ArticlesDear Nessmuking

How Much Food Should I Pack

As I canoe more, leaving the river of home and enter the BWCA, I must portage. I do not want to carry needless weight. So, I am planning a 6 day trip with lots of portaging, some are 340 rods, some only 8. However, as a soloist, I have determined to double portage, thus a 340-rod portage is really 1020 rods. So it is like this, I get by on minimal food on a timber trek. Although I climb serious hills, I am not carrying a 60-pound pack or a canoe. I am assuming the physical exertion even on a small mile trip is demanding. I am wondering how many pounds of food to pack. I am very used to dry goods like steel cut oats, parched corn and parched rice, etc. Perhaps I may pack brick cheese and summer sausage. I may make some bannock and fish along the way. I figure close to one pound of gorp a day.

I guess I am asking, how much food does a guy usually take? I will have a powdered drink like tang or something. I do not need fancy stuff and the dehydrated foods do not really appeal to me right now. Any suggestions you have would be great.


Grams of Gorp

Dear Grams of Gorp,

I like to live by a rule of thumb on canoe trips: Pack 1.5 to 1.75 pounds of food per day per person.

That’s a pretty simple answer, but let’s look closer at the issue. First, head over to Kristen’s Guide Weight Loss Calculator and enter all your relevant data . I managed to come up with 470 calories per hour burned when walking at 3 mph. And for paddling, I’m in a 286 calories for leisurely and 386 for moderately paddling. That looks like I burn a heck of a lot more calories walking around than I do paddling, but I still don’t know how many I burn while backpacking.

So, I have to figure that out. First, I head over to to download a copy of Josh Madison’s sweet Convert software, because I’m going to need to convert my weight to kilograms for the next part of this answer. Downloaded. Enter pounds. Done. I’m 90 kg. Next, I’m going to head over to to look at their Calorie Coefficient table:

  • General Backpacking: 0.117
  • Canoeing on Camping Trip: 0.066
  • Canoeing Moderate Effort: 0.117
  • Kayaking: 0.083

These numbers are in calories burnt per kg per minute, and I want to know a per hour figure, so I have to convert these to calories per hour:

  • General Backpacking: 631/hour
  • Canoeing on Camping Trip: 356/hour
  • Canoeing Moderate Effort: 631/hour
  • Kayaking: 448/hour

And, of course, we want to know calories per day based on an eight-hour day:

  • General Backpacking: 5048/day
  • Canoeing on Camping Trip: 2848/day
  • Canoeing Moderate Effort: 5048/day
  • Kayaking: 3584/day

And, it might be useful to know calories per mile. Based on my paddling averages and hiking averages of 3mph for canoe tripping, 4mph for kayak tripping, and 3mph for backpacking:

  • General Backpacking: 210/mile
  • Canoeing on Camping Trip: 119/mile
  • Canoeing Moderate Effort: 210/mile
  • Kayaking: 112/mile

Now, let’s apply this little round about exercise. Your portage of 340 rods (double portaging means traveling this portage three times) is about 3 miles, so that’s going to cost you 630 calories. And that’ll take about an hour, which rings true in my experience. There probably won’t be many days on your trip that you portage that much. That’ll leave seven hours of paddling and you’ll burn around 2500 calories doing that. So, on the 340-rod day, you’ll burn 3122 calories.

So, now we know about how many calories that you’ll burn on an average day in canoe country. Next, we need an average figure for the average amount of calories contained in a pound of backcountry food. Phil Heffington has done a bit of work for us. He’s calculated the amount of calories per ounce of food, based on foods that are taken out backpacking. After looking over his chart, I’ve arbitrarily decided that the food I carry will average out 105 calories per ounce. This is 1680 calories per pound.

Going back to my rule of thumb of 1.5 to 1.75 pounds of food per day results in 2520 to 2940 calories per day. With the lower amount of food, I’ll fall into a calorie deficit of about 602 calories per day, but if you remember the first step of this exercise, I learned from Kristen’s Guide that I was 24 pounds overweight. On a six-day trip, this means that I’ll lose just over 1 pound. That means that I have to take 144 days of trips this year to get down to my ideal weight. Who would have thought that paddling could be a weight loss program.

Short Answer: Pack 1.5 to 1.75 pounds of food per day per person.


Below is a Calories From Packed Food Worksheet based off of Phil Heffington’s work. It could use some improvement, like a checkbox system next to each item of food that is coming along on one page and those are transferred to another. Or a look up pivot chart or something. If someone wants to make those changes, please, do and send a copy.

More Calories Burned

P.S. But wait, there’s more. You’ll also burn calories in camp, cooking, and sleeping. For example, the coefficient for cooking is: 0.042. So, during an hour of cooking, I’d burn about 200 calories. So, when menu planning, you may want to boost your calories per pound or eat a really big Juicy Lucy Burger at My Sister’s Place when you get out of the BWCA.

Also, check out this article: Ration Planning NOLS Style.

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