2. Minimum Provisions

Only religion, politics, and of late years, economics, take precedence over the grub list as a subject for controversy; but unlike those subjects, years of argument has finally produced a rough unanimity. Polar explorers, climbers in the Himalayas, and cranks at home now agree on all the essentials of what a writer in the Sierra Club Bulletin calls “a light pack for a heavy appetite.”

Bestor Robinson gives six guiding principles “evolved out of innumerable mealtime arguments”:

1) All breakfasts should be identical, all lunches identical, and all suppers identical. This reduces the difficulty of packing and preparation.

2) Dried fruit supplies sufficient roughage and is a complete substitute for vegetables.

3) Nothing should be fried.

4) An adequate protein supply is necessary to preserve a feeling of energetic well-being.

5) Butter, because of its high digestibility, as well as calorific value, should be used liberally, not only on breadstuffs, but in hot cereal and chocolate.

6) All supplies should be easily procurable.

Robinson’s list is designed for winter camping, when a high sugar content is desirable and when fish are unobtainable. The following list departs rather widely from his and from the “Light Pack Versus Heavy Appetite” list given some years ago by Joel Hildebrand in the Sierra Club Bulletin. It is lower in sugar and protein content than a winter list should be and allows of some slight variety in meals. The governing principles, however, are the same. The base list is for two men for three weeks, rather than two, which is the more usual length of a camping trip, because more weights work out in whole numbers that way. Knapsackers who plan to spend three weeks out, without coming in for supplies, need strong backs. The diet should be supplemented with fish and greens every day if possible.

[Rexroth lists the quantities for one and two people for one, two, and three weeks. I have reproduced only his list for “2 men, 3 weeks.” Other combinations can be calculated accordingly.]



flapjack flour




wheat germ




salad macaroni


long-grain rice


potato flour


lima bean flour


pinole, hardtack, etc.






dried apples


raisins (seedless)




dried apricots


dried peaches


dried whole milk


brown goat cheese


cheddar cheese


romano cheese


kosher salami


soy bean flour


smoked bacon




mixed nuts






yerba maté or tea


vegetable bouillon


tomato paste (6 cans)








On the three-week trip this gives a weight per man-day of very nearly two pounds and two ounces. Light eaters and heavy fishers may even bring some home. For variety and palatability it cannot be compared with the fare in the best hotels. It takes a little getting used to, some of the foods are rather exotic; but it is about as light a list as exists, and properly cooked it is even appetizing. With the exception of the maté, garlic, and paprika, which are tonic and harmless, there is nothing in it which is not an easily assimilable food. Further, it avoids the monotony of identical meals, which are pretty depressing on a long trip, though it must be admitted, it doesn’t avoid them very far. When reduced for shorter trips a little extra flour, cornmeal, rice, macaroni, sugar, chocolate, fruit, milk, butter, nuts, beverage and tomato paste should be added to the exact divisions. Somehow, smaller quantities of food do not seem to last as they proportionately should.

The flapjack flour should be the prepared kind, preferably one of those made with a wide mixture of flours — rice, corn, buckwheat, rye, etc. — and which contain dried milk. Avoid the cheap grades made only of baking powder and white flour.

Yellow cornmeal is more appetizing in appearance than white, has a better flavor and is often richer in oil.

There are a number of patent breakfast foods on the market called Wheat Hearts, usually a farina with some wheat germ added. Get real wheat germ, which can be bought in health food stores in large towns. The flavor is peculiar, and may be improved by slow parching at home if you have a well-regulated oven. It is best not to try this if you don’t know how; the heat must be very low, and the stuff watched and stirred constantly or it will burn.

Large-grain tapioca requires soaking. Get the “minute” kind.

Salad macaroni does not break easily, as all other kinds of paste do. Avoid flour pastes and insist on the best semolina. Flour paste is chalky in appearance, particularly at the cut ends, semolina is darker in color and slightly translucent.

Short-grain or broken rice burns easily, long-grain has a better flavor and is light and flaky when properly cooked.

Potato and lima bean flours can be purchased at health food stores. Be sure they are fresh, if stale they have a musty odor.

Pinole is pulverized parched corn. It can be bought in Mexican groceries in most Western towns. Stale pinole has a musty odor and is damp and spongy. It should be dry and crisp when rubbed between the fingers and should have a pleasant, toast-like smell. Most nut shops sell parched corn. This needs several more hours of parching in a very low oven. It should then be cooled for twenty-four hours and ground twice in a home flour mill or large spice mill, first granulated and then set as fine as possible. Coffee mills equipped with a pulverizer will produce a rather coarse pinole. It is mixed with water, hot or cold, and eaten raw.

The best chocolate is the semisweet variety in half-pound bars. Another good candy is a health food specialty made of sesame seed and a little honey, pressed into small bars. These bars should be wrapped separately in wax paper, as they become very sticky.

Sun-dried fruit usually is richer in sugar. Weight may be reduced by drying the fruit still more in a slow oven, or in the sun if you life in an arid region. Prunes are heavy and contain pits. Pitted dates are now put up in sealed packages and are nice for lunches.

The best dried milk is prepared by spraying it into a vacuum, without the application of heat; the older method was by spraying it against hot, revolving drums of highly polished metal. The first kind is sold by some of the larger dairy companies and may be purchased at their warehouses. You can keep the lumps down by carrying it in an oiled silk bag, double thickness, and tightly strapped with rubber bands.

