What’s the best winter survival food?

What's the best winter survival food? The Editors Santa Fe, New Mexico

Tony Nester

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Here’s something to consider with winter trail food: Your body is like a woodburning stove that requires huge quantities of fuel, so choose foods that have a lot of fat and calories. On one winter survival course up in the Canadian subarctic, we were easily going through 7,000 to 8,000 calories a day per person!

Our typical meals on winter survival courses in the mountains in Flagstaff consist of the following: one pot of pasta and meat, with a pound of butter and a pound of cheese mixed in. Snacks when on the trail consist of a bagel with cream cheese, bacon, and a slice of cheddar cheese. Again, your body’s furnace will burn through all this, so don’t worry about weight-gain being an issue on such a winter diet.

In my pack, I also have a thermos with hot chocolate and a few tablespoons of butter added in. This “hypothermia drink” provides fast-burning sugars (chocolate) and slow-burning fats (butter), while providing metabolic fuel in between meals and helping with hydration.

If I am heading out to the field on a week-long trek, I make up some of my cold-weather trail foods at home. The two I use the most are pemmican and Scottish shortbread, commercial or homemade.

Pemmican involves the three components of jerked meat, dried berries, and fat. You can search around online to find countless variations. While many recipes call for using tallow (beef fat), I have found butter or cooking oil works just as well and is much easier to obtain.

This pemmican recipe is taken from my new book, The Modern Hunter-Gatherer , and is one I learned from an Ojibwa friend back in Michigan who used venison as the meat source:

-Two cups deer or beef jerky, shredded or pounded into a coarse powder.

-One cup chopped, dried fruit (berries, currants, or even organic cherries).

-Eight tablespoons of melted butter or cooking oil. Make sure this is NOT hot as that would partially cook the meat. The butter or oil should be cooled off.

Mix the above ingredients in a bowl and then form into small patties or balls. Wrap the finished patties in wax paper and store in a cool place. If I plan to consume a lot of pemmican, then I will ocassionally add honey to the recipe to boost the flavor.

It is essential to use real jerky that you have made yourself and not packaged jerky, which contains preservatives.