Spending time in the wilderness provides the environment to achieve four of these five pillars. When we get outside and play we spend less time sitting and more time moving. Our sleep often improves dramatically, most likely due to a combination of increased exercise and de-stressing. And last, but certainly not least, my adventure partners are my tribe. So that means, by spending time in nature we are attending to pillars 1, 2, 4, and 5. Now that, my friends, is the definition of a high leverage point.
All 5 pillars are critical to optimal health and as I’m sure you already noticed, we are missing one: Nutrition/Hydration. When we start eating real, nutrient-dense, food & say bye-bye to processed food-like substances, figuring out what to eat in the backcountry can feel tricky. Our response to this usually goes one of two directions:
- We avoid making dietary changes in order to keep playing in the backcountry
- We avoid backcountry adventures in order to honor our nutritional needs
Until recently, I fit nicely into option number 2. I am a master chef when it comes to car-camping meals. Give me a cooler and 2-burner stove, and I will prepare the same delicious & nutritious meals that I make at home. However, it had been years since I’d strapped on a backpack and ventured into the wilderness for multiple days.
A friend was recently telling me it was time for her to make some dietary changes. And then she said, “I think I’ll wait until the fall though, because I have a few backpacking trips this summer.” I wanted to tell her she didn’t have to wait but then I realized I had no idea how easy, or hard, it would be to meet specific dietary needs while backpacking.
Serendipitously, I had a backpacking trip planned with my sister a couple weeks later which gave me the perfect opportunity to figure out how easy (yes, turns out it’s easy) it is to eat healthy, even if your diet is restricted (I'm follow Paleo & Low-FODMAP), while traveling in the backcountry. I'd like to tell you exactly What I Ate & the Top 3 Tips I'll be following as I plan for my next backcountry adventure.
What I Ate:
Sugar Snap Peas
Kale & Summer Squash (pre-cooked)
Pumpkin & Sesame Seeds (soaked & roasted)
Epic Bars (lamb and uncured bacon)
L'ara Bars (blueberry, cashew, and chocolate)
Artisan Raw Walnut Butter
Wild Mackerel Fillets
I had plenty of fats, proteins, and complex carbohydrates. Plus, every single one of these foods is incredibly nutrient-dense ensuring I was getting plenty of micronutrients as well.. That being said, I was carrying around 5000 calories so I had plenty of macronutrient fuel (seriously, I double checked my math).
Top 3 Tips:
1. Plan Ahead
* Start spending an extra 5 or 10 minutes in the grocery store doing research. I was absolutely amazed by how many backpacker friendly foods I found that were jam packed with nutrition AND met my dietary restrictions (Paleo & Low-FODMAP). Who knew that fresh olives could be found in single serving, light-weight, bags. I certainly did not. Yes, these pre-packed health foods can get pricy, so keep an eye out and purchase when they are on sale.
* You are probably going to want to nuts & seeds for your adventure. If you’ve been on the Nutrition Train for very long, you probably also know that soaking nuts, grains, and seeds aids in digestibility and increases nutrient absorption. Check out this soaking & sprouting guide. Also, I highly suggest dehydrating/roasting after soaking/sprouting as soaked nuts are, quite frankly, kind of gross (unless they are made into nut milk/cheese in which case they are delicious but not super relevant to this topic).
* You can easily bring an entire bunch or two of kale, collards, swiss chard, spinach, etc. with you without taking up a lot of space provided you cook it ahead of time. Those cups & cups of leafy greens will cook down really nicely and you can eat a forkful or two with each meal...for days.
2. Dry Bag
* I packed all of my food into a small dry bag. This kept the food separate from the rest of my gear. It fit really nicely into my pack. But most importantly, high alpine lakes, streams, and north facing snowfields just became a refrigeration source (see the slideshow below).
* I wasn’t sure how well the dry-bag-refrigerator would work so a lot of my food didn’t need to be refrigerated to begin with. Turns out, it worked amazingly well, and my next backpacking adventure will involve even more fresh food options.
* Optional, I did bring small ice bag to keep everything cool during the day while hiking. The high alpine water didn’t refreeze it at night but it certainly got it nice & cold. If you think you’ll be high enough to find snow, then I’d take a zip-lock bag instead to have a refillable ice bag.
* If your adventures are further south where streams and rivers will not provide refrigeration, there is still plenty of highly nutritious food you can take that does not need to stay cold. The dry bag is still a great way to pack everything.
3. Hit up the Health Food Store
* If you tend to shop at a more conventional grocery store you may be able to find a few things. However, you'll probably have to visit your local health food store to find many of the pre-packed items I took, including:
Epic Bars - lots of different options
L’ara Bars - again, lots of choices here
Mediterranean Organics - Olives in a Bag
Artisan Organic - Raw Walnut & Cashew Butter
Wild Planet - Wild Mackerel Fillets
Sea Fare Pacific - Wild Caught Smoked Salmon
Inka Chips - Plaintain Chips
I carried enough food for 1 person for 3 days and 2 nights and it cost about $35 dollars. So, with a little planning ahead, I think it's totally doable to eat well in the backcountry for about $10-$15 dollars per day. Yes, I ate more packaged foods than I normally would. However, I felt really good about the quality and nutrient density of everything. And, one last thing, I didn't feel like this weighed very much at all. But, if you are trying to lighten the load, none of this food required cooking or heating. We did bring a small stove to boil water for tea but we could have easily gone without it.
Now, I'd love to hear from you. Are any of the items I listed some of your go to's? Do you have additional tips & tricks? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.