Gear

Backcountry Foodie review

People who love to eat are always the best people.

Julia Child
Blissful gives Backcountry Foodie the highest rating, five Anitas.
Backcountry Foodie's recipe for Garlic Parmesan Ramen served on the Kekekabic as a cold soak. The verdict? Delicious, nutritious and filling!
The Backcountry Foodie recipe for Garlic Parmesan Ramen served on the Kekekabic as a cold soak. The verdict? Delicious, nutritious and filling!

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.

Backcountry Foodie recipes are one-pot meals and take very little time or fuel to cook.
Backcountry Foodie recipes are one-pot meals and take very little time or fuel to cook.

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.

One of my go-to recipes for breakfast is the chocolate/peanut butter shake.
One of my go-to recipes for breakfast is the chocolate/peanut butter shake.

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.

Packing meals for nine days on Isle Royale. My pack felt lighter and less bulky carrying Backcountry Foodie recipes. I also was not starved the entire time.
Packing meals for nine days on Isle Royale. My pack felt lighter and less bulky carrying Backcountry Foodie recipes. I also wasn’t feeling starved the entire walk.

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.

Blissful gives Backcountry Foodie the highest rating, five Anitas.

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

Disclosure

alison young was given a demo account for testing by Backcountry Foodie.

affiliate links

Some of the links found on blissfulhiker.com are affiliate referral links. This means that if a reader clicks on text or an image to enter an online shopping site, Blissful Hiker may receive a commission from purchases made on that visit. There is no additional cost to the consumer; referral fees are paid by merchants. Through affiliate links and paid advertisements, we promote only products and businesses that we consider helpful to our readers.

Gear

Kula Cloth review

Big dreams happen in small spaces.

unknown
Blissful gives Kula Cloth the highest rating, five Anitas.
Intentionally designed for all the places you ‘go,’ the Kula Cloth is one of the most important pieces of gear a women should have attached to her pack.

Can we talk peeing in the woods?

I know, I know, choosing the name The Pee Rag for my podcast got a few of you in a twist, but it was never intended to be vulgar, rather a play on words – “rag” being another name for a news source.

I also meant the choice to equate the unglamorous bits of thru-hiking with the grit and bad-assery required – especially from of a middle aged solo female backpacker carrying all she needs on her back to so many stunningly beautiful and transformative places.

To tell the truth, I had never even heard of a “pee rag” until a few days before my departure for New Zealand with an objective of walking the length of both islands on the Te Araroa. It was actually a Facebook post devoted to women hikers of the TA that piqued my curiosity, one where a fellow hiker queried, are you taking a pee rag?

Not to look uninformed, I researched this mystery and came upon Stacia Bennett’s informative and matter-of-fact article all about the subject. Like me, after reading you too will come to realize you just can’t leave home without a pee rag. Let’s face it gals, “drip drying” is no way to manage on a multi-day hike – or ever for that matter, and using wads of toilet paper does not align with Leave No Trace principles in any form or fashion.

So both the Te Araroa and the Pacific Crest Trail saw me sporting bandanas on the side of Olive Oyl, one for the pot and one for me. But this presented a few issues – namely mixing them up, but also uric acid causing the bandanas to wear out fast, and I could never really find a way to keep them clean or dry. I also feared contracting an infection.

Kula Cloth is intentionally designed for all the places you 'go.'
Part of the Kula Cloth artist series, the “adventure sloth” Kula captures Blissful’s naturally sauntering and “andante” hiking speed.

What is a Kula Cloth?

And that’s where our story brings us to the remarkable Kula Cloth! Anastasia Allison is a former park ranger, blissful hiker, violinist, and entrepreneur based in the Pacific Northwest.

Like me, she toed a pee rag on her pack in the mountains, one made of microfiber. It became a kind of joke when rather than snap selfies, she would pose her pee rag in astoundingly beautiful locations. It wasn’t long before the thought occurred to her that maybe she was onto something.

Taking its name from Kula Khangri, the tallest mountain in Bhutan, the word Kula also translates as community, one she considers “a radically inclusive community that happens to sell a pee cloth for anybody that squats when they pee.”

What surprised me at first was how small the cloth is – just about a hand’s width in size, kind of like a potholder. My Kula is part of the artist series designed by Lyn Sweet and features an orange sloth backpacking with walking stick into the sunset. You could say, I’m carrying my Kula spirit of the “saunterer.

The pictured side is the “clean side” and waterproof, preventing moisture from reaching my hands. The working side is made of antimicrobial silver-infused absorbent material, which quickly and efficiently did its job on the many stops during my latest hikes on Isle Royale and the Kekekabic.

Other features include a cloth loop with a tough little hypoallergenic plastic snap that locks the cloth in place, as well as an extra privacy snap to fold the cloth over on itself into a triangle. Reflective thread is woven into each side so the cloth can be found when a night urge hits and a headlamp guides the way.

Leave no Trace Principles

1. Plan Ahead & Prepare
2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
4. Leave What you Find
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
6. Respect Wildlife
7. Be Considerate of Others

Just to be clear, Kula Cloth and all pee rags are meant for use only when going Number 1!

