If food is fuel, then ultralight backpacking recipes should essentially be high octane rocket fuel, right? High mileage days, thru hikes and self-supported expeditions demand a lot from our bodies. But when it comes to generating backcountry food ideas, all too often we put calorie counts and filling our bellies above building a solid metabolic base for high exertion.
So let’s get back to basics. We’ll start with fundamental nutrition information from verified, professional sources. We’ll build guidelines and recommendations for protein, carbohydrates and fats, and translate those into ultralight backpacking recipes with an eye towards efficiency and nutrient density by weight.
In our community, there’s a lot of ambivalence about whether or not we can or should consider ourselves “athletes.” Regardless, we all stand to benefit from eating better—on the trail, and beforehand in the preparation phase. Your body is the most important piece of gear you own. It’s time to start treating it as such. Otherwise, if it’s potato chips in, it’s potato chips out.
Your daily food intake should include a mix of complex carbohydrates, simple carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Breakfasts are no exception. Breakfast is commonly believed to be the most important meal of the day because you need to resupply the calories that you consumed while you were sleeping. Of course, if you’re on a trip, you also need to lay a solid foundation of calories for your upcoming aerobic endeavors. That means finding backpacking breakfast recipes that are delicious and pack a nutritional punch.
A critical component of every trip into the wilderness is food. Whether going out for a couple of hours or a couple of months, some attention needs to be paid to nutrition in order for your physical output to be sustained for the duration of the activity. With that in mind, I’ll share how I developed my own personal nutrition strategy and pass along some lightweight backpacking food ideas that satisfy my cravings and metabolic needs.
My personal approach to backcountry nutrition is system driven. As Steve House said, “eating with a purpose is key to increasing your capacity for any sport.” My strategy is built upon a set of modular menus that are pre-prepared, scale-able and simple. They are primarily made of readily available ingredients that can be procured in bulk from stores online or in most major cities. My menus are rotated, combined, and modified to meet the caloric and nutritional needs of the trip objective, season, activity, and duration. I definitely don’t reinvent my menus every trip and I don’t recommend that you do either.
How does one determine the right amount of food, with the appropriate type of calories, for a trip? Below I will outline three strategies for determining your baseline nutritional needs. This will be your starting point for all trips into the wilderness. Ultimately, I would recommend combining these three strategies to determine a tried and true baseline that works for you.
For this series of posts on ultralight nutrition, we tapped Boulder, CO-based sports nutritionist Brian Rigby. Brian holds a Master of Science in Applied Clinical Nutrition and is a Certified Sports Nutritionist through the ISSN (International Society for Sports Nutrition). As the owner of Boulder’s Elite Sports Nutrition, he consults athletes of all stripes on how to get the most out of their bodies and achieve better performance.
We thought we’d see what he might have to say about our own endeavors in the vein of extreme exertion. Look for more posts to follow, specifically on carbohydrates, fat and how to balance all three building blocks.
Chris Atwood did a 57-day thru hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon with Ambassador Rich Rudow (Read “The Grandest Walk: A 700-Mile Thru Hike Below the Rim“). During the trip numerous adventurers accompanied them, including Hyperlite Mountain Gear CEO Mike St. Pierre. The length and severity of the hike meant that the group had to eat a lot of calories to have the energy to continue hiking. But with proper planning of his backcountry recipes, Atwood managed to gain around five pounds while still exerting himself to the limit every day and hiking a grand total of over 600 miles. In this post, he shares backcountry recipes he used as well as an example daily ration of food.
Gaining Weight on a Grueling Thru Hike? All it Takes is the Right Backcountry Recipes
Before the trip began, Rich Rudow jokingly said he wanted to be the first Grand Canyon thru hiker to gain weight. I thought it a lofty aspiration, considering the challenging food logistics of this fully self-supported trek. We all knew it would be tall order to fuel the two months of hard work required to walk from Lee’s to Pearce in one push. And although gaining weight was not my goal, staying completely full and charged, at all times, by nutritious and healthy food that I loved to eat was. And with an eye toward carrying the lightest load possible, I didn’t want any more food than would be necessary. My idea was ample daily eating with an extra ration or two to cover any delays due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances. Read More
Matt Jenkins and Elyssa Shalla, backcountry rangers at Grand Canyon, have been exploring the southwestern deserts together since they met in 2008. After living and traveling extensively abroad, the couple’s next adventure will combine many of the backcountry routes near their home on the Coconino Plateau into one, extended, mostly trail-less adventure. They planned and succeeded in becoming two of just 16 people to hike the length of the Grand Canyon below the rim (and they did it in the winter!). Their thru hike of “The Canyon” took them from the Grand Wash Cliffs to Lees Ferry. The trip took place during the 2015-16 El Nino season (Read about their adventure and gear in our blog, “Lightweight Gear for The Grand: Ideas for Winter Canyon Country Hikes.”) The raison de etre for their long walk centered around a quest to reduce their belongings, live a simpler lifestyle, and better know the vast wilderness that lies in their backyard. As rangers, they constantly sought ways to share their passion and enthusiasm for traveling lightly and efficiently through wild places. This series of articles Hyperlite Mountain Gear follows Matt and Elyssa as they outline winter travel tips and lightweight backcountry recipes for thru hikes and long backpacking adventures. This week’s recipe focuses on high fat levels so you can better be prepared for snowy conditions.
