Say “survival” and most people think “food.” And that’s okay. Although it might not be the highest priority in every situation, food is an important factor when it comes to long-term survival. Even in the short term, when you’ve been moving hard and fast and feel like you’re running out of gas (or when the weather’s cold and hypothermia is stalking you like a hungry wolf), food, particularly a hot meal, is vitally important.
But not all food is created equal–especially for outdoor conditions in which you’re burning tons of calories per hour and need solid replenishment. Fluff foods aren’t going to cut it. You need to maximize the four elements that make up our nutritional needs–water, protein, carbohydrates and fat–to keep running on all cylinders.
KNOW YOUR NUTRITION
Water makes up two-thirds of your body weight, and that supply is constantly being consumed. If you eat when no drinking water is available, your body will dehydrate faster and be more susceptible to hypothermia. You must have adequate water intake in order to survive.
Along with liquid intake, you need to replenish electrolytes (body minerals) for general health and to help stave off cramps during heavy exertion. Rather than haul around a bunch of sport drinks to replace lost electrolytes, I carry several packets of Emer’gen-C drink mix and add it to my drinking water. This is the lightest, most compact way I’ve found of carrying electrolyte supplements. It tastes good and provides vitamin C and 32 mineral complexes. Made by Alacer Corp. (www.alacercorp.com), the mix is available at health food stores.
Proteins, when consumed, are broken down into amino acids, which are necessary for the formation of tissue, hormones, antibodies and enzymes. You can get protein from meat, nuts, seeds, eggs, legumes and dairy products. You can also get protein from some high-power energy bars so labeled.
Carbohydrates are the primary source of blood glucose, the sugar that is the most important fuel for all body cells and the only fuel for the brain and red blood cells. If you have a choice, opt for the complex carbs found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts. Refined sugars in candy bars and soft drinks will lead to sugar highs followed by energy crashes, although these foods are admittedly high in calories, which are needed in a survival situation. If you have the choice, however, an energy bar is a better source of calories.
Fats are a controversial subject. Back home, you might be trying to limit the fat in your diet. But in a survival situation, where you burn calories at a stunning rate, fatty foods will supply you with a huge load of calories in a small package.
A MENU FOR WARMTH
For sustained energy in an outdoor situation, eat high-powered, high-caloric foods that include a balanced blend of protein, carbohydrates and fat. Here are some meal ideas.
Hot Drinks: Consume hot drinks at any time. I prefer Postum, Roma or Pero (made from roasted barley and other grains) over coffee. I want to limit my caffeine intake so that I’m operating on my own energy rather than on artificially induced jitters. I repackage these drink mixes into zip-up bags. Dissolve a tablespoon in a cup of hot water, add honey to taste and you’ve got a carb drink that will warm your core. Herbal teas are also good for a quick hot drink, again with honey.
Breakfast: My favorite way to start the day is with porridge. I make mine with two cups of water and one cup of rolled oats, slow-cooked for 8 minutes. Then I add date bits or raisins, almonds and sunflower and pumpkin seeds. This meal has lots of carbs and some protein and fat from the seeds and nuts.
Make an omelet with a couple of powdered eggs, chopped bits of bacon and crumbled cheese. Lots of protein here, as well as fat and calories.
Lunch: Dehydrated soup packets are lightweight and compact, so they stow easily in a day pack. Mix with an appropriate amount of water in your Sierra cup and you’re all set.
Dinner: Pastas are loaded with carbs, and some pasta meals offer protein as well. Just-add-water macaroni and cheese is easy; so are dehydrated meals that range from lasagna to spaghetti and meatballs. If there’s a military-surplus store nearby, go shopping for Meals Ready to Eat (MREs). All of these things are packed with calories, carbs, protein and fat.
Snacks: There’s no reason to restrict your eating to just mealtimes. If you nibble all day long, you’ll enjoy a sustained energy level. I’m a GORP-in-a-Ziploc man. I carry good old raisins and peanuts as trail food. I customize the mix with lots of seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame), other nuts, dried fruit and some M&Ms for good measure. There are plenty of carbs, protein and fat in this high-calorie snack.
Tin Can Stove
You can build your own camp cooking system for next to nothing. Start with a coffee can. Cut out the top, dump the coffee and let the lid fall to the bottom of the can. Now, turn the can over and hold the free lid tight against the bottom inside of the can.
1. Use a church key can opener to punch 10 or 12 vent holes around the outside of the can near the bottom. The metal that the opener pokes into the can will hold the free lid in place. This will be a double top that will serve as your cooking surface. The two layers of metal will help distribute the heat more evenly and slowly.
2. At the open end of the can, cut two 3-inch-long slits up the side about 4 inches apart. You can bend this “door” up to fuel the stove.
3. Fuel the stove with a homemade “buddy burner.” Start with an empty tuna can. Cut strips of corrugated cardboard that measure about an inch in width. Coil the cardboard inside the can so that it is completely filled, but not crammed. Melt paraffin wax into the can until it is full. A wick is useful, and can be made from an inch of wax-soaked string. It will burn for about two hours. Replenish the fuel by simply melting more wax into the cardboard coil.
CAN I EAT IT? Just because you see wildlife eating something doesn’t mean you can. Wild animals and birds routinely consume things that will make a human sick or worse. For example, predators eat putrid meat, birds eat poisonous ivy berries and squirrels eat deadly mushrooms. The rule: If you can’t positively identify it, don’t put it in your mouth.
WHY EAT A HOT MEAL? If you can manage it, eat at least one hot meal per day, more if possible. The thermal intake will help stave off hypothermia.