Every day thousands of avid backpackers hike into the woods seeking the opportunity relieve some of the stress of the fast-paced and complex technical civilization, discipline their bodies while reducing their luxuries, and be nurtured by the beauty and wisdom of the natural world. But unfortunately many of these same people, seeking to increase efficiency by cutting weight, prep time, complexity, and spoilage, end up polluting their bodies with junk food that actually saps their energy and makes them sick – not a healthy and refreshing experience. Why should a visit to nature be defiled by food-from-a-box?
Partly, eating healthy on the trail presents difficulties. But mostly, this mistake is due to a well established culture within the backpacking community of relying on two things: 1) high-carb, “high-energy” foods like granola, dried fruit covered in sugar and vegetable oil, and instant pasta; 2) high-tec, pre-packaged snacks, like power bars and energy gels. By and large, these foods are terrible for you in any context, but all the more so when your body is under the kind of physical stress that backpacking demands. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way.
I documented our most recent backpacking trip in order to share some our food choices and show that you can still eat fresh, living, wholesome food, with the right balance of micro and macro-nutrients for your grateful body, even when you’re on the trail. Your taste buds will thank you, too.
This past weekend we went on a 3-day backpacking trip to Crater Lake. The majestic scenery of the old volcano left us speechless.
We had some extreme elevation to traverse and we wanted to keep the weight of our packs down, so everyone in our group opted against packing in cookware (except for a handy telescoping roaster).
Everyone brought something tasty for breakfast. Above: a sprouted whole wheat bagel, toasted over the fire and slathered with lots of butter.
Authentic German pumpernickel bread with freshly ground peanut butter,
local, raw, unfiltered honey, (note: I would recommend packing honey in a plastic squeeze bottle to save on weight!)
and flax seeds. We all chewed on flax seeds quite a bit during our trip. They are a great source of both fiber fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Some people get a little irregular during long backpacking trips, so good fiber is definitely a must.
Mmm: Toasted peanut butter and honey sandwich.
Clayton and I brought our favorite muffins! They are gluten free, dairy free, and sugar free. This time, I replaced the eggs with three overripe bananas because I wanted them to keep longer. In the mornings, we heated them (and ourselves!) next to a fire, using foil (which is to be packed out after use, not burned or buried) to create a tiny oven.
These muffins contain about 3 cups of almond meal, three bananas, one cup of blueberries, and an obscene amount of coconut oil.
They got slightly squished in our back packs but still tasted great and were very filling, especially with lots of butter on top!
Taking a mid-morning snack stop while discussing our route.
Everyone had their own trail mix. My husband made this one with sprouted almonds, raw cashews, dried figs, dates, pumpkin seeds, coconut shavings, and a little salt.
One of our favorite snacks was dried mangoes. One of our local grocery stores carries plain dehydrated fruit no sugar, no vegetable oil in the bulk section! Check out if any of your local store does too or just make your own.
For lunch: Parmesan cheese and salami on pumpernickel.
Salami and Parmesan is a killer backpacking food, for snack or meal. It is easy to handle, keeps for a long time without going bad, tastes amazing cold or roasted over a fire, and will keep your body fueled with lots of good saturated fats.
Vegetables are always an easy option. We had bell pepper slices and fresh, local carrots.
Hard boiled eggs with salt and brewers yeast on top are easy to store and very satisfying. As a side note, we all got french manicures while hiking. Even after we washed our hands, our fingernails, as well as most of the rest of our bodies, retained their vibrant black accents. The fine, dusty sand of Oregon’s high desert was a constant companion.
A tuna salad with re-hydrated tomatoes, raw Parmesan, and some mustard is a creative option.
Avocado with sea salt and brewers yeast is not only a great source of saturated fats and B-12 vitamins, but also tastier than most anything you’re likely to find in a 5-star restaurant.
Ham and Swiss rolls are another great lunch option. Paleo? Almost. Kosher? No. Healthy and delicious? For sure.
Especially if you have some mustard packets! If you’re in a hot climate, the ham may be something you want to finish sooner rather than later. In our case, the temperature was falling to about 35*F at night, and we had our food suspended in a tree to keep it away from bears. Our perishables were practically refrigerated for us each day.
For dinner we all brought sausage, like bratwurst and hot dogs. Pre-cooking (boiling) the sausage at home and then charring it over the fire tastes delightful and prevents it from going bad during the day.
We ate our sausages with homemade sauerkraut and mustard.
Sauerkraut is easier to transport than it sounds. Just thoroughly drain the liquid (saving it to drink, of coarse) and double-bag the kraut in ziplocks. Sauerkraut is a great food to bring because it aids digestion, tastes refreshing, and, since it’s fermented, keeps indefinitely!
This little guy knows what his favorite backpacking food is! As cute as this chipmunk finding some sunflower seeds is, remember that it is detrimental to wildlife to feed animals human-food
Crater Lake was a great hike. We walked down the caldera to take a swim, and some of the braver members of our group jumped from a cliff into the pure, frigid water.
All around, we ate great food and were probably happier, faster, and stronger for having done so. If our bags were a little heavier, our trip still benefited from a bit more attention to the often-neglected food side of backpacking.