– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Ultima Thule 2011 aftermath: Expedition food

I promised a series of posts about the aftermath of the Ultima Thule 2011 expedition. The series will start with a longish post about expedition food. See my original post about expedition food for some background information. First part of the post has some numbers and stuff that might be helpful for others planning a diet for expeditions lasting several weeks. If you are not interested in the numbers, skip to the end where you can read how I felt about the food and how they tasted!

On paper…

I spent quite some time planning my diet for the expedition. I had never before done a three-week trip and I wanted to ensure that I’ll have good time instead of starving so I did some detailed planning based on my previous experience (on 6-8 days summer and winter trips), literature about previous Finnish (ant)arctic expeditions, experiences and calculations of “ulta-hikers” like Andrew Skurka, Roman Dial, Ryan Jordan et al. and as a good lightweight backpacker and soon-to-be-civil-engineer I also did my share of spreadsheet calculations.

After some estimations and spreadsheet work (more about this in a post of its own) I decided that my aim for average calorific intake would be 4800kcal. Soon after we started planning the menu with me tent mate Matias (we had a shared breakfast and dinner and some other stuff) I soon ended up to a higher number: 5071kcal per day. This was fine as I didn’t want to remove anything from the initial menu (the menu can be found from my first post on expedition food). And as my estimated energy consumption for an average skiing day was 6250kcal I decided to take some extra food for the second and third week in case I’d be hungry and miserable. If you think that the numbers are big,, well, they are. But it is good to keep in mind that I am 25-year-old male and weighting 103 kilo so my metabolism is quite high. In addition I was going to haul a sled weighting over 80 kilo in the beginning and I was going to haul it in a cold environment with a decent amount of ascents. All that requires quite a lot of energy.

So the plan was to take 5071kcal and 1202g of food per day totalling 106504kcal and whopping 25,252kilo! In addition I took 7556kcal worth of extra chocolate and biscuits weighting 1470g.

…and in real life

The planned menu went through some last-minute changes in the local grocery the Svalbardbutiken but nothing major. The biggest difference was probably in the addition of some last-minute extras: a 300g package of cheese, strawberry jam for pancakes, pepper steaks for some nice day and a cake ingredients for my birthday (which isn’t included in the final list as I have no clue about the weights and nutritional values). Other than that, we sticked to the plan.

The harsh reality of expedition food... 😉

But on the ice I found that I didn’t need as much as I had anticipated. And as I was also prepared to lose some weight on the way, I decided not to eat everything planned to be eaten but after few days of cramming in all the daily food I started to eat only the amount that I wanted and in the end I intentionally kept myself a bit hungry occasionally to find out how it affects me. In addition we had some mistakes in our calculations. For example 0,5kg of sugar per person per week was way too much, we ended consuming about half of it. And we decided not to eat as much butter as planned. This was because of our stomachs protesting the large quantities of fat. We didn’t have any serious issues with the fat but we both felt that we were walking on a razor edge and  didn’t want to get fat caused diarrhoea. So we burned one 0,5kg package along with carbages after the first week. The relative amount of fat (18% of the food weight and 40% of total energy) wasn’t too much in my opinion but apparently the planned absolute amount (226g per day) would have apparently required some training in advance…

This lead an average calorific intake of 4638kcal per day (433kcal less than planned and quite close to my original estimate of 4800kcal) weighting 1117 grams per day (but I carried a lot more food as originally planned).

Here you can find a detailed pdf list of  the foods that I ate during the expedition:


You can compare it to the original plan as I didn’t make a separate comparison table:


To our great surpsire we found an open bar in the abandoned city of Pyramiden, but the beer is not included in the spreadseeht calculations.

The interesting stuff – how did it work…

One reason why I decided not to eat all the planned food was that until the end of second week I almost never felt hungry. I first tought that I’d be at least occasionally hungry. Of course in the beginning my body’s energy storages where full but after consuming over 6000 or 7000kcal during some days ans eating only around 5000kcal the quick energy storages should have depleted quite quickly and the energy deficit was balanced with lost body mass. Yeah, I lost two or three kilo of bodyweight, but more about it on another post. On the heavier days in the end of second week and in the beginning of the third with 500 meters of daily ascent I was occasionally quite hungry. And I think it was actually quite healthy and normal. I wasn’t miserably hungry or starving at any point and the food kept me going so in that sense my diet worked very well.

I could have also eaten all the food that I planned to eat so in that sense the diet was also succesful. The breakfast required occasionally some cramming and we skipped the oat meal on two mornings but nothing serious. But I think that the correct way to judge an expedition diet would be to have a minimal amount of food needed to keep you going and happy. In this sense, I had too much food. Also I didn’t have any serious food cravings  which often occur on longer polar expeditions. At one point I spent quite some think thinking about summer, sauna and a grilled sausage but that was more like a nice tought than a real craving for sausage. And of course an ice cream or some cold carbonated drink would have been nice on those sweaty days under the arctic sun. And to my surprise I would have chosen soft drink over a beer… But most of the time if I was thinking about food, it was something that I had in the sled and could eat at the same day. And I didn’t get tired on any of the meals or snacks we had. So in this sense, the diet was a success.

