Many people dream of hiking in the backcountry in a place like the Appalachian Trail (AT) or Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). But both trails are long and require months to complete. The PCT is 2,650 miles and takes four to six months to complete, while the AT is 2,190 miles and takes five to seven months.
Even if you choose shorter hikes for 10-12 days, you still need to bring the right supplies, including items like a first aid kit, survival gear and non-perishable food. For many people, packing food for the trail is simple. But if you have a restricted diet, choosing the right food to bring can be difficult. Here are some tips and ideas for backpacking with a restricted diet.
Planning Is Essential
For people who can eat anything, the food aspect might not seem complicated, but if you have a restricted diet, it can seem almost impossible. That’s why you should plan your meals while you’re planning your hiking route.
Other people in your exact situation have researched and made careful notes on resupply towns and drop spots along the trail they were hiking. Some hikers resupply by going to small markets, grocery stores, gas stations, campground stores, outfitters and other places along the trail. Others pack resupply boxes and mail them to post offices along the way so they can stop and pick them up.
Defining a strategy for eating on the trail is even more critical if you have a restricted diet. It may be smarter to rely more heavily on mailing supply boxes to yourself than hope that a store along the way has what you need. Many hikers use the Postholer Planner to plan the PCT hike.
A map or guidebook of the area that you’re hiking will identify places where you can resupply along the way, including post offices. You’ll need to figure out if any resupply locations are close enough to the trail to access them. You may need to huff it on foot or even take public transportation.
Planning also lets you buy in bulk before your hike so you aren’t spending more money at expensive stores. It also limits the number of supply runs you need to make on your few valuable few rest days. Many people buy dehydrators to make their own healthy food for the hike.
Healthy Meals and Backpacking Foods
For many people, eating healthy when hiking in the backcountry is difficult. Eating ramen noodles and candy bars is not healthy over time and will definitely not set well after a while on the trail. Here are some healthy foods that pack well and will fit many diets.
Dried fruit has a long shelf-life and still retains many nutrients found in fresh fruit. It provides minerals, vitamins, carbs, fiber and antioxidants. For example, sun-dried raisins still have many of the same antioxidants and minerals found in grapes.
Plus, it’s easy to store dried fruits in a backpack, and you can mix them with nuts and seeds to make trail mix.
Dried Seeds and Nuts
Seeds and nuts have protein, healthy fats, fiber and vitamins and minerals that fuel hikers out on the trail. They’re perfect for backpacking because they’re portable and dense in calories that hikers need since they burn thousands of calories every day.
Sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds and pumpkin seeds are the perfect snack to eat on the go.
Protein bars are another favorite food for backpackers to get more protein when they don’t have much space to carry the protein they need. Quality protein is also essential because it keeps you full and repairs muscles.
The best thing about protein bars is they are great for almost any diet, including vegetarian and vegan. Look for protein bars without a lot of artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners as well as fewer whole-food ingredients.
Since you can’t bring fresh dairy products on your trip, powdered milk is your best option. Powdered milk has B vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, potassium like fresh milk and it’s a great high-quality protein source. It also provides critical calories backpackers need. Plus, you can add it to your coffee, dehydrated meals or instant oatmeal to make them even more nutritional.
Poultry and Fish in Foil Packets
Another great source of protein is canned fish and poultry, but cans are too clunky to carry. Nowadays, tuna, salmon, chicken and sardines come in foil pouches so they lie flat and don’t take up much space in a pack.
They contain B vitamins, iron, protein and other essential nutrients backpackers need when hiking.
Spices are absolutely essential on the trail so you don’t lose your mind eating the same things repeatedly. Think of the spices you use every day at home, such as paprika, turmeric, garlic powder, chili flakes and others you can pack to add more depth and flavor to your meals. They won’t take up much space at all, and many also have nutritional benefits, too.
Whole grains are the perfect source of complex carbs and fiber for backpackers. Choose whole grains like quinoa, buckwheat, farro and oats that are tasty and nutritious.
You can eat whole grains anytime during the day, and they pair well with just about everything. Plus, you can easily prepare them over a fire.
Buying whole grains in bulk helps you save money and lets you plan out your meals before hitting the trail.
Here is a list of some other foods you might consider bringing, depending on your dietary restrictions:
- Instant oatmeal
- Dehydrated meals
- Nut butter
- Tea and coffee
- Preserved meats like salami and pepperoni
- Hard cheeses such as aged cheddar or parmesan
- Beans packaged in foil packets
- Whole-grain crackers
- Canola, coconut or olive oil
These are some of the healthiest foods you can take hiking but, of course, adjust them to fit your needs if you have allergies to some of these ingredients. It is possible to travel the trail with dietary restrictions and maintain your health. Plan your resupply stops ahead of time and bring other food and essentials you need for a fun trip without worrying about your health.