A New Look at Trail Snacks and Backpack Foods

13 December 2014

Everyone has their favorite trail snacks and backpack foods. I thought that most of my choices were quite healthy these days (excluding the ramen and Cornuts). While most of my trail foods are healthy, it turns out that some of my choices are no longer healthy for me. I recently ran into some issues with some of the foods I have been eating for most of my life- including a lot of what I eat on the trail and in the bush. These days it seems that almost every other person you meet has some kind of food sensitivity- lactose, gluten, soy, peanuts, and so on. Well, I am joining that group. For me it is not that big of a deal, nothing that is life-threatening. It is more about how I feel after eating certain foods, both physically and mentally.

My changes start with cutting out some of the big culprits- gluten, peanuts, and lactose. It is not really that hard to do at home. But out in the desert at the back of the truck, or on the trail, it is a different story. I have started to make the changes in the snacks that I eat. From regular pretzels to gluten free pretzels, no more sesame sticks, no more fake jerky (made from wheat). I have switched the wheat-based “jerky” for actual turkey jerky sticks. And nearly all of my favorite bars are now off-limits. This includes Power Bars (now owned by Nestle and full of things I cannot pronounce), Kind Bars (peanuts in everything), and even Lara Bars (peanuts and gluten). To work around this problem, I did a search online for “gluten free energy bar recipes” and was immediately given over one million options for this part of my new diet. I am sure a few of those were repeats though, and I cut it down to about 5 recipes. From those, as I always do, I created  a couple of my own.

To summarise the process of my first try at custom energy bars, I started with pitted dates, a little warm water, and a food processor. Once I had the sticky paste to bind everything together, it was just a matter of adding my favorite flavors to it. It used flake coconut, almonds, walnuts, dried cranberries, dried currants, and added mini-chocolate chips to one of the bars. I also added a little sea salt, almond butter, blanched almond flour, and vanilla to the bar that I finished by baking. Next time I might try chia, pumpkin, or sunflower seeds, and maybe dried cherries. The list of ingredients is limited by what you prefer, and what you can find dried.

My first batch, after mixing, I just pressed into a plastic wrap-lined baking dish and chilled in the refrigerator. The other batch with more liquid and vanilla, I poured out, flattened and formed, and covered with almond flour. I then laid it on a piece of baking parchment and baked it at 250 degrees for about half an hour. The first batch, without the almond flour coating, were definitely a bit sticky. The second batch can be eaten without much mess. And both tasted great. The big test will be in warm weather- will they hold up in the heat, or will there turn to sticky, messy masses? I’ll let you know next summer.

Moving on to backpack meals, this will take some more time. I plan to go through all my recipes and just remove or swap out ingredients. And of course give them a try at home before I head into the bush. For me, again, there are not massive changes to be made. There will be some work on the staples- I’ll switch the standard ramen noodles with rice noodles and end up eating a lot more Vietnamese noodles soups. Fine with me. Rice and beans won’t need any changes- what luck! Pasta will be easy. At our local natural food store, Vitamin Cottage, they sell quinoa and corn pasta in all forms- penne and macaroni most importantly. Easy to change. The hardest thing for me is cutting out lactose- being a tea drinker, I have had a hard time there. But I am back to green tea for the most part. And then there is my hot breakfast recipe- mostly wheat. I’ll work on that.

On the positive side for me, with my menu changes I have noticed that I am not as hungry and am eating less. In the end this will help lighten the load a bit and make my walks even a little easier.

For more on our desert adventures, visit the Desert Explorer website.


2014- A New Year of Adventures Lies Ahead

28 January 2014

The new year is upon is and it is time to start planning our desert adventures for the year.  Our first trip is less than two months away- Nicolai and I will make our usual spring break trip in mid-March. Writing about it makes is seem closer, like it’s just around the corner. And my philosophy is that it’s never too early to begin planning and preparing.  It also makes me feel closer to the desert, and not just closer to the next trip- pulling out my packs and checking them over, finding something left in the bottom of one; a pair of gloves, a fuel bottle, a bunch of sand, and some dried willow leaves- this puts me back in the canyons. It places me where I belong, living my purpose in life. All else is just incidental, tasks and goals that lead to my purpose.

Bighorn sheep on the San Juan River. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Bighorn sheep along the San Juan River.

Now, with the deep philosophical thoughts out of the way, on to the plans. This year we are planning more backpacking. Nicolai is now tall enough and strong enough to carry a larger, heavier pack (heavier, but not heavy). He can carry more of his own equipment, clothing, and food. This will make it easier on me and allows us to stay out longer. Of course he has his own set of the lightest gear we can find- a Golite quilt, an extra-small Therm-a-Rest Prolite pad, titanium cup, and so on. This all helps.

We have also added to our backpacking food supplies with dehydrated and freeze dried foods from Costco and a couple of other places, making our food a little lighter as well. Costco.com has a pretty extensive selection of long-term storage foods, some of which are backpacking ready. Be sure to note before you buy them if the meals are individually packaged, or bulk packaged. You may have to measure and repack them into smaller portions. A couple of other online vendors are Augason Farms and My Patriot Supply. Much of what you will find is dehydrated, and again, often in bulk. There are plenty of options out there besides these few. Just do a little searching.

beartrack

An old bear track in Jones Canyon. It is found in dry mud, but still must have been a big one for the area.

Most of the meals we currently use are things we mix up ourselves using ingredients we dehydrate and those we purchase at our local natural foods store. The majority of our recipes are largely based on those in The Back-Country Kitchen by Teresa Marrone. But we have amended many of the meals in her book, and created more of our own. You can read more about our meals and see some recipes on our Backpack Foods pages at the Desert Explorer website. They are definitely cheaper, but not necessarily lighter than packaged, freeze-dried backpacking meals. The Costco additions bring the weight down some. The only possible drawback might be the Costco-sized packages, buckets in many case, that you have to buy. Be sure to consider the shelf-life of the foods, and if you will be able to use it all within a reasonable amount of time. If you take one trip a year, the meals might last you a long time, or even go bad before you use them, depending on how you repackage them. But for us, backpacking, hiking, and floating throughout the year, they will be used up.

Another focus for the new year is tracking. Really it is just a continuation of what we are already doing. Lots of reading, studying, research, and whenever we are in the bush, finding tracks and following them. That is the extent of our “training” so far. I have never taken any sort of tracking class, but this year I am planning to do so. Joel Hardin offers classes around the west, and one is offered near us later in the year. I think it’s time to learn from a professional. In the meantime, we will continue with our practices which have taught us well so far.

Next on the blog list- gear reviews. We have yet another outdoor gear retailer with their headquarters now in Boulder. Fjallraven, the Swedish gear maker, has also opened a retail store very near us. We have recently purchased a Primus 2-burner propane stove and I have tried out a pair of their trekking pants. Reviews to follow. Until then for more on our adventures, tracking, and kids in the wilderness look over some of our older blogs, or visit the Desert Explorer website.