In the PHB, the equipment list says that a day's ration weighs 2 pounds (p. 150), however, page 185 says that only 1 pound of food is required per day:

A character needs one pound of food per day and can make food last longer by subsisting on half rations. Eating half a pound of food in a day counts as half a day without food.

I can see how one might read this and interpret it to mean that 1 pound of the 2 pound ration is half a ration and all that is required per day. If this is the case, then why is a 2 pound ration even a thing?

What is the general consensus for how this inconsistency is handled?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Most comments only address the food part of rations. PHB 185 states that a character also needs 1 gallon (8 pounds) of water per day, and 2 gallons if it is hot. I personally play with 6 pounds of water per day +3 if hot, +3 if traveling quickly or force marching. \$\endgroup\$
    – Faur
    Commented May 27, 2023 at 14:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, remember the PHB assumes medium creatures. I use half rations for small, quarter rations for tiny and double rations for large. \$\endgroup\$
    – Faur
    Commented May 27, 2023 at 14:19

5 Answers 5


A ration weighs two pounds, but a character only needs to consume one pound (half a ration) per day.

The key word in this case is need and how this is very different from should. A character, at a bare minimum, needs be consuming one pound of food per day, but very rarely will anyone want to get by on the bare minimum amount of food unless it's a survival scenario and resources are scarce. It stands to reason that a ration is two pounds because consuming a whole ration would be enough food to comfortably satisfy a day's requirement of food, and therefore, what a character should consume per day.

We can very easily reword the quote to yield the following:

A character needs one pound of food per day and can make a ration last longer by subsisting on half rations. Each half a pound of food, or quarter of a ration, in a day counts as half a day without food.

The word subsisting supports this interpretation because of the following definition provided by a simple Google search:

subsist - maintain or support oneself, especially at a minimal level.

It could stand to argue that if a ration were intended to be one pound, one could not, by definition, subsist on half a ration by definition since half a pound of food is less than what is required in a day.

If that's the case, why shouldn't I only consume half rations to save resources?

As mxyzplk mentions in his comment,

real people, unlike computer game characters, don't like subsisting on EXACTLY THE MINIMUM AMOUNT TO LIVE EVERY DAY.

We must remember that rations are intended to sustain adventures and travelers who will very likely need more than the bare minimum amount of food daily. If we consider modern body builders, they can very easily consume six meals a day as opposed to the average three because they must sustain their added muscle mass. One might be able to argue that a warrior might need more food than a wizard, but neither will be happy if they only ate only what they needed for an extended period of time.

This, unfortunately, does not offer a mechanical reason as to why a character should consume more than a pound of food a day and I am unaware of any in-game rules which address this either. This would suggest two possible solutions to encourage players to consume a full ration whenever possible:

  1. Reward players who consume a full ration (or a large enough meal) with a temporary buff. This is a result of the character being well fed and ready to address any challenges they may face.
  2. Penalize players who are attempting to live off of the bare minimum. In this case, you can easily apply any penalties which a hungry character suffers, but to a lesser degree to seem fair.

As to which should be used and to what degree is up to the GM's discretion for what they believe is a best fit for their campaign or scenario.


Your rations weigh two pounds, the food inside them is one pound.

This would be because your rations are wrapped in packaging to prevent them from spoiling and the elements (such as weather). So the rations weigh two pounds because there's packaging and preservatives (such as salt) and then there's one pound of food within them.

  • 12
    \$\begingroup\$ As any backpacker knows, packaging weight is bad. Besides the idea that a pound of packaging for a pound of food seems to stretch the idea a bit, a traveler/backpacker would probably lump all rations in the same packaging rather than having them each individually wrapped. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shadouts
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 19:50
  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ @Shadouts Are you assuming modern backpacking techniques and packaging materials? That could be misleading. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 20:03

There's no ambiguity here, it's just awkwardly worded

Let's put together what we know from the two sources, and see if we can make sense of it.

The Equipment list tells us:

A day's ration weighs 2 pounds

Page 185 tells us:

A character needs 1 pound per day (eg this is the minimum a person can survive on)

A character can make food last longer by subsisting on half rations

Put these two together and it is clear that half rations is 1 lb. So let's look at our last piece of information.

