When I first got into backpacking, back in the dark ages, how I ate was far different than now. Partly I was a broke early 20’s human, and could barely afford to feed myself, much less the dog my then roommate dumped on me. Carbs were our friend back then. The only time I ever ate meat on early hikes was if someone packed in a pound or two of hamburger and we fried it up, paired with long cooking rice. Always over a fire, as we didn’t own any fancy cooking gear. But how I hiked all those miles, on nothing but carbs, I can only say was due to being so young. Probably the steady diet of cigarettes kept me going, so I didn’t feel how hungry I was (which I thankfully gave up as well).
As I hit my 30’s and was hiking constantly, out multiple times a month in my tent, I found “hiking food”. But I kept leaving out the most important part, in a misguided attempt to cut pack weight. Yes, I cut out oil and fats. Essentially I was eating this, but homemade, every night. With no meat or fat added into it. And 2 packets of oatmeal for breakfast, with a granola bar for lunch or two. It was no wonder I was losing 10 pounds every trip I went on in those years. Great diet program though! Only side effects were constipation and lack of energy.
I learned a lesson the hard way, as we often do, upon my first longer hike of multiple days. I had planned out my meals so they were as light as could be. That I left out fat (and protein) was beyond the point. My backpack was SO light you had to be jealous! Especially after hiking up this……
By day 3 I was so fatigued I could barely function. As I climbed the hill up to Sunrise, on the Wonderland Trail, at Mt. Rainier, all I could think about was how I was going to get food at the day lodge.
I had not done 15 miles a day, up and down and back up and down like this before, and didn’t understand how my body would need so much more. I was used to where I’d hike uphill for a few hours (say 7 miles), set up camp and chill out. Then hike all downhill the next morning. That takes a lot less calories to do.
At Sunrise, I ran into the cafeteria and ordered a double burger and fries. and then pumped about a cup of mayo onto the basket. And ate it all. It was the mayo I couldn’t quit eating. I barely tolerate mayo on a normal day – but it was the spreadable dipping nectar of the gods that day.
And for once I listened to my body. I realized I was going to be miserable if I kept this up. That night I slept so much better.
Fat fuels you. It keeps you warmer at night, it helps your digestion. Think how often hikers complain about their guts when hiking? Our bodies are not used to eating dehydrated and freeze-dried food, especially if you are eating it on the crunchier side (not rehydrating long enough). It just grinds through you, as your body does the chewing for you. It can leave you bloated, gassy, blocked up and with a gut ache. But add in a bit of oil and suddenly you can “go” daily, and the food digests better – and you feel so much better. Instead of causing your hiking partners to gag as you toot yourself up yet another hill, eat some fat!
You don’t need a lot. But have some. In my early recipes on the website, I often didn’t call for fat. As I revisit these recipes, adding in photos and update methods, I am adding in fat to them. All one needs is a single packet of oil a day. Add it to dinner every night. Or pack in whatever oil you prefer. Be it avocado or coconut. Or if you eat nuts/seeds pack in packets of your favorite nut butter that is just the nut and a pinch of salt (or whatever you like, not going to deny the ones with honey!) Another thing we used to do was pack in fresh avocados – which isn’t lightweight, but eating a fresh avocado for lunch is just amazing. Put it in your drinking cup, wrapped in paper towels to pad it. The paper towels are dual purpose and can be used later to prep food on and clean up with.
But don’t be afraid of fat. Take it with you! And enjoy it.
Without it…you might as well be eating an empty bowl of food.
As always: What I say is a personal opinion, based on thousands of miles hiked. It’s never medical advice. Hike your own hike, eat what you like. If you prefer eating plain ramen with cigarettes on the side, help yourself!