Food is always the most important part of any trip that I go on, mostly because I am such a “foodie.” Growing up, the kitchen was always the most social sphere of my house, so when I go out into the backcountry on large-scale expeditions, I am always considering how I can make my food both the most interesting and the most nutritious.
I like to eat clean, meaning that I was coming at my food considerations for this trip different from most thru-hikers who stock their resupply boxes with calorie-dense junk food like Snickers bars, flour tortillas, and ramen. I wanted to incorporate whole ingredients, have some meats and vegetables in my diet, and prioritized clean ingredients in the foods I was going to eat.
Simplifying all of this into a few consolidated thoughts, my main food considerations were:
- Maximizing Nutrient Density
- Prioritizing Clean Ingredients
- Considering Shelf Stability and Preserving Freshness
- Trying to Incorporate Variety
Maximizing Nutrient Density
For starters, I am an engineer and data geek, which means that I LOVE spreadsheets. Needless to say, I had some fun breaking down the nutrients of the foods I was planning to take.
Since this was going to be a long journey and I would be carrying all of my food and equipment on my back, I needed to select foods that “packed the most punch” for BOTH their weight and their volume. Fats contain 9 calories per gram, versus 4 calories per gram for both carbohydrates and proteins. There are differing opinions on the suggested relative breakdown of carbs, fats, and proteins for a performance diet, but for myself, I tried to emphasize fats as a sustainable energy source rather than carbs. On a long day, I knew that a packet of almond butter or a slab of summer sausage would satiate my hunger longer and provide me with more stable energy than a bite of chocolate or handful of dried fruit, which would spike my blood sugar quickly but burn out just as fast.
To the spreadsheet I went, calculating calories per ounce, macronutrient breakdowns, etc. In my calculations, I tried to stick to the following:
- I tried to make the meals I was going to bring have at least 100 calories per ounce. If I ever needed to bounce that number up, just add olive oil!
- I tried to stick to snacks with at least 8 to 10 grams of fat, not just pure carbs.
- I aimed for at least 2,500 calories per day, tending closer towards 3,000 calories on longer days with either more miles and/or more vertical.
- I also had to consider the volume of the food I was taking, so it had to pack down small so that I could fit 6-8 days in my pack, while still allowing room for my other equipment
Prioritizing Clean Ingredients
I did NOT overlook the ingredients list on any of the foods I was bringing. In fact, that became one of the most important factors in my decisions. Many performance foods are loaded up with sweeteners, preservatives, and other additives. My mantra is that if I want my body to run like a racecar, I have to give it the best fuel. That meant researching for clean, pure foods that I would eat normally. Here’s what I found:
- Valley Food Storage was a great source for freeze-dried ingredients, like Beef Dices, Chicken Dices, and Sausage Crumbles. I LOVED adding these to dinner ingredients to give a feel of home cooking.
- Hunter’s Reserve made delicious AND clean summer sausages that I could be excited to have at lunch each and every day. Most summer sausages are loaded up with preservatives like sodium nitrites and nitrates, but not Hunter’s Reserve! I loved that each of their flavors had overtones, like Duck, Bison, and Roadkill (with some spicy kick!), rather than just plain, boring beef flavor like most sausages. And my favorite part: they came in 4 oz. sizes, which was perfect for a single serving at lunch. I liked that I didn’t have to open a huge 16 oz. sausage, only to cut off a small piece and have the rest of the sausage get slimy and nasty days later.
- Disclaimer: I have an affiliate relationship with Hunter’s Reserve, whereby I receive commission for referral of customers to their products. That said, I would never endorse a company that I do not use and believe in. For Hunter’s Reserve, it is BOTH! You can use code “ForAdventure” at checkout for 20% off of your order.
- Northwoods Cheese made shelf-stable cheeses that did not need to be refrigerated, which was PERFECT for the trail, especially since I would be sending resupply packages weeks or months in advance. They came in fun varieties, like white cheddar, smokey cheddar, and vintage cheddar, and in a perfect size of either 1 oz. or 2 oz. I was SOLD!
- Disclaimer: I have an affiliate relationship with Northwoods Cheese, whereby I receive commission for referral of customers to their products. That said, I would never endorse a company that I do not use and believe in. For Northwoods Cheese, it is BOTH! You can use code “EngineeredForAdventure” at checkout for 20% off of your order.
- Even in everyday life, I LOVE Justin’s Almond Butter. And I decided to bring tubs of it with me on this trip, mostly because I love the taste of it, but also because it fit perfectly into the nutritional breakdown I was looking for. Justin’s does not use any hydrogenated oils, like many cheap peanut butters do (JIF, Skippy, Peter Pan, etc.), and they come in a variety of flavors, my favorite of which was Vanilla Almond.
- Finally, I needed to find a performance trail snack that was packed with nutrients. Enter the ProBar MEAL Bar. Plant-based with real ingredients, and delicious too, these ProBars were packed with 300-400 calories each, and loaded with a nice composition of fats and carbohydrates to pick me up in the middle of a long climb. I loved that there were a wide variety of flavors so that I could switch things up from time to time and keep me interested in the food I was eating.
- You can get 25% off of your ProBar order using the code “ENGINEEREDFORADVENTURE”.
Considering Shelf Stability and Preserving Freshness
Like I mentioned earlier, the food that I brought out on the trail needed to last, in the heat, in my pack, and in a box in the local post office. This made it difficult to impossible to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables. Even more than though, I would be packaging my meals months before I would actually be eating them, and even if the ingredients were shelf-stable, I wanted to keep them tasting fresh.
My family had purchased a FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer a few years back, mostly to vacuum seal my Dad’s leftover barbeque creations. Little did we know it would become such a workhorse for backcountry trips!
In my kitchen at home we set up a mini-production assembly line, measuring ingredients into a mixing bowl and then vacuum sealing each breakfast or dinner in its own vacuum sealed package. Not only did this save airspace, but it also helped prevent any spillage, bag breaks, or leakage of food in packages sent through the mail, and made it easy to ration out food across multiple weeks.
Trying to Incorporate Variety
I had read accounts from backpackers like Andrew Skurka about the importance of variety of food on longer trips. Oh how right he is! At the end of a long day, I needed to be excited about the food I need to eat to sustain my body as a fuel source; otherwise I would not be getting the sufficient amount of nutrients I needed to sustain my performance.
I tried to create “varieties” of each of the meals I had:
- All of my breakfasts consisted of the same base profile: instant oats, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp hearts, and protein powder. These ingredients gave my breakfasts the macronutrients I needed. I called this base the “Oatmeal Bomb.”
- I had 2 different varieties of breakfasts to try and add some variety to my meals:
- “Chocolate Bomb” had an addition of brown sugar and cocoa powder. YUM!
- “Oatmeal Bomb with Nuts” had extra walnuts for crunch and a packet of Artisana Organics Coconut Butter for some extra flavor.
- Each day was a different combination of Hunter’s Reserve sausage flavor and Northwoods Cheese! With so many flavors to choose from, I never got bored of a particular pairing. My favorite: Wild Boar and White Cheddar.
- I brought along four of my favorite recipes: (Beef, Veggies, and Rice), (Chicken, Veggies, and Rice), (Beef / Sausage Chili), and my absolute favorite, (Shepherd’s Pie). Each night I got to choose what I wanted, and I often saved my Shepherd’s Pies for special occasions or long days as a pick-me-up.
My Final Secret. . . CHOCOLATE!!
I needed a special treat at the end of the day. I earned it. For me, that meant a Lily’s Chocolate Bar in each and every resupply box. My favorite flavor. . . Salted Almond & Milk.
After all the analysis and prep, it was time to order and get down to business!