Backpacking Food Pyramid







Re-Posted from Lori of the Delaware Dames!

The above is a scan of a rather elementary school-ish drawing I made to illustrate my version of a food pyramid for backpackers. Obviously, I’m not an artist. Neither am I a nutritionist. This is just a simple, very low-tech presentation to help you visualize the logic I use for planning backpacking menus. This works for me. Please feel free to build on it as your body demands and your talent allows.

I have always struggled with my weight, and happily, like most people I usually come off a trail trip weighing a bit less than when I started. But this is not a diet plan, nor is it the time to try to limit your calories. Calorie needs are based on variables such as your weight, level and endurance of exertion. But when it comes to backpacking, it’s nearly impossible for you to carry enough food for your body to meet demand. Basically, what you put into your body is going to fuel your walk. So think in terms of hiking fuel.

You want to avoid highs and lows in your energy level while on-trail. The highs are usually short-lived, and the lows take all the joy out of the walk. Your goal is to provide a steady stream of long-burning fuel. And it’s good to include occasional quick burning stuff to get you up a big climb or through the last mile of a very long day. Plan on eating often. In fact, nearly non-stop snacking works for many hikers. For me, I’ve found that building my entire menu on long-burning complex carbs is key. You know the roll call, I’m sure: whole grains, oatmeal, rice, beans, etc. These help to give you balanced energy over a long period of time. Simple carbs are the things that taste soooo good and land right on our hips and thighs. You know ’em… the cookies, candy, cakes, pies, and other treats. These do not provide a long, even burn of energy. But, they also play a role in your backpacking adventures. Now and then, a Snickers bar at the bottom of a mountain will help you get to the top. I firmly believe it. In fact, I live for it, because I rarely allow myself to eat Snickers off-trail when I’m living in the paved world. (However, I’ve been known to enjoy an occasional Kit-Kat, and should I find some Godiva chocolate laying around, I wouldn’t necessarily let it go to waste.)

Most of the food I bring on backpacking trips comes straight from the grocery store. Stroll up and down the center aisles and you’ll find lots of processed, quick cooking food that, in my opinion, isn’t all that good for you on an everyday basis. I prefer to eat whole foods and cook from scratch at home. That’s not practical for backpacking. Instead, I look at every convenient, add-water and eat type item in the grocery store as a possible block in the foundation of my hiking food pyramid. Packets of noodles and sauce? Got it! Rice and sauce? Couscous? Dried tortellini? Yep, they go right in the pack. I’ve even cannibalized the guts of boxes of mac and cheese and Hamburger Helper in order to build tasty, long burning fuel/food for my trips.

Once you’ve decided on a tasty long-burning carb, add in some protein to really up the energy burning value of your calories. You no longer have to depend on beef jerky as your only source of protein on a long hike. Step into the tuna fish aisle my friend, step in and behold the bounty! Tuna is available in no-drain pouches, of course. You can even find pre-mixed tuna salad, so no need to mix in little packets of mayo as you sit on a pile of brown leaves next to the trail. Just open the packet, squeeze into a pita bread and eat! In the same aisle you will also find crab, salmon, and shrimp. Look a little further down the shelf and you will find a variety of flavored chicken breasts in pouches. Even single serve slices of Spam are on the shelves these days. A short walk to the deli section, and you’ll find pepperoni, salami, and other dried meats that will keep for days in your pack. Bacon? Would you like some bacon? Sure! Pre-cooked, shelf-stable bacon and ham can also be found at your grocery store. And don’t forget cheese! Hard cheeses or wax covered individual cheeses such as BabyBel carry well in a pack, especially in cooler weather.

Now you have two levels of your pyramid sorted out. Choose something from the carbs level and something from the protein and fat level and mix it together for a tasty meal. Couscous with shredded chicken and a douse of olive oil and Parmesan cheese is a great way to end the day. One of my favorite meals is a combination of Barilla shelf-stable tortellini mixed with a packet of Knorr rosa sauce, diced pepperoni and even more olive oil and cheese stirred in. Oh, and don’t forget peanut butter! Not with the tortellini, of course! But, peanut butter is another grand source of protein and fat. I even enjoy it stirred into my morning oatmeal.

