Food and Hydration Requirements for Adventures

Table of Contents


The best taste I’ve ever experienced was … not filet mignon …. not Margherita pizza (close second) … but Fruit Punch Gatorade.

In particular, the Gatorade I was delicately sipping, drop by drop, in the 97-degree heat of the southern Utah high desert. I was coming back from hiking South Guardian Angel, a relatively remote hike in the Zion Kolob Terrce region, and I had run out of water. To say I was dehydrated was an understatement. I felt like a raisin. But nothing could compare to the ambrosia on my lips that was $1 lukewarm Gatorade. When I finally ran out, I almost cried (if I had any water left for years, I probably would have).

You don’t want that to be you. Stay hydrated, unlike me!

How Much Water to Bring?

More water is required in the backcountry. The general rule is to bring 4 liters (about 1 gallon) of water per person per day in the backcountry. This is significantly more than most people drink while working their day job!

The hotter and drier the weather, the more water you’ll require.

Do I Need to Filter Water?

Yes. Even pristine mountain streams can have giardia from animal fecal matter. 

Filtering water through natural elements like sand, moss, or charcoal isn’t effective unless you’re a survivalist who knows how to effectively build a natural water filter. These are far too time-consuming for adventurers, and therefore we rely on chemical or mechanical filtration.

  • Bleach is the easiest and cheapest water cleaning agent, but it’s best reserved for emergency use only.
  • Iodine is a common water disinfectant. You have to let the water sit for 30 minutes, though.
  • Boiling water for 3-5 minutes will kill anything in it, but boiled water tastes flat (and, of course, takes time and fuel.)
  • Filtering water through a straw or pump can clean out almost anything besides salt or heavy metals, but filters take up space and contain fragile components. 

Water Bottles and Bladders

  • Avoid water bottles with removable caps. They always get lost, stepped on or broken.
  • Get a water bottle with a pop-top, something you can remove with one hand (or your teeth) and easily close by bouncing it on your hip.
  • For cycling and racing, get a soft plastic water bottle with a squeeze top. They can leak when upside down, but they’re so easy on long-distance rides!

If you prefer hydration packs (aka water bladders) over water bottles, don’t cheap out. Knockoff bladders leak all over your stuff.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of hydration packs, except if if I’m trail running and want to minimize weight as much as possible. Sucking water through a straw valve makes my cheeks sore. And it’s just not quite as satisfying as taking a big gulp!

Sports Drinks

Gatorade, Powerade, Skratch – there are a bazillion companies that sell electrolyte-replenishing sports drinks. Some have added sugars; some don’t. Some only sell in bottles; some sell in powders. Find the one you love and stick with it!

Electrolytes are key for replacing energy stores during endurance events. Water alone isn’t enough. Sometimes food isn’t enough – or doesn’t work! (If you’ve experienced “stomach shutdown” during a long-distance event, you know what I mean). Sports drinks are easily accessible to the body compared to heavy foods and energy bars.


Food & Nutrition

I’m a cheap energy bar aficionado. In my old hometown, there was a Mennonite store that sold “expired” energy bars and candy bars sourced from local supermarkets. I could load up on old Snickers and Clif bars for 25 cents each. I thought it was heaven.

My strategy backfired, once. I resupplied before a 4-day mountain biking epic, and all they had in stock were Chia seed bars. For those of you not familiar with chia seeds: It’s bird food packaged for human consumption and sold at 3x the price.

Long story short: After two days of subsisting on dry, tasteless chia seed bars, I swore ’em off and fasted for the next two days.

What Food Should I Bring?

There are three schools of thought when it comes to packing food for an adventure:

  • Feast-or-famine: This philosophy ascribes to stuffing yourself with pasta the night[s] before so you’re carb-loaded for the Big Day. Feast at the base; famine on the mountain. This strategy works well for short 2-day and basecamp adventures, but you’ll need to train your body to consume fats instead of carbohydrates.
  • Enjoy-the-day: In this philosophy, you bring food you like so you can enjoy it at the end of a long, hard, sweaty day.
  • Ultralight: Ultralight packers swear off as much food as possible, living mostly off of energy gels and protein bars. It looks cool on Instagram, but it’s exhausting to keep up day after day.

What to Eat on $5 a Day

If you need to live off $5 a day, you need to eat smart! You’ll need lots of calories for your adventure, but don’t sacrifice the fruits and vegetables, either!

  • Peanut butter. It’s delicious, full of fat, carbs and protein, and you can spread it on anything. Or just lick your fingers.
  • Bagels. Bagels are a thick, dense bread that can be eaten cold or hot, microwaved (soft) or toasted (crunchy). A single bagel can have up to 500 calories, which is a great calorie/dollar deal!
  • Cucumbers. Commonly known as a super food, cucumbers are full of vitamins, minerals and electrolytes like Vitamin C, potassium and magnesium. Also one of the few affordable super-green vegetables! (Generally, the greener the vegetable, the healthier. Avoid the iceberg lettuce).
  • Raisins. Great source of carbohydrates and electrolytes, which essential for quick energy. Not too expensive, and you can eat ’em for breakfast, lunch or dinner. You can even snack on ’em in the dark!

What to Avoid on $5 a Day

Unfortunately, most meats are off the table.

  • Avoid deli and sandwich meats. They’re usually low-fat or no-fat, and very expensive on a per-calorie basis.
  • The cheapest meat is probably pink bologna or chicken & pork hotdogs, but those “meats” are, well, kind of gross. And extremely salty.
  • Tuna is a much healthier alternative, but please ensure whatever tuna you buy has been ethically and sustainably harvested! Pole-and-line-caught tuna is the most sustainable, but be prepared to cough up $2.50 to $4.00 a can!