If you have a cool recipe you want me to post, send it in!
Food is a huge part of my hiking experience. While I have made great efforts to reduce pack weight, I have actually increased the amount of food I carry per day.
I find that a good meal is a great reward at the end of the day for a hard day of hiking. I also find that eating a good meal in a great site with beautiful views or a nice creek a great way to enjoy the place.
A personal hypothesis about hiker weight loss based on my past practices and observation of others is that many hikers base their diets on lots of dried pastas, cereals, grains, rice, potatoes, etc. because of weight and easy packing; and adding in some dried fruits, candy, and sports drinks for flavor. The result is only getting about 2000-2800 calories a day from their food, loosing weight and muscle mass, neglecting protein, and having problems with getting fatigued and needing snacks all day.
While most backpacking foods are tasteless and bland, they don't have to be that way. Light is still a core philosophy, but all you have to do is put some effort into food preparation. The goal is to consume 3000-4000 calories a day. To determine how many calories you should need, check out this page: Calorie Calculation.
Recently I have found an outstanding article on backpacking and nutrition which has confirmed some of my experience while hiking and has led me to refine some of my food choices. Make sure you check out PACK LIGHT, EAT RIGHT© by Dr. Brenda L. Braaten PhD, RD. Her article confirmed a lot of what I had learned over years of outdoor living.
I used to try and backpack with the standard three meals a day schedule. I found this didn't work well. I was hungry way before lunch, and was dragging into camp at dinner. I ate lots of snacks trying to keep my energy up and ended up taking a lot of breaks. I finally decided that if I needed to do all that, why not have more real meals?
So I tried eating my normal breakfast, a brunch, a late lunch, and a dinner. In between I still had snacks, but I didn't need as many and they weren't the super food cravings I had before. To make lunches easy, I devised some non cooking meals like Italian pasta salad and the hiking burrito. These meals can be prepared at the end of the previous meal and are ready when you stop to eat.
Having more meals a day also lets me pick more places to stop and eat while enjoying the view, soaking my feet in a creek, etc.
Carbohydrates contain a great number of calories per ounce, so they make the core of most backpacker's diets. Grits, oatmeal, pasta, corn, rice, wheat, etc. are all excellent sources of carbohydrates. Depending on how they are packaged, they hold up well for backpacking. Many come in hiker friendly servings and with pre mixed flavorings. Go to any super market and look around.
Read the package labels. Nutrition labeling makes food selection easy. Try to select foods that have about 100 calories per dry ounce. Also look for packages that have 2 servings per container, and a total weight of about 5 ounces when looking for dinners.
Sugars come in the form of candy, sugar, fructose from fruits, honey, molasses, sports drinks (mostly sugar), and other sweet foods.
I put this next to Carbohydrates because in ways they are the same. The body turns carbohydrates into sugars for energy, but since they are more complex, the body has time to break them down and adjust. Sugars are already in "instant energy" form. Eating sugar gives you an energy rush, but it also causes your body to produce insulin to equal out your blood sugar level. The end result of eating a lot of sugar is a crash in your blood sugar level when the sugars are used up and your blood insulin level is up from the initial sugar rush. If you combine this with mild dehydration it can make you just as sick as a stomach bug.
I wouldn't advocate eliminating sugar, I love my Snickers! What I do recommend is not over indulging on sugar in any meal during the day. Keep your sugar intake low and wait until the end of the day and have some sweets when you may not mind the sugar crash.
I have found what hurts most dried food is a lack of oils. Look on the box of many dried pastas, rice, etc. and you will find it has adding butter or margarine. This is for flavor - and for the essential oils. Olive oil tastes great, has 240 calories per ounce, and only weighs .89 ounces per fluid ounce! To top it off, it is a mono-unsaturated fat. This means as fats and oils go, it is the most healthy one you can use.
Low fat shouldn't be in a hiker's vocabulary. If you are going to get foods and have a choice between normal and low fat - go with the normal stuff. A good example is tuna. Tuna is a good source of protein, and you can get it packed in water or in oil. If you get it in water, you are only carrying extra water which you can get on the trail anyway - and water weighs 1.04 ounces per fluid ounce with 0 calories! If you get it in oil, you are getting an additional 240 calories or so per ounce of oil - and it weighs about 0.96 ounces per fluid ounce!