So, how did it go?

Kula Cloth did its job perfectly – it fit beautifully in my hands, absorbed the urine and kept me dry and clean. The conditions on Isle Royale were very wet this season – rain, sea-fog and general humidity – so my Kula only dried out thoroughly when the sun was shining. When wet, it acted more like a “wet wipe” but remained surprisingly absorbent and kept my hands clean.

I don’t ever take soap with me on hikes and I simply rinsed my Kula in water. I should point out that it was only when it dried out that it became completely odor-free, but no soap was ever necessary to clean it on my nine-day hike.

The Kula feels weightier than a simple piece of cloth or bandana and the only wear and tear I noticed was some of the side threads shredding ever so slightly. Since I’m a pretty rough on my gear, this might become more of a problem when having to crawl under fallen trees and potentially snagging my Kula.

Are either of those issues a deal breaker? No! A pee rag is an absolute necessity and Kula Cloth is made with materials specifically designed to be absorbent as well as non-toxic, non-sensitizing, and non-irritating when in contact with the body. Although I have not yet suffered a urinary tract infection on a thru-hike, that is not something to fool with and I put my full trust in the superb bit of gear to keep me healthy.

With the pandemic still raging and a run on toilet paper reminiscent of Black Friday on repeat, many people have been considering pee rags a possible permanent solution. Why cut down trees when using a renewable resource is far more ecologically sound? Perhaps Kula and pee rags in general will become far more normalized as part of everyone’s good habits.

And besides, how cool is to have a work of art on the back of “Blueberry” (my new Granite Gear pack) something that gives a little character to my walking – as if I need any more!

Kula Cloth is coming with me on every hike and I give her my highest rating, five Anitas.

Specs at a glance

  • Weight: .53 oz
  • Length: 6.25″ x 6.25″
  • Antimicrobial, silver infused materials
  • Hypo-allergenic snaps
  • Reflective thread

Disclosure

alison young was given this pee rag for testing by Kula Cloth.

affiliate links

Some of the links found on blissfulhiker.com are affiliate referral links. This means that if a reader clicks on text or an image to enter an online shopping site, Blissful Hiker may receive a commission from purchases made on that visit. There is no additional cost to the consumer; referral fees are paid by merchants. Through affiliate links and paid advertisements, we promote only products and businesses that we consider helpful to our readers.

Gear

Post PCT Gear Review, or: how I learned what stays and what gets chucked

There is an expression among even the most advanced runners that getting your shoes on is the hardest part of the workout. – Kathrine Switzer

Merino tees are a backpackers' dream, but they're spendy and wear out quickly.
Merino tees are a backpackers’ dream, but they’re spendy and wear out quickly.

Updated gear list now available. You can access it on google docs and take it with you!

Walking the Pacific Crest Trail was one of the best things I have done in my life – second only to walking the Te Araroa, and both of those hikes were accomplished in one calendar year!

btw, I just turned 55, and that’s a pretty cool feat…feet?…for a middle aged gal, wouldn’t you say? I’m feeling mildly bad ass.

Oddly enough, Richard pointed out that it took me two years to plan for my walk in New Zealand, while under the meltdown circumstances upon my return to Minnesota last spring, it took me less than two weeks to plan the PCT! I guess a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

Gear

Blistex ‘Lip Vibrance’ review

Blistex Lip Vibrance has been my go to lip protection since I discovered it seven years ago walking the John Muir Trail

Why do I LOVE Lip Vibrance so much? First it’s the restorative emollients – shea butter, grapeseed oil and vitamin E. It feels smooth, and rich.

Then there’s the sun protection at SPF 15. This isn’t your zinc oxide for alpine climbing, but Lip Vibrance protects pretty darn well on most exposed sun-shiny days.

Where can I get it?
Walgreens, Walmart, Amazon and CVS

Next, it’s absolutely lovely color. Every blissful hiker gal needs just a touch of color. This is pink and a glossy.

There’s a little mirror on the back. I wouldn’t use as a signaling device but works great in case you need to get food out of your teeth or when you want to make sure you’re coloring within the lines.

A couple of years back, I was unable to find Lip Vibrance at my local drugstore, so I purchased a competitor’s lip protection. It melted in my pocket and when I went to put it on my lips, a huge glob came right off in a huge smear. Blistex Lip Vibrance never, EVER melts in the field.

I gotta have Blistex Lip Vibrance and so I give it FIVE ANITAS!!


Gear

Post thru-hike gear wrapup: Hammock Gear quilt

My Blue Moroccan Hammock Gear was just right for the TA.

Here’s something I get asked a lot – How the heck do you wash your down quilt or sleeping bag?

For starters, you should probably not wash down until things get really out of hand. So let’s use our imaginations to take us to that moment of out-of-handedness when a good washing is all one can do.

Imagine putting your face right up against your furry dog. If she’s freshly cleaned, this might be a delight of fuzzy, nuzzly therapy. But had you two just returned from a long doggie run, your nose would likely receive a less-than-pleasant whiff of mousy, musty animal-odor.