Now we’ve come to the electrolytes and fluids levels. You’ve heard about electrolytes. There are aisles and aisles of electrolyte replacement drinks all across the land. But what ARE electrolytes? Well, let’s just go with the 7 you may be tested for in a basic metabolic profile. These are sodium, potassium, chloride, carbon dioxide, BUN (blood urea nitrogen), glucose, creatinine. OK, that’s more than you needed to know, I suppose. But these little chemical substances keep your bodily functions running the way they should. If you’ve ever had an out-of-whack result on a blood test, you’ve had discussions with your healthcare professionals regarding diabetes, kidney failure, and a host of other life-threatening conditions. And that’s what we’re talking about. Life-enabling/life-threatening chemical balances. As you hike, your body is going to burn fuel and chemicals. You will sweat. Your electrolyte balance is going to get a little wonky. This will effect you along a spectrum that goes from feeling tired and dizzy to being dead. We’d really like to avoid the dead part, so let’s try not to get beyond the tired and dizzy level. To do that, you should plan to replace electrolytes.

And what a lot of choices we have today! You can go well beyond Gatorade. In fact, I’m not a big fan of the flavor of Gatorade, and I prefer something called Nuun, which comes in tablet form. In addition to my Platypus full of water, I always carry a separate bottle filled with water and one or two tablets of Nuun dropped in. I sip from that during the day and enjoy another bottle with my dinner each night. Another of my favorite sources of electrolytes comes from Jelly Belly. Yep! Jelly beans can be electrolyte replacement! Jelly Belly makes something called “Sport beans”. They are sweet, chewy, and deliver a pack of energy and electrolytes to your system. I call them my 1000-feet treat. One packet of those beans gets me to the top of a 1000′ climb. Both Nuun tablets and Jelly Belly sport beans are available at REI and other athletic-oriented stores. Of course, you can find packets of easy-to-mix electrolyte drink powders at your grocery store, too.

I also include soups in the fluids and electrolytes category. I enjoy some instant soups on the trail. Sometimes I make my own dehydrated creations at home. Sometimes, I just carry along envelopes of instant soups from the grocery store. These help get some fluids and sodium into you. And they are a very comforting treat on a cool day in the woods.

Finally, my pyramid is topped with a level I call “Stuff you crave”. It’s basically everything else you bring along. Call it comfort food,if you’d like. For me, these are mostly my snacks and treats. I try to look for things that have a nice calorie punch for their weight. I love little packets of Justin’s nut butters, individual cheeses, hot chocolate for an evening treat. And yes, I even like Cliff and Luna bars. I also like taking along some sort of veggies. There aren’t a lot of calories per weight in vegetables, so I usually wait for an off-trail meal to get my fresh veg dose. But I do like the flavor and texture of veggies added to my meals. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s carries a nice selection of freeze-dried veggies that can be added to your soups and long-burning carb/protein concoctions. In cooler weather, I will sometimes carry a single small cucumber. I like the crunch. Also, baby spinach will hold up well for a couple of days in a plastic bag. I toss a bit into my rehydrating meals for a bit of taste and eye appeal.


Re posted from Lori of the Delaware Dames

The following is a handout from the TRAILSIDE FOOD WITH GROCERY STORE GOODIES.


Many years ago, your backpacking menu was probably limited to prepackaged backpacking foods, perhaps military “meals ready to eat”, and even canned goods.
But these days, with consumers demanding quick, easy to prepare meals at home, there are many backpacking menu options right on your local grocery store shelves.

Below are some easy recipes for the trail to get your grocery store backpacking menu kickstarted.

Southwest Soft Tacos
1 packet Uncle Ben’s Whole Grain Ready Rice Santa Fe
7-ounce chicken pouch
4 whole wheat tortillas
Tabasco to taste

Empty rice and chicken into pot. Stir, cover, heat over low flame. Add water if necessary. Add Tabasco. Fill tortillas. Serves 2.

Catskills Chicken Riggies
8 ounces rigatoni
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp dehydrated onion
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 7-ounce pouch chicken
½ cup Parmesan cheese
½ cup water

Saute tomatoes and spices in olive oil and water until thick. Add chicken and half the Parmesan. Serve over cooked and drained pasta and top with remaining cheese. Serves 2.

