only way to go. I don't load my body with empty calories for loading sake. The three healthist oils (all organic) are extra virgin olive oil, butter, and coconut oil. Clarified butter works and coconut oil is solid like lard at room temperature. :cool:

09-29-2002, 19:15
Originally posted by SGT Rock
I put about 1/2 ounce in my breakfast, 1/2 ounce in my lunch, and 1 ounce in dinner. That is about 480 calories a day on my 3000 calorie diet.

The standard fare for winter hikers in New England when I was starting out in the mid 1970's was 1/4 stick of butter per person per meal. It went in the oatmeal for breakfast and the glop pot at dinner. Butter keeps fine in the winter, and winter hiking can really expend the calories. But there was the time the winter before last when I confused the butter and cheese and took a big bite of the butter :D Funny thing was, it didn't taste much different from cheese at that temperature. Now my friends don't trust me to know the difference.

Senor Quack
10-19-2002, 18:10
Originally posted by The Weasel
If you're packing to save weight, and don't have (as I do) serious cardiovascular issues, go for foods that are high in fats (although DO me smart and limit saturated and poly-unsaturated fats), such as tuna in oil, butter/margarine/mayo, and others.

Saturated fat (and cholesterol) probably have nothing to do with heart disease (every study trying to link either was either inconclusive or ridiculously flawed). For more information, see this website: www.ravnskov.nu This doctor, Uffe Ranvnskov, has also written a very well-researched book on the topic, The Cholestrol Myths

Furthermore, the trans-fats (hydrogenated oil) found in the ramen noodles and margarine most hikers love are very bad for your heart (and the rest of your body!). For more information about that, see this website:
Your body can't tell the difference between trans-fat and normal saturated fat, and uses it to build cell walls. Trans-fat doesn't have the same physical properties as saturated fat, however, and causes numerous serious problems; here's a specific list: http://www.enig.com/0001t1b.html

If you are looking for a margarine replacement, you can use clarified butter, as someone previously mentioned. I believe it doesn't go bad, but is more expensive than regular butter. Almost all freeze-dried meals (including the army's MRE's) have trans-fat in them, all but Alpinaire's line. I have only seen a few of their packages' ingredients, but those I've seen remarkably didn't list any. They can show up as either "hydrogenated oil" or "fractionated oil"

10-19-2002, 18:25
OK, so set me straight on butter & margerine.

What margarine is bad for me?

Squeeze Parkay OK?

What about butter buds and that type of stuff?

I looked at squeeze parkay and thought it was great because of the calories per ounce factor.

Clarified butter? where do you buy that along the trail?

Senor Quack
10-19-2002, 18:31
Originally posted by Peaks
[B]OK, so set me straight on butter & margerine.

What margarine is bad for me?

The easiest way is to look on the ingredients list: if you see anything hydrogenated or fractionated, stay away from it.

The more solid the margarine is at room temperature, the more trans-fat it contains. This means that squeezable margarine is probably less harmful, but there's no reason to eat margarine at all, with clarified butter being a good substitute on the trail. Buy it in just about any grocery store, and to be sure you'll have it, include it in maildrops. You won't find it in the dairy section, as it doesn't need refrigeration and is instead in the specialty sections. I believe the most popular brand is called "Ghee" At home, just use butter: it's in no way unhealthful.

SGT Rock
10-27-2002, 18:40
I finaly found some extra-virgin Spanish olive oil. the flavor is sort of fruity, very nice - good for dipping totillas.

Thanks for the tip.

10-27-2002, 23:25
I carry cashews as a rule but wonder what you all think about carrying nuts for fats/oils/calories? Seems like I saw somewhere that pecans/walnuts and the like are all calorically dense????

11-01-2002, 17:56
In ref. to Chris' q/ about what type of container to store oil in...how about those twist/sip top Gatorade bottles? I use them quite often when biking, working outdoors, etc. They seem fairly secure when closed.

11-02-2002, 11:26
for those carrying hard rolls ect. try dipping them in olive oil and pepper... mmmmmmmmmm!