Eating half a pound a day counts as half a day without food

This corroborates what we've learned above: if 1 day's minimum (half ration) amount is 1 lb, and you only eat 1/2 lb, you are eating half of the minimum requirement (ie 1/4 of a ration), this obviously can't work, so the game assumes that you only ate for half the day (basically as if you ate all your ration in the morning and had nothing to eat for the afternoon). This is how the game treats "not having enough food*


2 pounds = 1 day's ration, the "right" amount of food for a person to be well fed and healthy etc. Particularly if active

1 pound = 1 day's half rations, on which a person can survive. Eating any less than this means you are hungry (with any associated penalties). 1 pound is the minimum a person can eat without immediate penalty, but may incur penalties if sustained - for example a person eating half rations may be fine for 3 days, then slowly deteriorate due to not getting enough food. Alternately they may not be able to undertake heavy tasks, or may be able to perform fewer tasks per day.

1/2 pound = half a day's worth of half rations, or a quarter of a full ration. Enough to sustain you for half a day, meaning you are hungry for the other half. This carries immediate penalties.

Think of it as 1 pound is 100% of what we need to live, while 2 pounds is enough to be well fed. By extension, 1/2 pound is 50% of what we need to live. Anyone eating 1/2 a pound in a day is eating half as much as they need in that day, so therefore is treated as not eating for half a day.

The above is how I'd handle the perceived inconsistency in the rules: which is to say, I don't believe there is one.

The correct way to handle it in gameplay, in my eyes, is along the lines of the following (as an example of house rules):

  1. 2lbs = full rations = no penalty, all actions are normal

  2. 1lb = half rations = you're not eating properly, so there are either lighter penalties, penalties that accrue over time, or there are restrictions on your actions. Some combination of

  3. there's a penalty for certain actions (eg a 10% damage/productivity reduction)

  4. there's a limit to how many days you can be on 1/2 rations

  5. both: it's fine for 3 days, but penalties start to accrue after 4 days

  6. there are limits to actions you can take - eg you can rest indefinitely, or it's okay as long as you aren't in battle but you're unable to attack.

  7. You can perform fewer actions per day (ie less energy) but the ones you do perform are normal

  8. 1/2 lb = you're not eating enough to even survive = you get severe penalties, eg 10% health loss on the first day, with an additional 5% for each subsequent day (ie 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, dead)

Of course, your own rules may vary, but that's how I'd handle it

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Have you playtested those houserules for not eating enough? We generally frown on answers with untested houserules. \$\endgroup\$
    – DuckTapeAl
    Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 22:07
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ This answer would be better without the house rule bit at the end. Nothing in the question requests or requires them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Commented Oct 11, 2015 at 21:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question asked how you'd handle it, although perhaps meant handle the perceived inconsistency (which I don't believe exists at all) \$\endgroup\$
    – Jon Story
    Commented Oct 11, 2015 at 21:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ what does it mean to have lost 10% (or any %age) of your "health"? Are you talking about HP? HP max or current HP? In #3 are you saying that you wouldn't use the exhaustion mechanic specified in the PHB? Can you explain why not? \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 0:53

Specific Over General

The Food subsection quote you provide goes into depth into how 1lb of food is what you will eat in a single day. As it is so specific, it is the rule you should be following.

Furthermore, this other mention of ration size could easily be, and likely is, a single character typo.

Rations (1 day) ------------- 5 sp ------------- 2 lb.
- (Adventuring Gear, p. 150)

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with everything but the typo. Without modern techniques, I can certainly see a middle ages type portable food take 2 pounds. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jim B
    Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 0:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is not really what specific over general means — it's not about which section goes into more detail! \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Jun 29, 2019 at 1:23

Let's take a look at a historical trend: The 3.5 PHB has:

  • Rations, trail (per day) - 5 sp - 1 lb.

The 4e PHB has:

  • Rations, trail (10 days) - 5 gp - 10 lb.

which sets a clear precedent for rations costing 5 sp per day and weighing 1 lb per day. Considering this, along with the text you quoted about characters needing 1 lb. of food per day, it seems far more likely to me that the 5e entry:

  • Rations (1 day) - 5 sp - 2 lb.

has a typo in the weight column, than that the publishers suddenly decided that adventurers' caloric needs have suddenly doubled.

I couldn't find a copy of the 3rd Edition PHB, but this 2014 Greyhawkery blog post analyzed the history of ration weights, and found that they have remained pretty much consistent since the beginning.1 Between that, and this question's quoted text block, I'd say 2 lbs. is a typo, and the "text trumps tables" rule applies here.

1. AD&D 1E had "standard" and "iron" rations, which were 3 lbs. and 1 lb., respectively; the more modern systems' descriptions of the single ration item are consistent with the old iron rations.


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