Backpacking on a Healthy, Gluten Free, Dairy Free Diet: Meal & Snack Ideas

After completing the PCT as a vegetarian and the CDT on a gluten free, dairy free, and low grain diet, backpacking with dietary restrictions is something with which I have a lot of experience.

Nutrition is the primary way that I manage my autoimmune condition and keep debilitating symptoms at bay so that I can continue doing what I love—hiking big mile days in remote wilderness environments. When I’m backpacking, not only do I need foods that keep inflammation as low as possible, I’m also looking for energy-dense foods that keep pack weight low and which are shelf stable. 

That said, backpacking on a restricted diet isn’t nearly as difficult as most people assume. In this post, I lay out some nutritional considerations to keep in mind if you’re on a restricted diet, and then provide a variety of meal and snack options. While I haven’t tried everything on this list, many of these are tried and true favorites.

For an intro on my healthy lightweight eating philosophy, read more here and here, and find a sample 5-day meal plan here.

Plan Ahead

On multi-month hikes, I’ve found the least hassle and most success at having the food I need by planning ahead and mailing at least a few resupply boxes. I send boxes to locations with limited options, and purchase from local grocery stores in larger, full service towns. For me, it’s worth the extra preparation time at home to be sure I have what I need to feel my best on trail.  

Nutritional Considerations

For vegans and vegetarians, particular considerations to be aware of are specific nutrient deficiencies as well as protein intake. The most common deficiencies in this population are Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Iron, and Zinc. These all play a role in energy and immunity and the best way to know your status is to get tested.

The other concern is adequate protein consumption. Vegetarian or not, everyone should be paying attention to protein intake as it’s easy to overlook on trail. Protein is critical for muscle repair and synthesis, as well as proper immune function. The best way to know if you’re consuming enough is to track your intake/plan your menu.

Overview of Backpacking Food Options

In general, most backpackers’ food choices fit into the following 4 “styles”:

  • Freeze-dried meals
  • Typical thru-hiker “convenience” foods
  • Home-dehydrated meals
  • Assembled meals from purchased/bulk ingredients (my pick)

You could find options on a restricted diet with any of those approaches, but freeze-dried meals tend to be pricey (especially on a long hike), and gluten free/dairy free/vegan convenience foods tend to be low in nutrients and no healthier than their traditional counterparts. Dehydrating your own meals at home is a great option if you have the time and interest. My personal preference is to purchase dehydrated or freeze dried ingredients and assemble my own, simple meals at home. Here are a few recipes

Gluten Free Meal & Snack Ideas

In addition to everything on this list being gluten free, 90% is dairy free, and a few options are vegan. All are suitable for cold-soaking, if that’s your preference.

For the most part, this list focuses on “healthier” options because that’s my personal preference and I’ve found that the quality of my diet directly correlates to how well I feel and perform on trail. Healthy is a nebulous term, but I’m using it here to mean foods that are nutrient-dense and low on the inflammation spectrum.  

Keep in mind that just because a product is vegan, gluten free, keto or has any other specialty label, that doesn’t make it healthy. Oreos are a classic vegan cookie! Read ingredient lists and stick to whole food-based products. Many hikers get caught up in only thinking about calories, which matter, but your food can do so much more for you.  

Do your due diligence when purchasing any of these products. If you have Celiacs, confirm that products were manufactured in GF facilities. 

For more gluten free, dairy free hiker foods, sorted by calories per ounce, grab the Healthy Hiker Grocery Guide!

Breakfast Ideas

Oatmeal w/ GF oats, chia seeds, hemp hearts, coconut milk powder
Skip the Sugar Crash Trail Smoothie

Gluten Free Snack/Lunch Ideas

Dinner

My approach to dinner is to start with a protein (meat or beans), add a carbohydrate (beans, noodles, rice, etc), add healthy fat (olive oil or coconut oil), add veggies, add spices.

