5. Provisions for Larger Parties, Pack Outfits, and Fixed Camps

However strict the requirements may be for a knapsack grub list; personal taste, the number of pack animals, financial considerations, and other factors introduce a most complex variety into the rations of the pack outfit or fixed camp. Therefore this chapter can be no more than suggestive. The provisions for a couple on a long trip with one burro should differ little from those recommended for knapsackers. A two-week trip of this character establishes a sort of lower limit, but the upper limits are extremely vague, defined only by the amount of money the party wishes to spend on packers and stock. Some of the mountaineering clubs send out once or twice a week for fresh meat and any packer will be delighted to perform such a service for you if you are willing to pay for it. Most people are not so affluent, however, and the dietary for even large parties should be kept as light and compact as is compatible with adequate nourishment and appetizing variety.

The principal sources of weight and bulk are water, refuse, and cans and packages. Foods should be selected in which these are at a minimum. Obviously, lettuce or fresh milk are not ideal camp foods. Further, although foods spoil slowly in the arid, cold and sterile air of the mountains, they do eventually spoil, and highly perishable items should be avoided. Canned goods greatly simplify the preparation of meals, and in parties where everyone is absolutely incapable of even the simplest cooking, they must be relied on. They are heavy in themselves, and the food which they contain has usually been cooked in such a way as to about double the water content. Also, an exclusive diet of canned food is fully as palling as even the minimum diet of the winter knapsacker. Camp cooking is not as difficult as it is sometimes made out to be; in fact, most people find it a lot of fun, and a little work and ingenuity expended on dry staples will result in better meals and a big saving in money.

The foods should be simple to prepare, easy to transport, both inside and outside the body, and should not spoil quickly. Most of the items should be dry. Each meal and the dietary as a whole should be well balanced and should provide about four thousand calories per man day. (Up to 5000 for heavy active men or for severe exercise such as mountain climbing.) It is wise to plan the menus for the entire trip in advance and carry only those supplies which go to make them up. Two or three meals per man week should be added to allow for waste, accidents and possible delays, but the practice of loading up with a lot of miscellaneous stuff, “just in case,” should be avoided.

In planning a camp dietary, at least a rudimentary knowledge of the principles of dietetics is desirable. Foods consist of fats and carbohydrates, which are used for fuel, literally oxidized to provide energy; proteins, which are used to restore body tissues and which may also be used for energy; various minerals, which are used to rebuild tissue, blood and bone; and an indefinite number of complex chemical substances known as vitamins, which are essential to preserve well being and to prevent disease. The common food fats, sesame oil, olive oil, butter, peanut oil, lard and corn oil, are the richest and, if not eaten in excess, the most easily assimilated source of fuel. Carbohydrates are divided into sugars and starches. Sugars are the second best source of energy, although they too, if eaten excessively, will not be completely absorbed and will irritate the digestive tract. Starches come next, and most all common foods of vegetable origin, with the exception of fruits, legumes, nuts, soy beans and a few others, owe their value primarily to the large amounts of starch they contain. The digestive processes involved in the assimilation of starches are more complex, but the body can handle much larger quantities of them than of fats or sugar. Proteins should not be relied upon for fuel. It is true that it is possible to live for long periods of time on a high-protein diet without ill effect, particularly if plenty of exercise is taken, but the comparative fuel content of protein foods is lower than that of carbohydrates and fat; and the body uses more energy to consume them; and if burned, the nitrogenous residue places a strain on the kidneys, the heart is stimulated and the body overheated. On a camping trip, where muscles are strenuously used and rapidly developed, a 20- to 25-percent protein content out of the total assimilated food is about right, from 30 to 50 percent can be handled by some digestions, though the latter figure is certainly excessive; less than 15 percent on an extended trip is definitely harmful. A diet deficient in minerals is not likely to have an appreciable effect in the short period of a camping trip; nevertheless those constituents should not be ignored. The principal minerals required by the human body are calcium, phosphorous, potassium, sulphur, sodium, chlorine, magnesium, iron; and iodine, fluorine, silicon and copper in very minute quantities. This is a rather frightening list, but if the diet contains milk, butter, dried fruit, fish, cereals, eggs and green vegetables, not necessarily all of them every day, there will be no mineral deficiency. Research is still expanding the number of vitamins; at the present time vitamins A, B, C, D, E, F, and G have isolated chemically or their presence deduced from dietetic experiments. The body needs only microscopic quantities of these substances, but if they are lacking over extended periods, its growth is impeded and distorted and it eventually becomes diseased. Fortunately, the foods mentioned above as sources of minerals also provide adequate supplies of the most needed vitamins, and the addition of yeast, wheat germ, tomato sauce or paste and patent bouillons made from brewers’ yeast, will take care of any possible lack.

