Food. It’s important. The awesome endeavor of hiking can become a drag if one’s body is not well fueled. So planning food for a backpacking trip—especially one in which you have no options for resupply partway through as you do with such trails as the Appalachian Trail—needs attention toward bringing the right kinds of foods—getting enough carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, as well as bringing food that you will find appetizing when the increased physical activity and higher altitude will inevitably kill your appetite—and the right amounts—as in, you might need to first force yourself to eat, but later might get the hiker hungries and become ravenous. As avid home chefs, we have the additional requirements that whatever we cook is fantastic rather than mediocre and is creative.
Our itinerary indicates we will have 6 on-trail breakfasts (since our first breakfast can happen before we start hiking), 7 on-trail lunches, and 6 on-trail dinners (since we will be able to eat dinner after we get picked up).
Breakfast is probably the hardest meal to figure out. First, for some reason eating early in the morning tends to be especially unappealing when hiking, even though it’s a time you need it most. Second, there is always the question of cold breakfast and get hiking quickly versus hot breakfast and get a slow start. What a conundrum! On the one hand, getting out early can set you up for covering ground before the potential afternoon thunderstorms hit. On the other hand, hot breakfasts tend to be slightly more appealing. We ended up choosing 3 cold breakfasts and 3 hot breakfasts to be able to take advantage of both those benefits at different times. For our cold breakfasts, we’ll eat homemade granola bars (recipe to come) on two mornings and bagels with peanut butter and jam on one morning. For hot breakfast, we’ll have a morning of oatmeal with dried fruit and peanut butter and a morning of blueberry pancakes and peanut butter. (Hopefully we will not tire of peanut butter. :P) Finally, we’ve planned a morning of hot chocolate protein shakes (mixing milk powder and protein powder in hot water) that can become a cold breakfast if necessary.
“Lunch” can be a loose to nonexistent event out on the trail. Having a single, long lunch in the middle of the day can leave your body feeling under-fueled in late morning and lethargic in the early afternoon after a big meal. A big lunch can be accompanied by snacks, or some people even do away with lunch all together and snack all day long. A nice middle-path is taking first and second lunch. (Alternatively, you could take first and second breakfast and a late lunch.) These lunch breaks involve a real stop—sitting down to get off your feet, taking off your pack, removing your shoes to dry out your socks if necessary—but spread out the quantity of food you might eat in one big lunch across the day. First lunch usually happens around 10:30 am, while second lunch tends to crop up around 2:00 pm. Of course, it’s we’re not set on any given time, and it’s more up to how we’re feeling, what the weather is doing, and where there might be lunch spots with fantastic views, but we’re going for the “four meal day” approach. We’re not dividing out specific lunches but calculated how much of different items we wanted to bring by estimating such things as 1 bread product (a bagel or caloric equivalent) per meal for 7 meals, 5 ounces of cheese for two people for X number of meals, ½ cup hummus for Y number of meals, and so on, as well as added some all important staples like Nutella (!!!) and Trail Mix.
A glance at some of our lunch foods:
1st and 2nd Lunches:
Bread Products (7 normal people, 7 glutard)
Cheese (20 oz)
Hummus (~1-1 ½ cup when hydrated)
Carrots (1 1 lb. bag)
Trail Mix: Almonds, Cashews, Pumpkin Seeds, Apples, Raisins, Rhubarb, M&Ms
Nutella (1 jar)
Tuna packets (2)
Chicken packets (2)
Pretzels (gluten free and regular, 1 bag of each)
After a full day of hiking, a hot meal becomes one of the best things in the world. It becomes even better when it’s delicious and varied. Dinner is the most exciting meal of the day, because we’re not trying to go anywhere so we can really enjoy making and eating it, and there are so many options for what to cook. Since we’re carrying all of our food for a seven day trip, we’re going to dehydrate anything that is dehydratable for our dinners to lighten our packs. (Also, food dehydration is a cool skill to develop…more on dehydrating in a later post.) Below are the 6 meals we’ve planned. Beyond the fiesta night, which we’ve planned for the first night since it will involve heavy (but delicious and worthwhile) things like salsa and guacamole, we’ll choose what we want to eat on any given night based on what we feel like, what kind of miles we did that day, and what the weather is like (split pea soup is often kept in reserve for rainy days).
1. Fiesta Night: We’ll cook brown rice, black beans, and bell peppers ahead of time and dehydrate them. Come dinnertime, these rehydrated will be combined with cheese, salsa, and guacamole.
2. Non-Ramen Bombs: Ramen Bombs—ramen noodles with instant mashed potatoes—are an Outing Club Classic, but given D$’s poor relationship with gluten, Ramen is out. No worries, though—we’re using mung bean noodles instead and adding (dehydrated) Brussel sprouts, spinach, broccoli, bell peppers, and spices to make the meal more interesting.
3. Split Pea Soup: The soup is made ahead of time and dehydrated until it’s crumbly. Carrots are sliced, cooked, and dehydrated. These are combined and reconstituted after a long, cold, rainy day to make one of the best backpacking meals of all time.
4. Peanut Sauce Noodles: We’ll first cook, then dehydrate, some gluten free noodles (rice or quinoa pasta). In camp, these will be rehydrated with broccoli and will be combined with a delicious peanut sauce that involves peanut butter, soy sauce, and lots of garlic.
5. Pizza Casserole: A blend of polenta, tomato sauce, mushrooms, and cheese. Tastes just like pizza but comes in a pot and is eaten with a spork.
6. Our last dinner plan is debuting on this trip, and thus has no title yet. A combination of a hearty quantity of sweet potatoes, black beans, red peppers, and yet-to-be-determined spices will likely satisfy the two of us and potentially become a popular, repeatable vegetarian backpacking meal. In perfect conditions, this meal will occur at a moment and/or in a location that ties the meal to fond memories that we will easily recalled when we cook the meal in the future.
In addition to our meals, we’re bringing tea and hot cocoa for the chilly mountain evenings and mornings, as well as a batch of gluten free brownie mix that will provide multiple nights of after dinner delight.
Keep your eyes peeled in the next few weeks for a little “how to” on dehydrating food!
Do YOU have any food ideas for backpacking? Let us know in the comments!