  • Instant hummus
  • Instant black beans, refried beans
  • Dehydrated veggies
  • Rice noodles, like Lotus Foods
  • Coconut wraps
  • Corn tortillas 
  • Instant quinoa
  • Minute Instant rice
  • Freeze dried meats

Additional Gluten Free Ingredients

  • Protein powders: collagen or plant-based
  • Cheese powder
  • Whole milk powder
  • Butter powder
  • Coconut milk powder
  • Olive oil packets
  • Coconut oil packets
  • Mustard packets
  • Hot sauce packets
  • GF tamari packets
  • Avocado mayo packets

Drinks

  • Instant coffee
  • Instant tea (I like Cusa)
  • Electrolytes: EmergenC, Nuun, Replenisher, LMNT, Bumble Roots
  • Treehouse drinking chocolate

Pre-packaged Options for Gluten Free Hikers

  • Food for the Sole
  • Heather’s Choice
  • Outdoor Herbivore
  • Patagonia Provisions
  • Fresh Off the Grid
  • Next Mile Meals
  • Wild Zora
  • FirePot
  • Mary Jane’s
  • Good-to-Go
  • Nomad Nutrition

Sources if you’re creating your own meals from purchased ingredients

  • Vitacost
  • Nuts.com
  • Harmony House
  • North Bay Trading Company
  • Karen’s naturals

Ready to take the next step? See our Backpacker Academy courses on pre-hike physical preparation, backcountry navigation, and backcountry safety. 

Resources 

Healthy, Ultralight Meal Planning Course (free)

Trail Food Makeover: How to Eat for Optimal Energy and Endurance

Oregon Desert Trail Resupply Planning

Thru-hiking with a Chronic Illness: Strategies Anyone Can Use to be a Stronger Hiker

What would you add to this list? Do you have any dietary restrictions? Share your favorite snack below!

Macronutrients for Backpackers, an Introduction

Planning your food for a long distance hike can feel overwhelming: How much do I eat? What do I eat that’s going to provide energy for 10+ hours of hiking per day? How do I plan food to keep my food weight down?

There are a lot of misconceptions about what constitutes ideal backpacking foods. My intention with this post is to give you some factors to think about that will help you choose backpacking food that provides stead energy and keeps your pack weight lower. Note that this is specifically speaking to macronutrient ratios that make sense for backpackers. What you do in normal, daily life will likely be different because your body is not under the same demands.

Why bother meal planning at all? For backpackers, thinking about your macros is mostly helpful if you want to achieve:

  • lower pack weight
  • better performance (e.g. better energy, better endurance, faster recovery, better immune function, better mood)

If you’re asking your body to perform optimally, it makes sense to provide it with optimal inputs.

The first step in backcountry meal planning is figuring out roughly how many calories to pack each day. Rather than using broad ranges, such as 2 pounds per day or X,000 calories per day, which will probably result in you over or under packing food, you can use an online calculator like the one at tdeecalculator.net or exrx.net to get an activity-adjusted estimate.

Once you know how much you’re eating, what should those foods consist of? That’s where macronutrients come in.

What are macronutrients?

Essentially, macronutrients are the 3 components that make up all of our food. They include protein, fat, and carbohydrate. All three are important. For this conversation, we’ll focus mostly on fat and carbohydrate. Each day, you need a minimum amount of protein, which is important for muscle repair and building, as well as immune function, neurotransmitter production, and much more.

We need a certain amount of protein each day to prevent muscle wasting and facilitate repair. The remainder of your calories consist of either fats or carbohydrates, the primary sources of your cellular energy. Your exact needs for carbohydrate and fat depend on you, but I’ll provide some factors you might want to consider when planning macros for your next backpacking trip.

High carbohydrate diets are traditionally recommended for endurance athletes, but that’s not necessarily what’s best for long distance hikers.

Here’s why:  the body’s preferred energy source depends primarily on exercise intensity and duration. Basically, when a person is exercising at high intensity, carbohydrate is the predominant fuel source, while at lower intensities, such as walking, the primary fuel source is free fatty acids.

For the most part, hiking is a low to moderate intensity activity with bursts of more intense efforts, such as when climbing a mountain or crossing difficult terrain. Therefore, backpackers have high aerobic needs, low anaerobic needs, and low strength needs. This is one reason healthy fat is an ideal fuel source for backpacking. 

