Backcountry trekking requires stamina, health, and high spirits, and there’s nothing worse than a bout of the runs to ruin the happiest hike. Other than practicing good hygiene (purifying your water, washing your hands, and not double-dipping), one surprising thing that can help you avoid Montezuma’s revenge (as well as colds and other bugs) is probiotics—the good bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract.
Doctors estimate that between three and five pounds of bacteria dwell in your gut. It’s a classic symbiosis: In exchange for habitat, these friendly flora bolster your immune system, fight infection, help you digest food and absorb nutrients, and generally police the gut by displacing harmful bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
The problem for backpackers, of course, is that one classic source of probiotics—yogurt—doesn’t keep in the backcountry. The solution: new GoodBelly ToGo Probiotic Fruit Drink Mix powder ($12.50 for eight packets; goodbelly.com), which deliver live active bacteria in the form of Lactobacillus plantarum299v (Lp299v), plus a healthy whallop of vitamin C. These travel-friendly packets join GoodBelly’s juice-drinks line, and I tested them on a recent climbing expedition to India (the Zanskar Odyssey) to see if they’d actually make a difference.
They did, a big one—
They did, a big one—not so much in what happened as in what DIDN’T happen. By and large, we were spared the indignity, discomfort, crud, and exploding bowels that, after a dozen South Asian expeditions I’d grown to dread. Dairy-free, soy-free, and vegan, the ToGos mixed well with water (no annoying clumping) and tasted yummy (flavors include Mango and Blueberry Acai). Side benefit: When we mixed the powder with a little water, the paste worked like duct tape for blisters.
Probiotics aren’t just relevant to exotic destinations. Even domestic travel exposes your digestive system to all manner of ungodly jive, the worst of which are the bacteria that thrive in the absence of a strong population of good bacteria. So I’ve made these a staple in my kit and bring extra for my teammates. Trust me, your bellies will thank you. —Pete Takeda