Variety is essential to a well-balanced diet. Fats, carbohydrates and proteins are not simple, uniform substances, but highly complex and variable ones, and the body functions most efficiently when it is fed a reasonably large number of different foods.

The unit of fuel value in food is called the calorie and is the among of heat necessary to raise one pound of water through 4° F. It is obtained by burning a known quantity of a given food in an apparatus called a calorimeter and measuring the total heat given off. This gives the possible fuel value; the assimilable fuel value is secured by comparison with figures obtained from digestive experiments. One of the great problems of the camp diet is the proper distribution of caloric intake over the three meals: lunches are usually cold and liable to be skimped. A good ratio would be 1350 calories at breakfast, 1100 at lunch and 1650 at dinner; per man of course. If raisons, chocolate, rich cheese, flatbread with butter, and possibly thick soup, and similar compact foods are saved for exclusive use at the noon meal, this difficulty can be overcome. By the way, don’t try to “reduce” in the mountains, you will have sufficient difficulty getting enough to eat, and you may permanently injure your heart.

The following lists have been worked out from personal experience and from a comparison of a large number of grub lists and the dietaries of armies, navies, the Forest Service, the CCC and various institutions. Each of them, depending on your facilities for transportation, or your abilities as a cook, is good, and by consulting the food table you can make whatever changes and substitutions suit your fancy. Remember, allow at least 4000 calories per man per day with a few meals extra, and keep the foods simple, portable, digestible and easy to cook.

It should be borne in mind that the caloric values are meaningless unless the food is thoroughly cooked. Uncooked oatmeal, for instance, is almost completely indigestible. Inexperienced campers are often careless about their vittles. It would be difficult to name a more serious mistake. If you want to enjoy your trip and come home well and happy, take pains in the preparation of your food and be sure it is done before you eat it.


[Note: Rexroth’s rather complex chart indicates quantities and calories of each item for “light,” “medium” and “heavy” persons (or appetites). To simplify matters, I have reproduced only the quantities listed under “Medium.” However, I have included all the different items he mentions, even those not included in the Medium list. Items included only in the “Heavy” list are asterisked.]


  lbs. approx. calories
flour 1.00 1635
pancake flour (substitute for above)    
cornmeal 1.00 1635
quick oatmeal 0.50 900
rice 0.50 810
other cereal (substitute for oats)    
salad macaroni 0.50 822
flatbread, crackers or hardtack 1.00 1925
potatoes 3.00 885
potato flour 0.25 1475
tapioca 0.25 384
lima bean flour 0.25 1400
lima beans 0.50 800
navy beans 0.50 760
kidney beans (substitute for navy or lima)    
canned baked beans (2 cans)* 2.50 1000
garbanzo beans (subtitute for navy or lima)    
split peas (substitute for beans)    
chick peas (substitute for beans)    
lentils (substitute for beans)    
dried vegetables 0.25 1200
canned vegetables (3 cans)* 4.00 1200
sweet potatoes 2.00 880
fresh onions 2.00  
garlic 0.05  
fresh carrots 1.00  
fresh beets 1.00 160
sugar 1.00 1814
maple sugar 0.50 800
jam (canned) 0.50 700
dried apples 0.50 660
dried apricots 0.50 630
dried figs 0.50 718
dried peaches (substitute for other fruit)    
pitted prunes (substitute for other fruit)    
seedless raisins 0.50 782
pitted dates 0.50 782
canned fruit, peaches, pineapple, pears, blackberries, figs, apricots (4 cans)* 8.00 1600
molasses 0.50 650
lemons 1.00  
gelatin dessert 0.25 444
semisweet chocolate 0.75 1875
dried whole milk 1.00 2712
canned milk (3 large cans)   1875
goat cheese 0.50 1500
cheddar cheese 0.50 1000
romano cheese 0.50 1000
salami (kosher) 0.25 1450
dried beef 0.50 390
smoked breakfast sausage 0.50 1815
canned corned beef 2.00 1066
ham 0.25 400
fat bacon 0.75 2250
butter 0.50 1744
oil — sesame, peanut, olive 0.50 2041
lard or other solid shortening (substitute for oil)    
mixed shelled nuts 0.50 700
fresh eggs* 1.50  
dried eggs 0.50  
dried soups    
canned condensed soups (2 cans)* 3.00  
coffee 0.50  
tea 0.10  
cocoa 0.25 600
vegetable bouillon 0.15  
ovaltine, etc.    
malted milk    
tomato paste (1 can) 0.25 100
pepper 0.01  
dessert spices 0.01  
meat spices 0.01  
catsup* 0.50  
pickles (1 bottle)* 0.50  
baking soda 0.05  
baking powder 0.10  
yeast (1 cake) 0.05  
matches (½ box)    
toilet soap (½ bar) 0.20  
laundry soap (½ bar) 0.30  
salt 0.25  
salt (each animal) 0.10  


