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Thursday, December 18, 2008


The Inuit of the Arctic referred to hunger as the "Great Want." Something few people have experience with in our modern Western world where food is but a step away in our fridge.

People often ask about food on our survival courses. It is certainly not something of concern for the stranded dayhiker lost for a few nights. Our bodies are hardwired for fasting from our hunter-gatherer past when such things were a part of one's existence.

One of the most harrowing survival stories regarding long-term food deprivation that I know of comes from the Himalayas where a trekker was stranded in the snow-covered mountains for 43-days. He endured bitter cold days and nights with little more than a sleeping bag, snow which he held to his lips to melt, and sheer willpower. He lost close to one third of his body weight but survived. If you need calories it is in a cold-weather environment and the only food available was his lean muscle mass. Nothing was available to eat in his stark setting and supplies in his pack were quickly exhausted. Still, he prevailed and lived.

On winter survival courses in the subarctic, I regularly consumed 8,000 calories a day. A typical snack in camp would consist of a bagel with cheese, butter, and a slab of bacon. Every hour, I would down a cup of hot cocoa with a tablespoon of butter. To my body, this was just wood in the furnace. Dinner was a feast like you wouldn’t believe but it was necessary to cope with nighttime temperatures that dipped to –40 F below. Steger Expedition members that crossed the Antarctic unsupported consumed 12-15000 calories a day! Cold-weather requires a higher than normal daily intake of fat and calories. There's a reason that the Inuit ate large quantities of seal and whale blubber.

Yes, we humans can endure amazing hardships and go long periods without food. Our genetics are encoded for such events but the question remains: why not plan ahead and carry food with you? My philosophy is that skills and preparation trump suffering so bring chow with you on outings, especially in the colder months. Jerky, cheese sticks, fruit, chocolate, and PBJ sandwiches all make great trailfoods that will keep your furnace stoked. If you work in the cold, bring a thermos with hot cocoa and a few spoons of butter.

Then, the "Great Want" can be something best left for blogs and conversation around the woodsmoke of the evening campfire.

About Ancient Pathways

Tony Nester is the author of numerous books and DVDs on survival. His school Ancient Pathways is the primary provider of survival training for the Military Special Operations community and he has served as a consultant for the NTSB, Travel Channel, Backpacker Magazine, and the film Into the Wild. When not on the trail, he lives in a passive-solar, strawbale home in northern Arizona. For information on Tony’s books, gear, or bushcraft courses, visit

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