Friday, March 01, 2024

Thought for Food: Three Tiers of Food Preparedness

Because I'm on a gear posting spree, I thought I'd do one more post in this genre, this time on food.

There are countless videos on YouTube that discuss meal planning from backpacking, historical, and emergency ration perspectives. However, it was Justin Simoni's video on fastpacking nutrition way back in 2020 that really resonated with me. In it, he talks about his strategy for backcountry meal prep. He aims to achieve nutritional balance while also prioritizing simplicity. In his video, he described the food he took on a recent adventure, which consisted of just 4 items. This got me thinking: what would my minimal food setup look like?

Since then, I've been inspired by other videos, most notably Fandabi Dozi's historic survival rations. Additionally, Townsends and Steve1989 have been sources of ideas, with the former focusing on historic foods and the latter on MREs.

I've experimented with these ideas while hiking, camping, traveling, and in our kitchen. And while I don't have a one-size-fits-all food solution, I realized recently that I had settled into a reliable 3-tiered strategy. Here it is.

Tier 1: The EDC, Super Food

My latest man-bag dump reveals my new everyday carry food of choice: Peanut M&M's. Over the years, I've experimented with a number of always-with-me snacks. For a while, it was a Lara Bar, and then for even longer, it was peanut butter packets. Peanut butter packets are dense, so they pack quite a bit of calories in a small volume. But I'm telling you, I've found my super food: the ubiquitous Peanut M&M. Hear me out.

The peanuts in Peanut M&M's provide a healthy source of fat and protein, the chocolate provides quick energy, the candy coating keeps them from melting, and they taste delicious. They are highly available, often being stocked by even the smallest convenience stores. Critically, they are also portionable. This means that I can easily share them or pop just a couple should I start to feel peckish. Try that with a peanut butter packet. They are bulkier than a peanut butter packet, but they are still dense. Consider this: that this small ziplock bag contains 750(!) calories. That's a massive number of calories for such a small space.

Peanut M&M's also have a proven track record, as they are one of Justin's four items from the fastpacking nutrition video I mentioned above.

Tier 2: If A Meal Will Be Missed

When I expect I'll be missing a meal or two, I'll look to tier 2. This includes long hikes, road trips, and most often, flying. It seems that no matter how short a flight is, it's always over mealtime. No worries, I've got a plan. The goal here is to have shelf-stable food that I can easily eat on the go and has some nutritional variety. This tier consists of:

I realized my food strategy was additive, as it builds on the benefits of Tier 1. Ritz Crackers add a savory, salty, carb-heavy component. The Moon Cheese is a great source of fat and protein and adds another flavor profile. I can combine the items into a sort of trail mix, eat them separately, or pair any of the items together. This combination of foods won't check the boxes for your CrossFit Macros, but it does provide at least a variety of carbs, fat, and protein. The crackers and Moon Cheese do fine in both hot and cold conditions and even make minimal trash.

The Moon Cheese is a splurge cost-wise. I've found that buying it on Amazon is most cost-effective. Still, for the nutrition, taste, and portability, I've yet to find a better solution. The Ritz Crackers are mainly carbohydrates, so they aren't nearly as dense as M&M's or Moon Cheese. They can also crumble when stuffed into a backpack. Yet, given how cheap, available, and tasty they are, they are a winner.

Speaking of proven track records, history buffs will appreciate that the Ritz Crackers stand in for the traditional hardtack or ship's biscuit that soldiers and sailors depended on for centuries. I experimented with making my own hardtack as well commercially available options. While these score some authenticity points, in practice, Ritz Crackers are far more convenient and check the carbs box just as well.

For reference, the above photo contains 200 calories in Moon Cheese, 650(!) calories in M&M's, and 900 calories in Ritz Crackers. So this easily covers multiple meals, individuals, or days, depending on the circumstances. When traveling, I'll often use of Shira's old gum containers to store the Moon Cheese and M&M's. This particular container has a flip-top lid which can be used as a dispenser and it saves me on having to use and toss a ziplock bag. I also typically carry a small binder clip to re-seal the Ritz Crackers.

Tier 3: Multi Day Meals

When circumstances call for supplying multiple days' worth of meals, I turn to Tier 3. This covers backpacking, camping, or living out of a hotel room for a few days or longer. I also keep a healthy supply of these items on hand at home, so should we find ourselves sheltering in place due to a storm or some other dramatic event, we won't go hungry. This tier continues the trend of being shelf-stable and relatively nutritionally balanced. It adds the dimension of variety to make multiple meals more palatable.

This tier includes a few items which call for preparation with boiling water. This is typically available in both the backcountry thanks to a stove or fire, and in a hotel thanks to a coffee maker or immersion boiler. However, none of the foods below actually require hot water to be consumed. The instant rice will reconstitute in cold water without a problem, and I regularly drop tea bags into a cold water bottle to make a quick and tasty drink. For this blog post, I even experimented with mixing hot chocolate mix with cold water. The result: cold hot chocolate. I'm not sure this is anyone's first choice for a drink, but it was certainly palatable, and on a hot day, this actually may be a treat.

