Lifestyle Before Medication

A pharmacist's perspective on health and metabolic disease

Fat and unfit in Fiordland (and Westland)

Musing from the last two summer holidays.

For the last 16 years, The Engineer and I have spent some time in the great New Zealand wilderness away from civilisation and things like wifi and electricity. We have had some amazing 10 day tramps where we have had to carry all of our own gear including tents, cooker and food.


Under the old days of low fat high carb meals, this wasn’t too much of a problem as we would be living off rolled oats, rice and pasta with just enough protein and fat (and for me, chocolate and sugar) to stay healthy.

Having gone low-carb, high fat, this caused major changes.  Instead of taking 100g rice or pasta for our evening meals, we now take 50g Ghee or Beef dripping.

So with the change to high fat meals in the outdoors, what have we noticed?

  • I better appreciated the environment. On a high-carb diet, my brain was often starving for fuel. You don’t enjoy the scenery beyond “oh – pretty” at this point.IMG_1144Now I can notice many more subtle things and take a keener interest in where I am.
  • We don’t have to stop. This is a two-edged sword. There are certainly times when stopping is a bad idea, such as when you have a long stretch prone to avalanches, or the weather is unpleasant. However, when you are unfit, it is not just your muscles that need strengthening. Tendons, ligaments and other connective type tissues take longer to strengthen and due to a lack of nerves, you may not know that you are damaging them until it is too late.   Rest breaks are still good, but you don’t have to eat.


  • We didn’t have any food cravings at the end of ten days. On other long trips we have come out of the hills and headed straight to the pub for a good steak. Both of us have thought we were protein starved. This time, we didn’t, even though our protein intake was only slightly increased. Maybe it was actually the fat we wanted, because, in retrospect, I always wanted a fatty cut of meat.


  • Our packs are lighter. It’s not just food. Previously we had to cook rice or pasta. This means that we had to boil the water for longer. We came out of our ten day trip with lots of fuel leftover and quite a few snacks. (Yes – ultra-dark chocolate leftover!) Now we know not to take quite so much.   Lighter packs mean happier trampers.
  • I don’t react as badly to sunburn or to sandfly bites. New Zealand is unique in many ways, but our lack of ozone means that we have really strong UV and I can burn easily. I still burn, but not as easily, and the burns don’t seem to be as severe.  (More research is needed, I’m not leaving my 30+ sunscreen at home yet.)


  • Sandflies. Maori legend has it that sandflies were created to keep humans out of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand. Previously, I would be bitten, and welt up and itch and live off antihistamines and still itch. These last two trips, I’m still being bitten, but maybe not as much, and certainly I’m not reacting as before.   People have tried all sorts of things to reduce sandfly bites, eating yeast extracts, taking Vitamin B1, bathing in Dettol, plus insect repellents of all types. Nothing really works. The joke used to be that I was The Engineer’s best insect repellent. Well neither of us were badly affected these last two years. Again – more experiments needed, and we still need to see what happens with the Auckland mosquito.

Will we keep going with LCHF when in the wilderness? Absolutely. We are happier, healthier, and can appreciate where we are more. We just need to remember to take better rest breaks.

5 comments on “Fat and unfit in Fiordland (and Westland)

  1. Honora
    February 4, 2016

    A colleague printed off this post for me to read and I’m glad I did.

    I’ve dropped my carb intake but still find it a bit of a challenge when on long tramping trips so replacing the carbs with 50 g of fat for the evening meal is a good pointer. I’d be very keen to know your strategies for breakfast and lunch though. I did buy some paleo dehydrated egg white and have also dehydrated grated cheese which I’ll grind up into powder. Any other ideas?

    I met a woman doing the Te Araroa who made a flat loaf of cooked vegies and egg for her lunches. It would be tasty with chutney I imagine. I can only eat so much of nuts and dried fruit…goji berries being low in sugar compared with the rest.


