Planning for My Gluten Free/Dairy Free Thru-Hike

Over the course of my 2,185 mile AT journey I will be faced with many challenges – intense lightening, roaming bears, cold rain, and ridiculously rocky terrain – but proper nutrition shouldn’t be one of them.  I adhere to a gluten-and dairy-free diet, which means I can’t rely on diet of Pop tarts, Snickers bars and ramen noodles to fuel my hike. Figuring out what to eat on my thru-hike has been the most stressful part of planning for me. (buying gear is sooooo much more fun!)

I’ve gotten some good advice from friends and strangers on AT related FB groups, all of which I am so very grateful for. I’ve also gotten my fair share of negative and derogatory comments as well. So let me set a few things straight: being gluten and dairy free isn’t a choice as much as a necessity. When I eat gluten and dairy I get terrible, terrible stomach pains. It feels like a thousand tiny knives stabbing my insides for days. Believe me, if I could eat gluten and dairy I would! Why would anyone in their right mind choose to make their thru-hike more complicated? Do you have any idea how hard it’s going to be for me to turn away from trail magic and breakfasts at hostels? I’m already dreading it.

With that cleared up, here is the start of my thru-hiking gf/dairy free plan. I still have a lot to figure out. I am also 100% sure that most of my planning will be shot to hell within two weeks of getting on the trail, but I have to start somewhere.

 It’s all about the mail drops.

Until I get better sense of what is available in most trail towns I plan to rely on mail drops for my food. Yes, it’s going to be pricey and inconvenient but being stuck in small towns in the middle of nowhere with no food options totally sucks. Not being able to feed myself hits on some deep need and quickly devolves into depression. To figure out where my maildrops will beI have relied on AWOL’s AT Guide and the info on his website. These resources have been indispensable in helping me gauge potential mail drop points based on a conservative estimate of my daily mileage. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I plan on going SLOW for the first month until I build my trail legs. Slow as in 8-10 mile days. The quickest way to get off the trail is getting injured in the first month or so. Plus, the guys at Outdoor76 in Franklin, NC said if they saw me earlier than a week after I started I’d have to answer to them. I know a lot of people don’t like mail drops and if I can get away without them, or a lot less of them, I absolutely will, but I’d rather be over prepared starting off.

Mail day! The happiest day of the week.

Mail day! The happiest day of the week.

Breakfast time.

Breakfast will be a mix of bars on days I want to haul ass out of camp, or Glutenfreeda’s instant GF Oatmeal. I’m a big fan of their oatmeal and if throw in some hemp hearts and/or almond butter I’ve got a nutritious and calorie dense start to the day. I may add in chia seed pudding, but I’m not the biggest fan of the texture.

I could get use to eating this every day. Not sure I can get the presentation quite that good on the trail.

I could get use to eating this every day. Not sure I can get the presentation quite that good on the trail.

 

Lunch, the harder meal.

I’m still not sure about lunch. I imagine it will most likely a combination of bars, nuts, dried fruit, jerky, packaged tuna and gf crackers. Speaking of bars I have two brands that are my absolute favorites: 22 Days Nutrition and GoMacro.

22 Days Nutrition offers two types of bars, an energy bar that is fruit and nut based and a protein bar that’s packed with a whopping 20 grams of protein. Unfreaking real for a vegan bar! My favorite energy bar is the cherry chocolate bliss, it has a bright flavor that is both sweet and jut a tad tangy. The PB + Chocolate Chip Nirvana is my go-to post crossfit protein staple. They just introduced a few new bars to this line that I’m dying to try out.

Fuel for my practice hikes

Fuel for my practice hikes

GoMacro Macrobars are so yummy. They have a very smooth texture, are easy to chew and give me a clean and sustained energy boost. I haven’t tried all their bars but so far everyone has exceeded my expectations. I find myself reaching for their protein pleasure (peanut butter chocolate) bar and their protein paradise (cashew caramel) bar the most often.

So many yummy flavors to try.

So many yummy flavors to try.

Is it dinner time yet?

