People who love to eat are always the best people.Julia Child
What do you eat when you thru-hike, Blissful?
The number one question I’m asked when making a presentation about my thru-hiking is, “What do you eat?” quickly followed by, “How do you get enough calories?“
It’s no secret in my household that I am not much of a cook. When I hit my twenties, my mom gave me The Joy of Cooking for Christmas. Seemingly at the tail end of a vain attempt to convince me I’d come to like it too, she inscribed on the inside front cover, “It really is a joy!”
Is this a joke? I wondered.
Fast forward to today and the bible of cooking still sits on my kitchen counter but it’s more Richard’s than mine. Before we met, I subsisted on microwaveable dinners, ones I’d assumed were healthy since they came from the natural foods aisle.
Though I have improved and those of you who’ve followed my blogs from the Te Araroa or the Pacific Crest Trail, know my “balanced diet” includes a combination of healthy items I make myself including fabulous vegetarian pemmican bars, dried fruit and veggies and jerky as well as one-pot meals dehydrated and packed in vacuum seal bags.
What’s difficult for me, however, is that these items are hard to make in bulk and send forward as resupply. I’d come to rely on questionably nutritious packets of “food” picked up at random shops along the way.
What I ate left me constantly hungry and usually craving sugar. On the PCT in particular, I developed an addiction to gummy bears – well, to be perfectly frank, gummy anything. By the time I arrived in Southern California, I was consuming a full bag every single day!
My strategy to make up for the lost calories – and lost weight? Eat massive amounts in town. Surely there had to be a better way.
Introducing Backcountry Foodie
When Backcountry Foodie contacted me last year to see if I might want to trail test their company’s wares, I was under the impression the food was pre-made. Of course I said yes, send ’em on over! I’ll check them out on Isle Royale and the Kekekabic
Not so fast, Blissful.
Unlike any company I know of in the outdoor industry, Backcountry Foodie is less a provider than a partner in thru-hike meal planning.
Aaron Owens Mayhew is a registered dietician and ultralight long-distance backpacker. It would take more than fifteen years of carrying heavy military rations and unappetizing freeze-dried meals that left her feeling hungry before she thought to combine her passions.
She has created a spectacular collection of recipes in a kind of thru-hiker meal strategy, one that checks all the boxes – food that’s healthy and high in calories, ultralight and concentrated as well as cheap to create at home and easy to prepare on the trail.
How does Backcountry Foodie work?
Aaron must have been a straight-A student because she’s organized, passionate and thorough, covering information I hadn’t even known I needed, categorizing her meals by day part, calories-per-ounce, as well as cross referencing the use of ingredients for other meals.
I should point out here that it’s not necessary to own a dehydrator unless you want to dry your own ingredients.
The “pantry” is the extensive list of ingredients with a link to purchase each item. Many ingredients can be found at your local store, but some, like dehydrated refried beans or peanut butter flour, are harder to find and best bought online.
Every recipe is “freezer-bag” style, cooking fast (if at all) and using very little fuel and each one is designed like pages of a cookbook (The Joy of Cooking, anyone?) including home and field prep time, allergy and diet restriction information and if the meal works best cold soaked or cooked. Plus, there are individual labels to print and slap on your baggie with all pertinent information. This will definitely come in handy when you open a resupply box three months down the road.
As a member-based organization, Backcountry Foodie offers three tiers – the most basic – and independent – level providing access to 75 different recipes, with the more comprehensive levels including meal plans, webinars, group web calls as well as custom meal planning.
In case you thought maybe the meals could get a little boring, here’s a sampling to whet your appetite: Coconut Mango Porridge, Taco Scramble, Bivy Bran Flakes, Antioxidant Trail Mix, Spicy Hummus, Yosemite Yams, Chips & Salsa with Guacamole, Pasta Primavera, Reboot Espresso Trail Mix, Pina Colada…and on and on.
I should mention here that each recipe is vegetarian, still managing to provide the essential vitamins and minerals and calories needed from a hiker walking 10-12 hours per day.
How did it go?
There are way more recipes than I could possibly have explored for my shortish hikes this fall. Working through the bounty one-by-one will take me most of the off-season. But from what I field-tested, I can say without reservation, Backcountry Foodie is a game changer.
I started this review mentioning that I’m not much of a cook, and that is made patently obvious on the trail where all I want to do is eat and get going. I want my meals to be simple.
And simple is the name of the game, one pot, just-add-water kinda meals, exactly the way I like it.
I made two items for breakfast – a Chocolate/Peanut Butter Shake and Banana Nut Crunch. These were beyond easy to put together even if I dried my own bananas. They tasted great in the field and I mixed and ate them directly from their baggie. They hit the two most important criteria – they tasted good (I wanted another serving the next day) and they filled me up.
I usually snack during the day on dried fruit and jerky, but I loved the Black Bean Dip made on my dehydrator and eaten with a bag of Fritos , a staple of every thru-hiker’s kitchen.
For dinner, I mostly stuck with the Ramen meals – yup, the same thing you had in college at 25¢ a pop. The secret is to remove the flavor packets, crunch up the noodles and add all sorts of tasty items like my new best friend, shelf-stable parmesan cheese, or freeze dried mushrooms, even cashews and red pepper flakes.
The only drawback for me is the recipes calling for the addition of oil. I just can’t make the leap to carry oil in my pack, no matter how carefully it’s wrapped. Maybe it’s because I’m generally a slob when backpacking and everything tends to get beaten up within an inch of its life.
I have no problem carrying nut butters, but I draw the line at things that might spill on my clothes and sleeping bag. Unfortunately without oil, the nutritional profile is not accurate. That being said, the meals I made tasted delicious and I found oil was not necessary.
Because everything was so delicious and I felt full and strong, I thought what the heck, why not give cold soaking a try on the Kekekabic. Cold soaking is exactly as it sounds – water is added to rehydrate the meal and it’s eaten cold. The advantage to the hiker is leaving the stove and fuel at home, thus saving weight and bulk. I was shocked and pleasantly surprised at just how good everything tasted and I never felt the need for a warm meal even when the temperatures dipped at night.
I am now a convert to cold soaking and it wouldn’t have be able to accomplish this without the superb recipes from Backcountry Foodie.
Specs at a glance
- three-tiered ultralight recipe and meal planner with lifetime access
- recipes sorted by meal type, cooking style, and dietary needs.
- freezer-bag style meals that are easy to make, nutrition-packed and inexpensive.
- “pantry” ingredient resource and where to purchase
- monthly webinars, recipe subscription and meal plans available
- custom meal planning available
alison young was given a demo account for testing by Backcountry Foodie.
Listen to my conversation with Aaron Owens Mayhew on Walking Distance!
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