Fat also makes sense for backpackers from a pack weight perspective since fat is 2.4x more calorically dense than carbohydrates or protein. This means you can carry less food weight overall by carrying more high -fat foods.  Basically, a high-fat diet weighs less than a high-carbohydrate diet with the same number of calories. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you decide to consume a diet higher in fat, it’s important to choose healthy sources of fat, consume adequate protein and a lower ratio of carbohydrate. It’s also important to note that high fat here is being discussed specifically for how it can be conducive to a long distance hiking trip. With any dietary changes, it’s valuable to get tested to see how changes are affecting your bloodwork.  

So, how do you put this info into action? To recap, 

  1. Figure out your total calorie needs with an online activity-adjusted calculator.
  2. Identify your ideal ratio of macronutrients.
  3. Figure out your protein needs first. Anywhere from 15-25% is probably appropriate for most backpackers.  You can research recommendations online and choose the ratio that feels most appropriate for you.
  4. The remainder of your daily calories are come from a combination of fat and carbohydrates. Favoring fats can be ideal for backpackers to help them lower pack weight. Nutritionally, fats are also ideal for low to moderate intensity activities. Carbohydrates are helpful for when you need quick bursts of energy as well as for restoring glycogen and sleeping better at night.

Interested in better health and an expanded skill set so that you can embark on your next backpacking trip with more confidence? Explore our Adventure Ready Backpacker Academy!

Backpacking Solo: Tips + Strategies

Have you ever felt called to go on a big adventure, or even to hit a local trail for a day hike, and then you ended up canceling on yourself because you couldn’t find a hiking partner and didn’t quite feel safe going alone?

I get it. The thought of taking off on a solo trek can be both alluring and frightening. And unfortunately, it keeps many otherwise avid adventurers from hitting the trail. Even for more experienced backcountry users, solo hiking can be intimidating and brings up fear. Undoubtedly, hiking with a partner is safer. That said, there are ways to make hiking solo more comfortable and safe so that you can get outside with more confidence.

Hiking solo can also be incredibly rewarding. It can help you increase your self confidence, your skill set, and your connection with yourself and the nature around you. I’ve hiked thousands of miles alone, and while it’s been unnerving at times, it’s also been one of the most satisfying parts of my times spent outdoors.

Here are some tips to get you started: 

  1. Trust your gut. This goes for life and on the trail. If someone seems creepy, get away as quickly as possible. Don’t be afraid to lie. Don’t tell people where you’re camping if they ask. Just give a vague answer like “Whenever I get tired”.   We’re taught not to be rude to others, but you don’t owe anyone any thing and your safety is your top priority.
  1. Identify what exactly scares you about solo backpacking. Is it getting caught in bad weather? Is it wildlife? Is it interactions with other humans? Often when something scares us, it feels like this nebulous overarching fear. If we can narrow it down exactly what makes us uneasy, we can take steps to prepare for that risk and that helps reduce fear. Take a moment to get honest with yourself and get to the root of your fears so you can work through them.
  1. Educate yourself. As we just covered, a lot of fear stems from the unknown and by educating yourself on likely conditions, common wildlife, and learning best practices for how to confront these scenarios, you can increase confidence.  The Backcountry Safety Course goes into depth on how to create a backcountry preparation plan and walks you through the most common risks you’ll encounter on a backpacking trip.
  1. Be prepared. There are measures you can take to make solo hiking safer. Tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to return. Give them contact info and instructions for what to do if you don’t return as planned. Carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) such as a SPOT or Garmin inReach. Carry runner’s mace if that makes you more comfortable. Take the proper gear for the conditions you expect to encounter. Additionally, avoid posting a detailed itinerary of your trip anywhere public, such as social media.
  1. Work with your mindset. Some fears are rational and some aren’t. The mind can take over if you allow it. I think it’s helpful to read, watch, and learn about others who you can relate to who are doing what you want to do. For example, if you’re a mature female and you want to start solo backpacking, seek out others in your demographic doing what you wish to do and read their stories, watch their videos. Normalize it in your mind. 

Finally, remember that you’re capable of great things. Solo backpacking may feel out of reach or scary right now, but by using these strategies you can get more comfortable with it and reap the many rewards of going into the backcountry alone.