Rib-sticking Noodle Soup
1 Lipton’s Chicken Soup Mix
6 cups water
1 7-ounce pouch chicken
8 ounces macaroni
1 stalk celery or equivalent amount of other trail-sturdy veg such as carrot or onion.

Bring wataer to a boil. Whisk in soup mix with a fork. Add chicken, macaroni, and chopped celery. Return pot to a boil, then simmer for 1ominutes or until pasta is al dente. Serves 2

Creekside Lentils
1 cup lentils
1packet instant tomato soup
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon dried onion
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Trail-sturdy cheese such as Baby Bel, Parmesan, or Laughing Cow

Add all ingredients except cheese to 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes (until lentils are soft). Top with cheese to taste. Serves 2.

Rockytop Tortellini
8 ounces Barilla dry tortellini
½ envelope McCormick’s marinara sauce mix
½ envelope McCormick’s pesto sauce mix
2 ounces sliced pepperoni
Olive oil

Cook pasta according to package directions and drain, leaving 1 cup water in the pot with the pasta. Stir in both sauce pouches and add 3 tablespoons olive oil. Stir and add pepperoni. Serves 2

Shenandoah Surprise
½ of a 21-ounce box brownie mix (transfer to a Ziploc bag)
¼-cup powdered milk
2 cups boiling water Graham crackers
1 apple

Combine brownie mix with powdered milk in a pot. Slowly add boiling water and stir until the mix reaches the consistency of pudding. Serve fondue-style, dipping graham crackers, sliced applies, or a spoon! Serves 4.

Easy Chicken Salad in a Pita
1 7-ounce pouch chicken
½ cup raisins
¼ cup walnuts
2 mayo packets
2 whole wheat pitas

Mix together chicken, raisins, walnuts, and mayonnaise in a zip-top bag. Spoon salad inside pita. Serves 2.

Playing Head Games-part 5

This is the final in a series of guest posts by Lori, the Head Dame of the Delaware Valley Trail Dames.  Thank you for sharing, Lori!!

Trail Dames Backpack 11-09 071

I had a decision to make about the next day, which would be my last full day and night on the trail. I could stay at Harper’s Creek, deal with daytime boredom, and wait for the rest of the northbound hikers to join me. Or, I could move on to Maupen Field shelter, which was less than 2 miles from where the van was parked. My blister was still bad. It was deep and ugly and very large. I estimated that I could press a quarter into the raw wound, and it would sit level with the topmost layer of skin. I didn’t relish the idea of walking 8 or so miles back to the van with that open wound. But, I also didn’t want to spend another night alone. The boredom and loneliness were my toughest opponents, and it was getting harder and harder to get them out of my head. I wanted to spend the last night on the trail with people. In the end, I was afraid that the blister would slow me down so much that I would hold the entire group back as they waited for me to finish the trip to the van. I decided to hike alone to the next shelter, which would leave me a barely 2-mile hike on the last day, a distance I knew I could cover without delaying my companions.

When the sun rose, a new day was before me with a plan to move on. Moving is a great way to combat boredom. I had decided to climb back over the Three Ridges by following the blue-blazed Mau-Har Trail to Maupen Field. It was a good choice, and it was by far the best hiking day of the week for me. There was plenty of water, pretty falls, and blankets of pink trillium on the hillside. I even met up with a large black snake on the trail. I hiked from breakfast until noon. I was thrilled to discover that the trail ended directly behind the shelter at Maupen Field. I had made it to the day’s destination, and I was alone again. It was so warm that I was happy to take a nap in the sunshine. The young trees near the shelter swayed in the breeze, their branches clacking out a pleasant sound. It was still early in the day, and I hoped for company on my last night on the trail. Perhaps someone would come along.

As the hours ticked away towards evening, no one joined me at the shelter, and again, second-guessing and self-doubt entered the game. Wallowing in self-pity, I was angry for not staying at Harper’s Creek. I thought about hiking out to the van and sleeping there. There was no reason to do that other than to move and not be bored. But once at the van, I’d be bored again and camped at a trailhead. So I stayed.

