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Nutrition in the Wilderness: An Exploration of the Nutritional Requirements of Backcountry Travelers

Hesterberg, Erika G. BS; Johnson, Rachel K. PhD, MPH, RD

doi: 10.1097/NT.0000000000000000
Feature Article

Objective This research was designed to illuminate the fundamentals of and synthesize current research on nutrition for individuals on trips in the backcountry.

Methods This literature review used the search engines ScienceDirect, Web of Science, PubMed, CINAHL, MEDLINE, and DynaMed and the University of Vermont’s library sources on proper nutrition in the backcountry, athletic energy expenditure, and military rationing for wilderness travel from the year 1980 to present.

Results Energy expenditure often increases in the backcountry. Energy expenditure in athletes frequently far exceeds (31%) their energy intake. In the backcountry, polar climates induce increased energy expenditure due to maintenance of core body temperature. High-altitude climates require a high carbohydrate intake to aid in acclimatization. Hot climates induce sweating and require fluid and electrolyte replacement.

Conclusions Many factors, including energy intake and expenditure, hydration, and climate, influence the macronutrient and micronutrient composition necessary to maintain health in the backcountry and should be taken into consideration in the planning and preparation of a backcountry expedition.

Understanding the fundamentals of, and synthesize current research on, nutrition for individuals on trips in the backcountry.

Erika G. Hesterberg, BS, is a wilderness EMT and outdoor educator at the Colorado Outward Bound School, Denver, with a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Food Sciences from the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, University of Vermont, Burlington.

Rachel K. Johnson, PhD, MPH, RD, is the Robert L. Bickford, Jr. Professor of Nutrition and Professor of Medicine at the University of Vermont, Burlington.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Correspondence: Erika G. Hesterberg, BS, PO Box 19514, Boulder, CO 80308 (;

© 2013 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins