People often ask me, “What do you eat when you are out backpacking?” It is embarrassing to admit I never really know what to tell them; other than a vague recitation of staples, such as instant rice, couscous, pasta, etc.
When I was hiking along the Minong Ridge Trail on Isle Royale it dawned on me to write about my menu. Unfortunately, I never recorded my food beforehand, which would have made the process much easier. So when I arrived at Windigo, I spent a good portion of my rest day playing anthropologist, going through my garbage and recreating my menu from the six previous days on the island.
During the second half of the trip I did a much better job of recording what I consumed. Regardless, my notes were not complete and I went through the exact same anthropological procedure as before, except this time, it was a year later and I did it in the comfort of my own home. Yeah, you heard that right; I stored the garbage in my freezer for the past year, just for this occasion.
Although the following menu is a pretty good approximation of my diet for the two weeks I was on Isle Royale, it still is just that: an approximation. Although, the items consumed should be accurate enough, the serving sizes are estimates, since I cannot recall the actual amount measured off before leaving for my trip.
I omitted a few things from my menu. I did not include my vitamins, which included several different kinds during breakfast and dinner. Also, I carried several different dried spices in small resealable plastic bags. The calories from these are negligible, as is their weight.
The following table lists my entire Isle Royale menu by meal and date. Included are date, approximate location of meal, item, my serving size, weight in grams and Calories. Weight and Calorie totals for each meal, day and the complete trip are listed as well. Links to each blog post where the meal took place (although many snacks are omitted) and to a retailer where the item may be purchased are listed throughout the table.
Notice the second week is mostly just a copy of the first one, with slight modifications. When I packed for this two-week trip, I found planning my meals overwhelming, so I broke it down into two seven-day trips, which eased the effort somewhat. I figured that by the time the second week rolled around, the miles and the exertion would suppress my memory of the first week’s menu.
The meals got a little sparser near the end, since originally I planned to eat a meal at one of the Rock Harbor restaurants, which did not happen as they closed the Sunday before Labor Day. Included in the meals is my celebratory feast of confectionaries when I arrived at Windigo, and the Foster’s Lager oil can that I carried all the way from the frigid cold temperatures at Washington Creek Campground to Siskiwit Bay Campground.
Here is a table of my menu during the Isle Royale trip I took in late summer of 2011:
Since I have never analyzed a backcountry trip’s menu in such a way before, I was pleasantly surprised with the regularity of the meals in terms of calories and weight. The higher calorie days tended to be days of bone-chilling temperatures (my rest day in Windigo and the day after) or very long days where the extra Calories were necessary to cover the many arduous miles.
The breakfasts consisted either of the lighter weight/lower Calorie oatmeal or the higher weight/higher Calorie cold cereal. This may indicate I need to up my Calories when I bring oatmeal by either increasing the serving size or adding an extra cereal bar. The highest Calorie breakfast was 1193 at Washington Creek during the bitter cold just prior to leaving for Feldtmann Lake, with the lowest being a three-way tie at 706 between Daisy Farm, Little Todd and West Chickenbone Lake. The most efficient meal (i.e. highest Calories per weight) was Hatchet Lake, with the least being the next day’s at West Chickenbone Lake.
Lunches ranged from the low 308-Calorie meal at Moskey Basin to an 1100-Calorie one at Mt Desor. The type of dessert typically drove the Calories of my lunches, especially when nuts of some type were available. The most efficient lunch was along the Feldtmann Lake Trail (much needed on a cool and breezy afternoon), while the least was indisputably my last meal before departing the island at Rock Harbor (where I picked through the scraps of my food bag).
Of the main meals, dinner was the most consistent in Calories, ranging from 476 at South Lake Desor to 970 the day before at Siskiwit Bay, although this was due to the Foster’s beer. As for the most efficient dinner, Moskey Basin was the clear winner, while the one at Siskwit Bay was by far the worst, due again to the heavy Foster’s beer I hauled all the way from Washington Creek two days before.
This information should prove invaluable for planning my next long hike into the backcountry. In the future, a pre-trip analysis of menu should allow me to shore up some of my lighter meals to ensure I provide the proper number of Calories for the effort involved.
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