The only slight problems were the miss-estimation with sugar and a bit optimistic idea of the amount of fat we could consume. For some reason we though we would consume 500 grams of sugar each per week totaling  1,5kg of sugar per person. We ended up using about half of that. Part of this was a pure miss calculation, part was because of last-minute extra 300 grams of jam for pancakes and partially because we consumed only about half of the tea had planned to drink. The problem with fat was that we planned to eat 120 grams of butter in addition to some other sources of fat. That, with all the other planned food, would have led to a total of 226 grams of fats per day. By the end of the first week we were eating about 205 grams per day and feeling that more could have been challenging for our digestion so we literally ended up burning part of the fat instead of eating it.

A fat burning exercise. That's 0,5kg of butter burning with some carbage.

But: the food was good, I enjoyed it and it kept me going. So, it worked.

 … and how did it taste a.k.a hits and misses?

As aforementioned I really enjoyed all the food. Almost all of the meals were tested in advance so I knew it would be good. The only real surprise were some of the freeze dried lunches. The breakfast and dinner portion were huge. We had 2,1 liter pot for food so we each ate a liter of oatmeal (or rice porridge) in the morning and a liter of stew style dinner in the evening. And both these portions were topped up with about 50 grams of butter. And we could easily eat them! Well, except the oat meal on some mornings…

My breakfast consisted of the aforementioned liter of oatmeal plus some blueberry soup, a liter rice porridge or a big bowl of muesli, rolled oats, dried berries and whole milk powder with a big cup of tea, some hard dry bread with butter and salami and occasional cookie. Next time I wont mixed rolled oats to my muesli and I might make a little smaller portions of oat meal. Or I might even swap the oatmeal to extra bread as that was what we did on two mornings. The bread takes up more space but is really tasty. The rice porridge (made of rice flakes, whole milk powder and seasoned with raisins, sugar, cinnamon and butter) was once again a great hit for me. I know that many expedition people eat the same breakfast every morning and that it usually resembles a mixture of the three different options that I had. But I feel that I need some variety to the breakfast, at least on an expedition that is relatively easy and doesn’t cause chronic feeling of hunger so for trips over three weeks, I think I’ll stick to three different breakfast options.

The snacks worked well and were adequate. Each day I had:
– 100 grams of chocolate. I had a variety of Fazer chocolates that come in 200 gram bars, so each evening I took a bar from our week sack, split it in half, broke the other half in pieces and put it in my day sack with other snacks of the next day. The chocolate was most enjoyable in big quantities with gulps of hot chocolate on breaks when feeling hungry or as a dessert after lunch.
– About 30 grams of beef jerky, meaning two 100g packs in each week sack. Jerky was best eaten in the end of a ten minute break. After some chocolate and a hot drink I would cram a handful of jerky in my mouth and I could enjoy them even after the break had ended and when already skiing.
– About 40 grams of Pringles, meaning two tubes in each week sack. Though I shared one tube with others while enjoying sun shine in a camp after a nice day. I have to say that in the end I regretted the decision a bit… Pringles was best on hot days with steep ascent savoured with gulps of sports drink topped with snow slush. Occasionally it was close to perfection. 🙂
-1,5 liters of bland sports drink for each day because water melted from snow doesn’t contain any minerals, well expect the occasional coal dust, so it’s good to add something to it. I gave a way some extra sports drink powders after the first week and regret t it a bit as they would have been nice during the hot days in the end.
– A liter of hot chocolate drink meaning 84 grams of drink powder a day. I swapped my usual Van Houten hot chocolate to O’boy as it was available in big packages from local wholesale store but this turned out to be a mistake. Van Houten can be mixed up in a Thermos bottle in the morning and sipped from there during the day but during the day O’boy turned into a something that resembled chocolate porridge. It didn’t cause any digestive problems but it didn’t taste good so I started to mix the drink into a big cup during the breaks. This was a bit inconvenient but not too bad. And as said, hot chocolate was best enjoyed with a handful of Fazer chocolate. And it was best on cold and hard days.

The lunches were commercial freeze-dried lunches as they are easy to prepare: just pour some hot water from the thermos in the bag, stir well, wait for a while and enjoy. I had a variety of foods from Blå Band, MX3 and Fuizion. The Fuizion foods were a big hit for me, especially Chicken Tikka Masala, Kung Po Noodles with Chicken and Chicken Bacon Pasta were superb! The Blå Band were good and the MX3 Vegetarian Pasta was very tasty but the MX3 Chicken Paella didn’t work in the cold. The rice stayed crunchy and there was not much chicken… One think that is good to take into consideration is that the declared nutritional values of some Fuizion’s foods seem to be incorrect. For example the amount of nutrients in 100 grams of the great Chicken Tikka Masala seems to be over 100grams which should be impossible. I don’t think that the error is too bad and the food is still hell of an tasty but it’s a bit weird mistake. I calculated the Fuizions to have 90& of the declared nutrients and energy.