Luckily, Maupen Field shelter was stocked with reading material. At least I wouldn’t have to read “Acres of Diamonds” again. I was surprised to see lots of Catholic literature. As a practicing Roman Catholic, I couldn’t help but find some comfort in that. But I was lonely. Very, very lonely. On this last night on the trail, the loneliness was unbearable. It was all I could think about, and yet there was nothing I could do about it. I decided to take some of the literature into my tent and read until it was too dark to see. I read about St. Therese of Lisieux. I read about her struggles with her emotions and how she learned to just hand them over to God. So I decided to do the same. There in my little tent in the woods by Maupen Field I said to God, “I’m lonely and feeling sorry for myself. I really wish that I weren’t here right now, and that I had never come on this trip. I don’t want to feel that way. There’s nothing productive in that, so I’ll give them to You and ask you to show me another way to deal with them.”

To my surprise, I felt instantly fine. Not a bit lonely, not a bit bored. I actually smiled and laughed. I hadn’t really expected anything to come from the prayer. And then, hardly a few moments passed before I heard a voice calling, “Lois! Lois!” Again, I laughed. If that’s God calling me, I’d hope he knew that my name wasn’t Lois. Then I heard it again, and I realized it WAS someone calling to me. It was Randy and Paul from our northbound team. I had met them for the first time a week ago when we all gathered to start the hike, and then we had barely made introductions. They had read my entry in the Harper’s Creek shelter register and decided to come up the trail and join me. I had written about my loneliness and about how I wanted to spend the night with all of them, but that I decided to move on so that I wouldn’t burden the group on the last day. Randy and Paul were also attracted by the idea of shortening the hike on the last day. So there they were, calling out what they thought was my name. I was very happy to see them, and was almost sorry to tell them that my name was Lori. We ended up spending a great evening around the fire along with two thru-hikers named Canada and Sharptooth.

And so my trip ended in a good place with new friends. I lived with myself for 5 days. When my non-hiking friends found out about my trip and my 5-days alone, they all asked me if I had been afraid. They were sure that I’d be terrified of criminals on the trail and man-eating bears. No, fear was not a player in this game. It’s boredom and loneliness, self-doubt and second guessing that are the toughest competitors on the trail. Sometimes they’re easy to overcome. Sometimes they grab the ball and dash for the goal to score big. But whichever way the score goes, it’s always worth playing the game.

The end.

To view the entire series click here.

Head Games-Part 4

At favorite 
This is a series of guest posts by Lori, the Head Dame of the Delaware Valley Trail Dames.  Thank you for sharing, Lori!!

 I decided to camp two nights at the Priest shelter. I put my tent up in a nearby site, made my dinner and settled down. Before long, four hikers from Ohio joined me, and we had a pleasant evening. But I was completely exhausted and was done and in my tent well before the sun set that evening. After a nearly 13-hours sleep in my tent, I joined them for breakfast, and then waved them good-bye as they left to complete their hike. I settled in for a long day at the shelter.

A zero day at a shelter can be an enjoyable quiet retreat, or it can be a tedious trip to boredom hell. Most times, it’s a combination of both. I had one small book with me, “Acres of Diamonds” by Russell Conwell. As an alumna ofTemple University, that book is something of a bible to me. In it, Dr. Conwell, founder of Temple University, talks about the merits of hard work, good planning, and recognizing resources available right where you are. I read it through four times during this trip. It’s a good book, but four consecutive readings is a bit much.

I was happy when an occasional hiker stopped by and broke the tedium. I collected firewood. I had lunch, I sang songs, I checked my maps. I napped. It wasn’t too bad. Occasionally, I’d have to deal with a moment or two of depression over not being with my friends. Being early in the game, it was easy for me to push those thoughts aside. In the early evening, I built a campfire. I remembered how often I had taught fire-building and safety to boy scouts, and how we talked about the morale-boosting effects of a campfire.

As I sat next to my cheering campfire, a group of teenagers came into the shelter area. They were nice kids, and we had a good chat. They were camping a bit further down the trail and came to investigate the reason for the smoke, as they thought no one was staying at the shelter. One of the girls asked me, “Isn’t it dangerous to be out here by yourself?” I asked her if her mother told her that. She seemed a little embarrassed as she answered yes. I told her my mother had also warned me about the dangers of hiking alone, and that our mothers had given us good advice. We talked about how I got into the situation, shared a few stories, and they went back to their campsite. My day alone on the trail came to an end, and it wasn’t bad. It was a little boring, a little lonely, but not bad.

