> TEOTWAWKI Blog: Tip of the Week: Calories to Weight



Tip of the Week: Calories to Weight

A THRIVE Express meal weighing in.
When packing food in a survival kit, calories to weight should be the primary metric on your mind. Calories are what keep you going, and over the short term, a balanced nutrition is of low importance. You want to maximize what you get for a given amount of weight, so calories to weight, or specifically calories per ounce, becomes what you want to plan for.

Lightweight backpackers usually look for a cutoff of around 100 calories per ounce, and it's a good baseline to work from. With that, you can do 6000 calories - 3 days worth - in well under four pounds.

A kitchen scale is helpful here - cut the guesstimating and just chuck it on the ol' scale. They're also good for weighing out other gear and helping trim down your pack weight. We've got this one - super easy to use, accurate and worth the $25.

Get your food out and start weighing it. This website can also help in your search - type in your food and it will get you to the nutritional facts.

Backpackers have come up with something called Moo Goo - a combination of peanut butter (around 170cal/oz), honey and corn flour, thrown in a squeeze tube - to max the calorie/weight ratio. In the old days, it was often pemmican, a combination of fats, powdered jerky and occasionally dried fruits, and a travel food of Native Americans and frontiersmen. Mountain climbers have used pure olive oil - 251 calories per ounce  - to keep them going. I pack things like almonds (> 160 calories per ounce) and Met-Rx protein bars (usually around 110 calories/ounce) in the 2000 - 3000 calories stash I keep in my EDC bag. There's lots of off-the-shelf options available in any gas station or grocery store, and it's wise to have a few go-to's if you need to stock up while on the move.

One thing you'll notice - a lot of high fat foods. There's a reason - fat has 9 calories per gram, where carbs and protein are 4 calories per gram. So most foods with good calorie/weight ratios will have a comparatively higher fat content.

A couple favorites, pulled from my EDC food stash.
Mountain House Granola, peanut butter and a protein bar.
With a survival kit, you often have concerns about shelf life, and fats don't typically store very well. Packaged properly and stored at reasonable temperatures, you're at around a year. If you're regularly using your kit - everyday carry (EDC) bag, regular backcountry trips or whatever - then shelf life isn't such a big deal. Your choices are many and you don't need to delve into specialty stuff.

If you're not likely to touch the food for years, then it's time to look at more specialty stuff - freeze dried, dehydrated, MRE and similar.

Freeze dried and dehydrated stuff typically have a good calorie/weight ratio - all of the water content is gone, so you'd hope so. THRIVE Southwestern Chicken and Rice, as an example has 960 calories and weighs 9.5 ounces - 101 calories per ounce. Mountain House Granola, a personal favorite that requires no heating - just add water - has 520 calories and weighs 4.7 ounce, for 110 calories per ounce. 5 to 7 years shelf life is standard for this stuff.

With these kinds of foods, you will have to add water and often need to heat or outright cook, so there's a bit of false economy involved. You start getting into cookware, stoves, fuel and increasing the amount of water you need in a day, which adds to the weight quickly. You also need the extra time/opportunity to prepare the food. For a smaller, short term, smaller scale kit like an EDC bag, get home bag, E&E/go bag, freeze dried or dehydrated meals often don't make sense. When I pack 'em, it's always in combination with other stuff.

MREs are often borderline when it comes to weight/calorie ratio - even if they're field stripped (reducing weight by getting rid of unnecessary packaging and accessories). Some are better than others - they're all over the place, weight-wise, so if you're planning on packing them, use your scale. But, no need to prep, pack stove, fuel, etc. MRE heaters weigh just about nothing.

I don't have one of those lifeboat type rations around to weigh, but they are very dense, too. If you can choke 'em down and have limited space, they're a good choice. I've eaten a 5 year old one...tasted normal, no problems.

So that's a little bit of info on the idea behind maximizing your calorie/weight ratio, and an overview of some of the products out there.

I'm curious to hear from the tribe on this subject. What are your favorites? What do you pack in your kits? Bring for backpacking and hunting? Tips or recipes? Let us know.