written by Brooke Porch, customer service associate
I’ve done a lot of research over the last few years to really improve my operational efficiency in the wilderness. While I used to carry 40+ pound packs and spend 2 or more hours getting ready in the morning, I now almost never carry more than 30 pounds. I can be packed up, fed, watered, and hiking within an hour of waking up for a 12-14+ hours in a day. These gains have translated into real value for my hiking experience. I spend more time on the trail, on summits and lakesides and less time packing up camp and thinking about my pack.
Backpacking is interesting to me because it is very much a multi-faceted logistical undertaking. There are the logistics of travel, gear, hydration, and nutrition and they all influence one another. For example, water logistics will vary greatly depending on where you hike – if it is along a river, you don’t worry about it, but if it is up on a ridgeline, then you need to have your hydration strategy well thought out. Indeed, hiking is about getting to a point with your ability to manage these logistical pressures in such a way that you don’t need to actively manage them. But, at the same time, backpacking has nothing at all to do with any of the logistics. To me, the essence of backpacking is waking up at 5 AM to watch the mist rise off a lake in the north country. It is being confident that your little “house-on-your-back” has everything you need to stay happy and safe.
A few months ago, I wrote “The Hunger Hikes,” a piece on my everlasting hunger on the trail. In that article, I expressed an interest to go beyond my typical diet of Pop-Tarts and Snickers. Since then, I’ve gone on a few hikes and I’ve managed to put some of these ideas into action.
The Goal: Improve my trail diet.
One area that has really lagged for me on the trail is diet. I’ve gotten better, but I’m still not where I want to be. I want to be in a position where I am consuming food that is: (1) less-processed than my previous food choices, (2) lightweight (1.5 pounds/day is my goal), (3) high-calorie (3000 calories/day is my target) and (4) tasty – it doesn’t mater what you bring on a hiking trip if you don’t feel like eating it!
The Result: This remains a “work in progress”, but I certainly am pleased with how things are going so far.
Breakfast: I’ll admit that I was a bit skeptical about trading away my beloved and trusted Pop-Tarts. I mean, I’ve walked hundreds and hundreds of miles with Pop-Tarts in my belly. Would I be OK without it? The big reason why I switched from oatmeal to ‘tarts to begin with was that I was always hungry after eating oatmeal due to its low fat content. My replacement was Nature’s Path Chia Plus Granola. This stuff is fantastic! While most other cereals only have between 80 or 100 calories per ounce, this stuff has a whopping 137 kcal/oz! So eating 2 servings (3.9 ounces) yields about 535 calories. In the future, I think I will take along powdered milk to further increase nutrition (read: calories) and taste. Banana chips and walnuts aid to taste as well (see below).
Snacks: I don’t eat a ‘lunch’ when I go hiking. Instead, I like to stop for about 5 minutes every hour or two, ideally at a water source. Hiking this way keeps my metabolism and heart rate up and helps to avoid that sluggish feeling you get after a long lunch where you eat 1,000 calories. The clear “snacktime champion” is dark (70+%) chocolate. I love this stuff! 168 kcal/oz, lots of fat and even a few grams of fiber and protein, bonus! I break large chocolate bars up into smaller pieces, which I then wrap in waxed paper. This works very well, but I’m not sure how well it would work on a very hot day. Other snacks I like to eat include walnuts, banana chips, shredded coconut and (of course) potato chips – you’ll never catch me without my chips! Variety is key. I dislike trips with my only option being a huge bag of trail mix, especially once all the delicious pieces of chocolate have ‘disappeared’. Remember: there is never such a thing as “too much chocolate.”
Dinner: I only use my stove twice per day. Once in the morning to boil up water for coffee and then again in the evening. I find that there is something about a hot meal that just makes me feel human. Even on a hot day, I still enjoy a cooked dinner. My go-to trail dinner has always been Ramen Noodles – cheap, light, tasty, and quick.
Ramen Noodles would be perfect if they weren’t horrible for you – the flavor packet is loaded with salt, MSG, and other garbage in it. Instead, I’ve opted against the flavor packet and have been making my own flavor concoctions with peanut butter, nutritional yeast, and my special spice blend (Cayenne pepper, garlic powder and onion powder). The combination is VERY good! The peanut butter combines with the noodles to provide a complete protein. Meanwhile, fortified nutritional yeast (like the Red Star brand product sold by the Co-op) is half protein by mass and provides tons of B-vitamins, which are essential for converting all those calories into useful energy.
A heavier dinner option is to precook a meal, such as fajitas or tacos, and freeze the fillings in zip-lock bags. At mealtime, re-heat the fillings over a flour tortilla and enjoy. You’ll find that the more gluten will last longer out in the wilderness (not to mention being jostled around in your backpack), but I’m sure our gluten-free friends can get by with gluten-free tortillas or perhaps a quick-cooking gluten-free grain.
The Future: It is becoming clear to me that I would like to invest in a food dehydrator. Dehydration seems to be the obvious way to create cheap, healthy, light, and quick meals for backpacking. It will take a bit more planning, but I’m sure the result will be very much worth the effort. Stay tuned!