Instant smashed potatoes with 100 grams of butter and bacon fried in butter. Good.

The main meals of each day, the dinner, was home-made from dried ingredients. We had five different meals and each of them was great, tasty and the portions were big enough. Instant smashed potatoes with self-dried moose fry was one of our favourites. The classic macaroni with self-dried minced meat was also good as was the homemade and dried pea soup (or more like a pea stew), especially because it was followed with pancakes as the Finnish tradition requires. All the foods were easy and quite quick to cook. I don’t see myself changing completely to commercial freeze-dried food as home-made food is always home-made, even if eaten in a tent and dried in between.

In addition to the food mentioned above I had a dessert for every other day. We had pancakes with the pea soup and in addition I had some Fuizion rice puddings and Blå Band chocolate pudding (mixed with whole milk powder). The pancakes were an unquestionable hit and the Blå Band pudding was also really good. I didn’t quite like the Fuizion rice pudding with fruits but the chocolate & orange version was good. I found that desserts are easy way to add calories to the diet and naturally, they are quite tasty. It was also nice to have something extra to eat after an especially hard day. And we also had a bunch of things as “accessories”: instant coffee, sugar, some candies, cookies, bread, salami, etc. These worked all well and after every dinner I enjoyed a cup of instant Coffee with some cookies. Bread was eaten during the breakfast and before or during the dinner. 200 grams of salami per person per week was enough though I could have eaten more. We had only small package of cheese for the beginning and it was quickly eaten. Next time I’ll take more cheese, even though it’s expensive in the Svalbard. And I will change the Nescafe stuff to instant Africafe. That is by far the best instant coffee that I have tasted, and I’ve also tried the much praised Starbucks Via.

A birthday special: Peppered steak with smashed potatoes!

And we had special treats for special days. For easter we had finnish easter delicacy called mämmi, for my birthday we had pepper steaks as dinner and a cake that to be shared with the whole expedition. We bought a cake and a bag of meringue form Longyearbyen and packed them into a plastic box with miscellaneous small stuff and electronic gadgets to keep them in one piece. And on the ice we moistened the cake with some rum, filled it with chocolate and vanilla pudding and topped with vanilla pudding and meringues. It was quite good, I’ll have to say. Also the steaks were good as was the occasional popcorn but I didn’t feel any special urge or need for them. Next time I might simplify this part of the menu. We had also 1,5 liter of quality spirits for the two of us but part was shared with other expedition members and we felt that less would have been sufficient.

The birthday cake. Again a harsh reality on expedition food.

So, all together most of the food worked and tasted great and there were only few misses.

Lessons learned?

Less food would have been enough. For the next expedition of this magnitude I’ll take less food. Some 4500kcal per day would be enough for three weeks and for a longer expedition I think that would be sufficient for the first two weeks and then I would increase the daily intake with 500kcal per week up to 6000 or 6500kcal.

The big amount of fats requires some accustoming in beforehand. The guys skiing unsupported to the Poles can have up to 60% of their total energy from fats so I think that the relative amount of 40% of the total energy from fats is totally doable but the largish absolute amount may require some stomach conditioning in advance.

Variation is a good thing but maybe a bit simpler menu would be as good. I might decrease the amount of dinners from five to four but wouldn’t like to give up the three breakfast options, though I will likely change them a little. And I wouldn’t give up home-made dinners but I think I could simplify them a bit. Desserts were a great idea and I’ll take them along also in the future but less variation would be enough. I think that on even longer trips I could add some variations to the snacks, maybe with some peanuts and seeds. Next time I’ll take more cheese and maybe also more hard candies to enjoy in the evening in the cozy depths of the sleeping bag with headphones in your ears playing your favorite music… Which is, by the way, quite close to a heaven, I think. 😉

But as a disclosure I’ll have to say that I could quite likely make an expedition like this with a much, much simpler diet and still enjoy it just as much.

This is something we didn't have with us on the ice but it tasted great when back in Longyearbyen. Don't lynch me but it's smoked minke whale. Had to give it a try.

The next post will be about the energy equation of the expedition meaning that I do some elementary school math with the measured energy consumption, do some questimates of total consumption and find out the calorific deficit and ponder whether it is in line with my weight loss. But if you have any questions or thoughts about my expedition diet and the foods, feel free to leave a comment!

Oh, and now that I have calibrated my monitor, I might get some pictures online during the weekend!


2 responses to “Ultima Thule 2011 aftermath: Expedition food

  1. Sammy 05/12/2011 at 06:22

    I do accept as true with all of the ideas you have offered for your post. They are very convincing and will certainly work. Still, the posts are very short for starters. May you please lengthen them a bit from subsequent time? Thanks for the post.

  2. korpijaakko 06/12/2011 at 02:37

    Sorry Sammy but I think you’re just a spam bot. Or if not, you have a great sense of sarcasm and I’m sorry for my mistake. 😉

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