How to Eat Paleo While Backpacking

How to Eat Paleo While Backpacking

The contents of a paleo three to four day resupply box.

The contents of a paleo three to four day resupply box.

Now, a lot of people told me I was not going to be able to eat paleo while backpacking the Appalachian Trail. People told me to start eating junk and force my gut to adjust… clearly these people never suffered from a history of digestive problems. I happily swear by this statement:

Eating paleo is what allowed me to hike and finish the Appalachian Trail.

Why do I say this? Why couldn’t I just “force my gut to adjust”? Well, when I eat grains, dairy, or legumes, I get a whole bunch of fun inflammation all over my body, and within a couple DAYS, if I don’t clean up my diet again, I get arthritis in my ankle (as well as IBS and chronic migraines). Several years ago, my ankle arthritis was so bad I could barely walk from my room to the kitchen. Cleaning up my diet made the arthritis disappear within a few weeks. So, I think it is safe to say that if I experienced terrible ankle arthritis, I probably would not have been hiking the Appalachian Trail for very long.

Also, eating paleo meant I had a lot of high quality protein and fat in my diet, which allowed me to maintain (and even grow) an amazing amount of muscle. While some of my fellow hikers dwindled away to sticks, I gained lean muscle.

So, how did I eat paleo in a world of ramen noodles and peanut butter?

Easily. Here’s how:

  1. Plan ahead and make or purchase massive quantities of jerky to send to yourself in drop boxes. I was lucky to have been a variety of grass-fed beef jerkies donated to me and loved all of them. You can see a list of them here. While others got bored of their peanut butter and snicker sandwiches, I always looked forward to my EPIC bars, Vermont Sticks, Nick’s Sticks and WildZora Bars. In fact, I ended up giving away ⅓ of all the donated meat because I felt so bad for my fellow hikers who had gone days without meat and whose faces had become so hollow.
  2. Dehydrate tons of vegetables and fruit. I LOVED the grain free granola bars I made out of dehydrated coconut, apples, dates, carrots and…. gelatin (good for the gut and joints). I also made dehydrated stew mixes out of organic instant potatoes, sweet potatoes) and dried vegetables. This helped balance out the jerky, and provided me with adequate carbs and fiber.
  3. Bring a small bottle of coconut oil, ghee or shelf-stable lard. I went through all three on the trail, and I’ll admit that dipping my jerky into ghee always put a giant smile on my face. This is something you can usually find a grocery store, but I found that Trader Joe’s has a small plastic bottle of ghee that was light to carry and delicious. If I were to do it again, I would have bought some more of those ahead of time and put them in my resupply boxes.
  4. Bring a small bottle or sticks of honey. There were many times on the trail where all I wanted was sugar. I would watch others drink soda or eat oreos, and I would just take out my little jar of honey and take a spoonful. To make it better, it was manuka honey, which is highly medicinal as well. You can usually find honey in little plastic bottles at grocery stores along the way.
  5. Incorporate whole food/organ meat supplements such as the Essential Multi-Glandular Powder made by Traditional Foods Market (an item donated to me on the trail that I swear helped me recover from cryptosporidium much faster than I could have on my own), or Nutriclear made by Biotics (I mixed this with coconut manna at home before the trail and put enough in each resupply box to eat it for breakfast).

How hard was it when actually put into practice? Not hard at all, I just had to plan my resupply boxes and stops well. A ran out of food a couple times, or my resupply box came late, so I had to make do with grocery store/gas station resupplies. I could always find some sort of turkey jerky (I just can’t bring myself to eat factory farmed beef jerky), fruit and olive oil to tie me over to the next box. My body doesn’t do well with a lot of eggs, but you could ALWAYS boil a bunch of eggs too. Those were easy to find everywhere.

Lastly, I think it is really important to know where your boundaries are. Are you eating paleo for health reasons? Are there certain foods you absolutely can’t eat because of the immediate body reactions? For me, gluten and dairy had to be 100% off the table the entire trip because of how long it takes my digestive track to get back to normal after eating them. I could, however, handle small amounts of gluten free foods that contained things that wouldn’t normally be considered paleo, like rice or potato flour. I could not have them often or I would start to feel my ankle arthritis creep back in the morning, but if I was insatiably hungry and craving something other than jerky or my granola when I got into town, a gluten free cookie usually did the trick without impacting my hiking. Luckily, I always had a Tiki Bar in each resupply box, which I always saved for the longest and hardest day between resupply boxes. They had a small amount of rice in them, but my body never reacted and they were like heaven after a big climb.

I ended up eating paleo about 90% of the time on the trail. Sometimes, I would eat less paleo and start to feel tired or sick, and would go back to being more strict and would find my strength quickly return. But if you want to go 100%, I am telling you with certainty, it can absolutely be done. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Good luck and happy trails!

Stay tuned for a review of all the amazing foods I took on the trail with me!


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Comments 6

  • Brian (The Chief) : Dec 30th

    Probably won’t believe this, but my wife and I have been dabbling in Paleo and are going to do the Whole30 after the first of the year. I was thinking just this morning about how I’m going to be able to Paleo while camping and hiking with my Trail Life USA troop. And then lo and behold, I stumble upon this 🙂

    I will happily take any and all information/advice you have 🙂

    Thank you!

  • Brian : Dec 30th


    Of the foods you brought, which ones did you not like or just didn’t work out and wouldn’t bring the next time.

    Thanks for blogging and congratulations on your hike!!!

  • Kris : Dec 30th

    Thank you for this! I have similar health issues, and am hoping to stay Paleo on my 2016 thru hike. I hope you will post more about this.

  • Amy : Dec 31st

    Thank you soooo much for this! I’ve been dehydrating my own food for the last few months, but have been wondering if I will be able to succeed without more carbs. So glad to read about how you did it and congrats! Looking forward hearing more!

  • Noelle : Jan 3rd

    THANK YOU for this!

  • Amy McLain : Jan 14th

    So far I have made your chocolate cherry granola and lemon ginger. They are both amazing!


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