I will admit that I have been lurking on the High Sierra Topix forum. A question about the "NOLS" cooking method was asked. There are a few of you on this forum that also are on the Sierra forum. So I thought I would give an answer here.
The NOLS method is to use bulk bags of basic foods and then just cook from scratch from those ingredients. The question asked was had anyone done this. Yes I have. I was the first editor of the NOLS Cookery, that has been now edited by many others who followed. So here is the scoop.
The method is designed for groups. We also did a lot of teaching how to cook and use this method. It really is the only reasonable way to ration large groups for long term. Mountaineering expeditions also use this method a lot. You decide what your dailhy ration weight will be. Usually 1.5- 2 pounds per person. You then multiply days out x people x daily ration weight. For example, a 10-group party with a 15-day ration at 2 pounds per person per day (typical ration for 18-21 year old males) =300 pounds of food, or 30 pounds per person. You base the food selection on nutritional balance, calories, portions for breakfast, lunch, dinner. At NOLS this has been developed over the years based on minimal nutritional requirements (NOLS as a commercial group that "feeds" students who are sometimes associated with universities, follows government guidelines), and what students actually eat. It is pretty practically based - the person in charge of rationing will, for instance, note that say, soy nuts always come back unused,so they then try a nutritional equivelent, but different food. So the actual food is what the typical NOLS student likes. Each student is then given 1 or 1/2 pound bags of basic foods re-packaged in freezer-quality plastic bags that are closed with a simple knot. One of the first classes that a NOLS student encounters is a cooking class for the first night out! Some do not even know how to boil water on a stove! You learn how to cook from scratch. A big part also is the spice kit - pretty extensive bag full of small bottles of spices. What always surprised me is that even on mountaineering courses, the cooking classes were about the favorite. You eat what you need to keep up energy without a lot of worry about how long the ration lasts. When things get low, everyone dumps what they have left in a big heap, and the food is re-distributed. This works in large groups because everyone has different tastes and caloric needs. Although students sometimes squawk it really works out quite well.
The whole point is that if you had to pre-package individual meals for 300 pounds worth of food, it would be a daunting task. Pretty much most expeditions of any length or size use this method. The method is really quite "institutional" in scope. What is key are the cooking classes. I have used this method myself but I know how to cook from scratch. You also have to develop your own ration list based on what you like. And, if you are solo hiking, you can mis-judge and end up eating up all your food several days before you finish the trip. I used this method when my daughter and I did a 18-day trip -- she (at 17 years old) ate ALL of our trail food in 7 days! Like a typical teenager with access to a refrigerator! Another thing that is taught at NOLS is survial - fishing and foraging skills. So if food runs out, nobody starves.
So when you ask, does it work? Yes, but you have to know what you are doing. When I am solo, I usally do the per-meal packaging, but with a larger group I use the bulk method. One thing I really like about the NOLS method is its flexibility. I cook what I feel like. I have no package that says "dinner, Aug 18". If you have the proper poundage of food and some experience you rarely will run out of food. It works best with groups because there are always those who will eat less one night for whatever reason, and it all seems to even out in the end quite well. It definitely is a method that is a bit harder to pull off for solo backpacking.
It is not for everyone. You cannot be a worry wort. You have to have a laid-back attitude about food. We always taught that you should never be cold, hungry or thirsty. If you are, you are doing something wrong. Hungry? then eat - right now, not save for later.
Loc: Upstate New York
Hi Daisy, Thanks for sharing that info on the NOLS approach. On the group trips I generally do (anywhere from 2-8 people/ from long week ends to up to 8 days is the norm--some backpacking, some paddling) everyone takes care of his or her own food needs, so I generally do individual meal packaging prior to the trip for every meal and have a separate supply of snack food and coffee or tea or hot chocolate. I'm curious though about the bulk method you described. Can you provide a few examples of the typical breakfasts, lunches, and dinners that you (or NOLS) does on these trips and with what sorts of bulk foods?
I'm able to get by with no feeling of deprivation on about 1.5 lbs. per day for myself. Just to give folks a sense of how I do it, here are some typical meals: breakfast--2 eggs, 1/3 bagel, 2 ozs. of swiss cheese, coffee or tea lunch--peanut butter and jelly sandwich or 1 1/2 sandwiches, half a snickers bar, water dinner--8-10 ozs. of soup using powdered soup with dried vegetables, 1/3 freeze dried meal that I've taken out of original packaging and repackaged, peanut M & M's for desert, coffee or tea Soy roasted almonds or honey roasted peanuts as trail snack
If you are real interested in this method you can buy their cookbook. Most REI stores carry it.
