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#175434 - 06/29/09 04:55 PM Foraging for Calories (long)
Blast Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 07/15/02
Posts: 3556
Loc: Spring, Texas
I get a lot of emails from people asking advice on how to live in the wilds. Most have little or no bushcraft experience, they just think they can grab a knife and a book and head off into the woods to live free and easy.

I get a lot of nice knives that way. whistle

Let's talk about finding calories in the woods for a bit. Most vitamins and minerals are actually easy to come by from edible wild plants but calories are a whole different ball of wax (tallow?). There's a basic rule of thumb that states that while at rest your body will consume calories equal to ten times your body weight. If you are working hard this can jump up to twenty times your weight (find your requirements here ).

I'm a hair under 200lbs but lets use that number to keep the math simple. To meet my body's energy needs to make it through a hard day backpacking I'll need 20 x 200 = 4,000 calories. Food-wise how much is this?

Snickers Bar...........136 calories per oz
Peanut butter..........168 calories per oz
Whole wheat flour......97 calories per oz
Baked potato (plain)...26 calories per oz

A regular Snickers Bar is 2oz, so I'ld need to eat FOURTEEN of them to fuel myself. I kind of like the sound of that, though the resulting dentistry bills would suck. What if I eat something healthier like potatoes? A large, plain baked potato weighs about 10oz, so I'd need to eat FIFTEEN of them.

I don't want to carry fifteen potatoes per day when I'm out in the woods.

So, what about Mother Nature's free gifts?

Acorns................112 calories per oz
Pecans................197 calories per oz
Apple..................15 calories per oz
Cattail tuber..........19 calories per oz
Blackberries...........12 calories per oz

Nuts are definitely the main source of non-animal-based calories in the wild. I would need to eat 35oz (2.2 lbs) of acorn nut meat, which means collecting somewhat more than that weight of acorns as I need to shell, crush, then extract the tanin from them before eating. Pecans do much better, I'd only need to eat 20oz of shelled pecan nut meat.

Hmmm, but nuts are only available for a short time. What about berries or some sort of tuber? Unfortunately, these have approximately 1/5 the calories of nuts. One of most common sources of calories in the woods are greenbrier roots. They have slightly fewer calories than potatoes so I'm going to have to dig up around ten pounds of them which is time consuming and hard. Plus they don't taste very well. Berries give even fewer calories, I'd need to find twenty pounds of them to maintain my body!

You've probably figured out that a) it wouldn't take long to clean out a place of every available calorie and b)meat is great, as long as it has some fat on it.

Just some food for thought ( grinsorry, I couldn't resist grin).

Blogging the Borderlands
Wild Edibles Blog
I miss OBG.

#175436 - 06/29/09 05:28 PM Re: Foraging for Calories (long) [Re: Blast]
tomfaranda Offline

Registered: 02/14/08
Posts: 301
Loc: Croton on Hudson, NY
Interesting stats. And a good advert for carrying a few clif bars - which weight 2.4 oz. each and average 240-250 calories/bar. If you believe the wrapper.

AND if the average hiker/canoer/bushperson is 10 lbs. overweight - not much really - that's 35,000 calories.

I don't think too many people starve to death in the wild.

#175438 - 06/29/09 06:34 PM Re: Foraging for Calories (long) [Re: tomfaranda]
Tom_L Offline

Registered: 03/19/07
Posts: 690
It's not so much the matter of a casual hiker starving to death on a short trip but you have to take into consideration that not getting enough food will make you tired, dizzy and that much more liable to doing something dumb. Like maybe slipping on a wet rock and breaking your neck. It happens all the time - what starts as a minor inconvenience might, with a little bad luck, eventually lead to something more serious. That's why food is an important factor, though it may be relatively low on the survival priority list.

IME food becomes much more critical in a cold climate. Carrying a heavy pack, walking and climbing long distance plus the effort required to set up a decent shelter and gather firewood, it adds up quickly. You could easily burn 5-6.000 calories per day and that is a lot, probably a fair bit more than you are physically capable of eating. I know I couldn't eat that much on a trek even if I had plenty of food. It just feels too much for the stomach to handle but not eating enough will wear you down quickly in the cold. I hear some armies that operate regularly in the Arctic get around that problem by issuing special extra-caloric rations so you don't have to stuff yourself with ungodly amounts of food but still get enough energy to keep you going.

While not practical for summer treks I always pack some smoked bacon in the winter. A pound usually lasts me 2 or 3 days and it doesn't go bad when it's cold enough. The energy boost is amazing and lasts a long time. Plus wholewheat biscuits, nuts, canned tuna and some chocolate and dried fruit and I'm good to go. I suppose it would give some touchy-feely dietician a heart attack but it really works and after all, it's tried and true.

As for getting enough food in the bush, I don't think it would work in my environment. Gathering anything close to a decent amount of wild edibles would only be feasible in the summer. Realistically, to get enough food in the longer term you'd have to hunt bigger game, which on the other hand would require an effective long range weapon and a proper set of skills.

#175442 - 06/29/09 07:48 PM Re: Foraging for Calories (long) [Re: Tom_L]
Todd W Offline
Product Tester

Registered: 11/14/04
Posts: 1928
Loc: Mountains of CA
Your post is also area specific. You won't find what you just mentioned in the artic, or the desert for that matter wink

Sling Shot, and get a squirrel, or a rabbit or both. Also bird eggs smile They are not that hard to find in the wild.
Self Sufficient Home - Our journey to self sufficiency.

