By GORP Hiking Expert Karen Berger
Good news, folks! In case you didn't know, backpacking is the greatest diet-and-exercise program ever invented. When you're hauling a 30-pound pack over a 3,000-foot mountain, you can eat as much as you want and still lose weight.
So the question isn't to eat or not to eat: It's what to eat. And how much. A rule of thumb: Figure about 2 pounds of food per day per person. You're looking for food that will keep your energy up. It also has to be lightweight, resistant to spoilage, and easy to prepare with a minimum of fuss, fuel, and cooking utensils. Oh, yeah: it helps if it tastes good. Here are some basic guidelines for the backcountry.
- A plastic container of olive oil
- Instant milk
- Parmesan cheese
- Packets of clarified butter (available from distributors of freeze-dried food)
- Pop tarts
- Bagels (they pack well for a couple of days).
- Cereal bars
- Salami or other preserved meats, like beef or turkey jerky
- Peanut butter
- Crackers (don't repackage these; store them in the original containers or they will crumble), tortillas, chips, or breadsticks.
- Nuts and other snack foods.
- Freeze-dried meals. You can't beat freeze-dried foods for ease of use, so take a few along if weight or weather is a real issue. It's true that these just-add-water foods have come along way since they were first introduced. But a diet of all-freeze dried food can be monotonous and expensive. So be sure you vary the flavors.
- Convenience foods. Mac and cheese, Lipton noodles or rice dishes, and Ramen soups are big backcountry favorites, mostly because of the no-fuss factor. You can add variety: A can of tuna goes well with Mac and cheese; a dash of fresh Parmesan adds flavor to noodles dishes, and packets of freeze-dried vegetables go well with practically anything.
- Pasta. Thin is better than thick because it cooks faster. Some hikers swear by less processed pastas, such as whole wheat and corn pasta (available in health food stores).
- Other instant foods. Instant rice, instant potatoes, and stuffing mix can also be mixed with sauces, cheese, veggies, or canned meats.
- Sauces. You can make your own tomato sauce by combining a six-ounce can of tomato paste, a package of spices for making spaghetti sauce, and water: it makes enough for two hungry hikers. Other instant sauces are also available, but check to see that they don't require other ingredients.
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