Trail Dog
11-12-2002, 16:29
any good books on this topic? i have pleanty of good outdoor cooking books but they dont address the long term or thru hiking. i'd hate to leave on a hike as 220 lbs and have to quit because i was withering away at 170, no mater how hard that is for me to picture. and i wont suck butter from a tube!

4000 calories seems a lot but i can see how that is nessisary. one great thing to eat, although not the tastiest is military MRE's Made Ready to Eat Meals. its easy, convienient no fire to heat, just water, and its all fortified with vitimins and chemicals(rumor has it something in it makes you less horny, but i have experienced non of that). produces too much waste the magnesium heater that heats on contact with water and the packaging tend to suck as far as garbage is concerned but you could eat the stuff even if it was covered in toxic waste. excelent benifit is it absolutly prevents animals from picking up a sent untill you open it. although it can be VERY expensive unless you are or you know someone who has the oportunity to swipe a few cartons from the millitary.


11-12-2002, 17:43
Trail Dog,

Most people on the Trail keep things as simple as possible. That includes cooking. Meals don't get much fancier than Liptons, Ramen, or Mac & Cheese.

When hungry, almost everything tastes good.

If you are going to pack along much more than the usual faire, you will make plenty of friends.

Trail Dog
11-12-2002, 19:22
After i feed someone and MRE they wont want ot be my frind any more.


11-12-2002, 23:08
MRE stands for Meals Rejected by Ethiopians. :D

11-13-2002, 08:48
Ethiopian food is really, really good, though. Of course they would reject MREs! It seems that MREs are gaining fashion in the weekend hiking world. I've spotted more MREs in the Smokys this fall over 3 trips than I have freezedried dinners.

SGT Rock
11-13-2002, 13:25
Trail Dog,

The biggest problem with MREs is the weight. 4000 callories of MRE weigh about 5 pounds because everything is ready to eat and wraped in so much trash, just one could fill my normal trash bag while hiking. 5 pounds of food for most hiker will last 2-3 days and half fill a 1 quart zip lock.

Trail Dog
11-14-2002, 12:03
5lbs per 4000 calories....

is that even after you strip them down?

take it out of the big bag, toss the cardboard and the other junk in the goody bag?

so what is a good weight to calorie ratio. the fact that the MRE's have all that other enhanced junk in them dont matter?

hey if they aint worth taking i wont. I suppose tha fact that they have so much water in them as opposed to freeze dried food make sthe difference.



SGT Rock
11-14-2002, 12:29
The normal weight to calorie ratio that most hiker food is aimed around is about 100 calories to pack ounce. 2 pounds of dry pasta, grits, jerky, etc equal about 3,200 callories. If you are like me and add olive oil for taste and calories, then 1 pack ounce equal about 250 callories. So a combination of dry food and oils can get you to 4,000 calories.

An MRE has 2000-2500 calories according to the nutrition info on the main course if you eat EVERYTHING, and weighs 2.5-2.75 pounds before culling trash and non esentials. But even after reducing volume, you are talking 2.25 to 2.5 pounds of weight, which is about 56 clories to pack ounce.

Despite being nutritionally beefed up and having vitamens added, MREs are still too heavy and make too much trash. AND THEY SUCK AFTER A WEEK OF THE SAME OLD *****

Trail Dog
11-14-2002, 15:06
I am happy to see this forum is a massive help in planning my trips. I just dodged the MRE as trail food bullet i suppose.

hey sarg? are you following me?

The Weasel
11-14-2002, 20:47
Dog ---

Don't just take Sarge's word about MRE's because he has to eat them in the field, but he's right. Here's your rule of thumb for trail food:

If it can't be put in a ziploc bag without spoiling (except for tuna in a pouch, which you leave it in), don't use it. Some things you won't repackage (sort of a waste of effort to move Lipton noodles from their package to a ziploc), and there are a few exceptions (so don't flame, me folks, with your stories about liquid margarine or other good things that you won't put in a ziploc), but I think you get the idea. I can't picture a situation where I would carry something that was canned/bottled or had multiple layers of packaging, since after opening, all that packaging/cans/bottles has to be packed out, as dead weight, for up to several days. Ugh.