The next morning, freshly bandaged, I packed up, laced up and headed downhill for the return to Harper’s Creek Shelter. Once I was moving, I was again in complete, happy control of the head game. Moving downhill was hardly painful at all. I made it back to the Tye River on a Saturday morning, where I met a large group of boy scouts who were headed up the mountain just as I was coming down. I enjoyed talking to the boys and their adult leaders. They were polite and seemed impressed that I had walked up the mountain. I didn’t enlighten them as to the details of the ordeal. But I did talk to them about tending to hot spots immediately.

I crossed the river and started the relatively easy climb back towards Harper’s Creek shelter. I had an option to camp by the river that night. I played the options in my head. Trailheads are statistically more dangerous than any other parts of the trail. A lone woman camping near a road is really not in the best place she could be. I was tired, but that was an easy call to make. I pushed on toward the shelter.

But less than a mile along the trail, I was slammed again with second-guessing and self-doubt. Now moving uphill, every step was again a painful YANK on my heel. I thought about stopping and making a dry camp. But I saw clouds rolling in, and the shelter was not that far off. I decided to move on, resting often, adjusting and/or changing bandages and socks.

I arrived at Harper’s Creek around 3:30 p.m. just as another scout troop was leaving the shelter area. I enjoyed some nice conversation and a little company, but before long, I was alone again. I didn’t mind. The shelter is set in a very pretty spot. The creek was running well. I soaked my feet for a little while, gathered up some firewood, listened to my iPod, re-read “Acres of Diamonds”.

But once it was dark, the head game turned to loneliness. And that became the favored strategic play used by my negative opponent for the rest of the hike. This was my third night alone on the trail, and the loneliness was scoring points against me. It was dark. No one was at the shelter. The fire had burned low. I was full of self-pity. Woe is me. What did I do to deserve a blister? Why hadn’t I been smarter?

I fell asleep out of sheer boredom only to be awakened around 11:00 p.m. by loud voices and flashlights across the creek. I had been sleeping soundly in the shelter. I was startled, and sitting straight up, my heart pounding, I reached for my headlamp and flashed it on. I wanted people approaching to know that someone was in the shelter. I wondered who would be arriving so late. They walked back and forth but did not cross the creek. I even shouted a greeting to them, but there was no reply. For the next four hours they made quite a racket as they sat around a very large fire in a campsite across the creek. I couldn’t understand a thing they were saying even though they were quite loud. I assumed the garbled sound was due to the noise from the swift creek that separated me from the group. I tried to sleep but was awakened often by their laughter. In the morning, I met my fellow campers, who turned out to be a group of Russian students from a nearby college. They apologized for the noise they made. And even though I was quite irritated the night before, they were such nice people and I was so happy for their company the next day, that I had no hard feelings towards them.

I settled in for another zero day. Harper’s Creek is a pretty spot, so it was enjoyable, but I was definitely bored. I went through my pack, studied my maps, took compass bearings from every direction. I re-read “Acres of Diamonds” for a third time. I decided to lighten my food load, and displayed all of my discarded food items on the picnic table in front of the shelter. Around lunch time, some thru-hikers came by, and they happily took food that appealed to them. I met one young man with an unusually bright and happy attitude. His trail name was “Burns”, and he had the most interesting collection of trail food I had ever seen. Apparently, at the road crossing at the Tye River, day hikers had gifted him with extra food. He was carrying several ears of corn, a very large can of baked beans, a whole kielbasa, and a plastic bag of sauerkraut. He and two other hikers shared that feast, and we laughed as they told me about their adventures on the trail. By this time, the Russians had left, and as soon as the happy thru-hikers left, I was alone again.

I gathered firewood, I checked my maps, I re-read “Acres of Diamonds”. In the evening I built a fire, and as it died down I settled into my sleeping bag in the shelter and felt sorry for myself again. I wondered why I hiked. What was the point. I could be home in my own bed, or staying up late watching “Trek” on the big screen. Self-doubt and second guessing made a play again.

To view the entire series click here.