PROVISIONS, ONE MAN, ONE WEEK (adapted from US Forest Service):

flour 6.00
pancake flour 0.36
sage 0.12
cornmeal 0.30
breakfast foods 0.60
rice 0.30
crackers 0.30
potatoes 5.40
sugar 2.40
coffee 0.72
butter 0.60
cured meat 3.00
fresh meat or fish 1.50
tea 0.06
lard 0.90
vegetables 0.60
onions 0.60
beans 0.90
chocolate 0.12
baking powder 0.12
soda 0.06
salt 0.24
macaroni 0.12
cheese 0.60
tapioca and/or cornstarch 0.30
dried fruit 0.90
canned meat 0.30
canned vegetables 0.60
canned tomatoes 0.60
canned corn 0.60
canned fruit 0.90
canned milk 0.60
canned pickles 0.18
canned catsup 0.12
spices 0.20
soap (bars) 0.30
matches 0.06
lemons (doz.) 0.06 [0.60?]
eggs (doz.) 0.60
lemon, vanilla, almond extracts (bottles) 0.24

This is a rather peculiar dietary; however, it seems to have met the approval of trail and fire crews. The quantities given are those advised by the USFS for six man days, apparently very liberal allowance is made for waste. There is enough here to last a week to ten days with some left over for the chipmunks. It is most suitable for a fixed camp, where there is a good cook and plenty of time for cooking. I would not advise it for a party on the move every day.

FLOUR. There are two kinds of white flour commonly used for baking, one made from spring wheat, the other from winter wheat. Spring wheat contains more gluten and is better adapted to general baking at high altitudes. Most bread flours are blended from both kinds; cake flours are made from winter wheat. The flour should be dry and fresh and thoroughly sifted before packing. If much rain is expected it should be packed first in the original sack and then in one of oiled silk. On dry days the oiled silk sack should be removed or the flour will become musty. Pancake flour is described in the chapter on minimum provisions; if no yeast, molasses or sour dough bread is to be made, it should be substituted for plain flour. It is not true that it cannot be used for dredging fish.

QUICK OATMEAL. Old-fashioned steel-cut and rolled oats can only be cooked in high altitudes in a pressure cooker. The toasted, fine-cut type is best. Get the brand with the shortest cooking time on the package, but above 5000 feet add more water and double the time. Malted cereals are high in calories, those containing flaxweed are laxative. Get only the quick-cooking kinds.

HARD BREAD. There is a Norwegian flatbread on the market which is pressed between hot rollers into wafers of paper thinness. It is very compact and high in caloric value and is to be preferred if it can be obtained. Scandinavian hard breads are made in two forms, large discs and small rectangular wafers. The second kind is easier to pack. Old-fashioned ship biscuit or hardtack is difficult to find and many people dislike it. If you are unfamiliar with it, taste it before you buy. Compact, sealed packages of rye crisp can be found in almost all groceries.

POTATOES. All fresh vegetables should be washed, tops, spots and other refuse cut away, dipped in strong salt water and dried off before packing.

BEANS. The older all legumes are, the more difficult they are to cook. Get new-crop small beans and dried peas, preferably package goods that have already been picked over. Limas cook more quickly than navies, contain more nourishment and rest easier on the stomach.

PEAS AND LENTILS. Broken split peas and lentils are much cheaper, but they burn easily and are often stale. As a general rule, the browner the lentils, the better the flavor. Soup made from green peas has a more natural and appetizing appearance than that made from yellow ones. No legumes should be carried unless the party has either a pressure cooker or a Dutch oven.

CANNED BEANS. These come in a variety of sizes. Get the can that will divide conveniently into sufficient portions for one meal. They can be had with and without pork or tomato sauce, or with a dressing of mustard and molasses (New England style).