That would basically describe my Hammock Gear Burrow quilt after I finished walking the Te Araroa. It’s not a totally horrible smell, but it’s mighty strong and it left me no other choice than to go through the arduous, time-consuming, gently-caring, get-completely-wet-and-covered-in-soap, hand-washing process to bring my HG “Blue Moroccan” (full review and specs) back to her fresh, fluffy self.

It was so worth it not just because I’ll have her ready for the next thru-hike, but also because this quilt is now on the list as a go-to piece of equipment and I want to take very good care of it.

Gear

post thru-hike gear wrapup: Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xlite

Therm-a-Rest’s NeoAir is a “crinkly cloud of warmth” and ultralite.

Quick, what is the most important activity on a thru-hike?

If you answered, “Hike,” give that reader a Kewpie doll. But, indulge me just for a sec, and let’s rephrase the question just a little. To hike, you need to be strong and focused, and to get there, you need to be well fed and well rested. Each morning you have got to wake up replenished and refreshed, ready for the next day’s rigors or each step is potentially a misery. So I’d say, the most important activity on a thru-hike is a good night’s sleep.

That’s why choosing the best sleep “system” is critical. I conducted a test last year with the two ultralite Therm-a-Rest mattresses I own and decided the time had come and gone for me to manage a good night’s sleep on a closed cell foam pad. They’re just too uncomfortable on my bony hips. So, my choice these days is the blow-up style of mattress and I did not regret choosing Therm-a-Rest’s NeoAir Xlite for 101+ nights on the Te Araroa.

Gear

post thru-hike gear wrapup: Columbia OutDry ex-reign rain jacket and pants

Blissful gives Columbia Outdry rain gear four Anitas.
In New Zealand, when it rains, it pours.

If you’re going to be outdoors for any significant amount of time, you are going to eventually get wet and if you plan to walk the Te Araroa, you will get very wet. I always carry sturdy rain gear on my thru-hikes. I know it’s a cardinal sin in the ultralite community, but on the TA, I saw a few trampers with minimalist gear shivering on the verge of hypothermia and I was glad I packed the full kit.

Obviously, top-notch waterproof gear that is also breathable is indispensable for hikers. It’s also hard to make. That’s because unless you’re a fisherman and want a heavy, 100% impermeable rubber coat that won’t allow water in – or out – you have to make some compromises.

Gear

post thru-hike gear wrapup: La Sportiva Akyra mountain running shoe


Shoe swap in Wellington, New Zealand.

You might recall that it was one year ago, while hiking the Coast-to-Coast and aliloop-of-the-lakes in England, that I became a true believer in using trail runners for backpacking. It turns out this is not just a fling. We’re talking full-on love affair made to last for the long haul and that’s because for the Te Araroa, I had fantastic results wearing La Sportiva Akyras. (full review and specs)

In the words of Saturday Night Live’s Stefon – New Zealand has everything: the steepest climbs and the nastiest descents on ankle-twisting rock and mud, narrow catwalks of tussock-covered strips-of-slip requiring the twinkle-toes accuracy of an Alex Honnold, miles and miles of sand and sea, plus water, water and more water in the form of streams, rivers, and wetlands. By day five, my Akyras were sandblasted and mud-caked beyond recognition. But that’s just cosmetics. These babies kept me nimble and secure, one pair per island of over 2,000 miles walking.

Gear

post thru-hike gear wrapup: Kavu Fishermans Chillba


Kavu is all about living a big and awesome life.

It’s not that I have anything against baseball caps. I often wear them hiking, biking, kayaking, running, skiing, climbing – you get the idea. But for a long-distance thru-hike, I really need to cover more territory. I am a pony-tailed hiker most of the time, and there’s a lot of exposed skin. A wide-brimmed sun hat is de rigueur so I don’t need to go through the daily ritual of slathering sloppy sunscreen on my ears and the back of my neck.

Before I hiked the John Muir Trail in 2012, I wandered into Midwest Mountaineering here in Minneapolis and stumbled into a relationship with Kavu that changed my life. Kavu is an acronym for an aviation term describing the perfect day: “Klear Above Visibility Unlimited.” I mean how can you not want a bit of this sensibility on your body while hiking – especially on a thru-hike when some days might possibly be a bit less-than-perfect and you gotta push through anyway with a big smile on your face?

Gear

post thru-hike gear wrapup: Granite Gear Crown2 60

Olive Oyl was a bit wide with all her pockets full, but she felt great on my back.

When I purchased the iPhone that would become my camera, typewriter, microphone, editing studio and means of communication with the outside world, I needed to ensure it was big enough to handle all those tasks, but small enough to fit easily in the hip-belt pocket of my backpack.

“Olive Oyl” – my Granite Gear Crown2 60 pack (full review and specs) – easily held my mini computer. In fact, it fit like a glove, and the rest of the pack was plenty roomy enough to nestle in all the gear I needed for a four-month tramp with room to spare for around ten days of food.