We are treking through the desert with long water carries, prickly plants and giant fuzzy spiders! While we haven't had access to a computer recently to do a proper blog post, we are excited to share the article below for your reading pleasure.
Anna/Bug wrote this a few months ago. It was recently published in the Vegetarian Dietetic Practice Group (of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) quarterly newsletter. Her first published article!
How to Pack a Balanced Diet in your Backpack
Long distance backpackers, pursuing thousands of miles on trails such as the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, have increased calorie needs to fuel long hiking days. Hikers tend to load up on junk food for its high calorie content, overlooking the importance of nutrients. However, a plant-based, nutrient-dense diet can make all the difference for maintaining energy during and recovering after a day’s hike. Here are some steps I’ve found useful to sustain a plant-strong diet on the trail - for both the short and long hikes.
1. Eat carbohydrates - Carbohydrates are the most efficient fuel. Some good sources for the trail include: oatmeal, granola, instant rice, beans, mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes, rehydrated hummus, tortillas, rice cakes, couscous, and dried fruit. For a shorter hike, you may have the luxury of packing some whole grain bread and fresh apples, oranges, bananas, pears and other fruit!
Eating oatmeal in the morning is one of the easiest ways to start your day carb-strong. In a ziplock bag, pack a mixture of quick oats, rolled oats, flax seeds and chia seeds. Place in your pot, add plenty of water and simmer on a camp stove for five minutes. Top it off with a little sugar, walnuts and cranberries. If you're lucky, you may even find some wild berries to add some freshness to your breakfast.
2. Don’t Stress About Protein – A high calorie intake naturally leads to a higher protein intake. There is sufficient protein in a balanced, plant-based diet to support the needs of endurance athletes without the need to supplement or shift away from carbohydrates to favor protein. Protein sources on the trail include: instant beans, rehydrated hummus, nuts, seeds, protein bars, and vegetables and grains.
The bulk section of a natural market is a great place to find things like instant beans (usually black or pinto, or refried), quick soup mixes and hummus. Carrying small baggies of beans, instant mashed potato, corn chowder (made by Taste Adventure) and various seasonings allows for flexibility. Combine them in various ways to make some delicious mush that goes well wrapped in a tortilla.
3. Eat Frequently – A good strategy to maintain energy is eating at least every hour, or at the very first hint of hunger. This prevents energy crashes. Most backpackers keep snacks in the side pocket of their hipbelts, making it easy to snack without stopping. Some great snacks include date bars, ProBars, dried fruit, pretzels, nuts and seeds.
Try making homemade date bars! Mix one cup of Medjool dates (pitted) with a half cup of oats and a half cup of nuts (cashews or almonds work best) in a food processor. For variety, try adding flavoring such as chocolate chips, ground coffee, Matcha powder, or other dried fruit such as apples and cranberries. Spread the mixture on a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper, let harden in the freezer for one hour, and slice into even rectangles. Wrap them up in wax paper, seal with tape and they're ready to go!
4. Pack in the Fruits and Vegetables – Dehydrating home-cooked meals is an ideal way to incorporate a wide variety of vegetables on the trail. Products such as Barlean’s Greens, or other powdered vegetable concoctions, are perfect supplements. Dried fruit and dried seaweed are always wonderful options. Lastly, learning to forage for edible greens and berries is a fun and satisfying way to connect with nature and eat fresh produce at the same time. To learn more about foraging, find a local class or check out the book: Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West by Gregory L. Tilford.
To make delicious trail-ready home cooked meals, just cook up your favorite one-pot recipe (Creamy Cashew Polenta, Lentils and Rice, and Pasta Primavera all work well) and load it up with vegetables. Chop all vegetables as small as possible so they both dehydrate and rehydrate faster. Spread thinly on dehydrator sheets, let it dehydrate for 8-12 hours or until dry and crunchy.
Bag it up in a ziplock bag. For longer storage, place in an air tight Mylar bag with an oxygen absorber.
When you're ready to eat it after a long day of hiking, place the meal in your pot, cover with water by about half an inch. Bring to a boil then let sit for 10 minutes.
5. Stay Plant-Strong in Towns – It may be hard to find vegetarian options on menus in small mountain towns, but most restaurants are able to serve steamed vegetables with potatoes on request. Alternatively, make a meal of side dishes. Hashed browns with salsa, wrapped up in a tortilla with veggies and a glass of orange juice is a favorite of mine.
6. Plan Ahead - For hikes longer than 100 miles, mailing resupply boxes of food to towns along the way is necessary. Post Offices in towns near the longer trails are accustomed to holding packages for hikers to pick up. There are also small stores, lodges, gas stations and even bars that will accept hiker packages. Some people even open up their homes, not only allowing packages to be mailed to their address but inviting hikers to camp in their yard, have a shower and do laundry, all for free or a small donation. These generous folks are called Trail Angels, and brighten the days of countless weary travelers.
Soak in the natural beauty of the earth and carry with you the uncompromised values of a plant-strong diet.
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Other Neat Things:
My friends Harpo and Groucho are some bad-ass thru-hiking vegans. Read their blog here.
Idyllwild is a favorite trail town for many PCT hikers. This online magazine has featured a few hikers and also keeps up with mountain-town happenings.
Future Dad is thru-hiking the Pacific Crest, Te Aurora and Appalachian Trails back-to-back-to-back, all in one year! He's also a really awesome story teller. Read his stories here.