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Backpacker Magazine – May 2008

Eat Better

Want to hike farther, explore tougher terrain, and carry big loads without bonking? To achieve your biggest backcountry goals, you have to change how you eat.

by: Dorothy Foltz-Gray and Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan, Photos by Justin Bailie

Photo by Justin Bailie
Photo by Justin Bailie

Sport-Specific Nutrition | Snack For All-Day Energy | Balance Your Backcountry Diet | Food Expert Q & A | The 10 Best Backpacking Foods | The Perfect Menu | A Day of Eating Healthy | The Burning Curve... | ...And a Radical Deviation

Trail-savvy nutritionist Stacy Beeson picks the healthiest hiking foods and tells you how to get them from pantry to pack.

1. Wild salmon
Bite into salmon and you get a mouthful of muscle-repairing protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which temper inflammation in sore muscles.

  • The Trail Version: Vacuum-sealed, ready-to-eat wild salmon is lightweight, packed with the same nutrients as fresh salmon, and delicious with some cheese on a bagel or flaked into pasta. One 3.5-ounce pouch costs $5; sockeye is $6.

2. Almonds
Rich in heart-healthy fats, these meaty nuts contain six grams of protein per ounce and three grams of fiber, which helps control blood sugar. They're also full of muscle-relaxing magnesium and bone-building calcium. And they come packaged in a vitamin E husk, which amps up the immune system.

  • The Trail Version: Eat them while walking for an instant protein boost, or snack on them in camp to repair trail-weary muscles and refill your calcium stores. Like your nuts with fruit? Try Oskri's blueberry almond organic granola ($7 per pound,; the magnesium in the blueberries helps ease muscle cramping.

3. Tomatoes
These scarlet beauties are a good source of vitamin C, which enhances absorption of iron and helps rebuild connective tissue you tear down on the trail.

  • The Trail Version: Ounce for ounce, sundried tomatoes pack up to 12 times the nutrient wallop of fresh tomatoes, and they're a fraction of the weight. Add them, with a bit of extra water, to a couscous lunch, or sauté them with garlic for a tangy rice or pasta dish. You'll save money by ordering in bulk with the five-pound bag ($27) at

4. Olive oil
This Mediterranean staple is loaded with cell-protecting antioxidants and good fats that provide long-burning energy. It also acts as an anti-inflammatory, soothing sore muscles and joints.

  • The Trail Version: At home, roast different kinds of nuts in olive oil for a richer, more satisfying GORP. It adds flavor and increases the caloric punch without putting more weight in your pack.

5. Spinach
Full of calcium and vitamin K, spinach is key to bone-building. It also provides folic acid, important for women in child-bearing years, and quercetin, a compound that fights inflammation in sore muscles, along with healthy doses of vitamins A and C, magnesium, and iron.

  • The Trail Version: Try Provident Pantry freeze-dried spinach. It comes in a #10 can (0.80 gallon), but you can rebag it without spoilage. $15;

6. Blueberries
They boost your memory and help keep you mentally sharp for moments when you have to face tough decisions. They're also full of antioxidants that act as anti-inflammatories, which–once again–are important for soothing sore muscles.

  • The Trail Version: Dried wild Maine blueberries, 5-ounce bag for $7,

7. Red beans
Each 4-ounce serving is loaded with three to four times more cholesterol-lowering fiber than a slice of whole wheat toast. The benefit: You'll feel full longer and reduce the risk of bonking. Kidney beans are also packed with anti-inflammatory antioxidants, they're loaded with folic acid, and they're a great source of low-fat protein, about 15 grams per cup.

  • The Trail Version: Pack some Tabasco to fire up the Louisiana Red Beans and Rice dinner from Backpacker's Pantry ($4, When eaten together, the rice and beans offer a complete protein, which is exactly what you need on day 10 (and 1, and 2, and…).

8. Whole-grain oats
We all know this variety of oats packs a lot of slow-burning complex carbs, but its secret benefit is beta-glucan. This soluble fiber boosts the immune system–important to fighting germs on the trail–and lowers cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. It also packs a muscle-repairing protein punch: 6 grams per cooked cupful.