I highly recommend getting a small (8-10 ounce) bottle of olive oil. Since most come in glass, get an empty soda bottle to dump it into. Try adding olive oil to various foods and see what happens. I consider it essential to good hiking, where else can you get 10 ounces of food that has as much calories as most people eat all day? I once heard a woman say her olive oil was a luxury she wouldn't take when trying to save weight, I would strongly disagree with that statement, the exact opposite is true.
I add it to almost everything. I add 1/2 ounce to breakfast and lunch (except for pasta salad), and 1 ounce to dinner. It makes dehydrated food taste like real food. If you use it with butter flakes, it gives food the taste and consistency of using real butter.
I recently have been reading about proteins to your diet. Protein usually comes from meats (jerky and tuna are great), beans (try dehydrated refried beans), and nuts. They are essential for your body to repair the muscles and ligaments that receive small amounts of damage through exertion like backpacking. If you don't get enough protein, your body will start to break down the muscles despite the exercise your are getting from backpacking resulting in loss of muscle mass.
Protein has the same number of calories per ounce as carbohydrates but don't convert to energy as fast as carbohydrates, so many hikers (me included) overlook them. I have read in Backpacker Magazine that you should get 1 gram of protein for every 4 grams of carbohydrates. An even better rule of thumb is to eat 4 servings of protein a day, with a total intake of 1 gram of protein per KG of body weight (or 1 gram for each 2.2 pounds of body weight). At 154 pounds, I need 70 grams of protein a day. Now I start to read the labels and look for grams of protein as well as calories.
Don't over do protein either. Your body can only process so much a day, so excessive protein intake only puts a burden on the kidneys. I had a bout with kidney stones once. Kidney stones are formed by protein building up in the kidneys. The stones are believed to be caused by too much protein and not enough water, but it isn't an agreed upon fact.
You may be getting protein, but chances are you aren't getting enough. Read the labels of the foods you plan to eat and add up the grams of protein in everything, then apply the 1 gram to 1 kilo rule. If you have any shortages, find a way to add protein. I eat beef jerky and beans in some rice and bean dinners for protein. My burrito adds protein to my diet.
Besides raw calories and protein, your body needs other minerals for bones, to aid in digestion, protect you from infection, and all other sorts of body functions. Normally if you eat a well balanced diet with a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, milk, meat, etc. you will get all you need. For backpackers this isn't possible.
To supplement your diet of pure carbohydrates and protein, you need to also need to get some dehydrated fruits, powdered milk, and other fresh foods where you can get it. To further supplement your vitamins, you should take a multivitamin.
Although I have covered this last, it is possibly the most important part of your diet. I meet many hikers complaining about things that are a sign of dehydration such as fatigue, sore muscles, inability to sleep or lethargy, problems pooping, joint pain, etc. They attribute it to hiking, which is partially true, but it is also a sign of dehydration.
I recently read an article that said 80%-90% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. This is because Americans drink millions of gallons of sodas and junk a day. Other poor habits are coffee or teas which contain caffeine which is a diuretic - it removes water from your system, and alcohol which can do the same thing.
If we take the figure of 80%-90% of Americans being chronically dehydrated as fact, then you can see why many hikers wouldn't even recognize the effects of poor hydration.
Water is also very heavy to carry; it has a weight of 1.04 ounces per fluid ounce. To avoid carrying a lot of water, I water force myself to drink at least 2 quarts (or liters) at breakfast, 1 quart at brunch, 1 quart at lunch, and 2 quarts at dinner. I also carry about one quart to drink as I feel thirsty - about 1/2 to 1 quart per hour.
I'm not saying you have to give up sodas or coffee (I like my cup of joe), you just need to drink enough water to compensate.
If your urine is dark yellow or you urinate infrequently, you are probably dehydrated. If you have to urinate often and have clear to pale urine, your doing good. If you are thirsty, you have probably been dehydrated a while already.
I like a hot meal for breakfast and coffee. I usually make 2 cups of coffee with 3 bags for a strong coffee flavor. I also eat 2 breakfast bars, and 2 ounces of some sort of cereal, preferably grits with olive oil added. My goal is to get about 500 calories to get a good fuel supply for the morning hike.
I take a brunch at about 10:00 and a late lunch at about 14:00 so I don't have to take too long for these meals, I prepare them ahead of time by putting them in my Lemonade jar and adding water to re-hydrate them by the time I'm ready. Usually when I pack after breakfast I prepare brunch, and when I finish brunch, I prepare my lunch. All but the mashed potatoes can be made without cooking.
