I know that some people think that food intolerances aren’t real. But if I eat gluten, dairy or soy I shit my brains out, and I know I’m not alone in this. Lots of people can’t properly digest one or more of these things. Having diarrhea on the trail makes hiking pretty hard, and I’ve figured out a way to eat while long-distance hiking that works for me. So maybe this information will be helpful for you!
(Side note- no-one knows why so many people can’t digest gluten, and why there are more gluten-intolerant people every day. But there are some new theories.)
(Other side note- I feel like an asshole telling people I’m “allergic to things”, so I just say I’m a really picky eater.)
More about my eating style: I don’t carry a stove when I hike. Instead I carry a screw-top ziploc container (I’ve also used a plastic peanut butter jar) and cold-soak my two meals in this.
I’m a woman. I’m 5’7”. I weigh about 140 lbs. I need about 3500 calories a day to hike 25 to 35 mile days with around 5k feet of elevation gain per day. If it’s cold during the day or there’s more elevation gain I need more food.
Fatty food has the most calories per ounce, as fat has 9 calories a gram vs. carbs and protein, which have 4 calories a gram. So the more fat in your trail food, the lighter your trail food will be. Fat will also help keep you warm/help you sleep warm. That being said, I also need a good amount of carbs while hiking as these are easiest for my body to convert to glucose and digest while I walk. I try not to mainline sugar ala candy bars and gummy peach rings as these things make me crash hard later in the day, but I do end up getting a decent amount of sugar from bars. I also require protein to hike. Basically I require everything, constantly and in great quantities.
I choose trail foods that average around 120 calories/ounce. This means I carry about two pounds of food per day.
I eat two things while on the trail: meals and snacks.
There are two meals.
Meal A consists of oatmeal cold-soaked in water with chia seeds and pea, brown rice or hemp protein powder. This is my #1 favorite thing to eat on the trail, hands down. It somehow manages to be filling, nourishing and hydrating all in one. I eat this meal once or twice a day.
Meal B consists of one of the trifecta of instant legumes that can be found in bulk bins in health-food stores across the US- instant refried beans, instant curried lentil soup, or instant black bean soup. This I cold-soak in my ziploc container with dried spinach and freeze-dried peas, bought cheap in bulk from northbaytrading.com. I eat the resulting sludge with tortilla chips. It tastes ok. I eat this meal before bed and it makes me fart like crazy and gives me just enough calories to live through the night.
The rest of my calories come from snacks. I stuff snacks into my hipbelt pockets and eat them about once an hour while I walk, and during breaks. My snacks are thus:
Chips, my favorites of which include, but are not limited to: tortilla chips, dal mix, snap pea crisps, bugles, banana chips, gluten free honey-mustard pretzels (yes these are a thing now, and it is amazing), lays potato chips, ruffles potato chips, salt n’ vinegar potato chips, barbecue potato chips, sweet potato chips, those “vegetable chips” which are really potato chips with a little spinach powder to make them green.
To make the chips fit in my pack I open the bag, squish the air out and smash them a little.
Bars. I look for bars that have less than 15 grams of sugar each and some protein that’s not soy or dairy. If it fits those requirements, I may not like it but I’ll eat it. Most often I eat alt bars, probars (the shop n’ kart in Ashland always has them on sale), nature valley granola bars, lara bars and whatever rando bars I find in the hiker box that look like they’ve been sat on.
I also eat salami (on GF bread when I can find it), jerky, sunflower butter, dark chocolate, caffeinated jelly beans and caffeinated cliff shot blocks.
I am burnt out on all nuts, dried fruit and all nut butters except for sunflower butter.
I take a quality multivitamin every day.
On the PCT in 2013 I had leg cramps that kept me up at night so after that hike I queried some ultra-runners via a forum on facebook and they told me to take powdered magnesium before bed. In 2014 I brought along this stuff called Natural Vitality Calm, which is a powdered magnesium that you mix with water and which tastes sort of citrusy, and it fixed my leg cramps.
Electrolytes are important. I’m a fan of Power Pak, which is like emergen-c with salt in it.
I obviously send myself a lot of boxes on the trail. They don’t have to be big boxes tho- the chips and oatmeal and bars and salami, etc, I can often find in stores. I ship myself the harder to find stuff- protein powder, instant legume soups, chia seeds, supplements, etc.
In town, of course, I eat whatever the fuck I want. And then I shit my brains out.