Head Games-Part 3

Td green 
This is a series of guest posts by Lori, the Head Dame of the Delaware Valley Trail Dames.  Thank you for sharing, Lori!!

Each step was now a wince-inducing stab. I tried to alleviate the pain by turning my foot outward, taking sideways steps on my left foot to keep my toes and heel level, thus preventing the pull on my heel. I leaned forward, putting more weight on my trek poles. I cursed the extra food I had in my pack which added to my weight burden. All but one of my companions was ahead of me on the trail. I couldn’t enlist another player to help out. I was in this alone.

That is, until Toothless and I ended up together. We had both slowed down to deal with the ever-sharpening incline, and so we ended up together. We talked briefly, but I didn’t want him to think I was some sort of frou-frou wimpy girl hiker. Inside my head, I wanted to sit down and stop. But, I couldn’t just quit. I felt embarrassed at even the thought of quitting. I tried to keep going, to stay just a short distance in front of Toothless. Oh, yeah. I’m strong. I can do this. Zing! Another step. Another lob inside my head from the opposing team. “No, you can’t.”

Toothless and I stopped for lunch at an overlook. I hoped the break would help, but I knew it wouldn’t. There were still another 1000 feet of elevation to go, and my 12:00 noon goal for reaching the shelter had come and gone. As we headed up the mountain, I struggled more and more. I tried to stay ahead of Toothless so that he wouldn’t see me wiping the occasional tear from my eye. I was exhausted. Since the game had ramped up, I had turned my thoughts inward in a you-can-do-it-no-you-can’t battle that added to the energy drain. I was stopping more frequently, huffing and puffing, feeling as though I were nearing an embarrassing breaking point where I’d collapse into a total sobbing mess sitting in the middle of the trail. I had to say something to Toothless.

In my calmest voice, I told him that I just could not hike another 65 or so miles. As soon as I heard the words spoken, I wanted to die. I felt defeated. We talked about options. The first imperative was that I reach the Priest shelter, which was not that far away. Once there, I could rest, heal a little, proceed back along the trail northbound for the rest of the week until the our northbound group met up with me. It was a good plan.

I was still walking at a pace just a fraction faster than a crawl, so I told Toothless, several times, to go on ahead; that I would be fine. To my surprise he said, “I won’t leave you.” Here was a guy I had met just the day before. I was sure he was thinking I was dead weight on this trip, and that he would be happy to move on ahead. Yet, the tone of his voice was completely reassuring. I was surprised at how relieved I felt to know that someone was looking out for me. My hard-played head game with myself just made a call to the bullpen. An all-star relief pitcher came into the game to help me finish.

We made it up to the shelter. I took off my boot and looked at my heel. The blister was angry and deep. There was blood on my sock, and I was reminded of Curt Schilling. With so many miles and lots of climbs still ahead on the hike itinerary, I knew it was a good decision to stop. Toothless and I went over the game plan for the rest of the hike. He asked me about my supplies. We were both satisfied that I had all that I needed to be on my own for 5 days, and I told him I’d be fine. “I wouldn’t leave you if I thought you couldn’t do this,” he said. His reply was another shot of reassurance for me. I knew I’d be okay on my own. I had done solo hikes before. But it was nice to hear that validation from someone else.

And then he left, and a new head game began.

No sooner was I alone, then one of the most damaging offensive moves came into play. Self-doubt. My now un-booted foot felt so much better as I sat on the edge of the shelter floor. Why not keep going? Why not just wear my Crocs? I took out my map and checked the topography of the trail ahead of me. I walked up to the trail again and looked at the scattered rocks. Not too bad. I could travel in my Crocs along that. Why not try it? At least I could get to the next shelter, even if I arrived after dark. But then what? Surely I couldn’t continue the hike from there. If I had to turn around, I’d just have further to go. The opponent in my head game kept pushing forth the doubt, making me second guess my decision, playing to my pride. Quitter! Don’t be a quitter!

Finally, my cooler, defensive player won out. Toothless and I had made a decision. A plan was laid. It was time to work the plan. I was now out of communication with my companions. If I changed my plan and began hiking in Crocs at night, no one would know I had done that. If anything happened to me on the trail, it wouldn’t be fair to the others. So, stick with the plan I did.


To be continued…..

To view the entire series click here.