One of the fallacies people fall into about ANYTHING that is "mil spec", i.e. military equipment, is that since "the Army walks" (it usually doesn't), it must walk so much that it is really, really, really good at lightweight backpacking. First of all, infantry and their ilk (including Rangers and Special Forces) don't usually backpack very long or very far (yes, there are exceptions), and have resupply brought to them. Second, as to food, MREs aren't designed to be backpacking food, but designed to be (1) nonperishable and (2) a complete meal and (3) easy to use. Weight of the food isn't a factor, and packaging is designed to withstand a variety of extremes (remember them being thrown out of airplanes from 5,000 feet in the dead of winter to the Afghanis?).

Generally speaking (yes, Rocky, I know there are a few exceptions, and I have some of them), any military gear is unsuitable for long-distance backpacking of the type you will see on the AT.

The Weasel

SGT Rock
11-15-2002, 00:02
Ever see what happens to MREs that are dropped too low - OUCH! High altitude drops are better for them.

Weasel is right about Army gear. They are always about 20 years behind on the really good stuff, and choose bombproof and heavy over light any time. And I'm Cav, so we get to car camp more than hike :D

11-15-2002, 05:13
I was Airborne Infantry for 4.5 years, so when MY MRE's got dropped from a plane, so did I. In retrospect I often wished I had gone Cav Scout, those guys have it way good. I will argue in favor of the taste of MRE's however, we had cooks that should have been locked up and force fed thier own cooking for 10 years, so I often ate my 'reserve' field meals in the stead of chow hall mess. Hell, I'm a bachelor, I'de eat em now if I had access to the damnable things.

As for using them as trail food, a definite negative as main fare, but definitely get some mailed/bounced if you have access. You will enjoy the variety and first day out of town the weight will be neglible, as well as being able to toss any unneeded envelopes to hikers who have never seen much less tasted an MRE.

11-15-2002, 08:22
We are getting off topic a bit here, but what the heck.

You see a variety of different gear while on the Trail. Different backpacks, different shelters (tents, tarps, hammocks), different stoves, etc. There is absolutely no consensous on gear. However, I don't recall ever seeing any military gear with the possible exception of some clothing occasionally, like a ball cap or cameo pants.

SGT Rock
11-15-2002, 09:38
There are some pieces of gear worth the weight, but mainly because they don't weigh much to begin with. I will make a post under gear reviews or something. Sounds like a good project.

12-02-2002, 14:08
Hey Rock, I talked to a guy at Satan's Book Store(aka Barnes and Noble) yesterday, while searching through the limited hiking section the flat landers here are required to provide, that said he'd just finished 20 with the Marines and that MRE's now are 7500 a pop instead of the 4-5k they use to be. Can you confirm or deny this? If they are I'll be trying to acquire a few cases just for the occasional boost and change of pace.

SGT Rock
12-02-2002, 19:17

I was just in the test of MRE XXII which is the current version, and the beta test of the next model (which I assume will be XXIII) and neither peaks over 2,500. What he may be talking about is LRP rations which look a lot like backpacker's food being freeze dried and/or standard dehydrated. One pack is supposed to be a day of high calorie food. I haven't seen but one, and that was a while ago. But as I remember they even come with flame heaters instead of those useless chemical heaters in MREs.

SGT Rock
12-02-2002, 20:59
I couldn't find the official rating for MRE calories on Natick, but this link says it takes 4 MREs to make 4,500 calories:


And this is the LRP Ration which is said to have only 4,620 calories.


12-03-2002, 13:40
I discovered this website while doing some research on nutrition. Seems like a credible source and covers a wide range of nutrition topics.


SGT Rock
12-03-2002, 13:50
That is a good article. Actually a series of papers, here is the link to the index: http://www.frc.mass.edu/bbraate/packlite/index.htm