Most of us eat oil nearly every day in one form or another. Especially in processed foods, oil has become a staple in everyday life, even if it’s relegated to the shadows of your diet.
Eating oil in its pure form, however, is quite rare. That’s likely why the vast majority of hikers bypass it as a caloric source on the trail. Sure, it’s a little weird, but adding various kinds of oil to your outdoors meals and snacks can be an incredible fast and effective way at lowering pack weight and meeting your necessary caloric intake.
Many on the OutdoorFoodLab team add it to everything while we’re hiking. And we love it. Olive oil, coconut oil, MCT oil (medium chain triglyceride oil), even butter. It’s not hard to understand why we were quickly converted to oil-users on every outdoor adventure.
Oil Is an Ideal Ultralight Camping Food
Most people are aware of the cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory benefits surrounding the use of healthy oils in our diets. Health benefits are a great reason to consume oil, as long as they are consumed in the proper forms and appropriate volumes.
But while these benefits can be attractive, long-distance hikers are usually only concerned with one thing: energy. And when we say energy, we’re talking about calories. And while calories give us the energy to move, hike, climb, and paddle, we have to pack that weight on our backs. That weight can add up quickly, which is a big reason why we take a food’s ultralight characteristics seriously in our outdoor meal rankings.
Distance hiking is one of those occasions when we want as many calories as we can get in our food, for the least amount of weight. Obviously, things like straight oil, butter, or ghee would be ideal calorically, but we can’t live off calories alone, nor can we digest a meal of pure fat in an enjoyable manner.
So, we boost the calorie content of the food we already eat and love by a magical ingredient.
How Oil Easily Boosts Your Calorie-to-Weight Ratio
At OutdoorFoodLab, we consider a food Ultralight when it has more than 150 calories per ounce. Nearly all oils clear this threshold with plenty to spare. For example, adding a single ounce of olive oil to a meal adds 209 calories to your daily diet. But you likely don’t want to consume that oil straight. Let’s take a look how you can add it seamlessly to your diet in a way you’ll hardly notice.
Consider a meal we’ve recently reviewed: Mountain House Scrambled Eggs with Bacon. It has a pack weight of 3 ounces and contains a total of 360 calories. That is a caloric ratio of 120 calories per 1 ounce, resulting in a lackluster two-star weight rating. Now, we use oil to magically turn this so-so meal into an ultralight wonder.
Say we add a single ounce of olive oil. How does our original two-star meal fare?
An ounce of oil added to the pack weight of the eggs brings us up to an even 4 ounces, and we added roughly 209 calories, giving us a total of 569 calories. 569 calories divided by 4 ounces gives us a caloric ratio of 142 calories per 1 ounce, good enough to warrant a 4-star weight rating.
Adding oil to your meal regiment surely is the best trick in the book for pushing your pack into ultralight territory.
Tips for Using Oil on the Trail
While oil is an ultralight hikers best-kept secret, it’s not without its flaws. Here are a few tried-and-true tips from our team.
1. Pack Your Oil in the Correct Form
Packing oil can be treacherous. No one wants to be in bear territory (or even squirrel territory) with raw oil dripping all over their pack due to a leak. Fortunately, our team at OutdoorFoodLab has made the mistakes for you over the years, and have developed a few tricks.
Our biggest recommendation: carry your oil in powdered form. Despite what you may think, there is an extremely negligible calorie ratio between liquid and powdered forms, but the powdered variety is a heck of a lot easier to deal with. The mess that can be involved with a broken or leaky bottle in your pack can be nightmare on the trail. The liquid form can also be harder to dose.
Meanwhile, it’s actually quite easy to store, scoop, and add powdered oil to your meals. Once you go powdered, you’ll never go back.
2. Don’t Forget to Prep Your Body
Take your time learning to eat like this. While oil can be palatable mixing in with an actual meal, it can still be a shock to your system.
We don’t recommend diving straight in and immediately adding ounces of oil to your meals as this can result in some uncomfortable times on the trail (we think you know what we mean). Give your digestive track time to adapt, preferably prior to arriving at the trailhead. Start with a spoonful and work your way up slowly.
3. Be Careful With Dosing
Generally speaking, we like to add at least one ounce of oil to every meal. That means we pack at least three ounces of oil per day. Those three little ounces can add a whooping 597-789 calories to your food. Talk about bang for you buck and a huge drop in the over all weight of your food!
But while oil is our single biggest weapon in shaving off food weight, your body needs more to sustain itself than just calories. There’s a reason why U.S. dietary guidelines suggest eating a wide variety of foods. Other nutrients not found in oil can provide some great relief on the trail, especially those that provide protein, hydration, or anti-inflammatory properties.
Which Oil is Right for You?
We don’t know. Really, we don’t. You body might respond incredibly well to olive oil, but positively hate powdered dairy butter. Everyone on our team has their own preferences, which were only determined after much experimentation.
Play around with different types and see what your body prefers. The caloric ratios won’t range too much across different forms. Speaking from personal experience, we nearly always bring two types just for variety, so we recommend finding at least a few varieties that work with you.
Our Favorite Powdered Oils That We Personally Use
Perfect Keto MCT Oil: 199 calories/ounce (link to purchase below)
Hoosier Hill Farm Real Butter Powder: 212 calories/ounce (link to purchase below)
True Nutrition Olive Oil Powder: 209 calories/ounce (link to purchase below)
Quest Coconut Oil Powder: 199 calories/ounce (link to purchase below)
4th Heart Ghee Butter (available in liquid form only): 255 calories/ounce (link to purchase below)