  • The Trail Version: Spoon up Mary Jane's Farm Organic Outrageous Outback Oatmeal by itself. Or make the breakfast we love on big-mountain days by mixing this instant, soymilk-enriched whole grain with your favorite whole-wheat pancake mix. The superman version: Make two giant blueberry oatmeal cakes, let them cool, spread with cashew butter and honey, and later enjoy a sandwich you'll never forget. $5.

9. Ground flaxseed
Packed with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, ground flaxseed wards off the cell damage that comes with hard exercise. It also helps lower cholesterol and contains phytoestrogens that may lower cancer risk, both benefits that add hiking years to your life. Stir a couple of tablespoons into oatmeal or sprinkle on vegetables.

  • The Trail Version: Nature's Path Flax 'N Oats, an organic instant oatmeal. One 14-ounce box costs about $4 at your local grocer or

10. Milk
One cup has almost half of your daily requirement of calcium–great for reloading stressed bones on the trail. It also boosts your immune system and is a good source of protein, zinc, and vitamin B, all essential for energy.

  • The Trail Version:Powdered milk, available in any grocery. One 8-ounce glass offers 30 percent of the RDA of calcium, plus vitamins D and K, both essential for bone health.

Sport-Specific Nutrition | Snack For All-Day Energy | Balance Your Backcountry Diet | Food Expert Q & A | The 10 Best Backpacking Foods | The Perfect Menu | A Day of Eating Healthy | The Burning Curve... | ...And a Radical Deviation

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Oct 01, 2012

Opt2thrive was great! Light weight and fresh.
Easy way to feel full: high calories and protein and contains fiber

Mar 12, 2012

Serious long distance backpackers sometimes measure things in oz, its easy to make fancy stuff but the long distance guys I met had spreadsheets on calories/protein/fats per oz. It all tastes good out there when your hungry. the idea I have to heat something rehydrate or mix it up for lunch is a hassle on the trail when you're tired, better if its simple, easy acess and snacking throughout hike. I shoot for under a lb per day of food and oatmeal/almonds, then a bar, then jerky, dried fruit, then a bar, mixed with stuff mixed with water that i make enroute with steripen, saves on carrying water weight, and dehydrated dinners. graze and go, the lighter your load the more you enjoy it, best thing you can do is get in shape before the trip. I also carry potassium/electrolyte pills.

Dec 31, 2009

I think Craig is funny. He made me laugh. Thank you Craig. And you do bring up some very good points. Thank you again, Craig.

Nov 06, 2009

Two useful expert sources of fitness & nutrition:
1. U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion & Preventive Medicine (USACHPPM) - Hooah Health:


Sep 09, 2009

I don't want to eat what Craig eats. It appears to make you grumpy.

Jul 11, 2009

Ground flaxseed goes rancid in no time. Take the seeds whole and grind them yourself.

Jul 11, 2009

You really need to check your nutritional consultants credentials as she appears to be an imbecile.

Jul 11, 2009

Complex carbs breaking down slowly has absolutely nothing to do with why marathon runners eat it the night before a race. The reason they do that is to make sure their bodies' reserves of glycogen are full. The speed at which carbs are digested has nothing at all to do with how effective they are at replenishing glycogen, given that length of time. Stick to pitching tents and leave the nutrition to the experts.

Jul 11, 2009

Most retards who try their hand at being nutritionists these days are absolutely obsessed by carbohydrates. It's laughable that the only advice you have to offer is whether to eat simple or complex carbs. Here's a few facts for you about carbohydrates. 1) The human body can survive indefinitely with a bare minimum of carbs (even none) whereas eliminating protein or fat will result in certain death. 2) The diet our bodies evolved to eat and thus the one most conducive to good health consists of around 35% carbs, comprised from large amounts of vegetation and a moderate amount of fruit. 3) ALL the cereal grains you idiots are obsessed with are inedible in their natural state and are only made edible by heavy mechanical processing. I'm reasonably sure they didn't have the ability to process food when Palaeolithic humans were around and therefore these foods are ill suited to human consumption (regardless of how many dumbasses would claim otherwise).

Jul 24, 2008

Cheddar can go 4-5 days w/o refrigeration, it just gets oily and melty, but still tastes good (makes the best mac and cheese)

Jul 16, 2008

These are great recipes! One question though, how do you keep the cheese in the Tuna recipe cold on a muli-day trip?

Jul 16, 2008

These are great recipes! One question though, how do you keep the cheese in the Tuna recipe cold on a muli-day trip?


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