    • pharmacistcatherine
      February 4, 2016

      Hi Honora. We went the slightly more expensive route and used commercially prepared freeze dried meals for weight, space and taste considerations. I have made my own dried meals in the past, but they really don’t compare. Here is a run down of what we were eating…

      Freeze dried meals: A serving of Backcountry’s Cooked Breakfast, or Fish Pie with an additional 30g ghee ( Or a serving of Absolute Wilderness’ Scrambled eggs ( No additional fat needed as these scrambled eggs come with a whopping 90g fat per serve.

      Lunch: No change – still pita (x 2 mini) or cabin (x 4) bread, 4 slices of salami, 2 slices of processed cheese, vegemite and some peanut butter or jam (2 tsp, no added sugars or sweeteners).

      Dinner: A serving of Backcountry or Absolute Wilderness freeze dried dinners with 50g beef fat (for beef-based meals) or ghee (all other meals). Normally with additional freeze dried grated cheese (First time taken into the hills and Yum!) We tried to choose meals that were rice or potato based, rather than pasta or couscous.
      We also had nuts and dark chocolate for snacks, soups, coffee and herbal teas.

      We had to make some difficult decisions. We had to balance food quality, caloric intake storage, and costs. Although we looked extensively, very few meals fit our ideal of LCHF and fell within budget and practicalities. We are also not purists. Given the amount of exercise that we were about to do, carrying heavy packs, I decided that the small amount of carbs (~40g/meal) was not high in the scheme of things.

      Next time, I would lose the jam and halve the bread ration at lunch. I’d love to hear some other suggestions as well.


  2. Honora
    February 9, 2016

    Thanks very much for getting back to me with your lengthy reply. Much appreciated.So you didn’t get sick of the brands of dehy food? I think if I were to do that, I’d need to get other brands as well and maybe make some of my own even though it’s inferior and heavier. I once went on a trip and took BCC meals for lunches as well as evening meals and found it a bit grim.

    I’ve heard that adding coconut oil to that evening cup of cocoa is another way of getting fat into the menu. I make pesto with olive oil and take that on trips. One time I dehydrated tahini and we enjoyed that on crackers. I sourced a great dehydrated egg powder but can’t get it now except in massive bulk quantities.

    In lieu of crackers, it is possible to buy paleo bread – made from almond flour and other expensive ingredients, selling at $10 a loaf. This can be preserved for a 10 day trip by drying slowly in a 100 degree farenheit oven with the door held open with a wooden spoon. I tried this with a solid loaf of Vogel’s bread and it was good. I wrapped it in a paper bag and it didn’t go mouldy. You can then slice off thin slices each day.

    Mayonnaise is another oil-rich food to take tramping. I’ve read that you can improve its keeping qualities by fermenting it from adding yoghurt whey to the mix. Anchovies and tinned oysters are rich in fat but very strongly flavoured of course. I have a very nice Nigella Lawson recipe for a lemon/green olives/parsley/anchovy sauce but have it with pasta. I published a recipe for dried potato-based gnocchi on but haven’t tried it yet. I’ll need to practise at home and I’m sure it will be fiddly and time-consuming in the field unless it can be dehydrated at home – like pasta.

    I buy the BCC dehy mince which is way superior to their nasty BHT-ridden meals (tho’ I still buy them too). I can get organic mashed potato at Liberty’s supermarket.

    cheers, Honora


    • pharmacistcatherine
      February 9, 2016

      No, we didn’t get sick of the dehy meals but I think BCC is something you either love or hate. We had several different flavours and added plenty of dehy cheese. Going out for the long trips that we do, everything is pared to a minimum. More than half the weight in our packs at the beginning of the trips is food, so things like pesto and mayonnaise have not been possible. I like your idea of paleo bread but our other concern is we know what works for ten days. For us, it would be a disaster if some of our food became “non-viable” halfway though the trip. I might try some of these ideas if we have a shorter trip though and let you know how we get on.

      Cheers, Catherine


      • Honora
        February 10, 2016

        The good news about the bread was that I took it on a trip but first we did another trip so I left it in the car over quite a few days in incredibly hot weather. It was in a paper bag, wrapped in a tea towel. It was good on the multiday trip we did next. I was looking for a solid loaf at the supermarket but no luck so I’ll go to Piko’s and get a solid loaf there.


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