A bit of a followup from How can I tell if a corpse is safe to eat?, what is the best manner of avoiding death by hunger?

Previously, I had eaten corpses and whatnot whenever I could find them, and with the info in the aforementioned post I am able to now figure out which corpses to avoid eating.

But, I've had numerous characters die from hunger. How can I go about surviving without succumbing to an empty stomach?

4 Answers 4


There are two parts to the hunger problem in NetHack: gaining nutrition and reducing nutrition loss.

Under normal conditions, each turn, you lose one point of nutrition. You start with 900 nutrition, and start feeling hungry when you drop below 150. At 0, you'll faint. Starving to death happens at a negative value based on your constitution.

Nethack is a very complex game, so there are exceptions to most of the guidelines below, and other, more obscure ways of sustaining yourself, but these general principles are good guidelines.

Gaining nutrition

  • Comestibles. The most straightforward way to gain nutrition is to eat comestibles (labeled as % - food, meat and corpses). The amount of nutrition you get depends on what you eat. Early on in the game is often the riskiest time; you may not start with much food. At this stage, it's normal to eat as many fresh, safe corpses as you can get your hands on. If you make it that far, there is guaranteed food in the Sokoban levels, which are accessed somewhere between levels 6-10.

  • Praying. Praying while weak will restore your nutrition, but safe use depends on your current prayer timeout. Also, using up your favour with your god could backfire if you have a sudden unforseen need (e.g. you have gained a fatal illness like food poisoning, or are being turned to stone).

  • Convert boulders to food. As theist points out, you can convert boulders to huge chunks of meat if you have the stone to flesh spell. These are hugely nutritious (2000 points).

Reducing nutrition loss

  • Wear a ring of slow digestion. This is a great item, if you can find one. It changes your rate of nutrition consumption to 5% of your normal rate (giving you twenty times as long to find food). As Grace Note points out in the comment below, this is because you are only paying the nutrition cost of the ring - your standard rate of consumption is halted.

  • Take off your rings. In general, you lose one nutrition every twenty turns for each ring or amulet you wear. Rings of regeneration are particularly pernicious; if you're wearing one, you'll lose a point every other turn.

  • Drop your stuff. If you're Stressed or heavier, you lose a point every other turn.

  • Don't cast spells. Spellcasting makes you hungry (unless you're a wizard with high Intelligence).

  • 6
    A ring of slow digestion actually halts your normal nutrition loss. The 5% rate is because of the second point, that you lose 1 nutrition per 20 turns for just wearing the ring. The consequence of this? Wearing two rings of slow digestion simultaneously means that it actually doubles the consumption from 5% to 10% with no added benefits.
    – Grace Note
    Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 18:02
  • @Grace Note - OK, I agree that was misleading. I originally elected not to mention the two ring situation, for the sake of brevity. Similarly, I haven't mentioned the double slow digestion ring bug, which allows you to subsist forever, or the consequences of eating rings. [ninja star] Apparently, I did miss a comment link... Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 19:00
  • I concur with not mentioning the two-rings technique, just because it is harrowing and inconvenient to try and pull off. It's just a tactical hazard if you're not running all the numbers all the time - which is why I edited it out of my original comment.
    – Grace Note
    Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 19:07
  • Rings of hunger may deserve a special mention as well. I think those and regeneration are the only special ones as far as nutrition goes. Polymorphing could also be worth mentioning.
    – Larry Wang
    Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 19:52
  • Ring of conflict also causes increased hunger.
    – Wooble
    Commented Aug 30, 2010 at 19:17

Wearing a ring of slow digestion is the best way I think (if you can find one)

Other than that, buying food from shops whenever possible and stockpiling, and eating safe corpses when possible

Or as Sjoerd points out, praying when weak.

As theist points out, "for magic users, cast 'stone to flesh' to a boulder"

  • Linking the other answers generally works well even after a user changes their display name, but past that there isn't much of an established policy beyond simple attribution.
    – Grace Note
    Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 16:01
  • I'm not sure how practical "find a ring of slow digestion" is. How about going down to sokoban instead?
    – Larry Wang
    Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 16:02
  • @Kaestur not the most practical, I agree, but I think one of the best ways if you are lucky enough to find one. Most of my more successful games (made it as far as the Wizard), are those where I found one along the way at some point.
    – Durathor
    Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 18:40

Another great recipe for magic users: Cast "stone to flesh" on a boulder.


Praying when starving or fainting will help in the early game. But don't pray too often!

Edit: as Grace points out in the comment below, one can pray when Weak.

  • 3
    It should be noted that as long as you aren't wishing or using prayer for other things, the prayer timeout will generally be done by the next time you reach Weak hunger status. In fact, if you do have an available prayer and aren't planning on saving it for something else/an atheist, early-game it's always a better idea to use the prayer before you start working on non-perishable foods like rations.
    – Grace Note
    Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 13:36
  • @Grace, could you clarify how the prayer works? Or should I ask in a separate q? i was under the assumption you could pray once, then if you try again at any point your god is pissed at you for being needy
    – erik
    Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 14:12
  • 1
    @espais Separate question would be best if you want to ask about the prayer system in general.
    – Grace Note
    Commented Aug 11, 2010 at 14:22

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