Sorry - the WORD table did not copy with columns.
Example Ration List (for 2 people)
Food Type 1 day 1 wk 2 wks FD meat, fd eggs ,soy* 0.122 1.0 2.0 Nuts, seed, legumes 0.306 2.0 4.0 Dry milk products** 0. 390 2.75 5.5 Cheese*** 0.322 2.25 4.5 Dry and fd veg, mushrooms, potatoes 0.284 2.0 4.0 Dry and fd fruit 0.254 1.75 3.5 Flour, biscuit mix **** 0.442 3.0 6.0 Cereal, granola wheat germ 0.442 3.0 6.0 Pasta, rice, barley, main dish grains 0.442 3.0 6.0 Margarine and olive oil 0.320 2.25 4.5 Sugar and honey 0.320 2.25 4.5 Sport drinks, Jello, pudding 0.388 2.5 5.0 TOTAL 4.0 28.0 56.0 • * soy – TVP and soy nuts – spoon of TVP added to each meal • ** dry whole milk and coca mix made with dry whole milk • *** real cheese, not dry • **** assumes you make your own trail food – usually flat breads
Other items not listed above: Flavor bases – bullion cubes, dry soup mixes, salt. Spices – cinnamon, curry, basil, pepper, garlic, chili powder, oregano, mustard powder Tea and coffee Vinegar
The 2 person, 2-week ration used to be considered the “standard” ration for a one-time resupply on a month-long course. I really do not know how often NOLS resupplies nowadays.
Within each food type we had lots of variety. We bought bulk from natural food stores – similar to grains you can find now at Whole Foods bulk bins. I am not sure where the whole dry milk was purchased from. We would mix our own coca. Sharp chedder cheese primarily. Soft cheeses do not keep as well as hard cheese.
Lunch --This list is from the “old days” when we actually cooked our trail food. We had the ability to bake – so made biscuits and cakes. Flat breads were fried. Nuts and dry fruit and some cheese were added to lunches. Nuts included peanuts, almonds, walnuts, Brazil Nuts, cashews. Raisins, prunes, dried apples, dried peaches, dried pears, etc. strawberries were the only FD fruit. Now trail bars are issued and trail food is not made in the field much any more.
Breakfasts were primarily cereal, and a few times eggs and pancakes. Nuts, fruit, dry milk, TVP and margarine were added to cereal.
Dinners were one-pot meals made from the bags of basic ingredients. Examples; Macs and cheese - very popular Sweet and Sour Curried Rice Cheesy Rice Fish and Rice Beefy rice or noodles Chicken rice or noodles Fish patties or potato patties Baked desert – cake or pie (graham /butter crust- and pour in fruit compote)
Supplemented with a wild green salad (dressing made of oil and spices and vinegar) In season whortleberry pie! In season – lots of wild mushrooms And LOTS of fish!
Prime items that everyone ate up quickly were cheese, coca and dried fruit.
Cook groups were 4 people. Each group carried one large Teflon frying pan with lid (used this to bake), 2 large pots (used to use #10 tin cans), one wooden stirring spoon, one large capacity stove. Cooking was shared and rotated – so you would cook for everyone one meal, and then not for another 3 meals. Like I said before, everything at NOLS is VERY group oriented. Teaching how to function in a group (expedition) is a primary goal of NOLS.
Ah, those truly were the good ol' days - no problems with energy on the trail - just do like the Incas did!:)
Yeah, and therein is the big difference between "Expedition" and what I do now (mostly solo FBC stuff). I *love* to cook from scratch at home, and this sort of thing is awesome on the trail - if a bit heavy. Trouble is when you're only one or two, instead of being camp cook one day, and then three other days to be on other chore duties, and/or do other things, when you're only one or two, well, for me, it becomes a lot of work when I really don't want to be doing so much! (and have other camp chores to do). While I love scratch made cocoa, I can certaily live with instant when I'm on the tail end of long day. The other thing "lighter quicker" food tends to get me, at least in the summer, is longer days. When i'm hiking light in the summer I will often stop at 5-6pm for dinner, but not actually where I'm camping.. I'll then walk for another 2-3 hours until 9pm or so, set up camp, enjoy the twilight, and sleep. Expedition style cooking means I pretty much have to stop at dinner time, as it's a bit more of a production.
Fortunately, a few better FBC recepies and some better brands of prepared dried meals have made doing without real cooking much less of a hardship than it once was.