Something to chew on

I have a confession.

From the moment I decided to take on the AT, I have been completely and hopelessly gear-obsessed. Countless hours immersed in Google land searching: “ultralight tents,” “best trekking poles,” “down versus synthetic,” “jetboil or cat can,” “what the hell is a cat can,” “do cats can,” “funny cat videos,” “Oh God help me.”

All this time down the REI rabbit hole, and I never bothered to research one of the most important elements of any long distance hike: food. Healthy food. Ten years ago, I was diagnosed with Chronic Hereditary Pancreatitis. A technical term for “You can’t eat bacon, drink alcohol, smoke, enjoy ice cream, or basically consume anything delicious ever again. Here’s some kale. See you in 90 days.”

Although I have learned to like kale, and all varieties of fresh fruit and veggies, I recognize it would take a drove of pack donkeys to carry the amount of whole, fresh produce it would require to sustain on the trail. Of course I can devour the occasional Snickers bar and Knorr pasta side with the best of them, but you won’t see me demolishing the traditional half-gallon of ice cream in Cumberland Valley. Not unless I have a death wish. Seriously, you have permission to smack the spoon right out of my hand and take the spoils. I may curse you at first, but I’ll thank you later.

So what CAN I eat? Researching healthy options led me to a few solid articles discussing fats, proteins and supplements. Calculations of food intake by body weight, gender, converting calories to grams, add ten, subtract for declination, divide by the periodic table. Wait. What.

I gave up, entirely overwhelmed.

What seems to work for me is much of the same foods I already consume, just modified in form. DEHYDRATION. The process of removing the water from fruits and vegetables allows for a lighter load, while still retaining the caloric content and most of the nutrients. This, added to a diet of Peanut butter, whole grain pasta, tortillas, gorp, Lara Bars, lean chicken (canned), should allow for some variety. Ramen will work, but I’ll have to ditch that delightful msg packet. I also have superfood powder that can be portioned and mixed with water or made into bars. The goal here is to minimize the amount of processed foods. All of this will require extra effort to dehydrate weeks of provisions and strategize re-supplies, but I know it will mean the difference between a successful thru-hike, or one with excessive neros or even a hospital stay.

I spent my evening once again entangled in the Google webs: “How to dehydrate vegetables,” “dehydrator recipes,” “best food dehydrator,” “Excalibur brand dehydrators,” “Excalibur,” “Camelot,” “do I have magical powers.”
Wish me luck.

Do you suffer from chronic illness? IBS? Crohn’s? I’m curious what has worked for you on long distance hikes? Let me know in the comments!

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Comments 4

  • : Aug 29th

    thank you for the tips

  • Lillie Stack : Aug 31st

    I suffer from chronic Migraines. Perfumes, lighting, sounds and foods and especially food additives will trigger a migraine and I can be down for days.
    I hike long sections, weeks at a time. I dehydrate my own ingredients and assemble my own meals for the trail. I have a vacuum sealer, once assembled I seal them and they are ready at a moments notice.
    This past summer my meals smelled so enticing I had thru hikers drooling across the campfire eating their Ramen while I ate homemade Chicken and dumplings. I have to be very careful with planning where I go, mindful of the barometric pressure changes, and just what flowers are in bloom where. It’s a challenge but I wouldn’t change the outcome for anything.

  • Michele hardy : Aug 31st

    Hello…i am a 2018 hopeful hiker with food allergies galore. No dairy, no gluten, no wheat, and no seafood. My plan is to read labels carefully and rely on supply drops more than the average hiker. I have been prowling the food isles reading ingredients to see what will work and what won’t. Know your body, and what you can and cannot eat. Be safe have your drops ready and know what you can eat.

  • Emily : Aug 31st

    Hey! I’m also a future 2017 AT hiker with food restrictions. I’ve been trying to figure out how to dehydrate the massive quantities of fresh foods as well, and what the hell to eat on the trail. A friend shared this website which has been a great help with meal ideas (that seem actually do-able) Also Chef Glenn’s has had some great suggestions as well. It seems the easiest would be dehydrating grains and proteins and different veggies and mixing them in different combos with spices, as well as dehydrating smoothies to rehydrate. Planning to heavily rely on grass fed gelatin, bone broth protein, and dehydrated coconut milk since they’re so nutrient dense, and planning on making lots of with dehydrated veggies, rice or rice noodles, bouillon and mixing different spices. Not sure if those fit your dietary needs or not, but maybe find something nutrient dense (like a powder) to supplement into each of the meals. I also heard some people pack out fresh veggies on the first day or two from town… I plan on grabbing kale and other greens along the way.
    Best of luck!


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