During high-output, overnight, winter backcountry adventures people often need to increase their fat intake to meet the additional demands of traveling through snow and sleeping in frigid conditions. Compared to a typical three-season, high-carb menu, these backcountry recipes significantly increase the ratio of fat to carbohydrates by incorporating large portions of summer sausage and macadamia nuts, two calorie dense backcountry foods. Vegetarians, vegans and die-hard ultralight enthusiasts can easily modify this menu by increasing the amount of nuts or nut butters, which typically have even more calories per ounce.
Weight (oz): 34
Fat (g): 250
Carbs (g): 348
Protein (g): 124 Read More
Push Through Cold Weather With These Ultralight Backpacking Recipes
Matt Jenkins and Elyssa Shalla, backcountry rangers at Grand Canyon, have been exploring the southwestern deserts together since they met in 2008. The couple’s next adventure will combine many of the backcountry routes near their home on the Coconino Plateau into one, extended, mostly trail-less adventure—a winter thru hike of ‘The Canyon’ from the Grand Wash Cliffs to Lees Ferry. For the occasion, they’ve worked up an assortment of the kind of nutrient and calorie-dense ultralight backpacking meals that keep them moving when the temperature drops.
The raison de etre for this long walk centers around an urge minimize their belongings, live a simpler lifestyle and get better acquainted with the vast wilderness that lies in their backyard. As rangers, they constantly seek ways to share their passion and enthusiasm for traveling lightly and efficiently through wild places.
Big winter days require a larger than normal stockpile of food to fuel. Here is a single day menu with two of our hearty ultralight backpacking recipes for colder weather. We strive to eat nutrient rich and hearty meals by including ingredients with a high number of total calories, a mixed variety of food sources and a sufficient number of calories per ounce. Mix, match and shuffle to cater to your dietary needs and wants. Read More
Stripped Down Home Packaged Ultralight Backcountry Breakfast Recipes, By Mike St. Pierre
In preparation for 16 days of extreme thru hiking through the Grand Canyon, Hyperlite Mountain Gear CEO Mike St. Pierre spent countless hours developing ultralight backcountry breakfast recipes. He weighed, measured and then vacuum sealed all his creations. Two of those recipes are included below. Read more of his recipes in his article “Food Prep & Recipes for Ultralight Thru Hike Adventures.” Share your recipes with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thru Hiker’s Oatmeal (620, weighs 4.7oz)
¼ cup dried instant oatmeal
2 tbsp. sunflower seeds
2 tbsp. Pine nuts
2 tbsp. raisins or other dried fruit
½ cup freeze dried apples
¼ cup powdered milk
Grand Canyon Granola (600 calories, weighs 5oz)
Cup of granola Bulk bins from Whole Foods or your local grocery store
Prep Makes Perfect: Ultralight Backpacking Food Best Practices
I will soon be heading into the Grand Canyon for 16 days with Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Rich Rudow. Rich will be thru hiking about 700 miles down river and then back up the other side, all below the rim of the canyon and all off trail. Even though I’ll only be along for part of the trip, I’ll likely encounter some of the most extreme terrain I’ve ever faced. As a result, I’m putting extra thought into every aspect of my preparation. That goes double when it comes to figure out what I’m going to eat while I’m in the canyon, so I decided to revisit my standard ultralight backpacking food prep practices to see what I could improve.
Starting the day off right is crucial for extended ultralight backpacking, thru hiking or mountaineering adventures. Waking up, your body is deprived of protein and carbohydrates and needs nourishment for the day ahead. Two of my favorite ultralight backcountry breakfasts are hot chocolate oatmeal (ideal for cold weather and slower starts) and energy bars (for hitting the trail quickly). Read the rest of the article here!