A crude meal, no doubt, but the best of all sauces is hunger.

Edward Abbey

There are a few things to consider when planning your food.

Supply Points

Tooltip on a table

The first real thing to do is to find out where possible supply points are and then to work out the distances and times required to get between these.

When kayaking the Murray, no special planning is needed for food. Distance information is fairly easily obtainable and you just need to look up the towns online to find out if they have any stores. It doesn't take too much research to note that you can get away with buying fresh food as you pass by the various towns along the way and to take some canned food for the couple of longer stretches. The longest stretch of 265 km would only require a maximum of a weeks food supply by most paddlers.

When kayaking the Culgoa, this requires much more careful planning. The first step was to accurately work out the distances, which I did using Google Maps measurement tool. 600 km with the likelihood of a town halfway didn't seem too bad until I tried getting confirmation that the store was still running. After a couple hours chasing people on the phone, I found out that it had closed a couple of years ago. So food drop or a 600 km stretch. A conservative estimate of 50 km a day would point to a 12 day run, 14 days with a couple of rest days. However, if there were bad log jams or fence crossings to tackle on a regular basis, that could easily cut down on my speed. Worse case times could be closer to 25 km per day. Since the river was in flood conditions, I backed myself to make 30 km days and packed three weeks worth of food. I easily made it in under two weeks paddling but I could easily see how a few misturns in the flooded plains or slightly lower water conditions could have created delays that would have pushed my food supplies. As an aside, many shop owners get very perplexed when you ring them up to see if they are open!

Playing with the idea of the Coopers, this does not have any major stores along the entire length other than at Longreach where there is an IGA and Foodworks. That is ~300 km from Torren Creek Township. From Longreach it is over 800 km to Innamincka where there is a pub and then nearly another 700 km to get to the usually dry Kati Thanda (Lake Eyre). I would tackle this with a single food drop at Innamincka and be taking at least a month's food for each leg. This is assuming a good flow along the entire river and a pickup from the mouth of the creek.

You can use the distance tables on this site for some of the rivers like the Murray River to work out your food requirements between various towns. Just tap or hover over each table cell to see the estimated number of days for most paddling paces.

Food drops

There are three main ways to handle food drops:

Support Crew
Get a friend or family member to drop this off directly. Any accessible location that they can dive to will become a supply point! Some trips have one or more people paddling and another following along by road. On many days, the paddler wouldn't even need to carry supplies other than lunch and some water.
Local Businesses

Don't be afraid to ask if it is ok to do a food drop at places. Many hotels, hostels and camping grounds are often happy to do this. About 75% of the places that I have asked have been willing to look after a couple bags of food for no charge. I try to stay the night or get a meal to return the favour when dropping the food off or when I pick it up. Along more remote stretches you may have to try local landowners / stations.

I haven't personally tried this, but you could potentially send food to pick up at a later time. Most small towns still have a AUSPost shop / general store. I have even had a couple businesses in remote areas offer to do a food shop on your behalf if you wire them a shopping list and some cash!

Food Stashes

Food Barrels are the last way I know that is commonly used. Tough plastic barrels are buried or stashed close to the river or track. It is vital that these will be strong enough to handle the local wildlife. In Australia that would be foxes and dingoes, in North America that would require bear-proof containers in some places (better to consider option two). And don't forget mice, if there are small openings or small rubber seals, they will easily be able to get into the container.

This would usually be done in conjunction with a local farmer or landowner, firstly to ensure they do not take it if they do find it and that you can offer the empty container to the farmer for free afterwards if you can't make it back to pick it up. Most will easily find uses for a barrel, even if it is just something to keep the chook food in.

Calorie Requirements

For short trips or those that pass by a lot of towns, you can easily use fresh food and resupply. Moving towards longer trips with less supply points, this becomes harder and you need to plan what food to take and how much to eat to avoid losing weight. I learnt this the hard way and I took my regular dietary calorie intake (office work) into the field where I was doing over ten hours of hard physical activity a day. I was losing close to 1 kg per day and was seriously close to running out of food by the time I finished.

Firstly, how much should you be eating? If you don't resupply your body with enough food, you will lose weight. This could be a good thing on a small trip, it could become dangerous on an extended trip.

Sitting down burns around 250 to 550 kJ per hour and is about what you could burn kayaking if you let the current do all of the work. Clearly most people will be exerting themselves at a reasonable level, and for would be closer to 1,050 to 1,380 kJ for those weighing 60 and 80 kg respectively.

For an eight hour day that is 8,400 to 11,000 kJ kayaking and say 200 kJ per hour sleeping and resting. That is a grand total of 11,600 to 14,200 kJ per day.

I carry a fairly lightweight food supply. This is what a typical days food plan looks like for me:

1,250 kJ
75g / 1 cup cereal
315 kJ
1/2 cup milk
3,765 kJ
3 energy / protein bars
5,700 kJ
Instant pasta with cheese
1,130 kJ
Tuna in oil
840 kJ
Fruits and nuts
1,250 kJ
14,259 kJ

So my food intake is reasonably close to my energy expenditure.

For trips longer than seven days, I tend to need to alter this plan up with foods other than cheese and fresh fruit. Instant dehydrated potatoes and noodles (ramen) are two of the main carb sources I use to do this. Many suggest using excess amounts of oil, but I personally can not stomach too much oil in my diet, maybe more for long distance hiking. I also take multivitamins on the longer trips where I can't keep up with fresh foods.

I tend to lose some weight over my longer trips pushing out longer days, especially early on if my fitness isn't as high as it should be. After a few weeks paddling, I generally maintain a lower but healthy weight after I get paddle fit.

Food Options

As noted a few times already, for shorter trips this is not a major concern for paddlers, fresh food with canned hydrated options will work just fine for a week or so. For longer trips you will want to start looking at fully dehydrated options and even potentially supplementary environmental food. There are a couple of options:

Specialised Camping Food
Most camping stores will carry a range of freeze dried camping food. Many often complain about the high salt but this is likely by design for those that are active and likely sweating it out paddling or hiking. Personally, the cost factor makes these a less viable option, the portion sizes are low for active paddler. Single serve main contains around 1,675 kJ or maybe an eighth of your daily energy requirements.
Supermarket Instant Meals
This is a big step down in both variety and also in price. Instant pastas, rice, noodles and couscous all make for cheap and lightweight meals. With the $2 pastas and $1 chicken tins, I can easily live on $5 per day making long trips very affordable.
Homemade Food
This falls into the middle ground of the above two options. There are many sites online that have great recipes to do it yourself and you can make the food exactly how you like it. After the initial upfront cost of the dehydrator, bulk cooking and drying meals provide a reasonable value for money option. Time and effort are clearly the biggest limitations, well maybe the second biggest after culinary skills for some like myself!

The main caveat is when you camp on hot windy days where there could be a total fire ban, or if you are covertly camping on private land where you shouldn't be using a fire or even a cooker. My preferred go to dish in these circumstances is flavoured couscous and tuna. Simply add water and wait for 10 minutes for the grains to absorb the water.