How to eat healthier on the trail
Nutritious hiking foods are easier to take with you than ever before
Everyone has their own definition of healthy eating. For me, it means trying to minimize eating processed foods and trying to maintain a nutritious, satisfying mix of fruits, vegetables, grains and protein. Historically, that’s been difficult to do on the trail, where weight and convenience tend to drive decisions.
Keeping your balance
Over the years, I’ve been able to find solutions that help keep my diet in balance when I’m far from the nearest store. Here are some quick tips for making your backcountry menu more exciting and nutritious than, say, eating ramen or instant stuffing mix again and again.
Fruit — As a snack or added to your morning oatmeal, it’s hard to beat the burst of flavor dried fruit can provide. Most grocery stores carry apple slices, raisins and even mango slices, but if you want to go ultra light, check out these 18 varieties of fruit from nuts.com, including freeze-dried organic apples, strawberries and bananas that weigh practically nothing and can be rehydrated or eaten straight from the bag.
Vegetables — Keeping green, leafy vegetables in your trail diet is one of the greatest challenges. I get around this by drying them ahead of time. Spinach, broccoli and kale are easy to dry in an oven or dehydrator, add extra flavor and heartiness to soups and stews and can also be munched as a snack. If you prefer the convenience of ordering it, Biotree Labs is ready to help you out.
Nuts — Most health food stores have an impressive selection of nuts available at bulk prices. Of course, they are heavy, so I try to keep it down to a small sandwich bag’s worth. I prefer unsalted varieties because they taste better in my morning oatmeal.
Cheese — I love cheese. But carrying a block of it has a few downsides — namely, it’s both heavy and perishable. Cheese powder (like the kind used on popular popcorn snacks) and freeze dried cheese are great (or should I say “grate”) solutions. Both can be sprinkled on noodles or in soups or stews to add protein and flavor. Plus, they’re easier to carry and won’t go bad as long as you keep them dry.
Soups — I understand why ramen has become such a trail staple. It’s lightweight, filling and packable. But many of the brands are loaded with salt and preservatives. If you shop around, you can find a bullion powder that’s a healthier option, add some rice noodles and dried vegetables and lunch (or dinner) is served!
On every trip, I try to take a special meal or two to celebrate really great days on the trail or make hunkering down in a storm more palatable. Two of my favorite “prepare ahead” meals come to mind.
I bring 1/2 cup of Ployes® in a zip-seal bag and a few tablespoons of olive oil in a 2 oz. size Nalgene® container.
“What are Ployes?” you may ask. They are a buckwheat pancake deeply rooted in northern Maine lore. Ployes are high in protein and versatile because they can be eaten like a pancake or used as a flat bread.
I like making a breakfast pancake, then topping with dried fruit and a sprinkle of brown sugar (I collect mini-packets of brown sugar from restaurants and diners, which often provide two of them with oatmeal. I use one and keep one for the trail.) Yes, it takes time to make pancakes and to clean the pan afterwards. But I find it’s worth the effort.
I try to save at least one Ployes pancake to serve as part of my trailside lunch, perhaps slathered with peanut butter or dipped into my soup.
In the past few years, a number of companies have popped up to provide healthy, pre-packaged meals for backcountry adventures. One such example is Good-to-Go, Founded by a graduate of The French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, the company makes nutritious, delicious meals and snacks. I find their Thai Curry with Vegetables and Jasmine Rice pretty heard to beat for a high-fiving crescendo to a really great hiking day. And I’m not alone. Most outdoor stores will tell you it’s their top seller.
One final thought — Don’t forget about the magical power of spices to transform practically any trail food from bland to grand. Dried garlic, red pepper, curry and oregano are four favorites. I’ll bet you have some, too!