Backpacking food should be as good as, or more nutritious, than the food we eat at home. Hiking is a healthful activity when fueled by high quality food. Digesting low quality food, while under the physical demands of a hiking vacation, cooks up a bad mood, making hills steeper, body aches more painful, and companions less desirable.
The general principles that we have all been taught about health and nutrition since elementary school provide sound guidance. Most modern diets fail to follow these basic principles. The enjoyment you envision for your hiking vacation will be greatly buoyed by healthful backpacking food.
Healthful Backpacking Food Basics
- Food Pyramid – by volume, eat mostly whole grains, then fruits / vegetables, then meat (protein) / dairy, and least sugar / fats / oils.
- Eat a variety of foods, daily, and from day to day.
- Make an effort to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Minimize fat intake.
- Stay away from refined flours and sugars (white sugar, corn syrup, etc.)
- Avoid too much salt
- Drink alcohol in moderation
In addition to the above USDA recommendations:
- Use the herbal sweetener Stevia, a lightweight, healthy backpacking food
- Combine your meals properly – basically: proteins with vegetables, carbohydrates with vegetables, NOT proteins with carbohydrates, fruits alone.
- Use olive oil – with other “expeller pressed” oils; avoid hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.
- Snack several times a day
- Eat more whole grains and less flour
- Slowly phase packaged food out of your life
- Forget about McDonalds
- Try new foods and preparation techniques
- Learn about organic foods
- Create your own healthful cooking and eating way of life
Look to the Frogs
As a natural environment becomes damaged, ecologists know to look to the frogs for an answer. Frogs, with their tender, susceptible skins are the first to get sick and die off when an environment becomes polluted or imbalanced. Frogs are an “indicator species”. An understanding of their maladies leads ecologists to the source of contamination.
Within the human species, we can look to the weak and sick, our “frogs,” for understanding environmental threats. One threat affecting most of us is diet. Fast food, processed food, and packaged food, are slowly killing many, and making the rest of us sick. The list of symptoms resulting from poor diet is long: headaches, depression, skin rashes, food allergies, low sex-drive, joint and muscle pain, menstrual irregularity, digestive problems, etc.
Whole Grain – Energy Backpacking Food
Whole grains contain real nutritional value and should be our major source of energy while on the trail. Only whole grains, as part of a balanced diet, can provide real, sustained energy for multi-day treks. Packaged freeze dried foods and “energy bars” are easy, and supposedly palatable, but quickly dissipates our bodies nutritional stores.
To reduce cooking time, you can “crack” grains with a hand mill to make your own cereals. The Country Living Grain Mill is excellent. Depending on the grain, boiling times range from 5 – 15 minutes. Soaking the cereal in water, for 8 hours or longer, will further shorten the boiling time. Millet and quinoa have the shortest cooking times.
Whole Foods – Backpacking Food Worth the Weight
We pay good money for our plane tickets and hotel rooms when we travel. Our 2 weeks vacation per year is precious. Eating plenty of whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, meats, and beans helps ensure that our trip will be enjoyable.
Whole foods allow us to perform at our highest physical level, and enhance our enjoyment of life. Many hikers opt for freeze dried / packaged foods and energy bars because they are lightweight and satisfy hunger. Truly they are lightweight, and they do satisfy hunger, but their ability to sustain strenuous activity, even for short periods, is questionable.
Undoubtedly, whole foods are the highest quality nourishment. Mixed nuts won’t spoil even on long treks. Fresh fruits and vegetables will last several days in freezer bags, depending on the weather. For longer hiking trips, try dehydrating your backpacking food at home.
Dehydrating Backpacking Food at Home
You can dehydrate almost any wet food: fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, herbs, soups, casseroles, etc. While not as nourishing as whole foods, dried backpacking food makes a good lightweight supplement to whole foods and grains.
- Control of your diet away from home – many travelers suffer because they are at the mercy of restaurants and fast food.
- Inexpensive – just like home cooked meals.
- Lightweight – up to 50% of food’s weight is water
- Variety – bring the delectable flavor of your own kitchen with you on the trail
- Long lasting – properly dried foods can last years.
Drying food destroys much of the life-giving vitamins and minerals