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:


  • Ritz Crackers
  • Flour tortillas
  • Minute Rice


  • Moon Cheese
  • Peanut butter
  • Tuna fish packets


  • Soup mix
  • Hot chocolate
  • Tea


  • 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!

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