Survive in the wilderness

Essential Food Items Needed To Survive In The Wilderness

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What are the basic nutrition needs that need to be met in the wilderness? These needs are quite different to your nutritional needs in your day to day urban environment.

Generally speaking, you will be more active in the wilderness than in your normal daily life, so you will need foods that give you a higher daily calorie intake. This is especially true if you are in a survival situation and you are trying to find a way out, or have an injury!

The variations in types of food your body needs in the wilderness will largely be dictated by what environment you find yourself in. For example, if you are in an area of extreme cold, you will have to increase your fat intake for your body more energy to effectively fight off the cold!

Let’s take a look at some of the basic food groups, how your body uses them and what items you can pack for this group and what you can forage for.

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates are a quick source of energy because they digest quickly and give a rapid increase in blood sugar. They will give you a quick burst of energy that does not last for long. Be careful of consuming too many simple carbohydrates, as they can cause a sugar crash when they exit your blood supply.

Simple carbohydrate foods that you can pack to take along include:

  • Chocolate
  • Honey
  • 100% fruit juice
  • Sugar
  • Milk or yoghurt

Simple carbohydrates you can forage for include:

  • Wild berries and fruit

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates provide you with a steady flow of energy all day long. They are generally high fibre foods that are digested slowly to give a slow continuous release of energy.

These complex carbohydrates can be found in whole grains, pasta, brown rice and starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, beans, lentils, peas, broccoli and cauliflower.

Complex carbohydrate foods that you can pack in your gear can include the following.

  • Peanuts
  • Peanut bars
  • Granola or cereal bars

If you have capacity to carry the extra weight, some canned foods such as canned beans or a bag of lentils will do you well.

When it comes to foraging for complex carbohydrates, this becomes a bit of a problem. There are limited resources for this kind of nutrition in the wild that humans can make use of. The base of grasses, just below the leaves and just above the roots can be a source of carbs, as can cattails.

The problem with these resources is that you would need to eat a large quantity of them in order to get the benefit.

If you are foraging for food in a survival, situation, you would be better off trying to trying to achieve a more balanced diet, which includes hunting and eating wild animals.

There are even some schools of thought that believe it would be better to not eat at all in a survival situation. The thinking behind this is that not eating will stimulate your body to use its own fat reserves more efficiently than eating, and eating less than your body’s daily energy requirements. Eating will stop your body from using its reserves, as it expects to get nutrition from what you are eating.


Your body uses fats for multiple functions, so don’t think they are an unnecessary part of a healthy diet. This is especially true when exerting yourself and burning energy, or if you are in a survival situation.

Fats allow your body to absorb certain vitamins and minerals which it would otherwise be unable to do. Fats build cell membranes, can have anti-inflammatory properties and are also an important source of energy. Especially in keeping you warm in cold weather.

Sources of fats can found in the following foods which would be good to include in your backpack.

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Coconut
  • peanut butter
  • butter
  • avocado
  • Olive oil

When foraging for this type of food, you can try and find the following.

  • Edible wild nuts
  • Edible wild seeds

Unless you are knowledgeable about plants, you best bet for getting fats into your system would be from wild meat and fish. You may have to overcome your squeamish tendencies and eat the parts of the animal that you would normally not consider eating. This can include eating the kidneys and kidney fat, the brain, liver and heart .


Protein is important fuel for your body, particularly after physical exertion! Proteins contain amino acids that regulate your metabolism and boost your immune system and help repair and restore tired muscles.

Protein rich foods that you can take along with you on an outdoor adventure can include the following.

  • Peas and beans
  • Peanuts
  • Cheese
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Dairy products
  • Meat, which can be in the form of canned meat or dried meats
  • Fish, such as canned sardines or tuna.

Your options for foraging for protein rich foods will be limited to finding wild, edible nuts and seeds, but the more likely source will be from catching fish, or hunting small game.

This comes back to building your bush craft skills and knowing how to build traps or hunting tools to catch small game, or your improvisation skills to craft some hobo fishing gear!

Building these skills takes practice and you will have to hone your skills to the point where you do not struggle to complete these tasks.

Balancing Your Diet

The important factor for going into the wilderness is planning! Plan to take the correct food with you, and plan to take more than you need for the expected duration of your trip. You never know when you may need the extra!

Here are some tips on food that are good for taking along as snacks during the day or along the trail.

Nutrition bars

These are compact, light and easy to pack and offer a good intake of carbohydrates and protein and healthy fats. Choose bars that have all natural ingredient s and as little sugar as possible.

Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

Even though these are perishable items, you can take them for your first day or two as healthy snacks. Carrots and apples are good choices as they are harder items that are less likely to bruise.

Dried Fruits

Dried fruits an vegetables are perfect items to pack in your backpack, especially when you have limited space. And the great thing is that they are long lasting, as long as you keep them sealed to prevent moisture from getting to them. When you are on the trail, dried fruit can be a sweet treat, without consuming processed sugars which are not good for you and can play havoc with your energy levels!

They are also lightweight, so don’t be shy about stuffing extra in your backpack!

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are another lightweight, energy rich food to take plenty of. Any kind of nut, peanuts, cashews,  whichever is your favourite will do. Dried pumpkin seeds are are another tasty treat. Why not take it a little further and mix some nuts and seeds with dried fruit and make your own version of trail mix!

Biltong, or jerky

Dried meat is a great way to take protein with you which is long lasting. It does not take up a lot of space, and will give you the protein you will need for your outdoor adventure. Dried meats can take various forms, such as pork rinds, beef, or venison, and can also be in the form of dried sausage. The beef or venison dried meat can be eaten as is, or even cut into chunks and boiled in water with other ingredients to make a stew.


Cheese is a great source of calories and a good source of protein. It can also be paired with other ingredients to give a bit of diversity with regards to taste and texture.

The foods mentioned above are mostly for snack purposes, but can be used to make full meals if necessary. Investigate freeze dried meals to take in addition to the above mentioned snacks. These ready made meals have been specifically made for camping and hiking. They are lightweight and longer lasting. All you will need to re-constitute them into a meal would be some water and possibly a heat source.

If you have any other energy foods that you like to use in the outdoors, please mention them in the comments section below.