I like a hot, hearty dinner with desert. Lipton and other companies make perfect sized dinners for backpackers; add oil to make them more like real food. For desert I like to have some instant pudding made with powdered milk.
Snacks are your idea of what you want. I change my snacks constantly to avoid getting tired of anything in particular. I love to have a couple of candy bars a day. Some dehydrated fruit, jerky, and hard candy are other favorites. A cool idea is to make GORP - Good Old Raisins and Peanuts. GORP can be anything you want, not just raisins and peanuts. I've had GORP that is a mixture of dried fruits, M&Ms, mixed nuts, and small crackers like gold fish.
I enjoy my cup of coffee in the morning, a nice cup of green tea at night, and a variety of other drinks. A hot drink helps you relax or warm your body when you get cold. Just holding a hot cup of coffee does your mental outlook wonders.
To mix up meals and add flavor, a hiker should have some sort of condiments to spice up, modify, or fill out the food. Below is the standard stuff I carry in my pack.
(printer friendly recipes)
Hot Jell-O is a high energy drink for those evenings when you are just worn out after hiking and need a quick pick-up to get those camp chores done. 1 oz. of any flavor Jell-O mix with a cup of water. It is hard to clean up after!
Bring a water tight container hiking. After breakfast mix water, oil, and dehydrated refried bean mix in container, put in beef jerky if you want beef and bean. Home made jerky takes about 2 hours to hydrate well. At lunch your beans and jerky will be ready to put on tortillas! Add Tabasco to taste.
I use a dehydrator, but you can use an oven. Trim as much of the fat and gristle from the beef, loosing meat is preferable to getting any of this junk in the jerky. Cut the meat into thin strips (1/8"). Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, and then put in the fridge for at least 1 hour, the longer - the better. In a dehydrator, dehydrate at 145 until the meat is like a green twig. In an oven, at the lowest setting with the door ajar until the meat is like a green twig. 1 pound beef dries to 3.2 ounces jerky.
Use good apples, bad apples with bruises or those that are not ripe make bad dried apples. I use a dehydrator, but you can use an oven. Skin (optional) and core the apples. Cut the fruit into thin slices (1/8"). Soak the apples in the pineapple juice for at least 1 minute to prevent browning. In a dehydrator, dehydrate at 130 until the apples are leathery but pliable (optional - keep drying until like potato chips). In an oven, at the lowest setting with the door ajar until the apples are leathery but pliable (optional - keep drying until like potato chips). 1 pound of apples makes 2.5 ounces after skinning, coring, and drying. I usually make dried apples at the same time as making dried pineapple, that way I get the juice as I get the pineapples.
I use canned pineapples because they have the juice I need to make apples and they come already cut for use. I use a dehydrator, but you can use an oven. Just open the can and straight to the dehydrator! In a dehydrator, dehydrate at 130 until the pineapples are leathery but pliable. In an oven, at the lowest setting with the door ajar until the apples are leathery but pliable. One 14 ounce can of chunked pineapples makes 2.6 ounces after drying. I usually make dried apples at the same time as making dried pineapple.
I use a plastic Lemonade Jar as a cup, water bottle, bowl, and re-hydration chamber.
Anyway, put the water in the bowl (or a zip lock or something), break up the ramen into little pieces, and add it to the water about 30 min prior to when you want to eat. When your ready to eat, drain off any excess water (shouldn't be hardly any) and add the Italian dressing. Voila - Italian pasta salad. Save the flavor package for ramen later to increase the flavor of another ramen dinner.
Total calories should be about 620.
*note* all weights are approximate
Mix all ingredients in a bowl to a consistency that isn't runny but isn't a paste either (similar to pancake batter). Rub a light coat of oil on your frying pan, and then pour the batter into pancake sized cakes. Heat until brown, then flip and heat until brown on the other side. For a variety, try adding a packet of onion soup mix, taco seasoning, or beef stew flavoring. I like to eat mine with a packet of honey from McDonalds. Make double recipe in the morning and have cornbread with breakfast and lunch.
A reader wishing to remain anonymous sent me this recipe. Honestly it sounded nasty, but it turned out to be very filling. Make some Ramen the standard way. When it is done, add about half a cup of milk made from powdered milk. Then add some powdered instant mashed potato flakes until thickened. To finish it off, add some butter flakes and olive oil to your taste. This is so thick and will stick to your ribs, and tastes pretty dang good.