DRIED VEGETABLES. There is no standardization of dried vegetables, some are very bad and taste like butcher paper in which moldy parsnips have been wrapped, others are fair, usually the more expensive ones are the best. Many kinds cannot be cooked at high altitudes without a pressure cooker, except after prolonged soaking.

FRESH VEGETABLES (see Potatoes).

MAPLE AND BROWN SUGARS. A runaway can of syrup can do plenty of damage in a pack. Pure maple sugar is expensive and hard to find, however, it is worth hunting for and paying for. Lacking it, brown sugar or caramelized white sugar make good syrup.

MOLASSES. A large party with a good cook will find old-fashioned blackstrap molasses very nice for gingerbread, nut and raisin muffins and cookies. It should be poured from the friction-top can it comes in, into one with a screw top.

LEMONS. Besides providing needed vitamins and fruit acids, lemonade is a most refreshing beverage after a hot trail. Allow at least one-half lemon per day per man. If washed and greased beforehand and carried loose in the pack they will not mould. The rinds should be saved for flavoring. Never carry prepared lemonade powder or citric acid crystals. Only the fresh lemons have got what it takes.

GELATIN DESSERTS. These are easily and quickly made in the high evaporation and low temperature of mountain air. Manufacturers of the common brands put up half-pound and pound friction-top cans called “institutional sizes,” which can be obtained from large grocers or from wholesalers.

DRIED, SMOKED AND CANNED MEATS. Dried beef should be carried in one piece and chipped off as needed. If you care to go to a lot of trouble, chipped beef may be dried in an open oven until it becomes pale and crumbly, then ground in a coffee mill or rubbed like tobacco between the palms, and packed in an oiled silk bag. This will reduce the weight by over one-half, but it will hardly improve the flavor. Ham, smoked tongue, summer sausage, etc., should be carried in the piece, and wrapped in cloths which have been soaked in a solution of salt and alum and then dried without wrinkling. Packed in this way they will keep for a long time without turning blue. Even so, it is wise to use up such meats early in the trip. Most canned roast beef is not roasted but steam cooked in the can and is not very palatable, canned corned beef is preferred by most people. Taking canned or dried fish to the mountains is what the old theologians called a work of supererogation. However, strange as it may seem, sardine and salmon cans can be found in most any campsite dump.

OIL AND SHORTENING. If you care for the taste, olive oil is ideal for frying fish, but it doesn’t go very well in biscuits. Peanut, sesame and corn oils are bland, hot frying and easily digestible. Sesame is the best. Any oil should be carried in a screw-top can. Crisco and similar hard vegetable oils are preferable to lard; they should be carried in friction-top cans, whipped kinds are bulky.

SPICES. The dessert spices your are most likely to use are ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. If only small quantities are to be used, they can be packed separately in tablet boxes and then in a tobacco tin and the space filled up with a handkerchief or clean sock. Marjoram, allspice and mustard can be packed in the same way; paprika, pepper, and chili powder should be carried in small-size original packages. Catsup and vinegar bottles should be wrapped in rags or otherwise protected from breakage. Never carry either catsup or vinegar in anything but glass.

LEAVENERS. Baking soda is necessary for molasses doughs and improves sourdough, it is also good for poison oak. Double-action baking powder is best for high-altitude baking. Sourdough can be made from wild yeast, but tastes better if started from the domestic variety; if the dough is kept going, one cake of dry yeast will last the trip. I have known campers who regularly flavored soup with dry yeast, but this is a case where one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Don’t carry fresh compressed yeast.

COFFEE. Coarse-ground coffee holds its flavor longer than fine or pulverized. It should be carried in a tight can or an oiled silk bag. Very large parties might well carry whole roasted beans and a small coffee mill (tiny table mills can still be found, if nowhere else, in South American, Greek, Syrian or Turkish stores). Nothing adds more to a camp breakfast than good coffee, nothing is worse than bad. Keep it closed to the air or it will soon lose its flavor and the most careful preparation will be in vain. Tea should be boiled a minute or two about 7000 feet. Tea bags are more convenient than loose tea, or a piece of cheese cloth may be carried and the tea “bagged” as used. Coffee should also be cooked in a light muslin or flannel bag which has been thoroughly washed and then boiled to remove the sizing. People exist who like coffee made from powdered coffee extract.


Chapter 5 of Kenneth Rexroth’s Camping in the Western Mountains (unpublished manuscript, ca. 1939). Copyright 2003. Reproduced by permission of the Kenneth Rexroth Trust.