Brown goat cheese is imported from Norway; it is expensive, but very nutritious. If you don’t care for the taste, substitute more American cheddar. The latter should be the very best you can find, and should be fairly dry. Avoid process cheese, it is cheese only by courtesy.

Romano cheese is for shaving into macaroni and risotto (rice). It is richer and better flavored than parmesano and easier to cut with a jackknife. All Italian groceries carry it. Don’t pack it already grated, the oil will leach out and stain and smell up everything around it.

Kosher salami is made of beef, keeps better and tastes better than Italian. It isn’t as nutritious as the pemmican of the Canadian woodsman, but it is better than dried beef. Get smoked salami, not boiled, which will spoil and is heavy. Carry it in a cloth bag, it will mold if wrapped in paper.

All Japanese and Chinese groceries sell soy bean flour. It is for soup.

Smoked bacon keeps better than sugar cured, and gives better grease for shortening and frying fish. Get the best. It should be carried in one piece and sliced as used. If wrapped in paper it will mold. The best covering is thoroughly washed light canvas.

Butter will keep in the high mountains in the package if kept loosely wrapped in cloth and nested in the middle of the pack with the flour and meal sacks around it. Large outfits can carry it buried in a sack of flour. If it starts to melt, keep it wrapped in damp cloths and then in a dry towel.

Walnuts contain more nourishment than most other nuts, peanuts are nutritious and cheap.

There are several mixtures of egg, malt, cocoa, diastase, and other substances on the market. They do not make you sleepy, in spite of the ads, but they are very rich foods. Ovaltine is the commonest trade name. I usually mix a half pound of cocoa with two pounds of Ovaltine for a richer flavor. Carry Ovaltine in a tightly closed oiled silk bag or it will absorb water and become as hard as stone.

Yerba maté is the national drink of most of South America, even the coffee-producing nations. It tastes much like green tea and goes farther. It can be found in large groceries, sometimes under a trade name. One company sells it in tea bags, one to a pot, which are very handy. The package will probably contain a folder of very high flown advertising copy. It is not as good as the ad writer says, it won’t cure the itch and you can’t live on it alone, but it is a good stimulating beverage. The tonic principle is called mattein, and is harmless.

Beef bouillon is principally salt. A vegetable bouillon paste is prepared from autolyzed brewer’s yeast and flavoring and is marketed as Savita, Vegex, and various other names. It is a good source of vitamin B, and tastes much like beef extract. It can be bought in drug stores.

Buy thick Italian-style tomato paste, not the thin tomato sauce. One can, if kept closed by a piece of oiled silk and a rubber band, will last for three or four meals. It is perfectly safe to leave it in the can, although it is wise to mix it with the rice or macaroni and allow it to return to the boiling point for a minute or two. This is the only canned item in the list.

If you can’t get along without coffee, you will need about a half pound per man week.

Paprika is less irritant than pepper and adds color to the food. Carry pepper if you prefer it.

If you have never used garlic, carry it as an experiment. Rice and macaroni can get awfully tiresome if not pepped up a little.

All dry food should be in cloth bags. Flour and sugar sacks are porous and frail, it is better to make them at home from light muslin, or cambric, of the grade used for good handkerchiefs. Sew the seams twice around and use the bag with the seam outside. Milk, ovaltine, coffee, salt, paprika, potato flour, lima bean flour, soy bean flour, and pinole if finely pulverized, should be in oiled silk bags, milk in a double one. Ready made, these are expensive; oiled silk costs about forty cents a yard so it is best to make them at home. Heavy grades are the best, but are not easy to find. The best material for waterproof food bags is the processed cloth used in hospitals for waterproof dressings. It is extremely expensive, but worth it if you can afford it. Some outfitters sell flour sacks saturated with paraffin, they crack easily and are not waterproof. Oiled silk bags should be made long and narrow and at least twice as large as necessary to hold the substance destined for them. The extra part is wrapped around the bag and the whole secured with rubber bands. Bags tear, wear out, get dirty, and are chewed by mice, so several extra ones, both cloth and oiled silk, should be taken along. Leave a little “play” in the bags when you tie them up; if packed too tightly, they will burst.

This may seem a rather faddist diet. I can assure you that at home I eat quite normal foods, but in the mountains everything must be sacrificed to lightness, high caloric content, digestibility, and ease of preparation. Years of experimentation with all kinds of camp grub have convinced me that these foods best meet those demands.

As a footnote, if you smoke cigarettes, learn to roll your own, it isn’t as hard as it looks, thousands no smarter than you do it many times a day. Ready-made cigarettes become dry and fiery in the mountain air and sooner or later are crushed in packing. Also, it is practically impossible to carry enough for a two- or three-week trip. A heavy smoker will consume about four ounces of tobacco a week if he rolls his own. Wheat straw papers with gummed edges tear less easily and roll more neatly than rice papers. A pipe is much better. Most woodsmen of Scandinavian extraction chew snuff, which is a neat trick if you can learn it. Your wife may leave you, but you won’t set the woods on fire and a little goes a long way.


Chapter 2 of Kenneth Rexroth’s Camping in the Western Mountains (unpublished manuscript, ca. 1939). Copyright 2003. Reproduced by permission of the Kenneth Rexroth Trust.