For dinner I’ll be doing two things: Eating Good To-Go’s ridiculously good dehydrated meals or my own that my mom and I will be putting together with ingredients from Harmony House and Mountain House. I plan on writing an in-depth review of Good To-Go’s meals, but trust me, their meals are delicious. Their Thai Curry is better then the one I buy from the Thai restaurant down the street. Right now they have 4 meals and I hope they are able to expand their offerings before I get on the trail.

Yes they are as good as they look.

Yes they are as good as they look.

I plan on making 6 additional dinners based off Chef Glenn’s book the “Backpacking Chef.” His book and website are full of recipes, advice and how-to’s. When I go to my parents house over winter break my family and I will be testing out all these meals and fine tuning them before we begin packaging them up with our foodsaver. You can look over my meals here.

 

And tea to make the meal complete.

One of the few luxuries I’m allowing myself on the trail is a good cup of tea to start and end the day. It’s hard to imagine a cup of tea as a luxury, but when you carry your whole life on your pack for 6 months, any non-essentials, like my titanium mug, is a luxury. For me, tea not only comforts my weary body, but drinking a cup of tea is my reflection time and an act of self-care. In the morning I plan on drinking The Republic of Tea’s new Hi-Caf line to give me the kick in the pants to get going. In the evenings I’ll rotate between some of my favorites including The Republic of Tea’s Get Some ZZZZ and Peppermint Chocolate Tea and Mighty Leaf’s White Orchard tea.

More caffeine then coffee!

More caffeine then coffee!

 

Finally, my mom is awesome.

Not only is she going to my trail boss and manage my mail drops with me, she’s going to help me prepare my own dehydrated meals. She is pretty kick ass, plus making the meals and putting the boxes together as a team helps her be apart of this journey with me. I don’t think she realizes how valuable she will be to me on the trail.

 

My mom and I in Acadia National Park this past August.

My mom and I in Acadia National Park this past August.

I do not pretend to have the answers, yet. But as I learn, experiment, fail and succeed I will share it with you. I hope we can learn together.

 

Mail drop photo courtesy of USAToday

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Comments 6

  • Isabel Thomas : Aug 4th

    Thank you so much! I was recently diagnosed to sensitivities to Gluten, Dairy, Eggs, Soy, Almonds and mushrooms. I backpack very frequently however I am preparing for my first trip with my sensitivities, so this really helps! Something else for you all to try are Tanka beef jerky bites…so good!

    Reply
  • Madison : Jan 29th

    Preparing to hike the Colorado trail with my 2 brothers in August. I however, have celiac and will have to eat Gluten Free. I appreciate all the advice you have shared, would love an update on how these things worked for you.

    Reply
  • Dawn Anderson : Feb 22nd

    Hi Laura,
    I have some suggestions for you about Paleo food on your thru hike. I make freeze-dried meals that are milk free, gluten free, grain free and soy free but are simply delicious! We have grain free breakfast options as well as high-protein lunch/dinner meals and a freeze-dried fruit snack if you like “dessert”. Please contact me at the info given below because I think our meals will make planning for your trip much easier. We have Athlete Sponsorship Plans too as well as an Affiliate Program which you might be interested in.
    Best wishes for a wonderful trip. I’m sure your mom is extremely proud of you, as I am, and admittedly I’m a little envious!
    Dawn Anderson
    Paleo Meals To Go

    Reply
  • Christian salgado : Feb 22nd

    I’m so happy I came across this. I want to go backpacking and thruhiking so bad but struggle with planning the gluten free food. Thank you!

    Reply
  • Johanna : Jun 11th

    As a person with celiac who is also dairy intolerant, I was dismayed when I found exactly one prepackaged backpacking meal I could eat at REI. I am taking my first backpacking trip this summer, so I am going to check out the brands you listed here. Thanks!

    Reply
  • Kayleen Cohen : Jun 4th

    Hey Laura! Thank you for the awesome article. I’m preparing to spend a month on the Appalachian Trail and agree-buying gear is way more fun than meal planning! I appreciate the suggestions you’ve made here. I hope your hike is going well! Have you looked into Heather’s Choice gluten free backpacking meals as another option? I’ve field tested a few of her entrees now and I really like them! They are gluten-free and dairy-free, but also packed with delicious protein like salmon, quail, elk, and bison. https://www.heatherschoice.com

    Reply

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