Solo hiking is just a fraction of what’s covered in the Backcountry Safety Course, which also covers Navigation, Weather, Wildlife Interactions, Human Interactions and more!

Find more free resources here.

Is inflammation slowing you down on your backpacking trip?

Chronic and persistent inflammation can take a toll on your body and impact your hike by causing decreased energy and endurance, slower recovery, stiffness, joint aches and pains, brain fog, GI issues and more. Not fun when you’re out to enjoy nature! This post will cover how inflammation affects your backpacking trip, common sources, and what you can do to prevent it and have a more enjoyable hike.

So, what is inflammation?

It’s a critical component of your immune system which occurs when the body is injured or under threat. 

In the short term, inflammation is great because it can help the body protect itself and heal. The problem occurs when this response gets stuck in the “on” position because the body is under low level stress that doesn’t go away. This is what’s referred to as chronic inflammation and is the focus of this post. 

It shows up differently for everyone, but here are a few of the impacts it can have on you as a backpacker:

-decreased energy and endurance 

-slower recover

-decreased immune function

-slower wound healing

-increased susceptibility to illness 

-persistent joint aches and stiffness

-brain fog & inability to navigate or accurately assess backcountry risk

Dealing with any or all of the above can put a damper on your time in the backcountry. Consider the following sources of inflammation and which ones might be at play in your life. 

Sources of inflammation

-dietary triggers 

-poor sleep

-stress (physical, chemical, psychological)

-environmental toxins

-negativity

-guilt, shame around food & body

-social isolation

-social media addiction

-lack of a higher purpose

Steps you can take to optimize performance

The sources directly inform the steps you can take to mitigate systemic inflammation. Nourish your body with good food, prioritize sleep, manage stress, reduce toxin exposure from cleaning products and personal care products, spend time with loved ones, look for the positive, and most of all – love and respect the body you’re in. 

Ready for the next step? The Adventure Ready online course walks you step by step through the process of reducing systemic inflammation and dialing in a personalized training plan so you’re ready for your next backcountry outing. Find details here.

Renew Yourself in the New Year

If you’re feeling off-kilter in the wake of 2020, you’re certainly not alone. The beginning of a new calendar year presents a time to refocus on what we want in our lives. We can choose for it to be a time to regain the balance that may have slipped away in the previous 12 months. Utilize the following practices to renew yourself in the new year.

Set the Vision

How do you want to feel? It can be easy to forget that we have a choice in the matter. After a whirlwind of a year, you may find that you’ve been in reactive mode for quite some time. Take a moment to tune into how you actually desire to feel moving forward. Write it down. Next, write down the things which make you feel that way. Perhaps it’s phone calls with friends, time in nature, eating healthy food, or donating your time. Make a plan for how you can do more of those things each week, even if you have to start small. Life will likely continue to test you, but having a guidepost for how you desire to feel and remembering that you get to choose is a powerful step to renew yourself.

Create Space

Creating space for what we wish to create in our lives requires removing the old. Examine each area of your life and evaluate how you can simplify and remove the clutter. In your home and office, remove trash and tidy up your space so that it feels calming and grounding. Is your closet full of clothes that you don’t wear which could be donated? Similarly, review your calendar and determine what tasks can be delegated or deleted entirely. Often, we don’t realize the mental energy required to make hundreds of tiny daily decisions ranging from which outfit to wear to what tasks to complete. I even invite you to audit your beliefs and determine what you may be holding onto that no longer serves you. Clear the clutter to renew yourself – physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Feed Your Mind

You know that phrase “You are what you eat”? Similarly, your mind becomes what you continually feed it. Take inventory of what you’re mentally consuming on a daily basis. How much time are you spending on social media (check ‘screen time’ under your phone’s settings menu)? How much news are you taking in? Staying informed is one thing, but getting caught in the 24/7 news cycle is maddening. Taking a break from consuming any media at all can be a powerful way to regain balance by allowing you to connect with yourself, your intuition, and what actually matters to you. At minimum, set boundaries around what level of usage feels good to you and choose your sources intentionally. 