Here's Tier 3:

Carbs

  • Ritz Crackers
  • Flour tortillas
  • Minute Rice

Protein

  • Moon Cheese
  • Peanut butter
  • Tuna fish packets

Brewing

  • Soup mix
  • Hot chocolate
  • Tea

Extras

  • Peanut M&M's
  • Builder Bars

Like Tier 2, it's possible to mix and match these items to form a variety of different meals. Meals can be as simple as slapping some peanut butter on a tortilla, or as complex as combining rice, soup mix, tuna fish, and Moon Cheese to make a sort of tuna salad. It's equally possible to grab a Builder Bar and a handful of M&M's, or boil water, bust out utensils, and eat a more proper meal.

When traveling, I'll typically supplement these items with whatever else strikes my fancy at the local grocery store. So Tier 3 often serves as more of a base pantry rather than my sole set of food choices. Still, I find it very helpful, especially after a long day of traveling, to go into a grocery store with a tested shopping list. Otherwise, it's very easy to walk out and realize that you forgot some obvious essential. I've also found it reasonable to travel with these items, even though they are available at most destinations. That's because it's possible to pre-portion them to the right sizes at home, rather than having to deal with whatever is available on-site. For example, if it's just a couple of days that I need to account for, bringing four tortillas is often a better choice than having to buy a package of 20 at the local grocery store.

So there it is, my three tiers of food prep. Do you have any go-to camping, traveling, or emergency foods or food strategy? If so, please share!

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Man-Bag Dump, 2024 Edition

I've talked a bit about the philosophy behind what goes into my man-bag, now let's get into the kit itself.

Purse Things

Most of these items are ones that I have carried for years. One new addition is the USB rechargeable dog collar light that gets attached to the outside of my bag. It adds visibility when I'm walking at night and serves as a task light for up-close work. Unlike other small safety lights I've tried in the past, it's USB rechargeable. It's a bit thicker than I'd like, but otherwise, it's just about the perfect marker light.

I've been experimenting with carrying a few compressed towels. I added these because I found myself stepping out of the house too often without grabbing a handkerchief, an item that I find to be absolutely essential. I'm thinking the towels may be able to serve as a field expedient replacement. We'll see if they get any use; if not, they'll be evicted from the bag.

Finally, I'm on the fence about carrying the mini-deck of cards and dice. On one hand, these are great for entertainment and improvisational purposes. They are also quite compact. Yet, I'm still not entirely convinced that their bulk is justified. Time will tell if they prove their worth.

  • Buff
  • Flip & Tumble shopping bag
  • Pepper spray
  • Glasses pouch
  • Peanut M&M's
  • Dice and Cards
  • Marker light
  • Glow in the dark tape
  • Reflective tape
  • Extra cash
  • Backup credit card
  • Fresnel lens
  • Large sewing needle
  • Tissues
  • Res-q-me glass punch
  • Car keys
  • Hair band
  • Nitcore TIP flashlight
  • Compressed towels

Tech Stuff

Recently, I've made a significant improvment in the tech side of things. I replaced three specialized cables, a USB C, USB Micro and Garmin Watch Charger with two USB C cables and teeny tiny adaptors. The adapters turn the USB C cables into the other varieties that I need. My phone makes use of a USB C cable, so having two of those cables is very handy.

I'm still making use of the same relatively small Anker battery. While the battery can only bring my phone to 80% of a charge, I find that's sufficient and allows me to save on the weight that would come with a larger battery.

  • Folding keyboard
  • Anker battery
  • USB C cables
  • Wall adapter
  • Micro SD cards
  • Micro SD to SD card adapter
  • USB C to 3.5mm adapter
  • USB C to USB Micro adapter
  • USB C Micro SD card reader
  • USB A Micro SD card reader
  • USB C Host on the Go adapter
  • SIM tool
  • Backup cell phone
  • Headphones

Drugs

After a hot glue gun incident, I took the hint and added a couple of packets of burn cream to my kit.

Surprisingly, the cough drops saved the day a number of times last year. Who knew how handy they would be?

Not shown below is a 24-hour supply of meds for both Shira and myself. I think it's pretty essential to always have these on hand, as they simplify being stuck somewhere unexpectedly for the night.

  • Cough drops
  • Claritin D
  • Anti-diarrheal
  • Burn cream
  • Cortisone cream
  • Aspirin
  • Benadryl
  • Dramamine
  • Drip-drop rehydration
  • Crystallized lemon flavoring
  • Melatonin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Band-aids
  • Leuko tape

Outdoors and Emergency

Finally, we come to a few odds and ends, many of which make sense in an outdoor setting. Though the plastic bags are especially handy for when we travel with kids and the threat of car sickness looms.

The tea bag is mainly there for its caffeine, so technically it belongs in the 'drugs' section. Yet, this advice I read nearly 10 years ago still resonates with me, causing me to store it among my outdoor gear.

