Eat the Heavy Foods First

Eat heavy foods first to lighten load for rest of the trip.

When someone says “eat the heavy stuff first to lighten the load,” you think it’s obvious. And if you buy a cheap dehydrator (think less than $50 at a discount store) then you can make some of the tastier foods light enough that you don’t mind carrying them.

Some people can take this to an extreme. On a recent trip, we were planning to hike about 6 miles going up about 2,000 feet in Sequoia National Park. There were four of us, plus all our gear, piling into a Honda Element. So I was surprised to find that E, my buddy in the back seat with me, had a little Coleman cooler. I was dying of curiosity, but he refused to discuss the cooler at all.

When we got to the parking area, E was still secretive about the cooler. We pulled our packs out of the back of the Element. We had stuff strewn about the parking lot. As we put on our hiking boots and re-cinched things to our packs, E was doing his own thing around the front of the car. We were all asking questions, curious as can be, but E was unrelenting.

The day passes and we hike, we grunt and groan up the hill. Our packs were their heaviest because they were full of everything we had imagined that we might possibly want or need. We all start off with the goal of carrying no more than about three pounds. But all that cool, practically necessary gear and food quickly adds up to something like, well, like a piano. You know how it goes too, you start hiking and everyone complains about the weight of their pack. Everyone complaining about how heavy their pack is while simultaneously bragging about how light they were able to make their packs.

Oddly, we didn’t hear a peep out of E on that first hike. He just maintained a self-satisfied, vague smile.

Eventually we make it to our first campsite. We drop our packs, pick our tent locations. Draw straws when we disagree. And after we get our tents setup we turn toward dinner.

That’s when it happens. E springs it on us. He opens his pack and brings out his secret.

Tri-tip steak!

E’s idea of lightening his load was to spring big and supremely tasty steak on us. He seasoned and then froze a ginormous steak, kept it hidden in a cooler, humped it many miles up a huge mountain and then busts it out when we are absolutely ravenous.

We were challenged to cook the tri-tip over an open flame, but we figured it out with some big sticks, some widdling, a little water and some eager patience [I like that oxymoron!].

In the end, E (who should be your own superhero at this point) lightened his load by getting all of us to eat his heavy foods first. I think that we all ate his food and put our own food back in our packs. The remainder of that trip it became a sort of ritual to feed E…almost like offerings to a god!

The trip also served to underscore a real and effective strategy for backpacking: Bring good food, but be smart about consumption. If you’re hiking for a few days, there really is no reason to carry a tri-tip while hiking every day. Every step you take carrying more weight than is absolutely necessary is a challenge to your whole body. The weight of your pack punishes you starting at your feet, through your ankles and knees, up to your hips and then to your shoulders.

A grand finale is nice at the end of a camping trip. However, enjoying a lighter load can make the whole trip much more enjoyable. Bring the good stuff, but lighten your load as early as you can!


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