Nourish Your Body & Love Yourself

Instead of going on a new diet this January, what if you decided to focus your attention on loving yourself to the best of your ability? Can you practice self compassion and give yourself credit for doing the best you can? One of the most powerful ways to renew yourself in the new year is to honor your mind, body, and spirit. This might include eating healthy food, staying hydrated, and getting 8 hours of sleep each night. It may also include creating a morning routine that fills your cup, carving out more time to spend in nature, and being mindful of your self talk. Choose for this to be a time of prioritizing yourself and regaining your own sense of groundedness so that you can enter the new year feeling refreshed and ready to support those around you.

Ready to take the next step towards your adventure goals? Check out our library of free resources here.

How to Reduce Holiday Stress

The holiday season is a time to gather with loved ones to celebrate and connect, but it’s also a time of anxiety, overwhelm, and stress for many. Most of us know the familiar feeling of pressure to get the right gifts, make the perfect meal, and attend every event. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way! With foresight and intention, you can transform the holidays into a time of joy, gratitude, and connection rather than a flurry of stress, burnout, and loneliness. Use the following tips to cope with holiday stress and make this year your most easeful yet.

Prioritize Self Care to Stress Less

During a time of year when much of your focus is on giving to others, don’t forget to give to yourself too. The most powerful gift is self-care in the form of good nutrition, movement, and sleep. Focus on whole foods and keep sugar consumption in check. Aim to fit in daily exercise, whether it’s a 30-minute walk in nature, a gym session, or another favorite activity. Make this time non-negotiable. Similarly, block out 8 hours for sleep nightly and create an effective bedtime routine.

Rely On Stress-busting Herbal Allies

Herbs such as lemon balm, linden, passionflower, lavender, and milky oats can be wonderful for supporting the body during times of stress. Adaptogens are another great option for regulating the stress response. WishGarden has several formulas to help you cope with holiday stress including Deep Stress, Emotional Ally, Serious Relaxer, and Liquid Bliss. 

Maintain a Daily Gratitude Practice

In addition to keeping the physical body functioning optimally, don’t forget to nurture your mind and spirit. Practicing mindfulness meditation or spending as few as 10 minutes per day writing in a gratitude journal can profoundly shift how you interpret any stressful events that may arise. Not only does gratitude reset your stress response by shifting you into a parasympathetic state, it reconnects you to what truly matters to you.

Plan Ahead

Holiday overwhelm often stems from the feeling of having too much to do and not enough money or time. Prevent these feelings by taking time now to review your finances and create a realistic budget for the holidays. Seek out alternatives to traditional gift-giving, such as homemade gifts, upcycling, or creating an experience rather than purchasing an item.

You can approach your time similarly. Pull out a calendar and schedule events which are non-negotiable. Be realistic with what you can attend and accomplish. Evaluate what truly matters and what can go by the wayside. Discerning the vital tasks from the trivial ones helps you determine where your energy will be most effective.

Ask for Help

Remember that you don’t have to go it alone. Identify which tasks you can delegate and to whom. More than likely, the people in your life would be happy to support you. You just have to ask (nicely). Asking for help can also mean seeking out community if you’re in need of connection. Even when it feels hard to reach out, remember that others are there to support you.

The essence of the holidays is communing with loved ones and experiencing gratitude for our many blessings. Proactively managing holiday stress allows you to be fully present and enjoy this special time of year.

*this post was originally published on the blog of WishGarden Herbs.

Want access to a free healthy lightweight backpacking meal plan? Download it here.

The Importance of Giving & Receiving Kindness

When was the last time you experienced kindness? It may have been a thoughtful word, a smile, an act of generosity, or simply holding the door open for someone or having it held open for you. The beauty in kindness is that whether you are the giver or the receiver, it feels good, and the gestures need not be grand to be effective.

An example of kindness that comes to my mind immediately is the support I received from countless strangers during my 2,800-mile hike from Canada to Mexico along the Continental Divide Trail last summer. My journey was so much richer thanks to the individuals who gave me rides into town to resupply, purchased meals for me, and even invited me into their homes for a warm shower and a bed. These moments of consideration and generosity from strangers are some of the most powerful memories I have from that entire experience. Those acts of kindness inspired me to keep going when times were tough and to do my part to ‘pay it forward.’