The trauma kit is detailed here (it's the pocket variety). I keep it vacuum-sealed for easy access.

  • KT, Leuko, and Duct tape
  • Portable Aqua tabs
  • Bic lighter
  • True Liberty bags
  • Quart-sized Ziplock bag
  • KN95 Mask
  • Ear plugs
  • CPR Mask
  • Tea bag
  • Trauma kit

Monday, February 26, 2024

Man-Bag Dump, 2024 Edition: Let's Talk Philosophy

It's been four years since I last posted a bag dump of my man-bag, so I'm overdue to post a fresh snapshot of what's inside. However, before I get into these details, I thought I'd talk a bit about the philosophy behind the gear and its selection.

At a high level, I'm striving to balance the 3P's of gear selection: Preparedness, Practice, and Predictability.

Preparedness

Preparedness is the most straightforward attribute, and here my gear tends to fall into one of four buckets. First, there are convenience items. These tend to be frequently used but low-impact. That is, I use them fairly often, but it would be more of a nuisance than a catastrophe if I went without. This covers things like a reusable shopping bag to avoid accumulating more plastic, a microfiber cloth to clean my glasses, or a dose of Claritin D, which has saved me from a number of annoying allergy attacks due to cat allergies.

Next, there are tech items. Some of these are pretty obvious: ways to charge my cell phone and headphones to turn any space into one where I can get lost in media. Other items may seem over the top, like a folding keyboard and various USB adapters. These items let me turn my phone into a Linux workstation. From there, I can help rescue my customers if their servers go down, or tackle countless other tasks that benefit from having a laptop.

There are also a few outdoorsy items, like a Bic lighter and Aquatabs. I spend enough time outdoors that it's reassuring to always have these items on me. I'm also keenly aware that while I may be planning a day full of indoor activities, I may unexpectedly find myself in nature.

Finally, I carry a few doomsday items. These are on the opposite spectrum of the convenience items: used infrequently, but with high impact. Examples of these items include a trauma kit, a glass punch for escaping or getting into a vehicle, and digital copies of important documents. I'm just as disbelieving as the next person that I will ever need these items, yet there's ample evidence to suggest that nobody is immune from these crises.

Practice

Gear is good. But gear plus experience is far superior. But how does one get this experience? One way is through deploying your kit even when it's not entirely necessary. This is what I identify as the goal of practice.

For example, every so often I'll charge my phone from my bag's battery pack even though there's a perfectly usable outlet in front of me. Or I'll use that bag's flashlight when Shira and I go on a winter evening's stroll through our neighborhood even though we could probably forgo a light altogether. Or, I'll grab my folding keyboard and use it and my phone to respond to any work issues that have come up overnight, even though a proper computer is just a few paces away. What these detours lose in efficiency, they more than make up for in experience. I get to learn firsthand if my battery pack is still holding a charge, if the flashlight I intend to depend on in emergencies is as bright as I expect it to be, and if my phone is still on speaking terms with the Bluetooth keyboard I intend to deploy to rescue a customer's server.

Predictability

Finally, there's predictability. That is, having a very high degree of confidence that your gear is where you expect it to be, and that it is ready to perform. Predictability is key when a situation is stressful. In these conditions, the last thing you want to be worrying about is your equipment.

For example, while on a camping trip with our nieces and nephew, I was separated from Shira and needed to give her a call. I reached for my phone and found, thanks to the heap of photos I'd taken and my neglecting to charge it the night before, that it was dead. Without missing a beat, I pulled out my battery pack and a USB cable, and within a minute or two, I was on the phone with Shira. I didn't need to think: did I pack the battery pack? Did I bring it on our hike? Did I have a working charging cable with me? This was handy for the low-risk scenario of my phone being dead, but I imagine this would make a world of difference should I ever need to deploy one of those doomsday items I mentioned above.

Finding a Balance

The thing about these three goals is that the first one is in direct conflict with the last two. Preparedness can be solved by bringing lots of stuff. But, practice calls for your kit to be as portable as possible, so you'll take it with you and use it as often as possible. Similarly, predictability is optimized when you have fewer items in your kit, as there's less to mentally track and to physically maintain. In short, it can be just as valuable, if not more so, to remove items from my man-bag than it is to add them.

Ultimately, searching for this balance is a game of trial and error. I'm always looking for that sweet spot of having the most effective gear with the fewest items in my kit. Up next is a snapshot of my latest setup.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

A Bit of Burlington

[Composed 10/5/2023. High: 82°F(!)]

Leaf looking.
Snake spotting.
Sunset savoring.
Beach browsing.
Cemetery strolling.
Treehouse Treasuring.
Very Vermont.
Beautiful Burlington.

My brief business trip to Burlington, Vermont was delightful. Meetings kept me busy, but as the photos suggest, Shira and I still found some time for exploration. I especially appreciated the tree house, which is a first of its kind and claims to be universally accessible.

In general, the scenery was gorgeous and the vibe was chill. I'd go back in tourist mode in a hot minute.