#175450 - 06/29/09 09:35 PM Re: Foraging for Calories (long) [Re: Blast]
Arney Offline

Registered: 09/15/05
Posts: 2485
Loc: California
Originally Posted By: Blast
A regular Snickers Bar is 2oz, so I'ld need to eat FOURTEEN of them to fuel myself.

I often find myself doing this arithmetic in reverse, as I'm working out at the gym. You watch that calorie counter on the exercise machine and you realize how easy it is to eat excess calories, way in excess of how much we burn off each day in our typically sedentary lives. Thinking about how many minutes I need to work out (a LOT) to burn off an extra candy bar is one of those mental tricks that helps me hold that resolve to avoid unnecessary snacking with junk food or to eat out sparingly.

That take out order from your favorite fast food or quick service restaurant could be over a 1,000 calories. Is it any wonder that we have so many obese folks? It's cheap, it tastes good, it's convenient--we're just addicted.

Then think about a show like The Alaska Experiment. The cast members are all weak, shaky, nauseous, light headed, passing out after switching from their typical American diets to a situation with limited food. Gee, sounds almost like withdrawal symptoms, don't you think???

Blast, are you thinking more long term for this particular post, or short term? Foraging could be considered less crucial in a shorter term situation, like getting lost. Although any food would be helpful and would help spare your body from consuming lean tissue over time and hopefully take the edge off the low blood sugar symptoms I mentioned above, unless you're actually using up a lot of energy trying to forage in the first place.

#175453 - 06/29/09 10:14 PM Re: Foraging for Calories (long) [Re: Blast]
Desperado Offline

Registered: 11/01/08
Posts: 1530
Loc: DFW, Texas
These are very important things for someone like me. I am Hypoglycemic (discovered after the military) and get into real trouble without the correct foods on time.

As such, I keep a ready stash for three days in each vehicle and anywhere else I might be. (one MRE is enough for one day) Nuts, beef jerky,cliff bars, and other "healthy" snacks are a much better idea than say a candy bar for someone like me.

I know that the guiding principal is food won't be a problem in a short term survival situation, but short term for some may be measured in hours not days.



Someday if Houston is a destination and not a waypoint (or blur according to the hour), I am really going to have to get in on the classes.

Last trip to Houston was only a daytrip to kick a little corporate tail.

Edited by Desperado (06/29/09 10:46 PM)
I do the things that I must, and really regret, are unfortunately necessary.


#175455 - 06/29/09 11:59 PM Re: Foraging for Calories (long) [Re: Desperado]
tomfaranda Offline

Registered: 02/14/08
Posts: 301
Loc: Croton on Hudson, NY
This is a good discussion.
Arnie i agree with you 1,000%. I also do the reverse counting in the gym - it's pathetic how quick and easy it is to eat yourself out of the benefits - calorie-wise - of 50 minutes of cardio.

As an aside - I understand the calorie counters on gym machines are VERY rough. Plus or minus 25%.

#175458 - 06/30/09 01:08 AM Re: Foraging for Calories (long) [Re: tomfaranda]
scafool Offline

Registered: 12/18/08
Posts: 1534
Loc: Muskoka
Your calorie counts are pretty good, Blast.

The native peoples often faced famine in the winter, even resorting to cannibalism in some areas.
That is a point worth mentioning.

Considering that almost all native tribes worked hard to store up enough food in the harvest seasons to last them through the hungry seasons, and if the aboriginals could have a bad harvesting season and end up facing starvation, then how good are the chances for somebody without their experience and knowledge of local foods?

Another thing to keep in mind is that all the really good food producing areas are heavily settled and under cultivation. They have been for a long time too.
The only exceptions to this might be a few isolated areas of coastline.This means that a person stranded today would likely face the prospect of foraging in areas that were always marginal at best.

They had better not be fussy eaters, and had better be prepared to do a lot of chewing to get those needed calories.

I am not saying it can not be done or that a person is doomed to starve in the wilderness, but it is not easy to hunt and gather enough in the off seasons to get by and you need more skills than most people are ready with.

May set off to explore without any sense of direction or how to return.

#175461 - 06/30/09 04:47 AM Re: Foraging for Calories (long) [Re: scafool]
Tom_L Offline

Registered: 03/19/07
Posts: 690
Couldn't agree more, Scafool. Those are all excellent points. There is a good reason why mankind has progressed from hunter-gatherers to sedentary agricultural civilizations.

Also, re: hunting squirrels and rabbits with a slingshot. It sure sounds a lot of fun but, a) it's way easier said than done, b) where the heck are all the rabbits and squirrels when you need them?

#175464 - 06/30/09 07:53 AM Re: Foraging for Calories (long) [Re: tomfaranda]
Tjin Offline

Registered: 04/08/02
Posts: 1654
Originally Posted By: tomfaranda
This is a good discussion.
Arnie i agree with you 1,000%. I also do the reverse counting in the gym - it's pathetic how quick and easy it is to eat yourself out of the benefits - calorie-wise - of 50 minutes of cardio.

As an aside - I understand the calorie counters on gym machines are VERY rough. Plus or minus 25%.

So i'm to only guy here, thinking of eating enough calories before working out...? I eat whatever i want and i'm still loosing weight. But than again if sport somewhere between 7 to 10 times a week.
My Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjQHh-hs39h6xWirxHo_HwA

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