Kindness is an integral part of humanity. In fact, it shows up as a core tenet of nearly every major religion. In Judaism, for example, Leviticus 19.18 states “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In Buddhism, the Metta prayer is a wish for all beings to be happy, safe, peaceful, and free. The Dalai Lama stated “My religion is simple. My religion is kindness.” There are countless examples across every culture demonstrating the importance of kindness.

Health Benefits of Kindness

Kindness doesn’t just feel good. Research indicates that there are a myriad of health benefits for the giver, the receiver, and even the observer. Both witnessing and performing acts of kindness produces oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone.” Increased oxytocin lowers blood pressure and increases self esteem.

Being kind to others also increases the production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of satisfaction, well being, and calmness. Furthermore, acts of kindness reduce pain via the production of endorphins, the brain’s natural painkillers. As if all of that weren’t enough, kindness also reduces the stress hormone cortisol, the overproduction of which is associated with a variety of health ailments.

Increased Connection to Others

Kindness increases empathy, helps us relate to others, and allows us to form more positive relationships. Practicing kindness has the transformational power to flip any situation upside down. For instance, if you’ve failed to reach a personal goal, kindness allows you to forgive yourself and to try again. In a professional setting, it allows you to see another’s perspective and to move forward with compassion in challenging circumstances.

Practicing Kindness

Kindness is a muscle that strengthens with practice. I invite you to make it an intentional part of each day. Here are some ideas to get you started: practice loving kindness meditation, perform a random act of kindness, make a donation, smile at a stranger, call a loved one, volunteer your time, buy someone a coffee. Small gestures can make a big impact. Finally, don’t forget that kindness practiced towards oneself is just as important as kindness given to others. 

World Kindness Day is November 13, so it’s a great time to go out of your way to give kindness towards others and towards yourself, but with all these benefits, why not treat every day like World Kindness Day?

Ready to take the next step in your health journey? Find more free resources here!

How to Improve Focus & Concentration

Your ability to focus and concentrate impacts nearly every area of life from career to relationships to creativity, productivity, and more. In an increasingly noisy world with multi billion dollar industries designed to capture your attention, the potential for distraction is endless and it’s easy to wind up feeling scattered, unproductive, and frustrated. 

Fortunately, the ability to focus and concentrate can be trained and enhanced with lifestyle choices. Try the following strategies to boost your ability to stay focused and attentive so that you can do more of what matters and tune out the rest.

Practice Mono-Tasking

You are always training your brain. If you have 17 tabs open and you’re jumping from one task to the next, your brain is learning to be distracted. You can support increased focus and attention by turning off phone notifications, keeping your phone on ‘do not disturb’ or in a separate room while working, closing browser tabs, batching email, and giving yourself boundaries around social media.

Keep in mind that the brain can only concentrate on one task at a time. While multitasking is possible, it requires the brain to jump back and forth from one job to the other. There’s a cost to this. For instance, have you ever been in the middle of writing an important document and someone interrupts you? It takes a moment to get back into the mindset of where you were. Imagine the time cost of this happening hundreds of times per day.

A couple of book recommendations: The One Thing, Deep Work, Essentialism.

Mediate

Research indicates that increased attention is among the many benefits of having a regular meditation practice. Meditation also provides the ability to put some space between you and your thoughts so that you can choose what actually matters to you and be intentional with your attention. Focus requires that you not only choose what matters in this moment, but also that you choose what doesn’t matter so that it can be eliminated.

Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

A diet high in colorful fruits and vegetables is packed with antioxidants that support optimal brain function. Omega-3 fatty acids are another key component of a diet that supports a healthy brain that’s capable of sustained attention. If you’re not sure where to begin, start with these 5 brain foods: leafy greens, blueberries, eggs, walnuts, and salmon.

Include Herbal Support

In addition to lifestyle practices, herbal allies are an excellent way to support enhanced focus and attention. Herbs such as gotu kola, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, lemon balm, eleuthero, and bacopa are all great for brain health. These can be taken as tinctures or teas.

Remember that your ability to focus and pay attention plays a large part in the quality of your life! Which of these tips can you incorporate into your life today?

Ready to take the next step towards a healthy, adventurous life? Start here.