Gourmet Trail Recipes: Hummus

The word gourmet is relative. Especially when it comes to long distance backpacking. As a foodie and a long distance backpacker, I struggle to find a compromise. Here is a sample of one of my recipes that takes a little extra time to make, but the reward is worth it!

 

Hummus

At home, hummus is one of our go-to snacks. You buy dried hummus, but the quality and calories are lacking. On a whim, I tried drying it myself and I was surprised how easy it was and how good the finished product was! I only list this as a “gourmet” recipe because it does require a food dehydrator or an oven. Pita chips or tortillas pack nicely and, in combination with the hummus, make a great stand alone snack or meal.

 

Ingredients

All you need is your favorite homemade or store-bought hummus!

 

At-Home Preparation

Take your favorite 10 oz. hummus and stir it up well (especially if it has a topping). If you like, stir in extras. I like to add Tapatio to spice up the red pepper flavored ones, or lime juice to sweeten the plain ones. Divide the hummus in three and spread it with a knife or spatula on three fruit leather trays in your food dehydrator. If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can spread the hummus on parchment paper or directly on a cookie sheet for drying in the oven. Either way, try and spread it evenly so that it is uniformly thin across the surface.

If you are using a dehydrator, set it to about 100F. If you are using an oven, set it on the lowest possible setting, preferrably 180F or below.

In the dehydrator, the hummus will take about 8-10 hours to dry. When it is done, it will crack and easily flake off of the trays. In the oven, it will only take about 1 hour, so keep your eye on it. You don’t want to cook or burn it.

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Hummus spread on fruit leather tray in dehydrator

Divide into three small ziploc baggies. Since hummus is oily, I recommend you store it in the freezer to prevent it from going rancid. However, I have had it out of the freezer for up to 2 months with no problems.

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On-Trail Preparation

About 5 minutes before you want to eat, pour just enough (cold) water onto the dry hummus to cover it. Do no add too much water; you can always add more, but it’s hard to take out. Let it sit 5 min. Stir again. If it is not creamy enough, add a tiny bit more water or up to 1 T. olive oil. That’s it!

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Each serving is 200-370 calories, depending on the brand and whether or not you added oil. (Ex. Sabra hummus with no oil comes out to 235 calories.) Each baggie will make about 7 T. hummus and weighs about 1.5 oz.

If you liked this idea, check out my other Gourmet Trail Recipes.

No way you would put this much work into trail food? Check out my articles entitled Favorite Easy Trail Recipes. New recipes coming soon!

Gourmet Trail Recipes: Cheesecake

The word gourmet is relative. Especially when it comes to long distance backpacking. As a foodie and a long distance backpacker, I struggle to find a compromise. Here is a sample of one of my recipes that takes a little extra time to make, but the reward is worth it!

Cheesecake

This is a non-cook, creamy, graham cracker-crusted cheesecake that is pretty easy to make in the backcountry. It works best with a large diameter pot and in cooler temps. The ingredients list makes 2 full cheesecakes!

Ingredients (makes 2 cheesecakes)

  • 1 Box Jell-O No Bake Real Cheesecake (without fruit filling)
  • 6 t. Sugar (or 6 packets)
  • 1/2 c. Dehydrated milk (preferrably whole) (or 2 oz. powder, by weight)
  • 1 oz. Freeze dried fruit of your choice (you could also used dehydrated or ~1/2 c. fresh–if you have huckleberries on trail DO THAT.)
  • 4 T. Olive oil (or four 1/2 oz. packets)

At-Home (or in hotel) Preparation

First, divide the recipe into two portions and repackage (if you care if it resembles a cake). Separate 1/2 of the “Crust mix” (about 1/2 c.) into two separate ziplock baggies. Add one T. sugar (3 packets) to each baggie of crust mix.

Then, divide the filling mix equally into two separate baggies in the same way. Add 1/4 c. dried milk and the dried berries to each baggie of filling mix.

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Each cheesecake will look like this when repackaged

On-Trail Preparation

Add 3/4 c. + 1 T. cold water to the baggie with the filling/milk/fruit mixture (do not add too much water). If you are using fresh berries, keep them aside until the end. Stir or knead the bag until all the powder is mixed in; it should be the consistency of pancake batter. Let the filling mixture sit until it has thickened to the consistency of pudding. This can take up to an hour. The colder it is, the faster it will occur. (Note: If you are impatient and don’t wait for it to thicken, it is still delicious.)

In the meantime, pour the contents of the crust baggie into a cook pot (the wider diameter the better). Mix in 2 packets (1 oz.) olive oil. Stir until all the crust mix is moistened. Press into the bottom of the cook pot like this:

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When ready, spoon the thickened filling onto the crust and distribute it evenly. If you have fresh berries, throw them on top. That’s it.

Yummmmm!

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Each cake makes about 2c., has  1100 calories, and weighs about 8.5 oz. packages.

If you liked this idea, check out my other Gourmet Trail Recipes.

No way you would put this much work into trail food? Check out my articles entitled Favorite Easy Trail Recipes. New recipes coming soon!

PCT For The Newbie: Resupply

I hiked the PCT 10 years ago as my first long-distance hike. Last summer, I hiked my 10th long trail; I have made it my lifestyle. As such, I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of other hikers who have way more miles than I do. We have talked about our strategies for route finding, gear, and resupply. I’ve been relieved to hear that, like me, they have all made mistakes and changes over the years. The one thing I have learned for certain is that no two people do it exactly the same way. 

That said, I can tell you that a lot of people have made the same mistakes. Most of the time, these “mistakes” are just different ways to do things that make that individual happier/more comfortable on trail. Sometimes, these mistakes cost people a lot of money. And, occasionally, a mistake can cost someone their hike.

Because resupply is the most obvious difference between backpacking and thru-hiking, it is the most intimidating part for many prospective thru-hikers, even if they have a lot of backpacking experience. This is also where I have seen people make their biggest mistakes.

First, let’s talk about what resupply is.

Since you don’t want to carry everything  you need for a 5-month hike, you are going to want to replenish your consumables (food, fuel, TP, hand sanitizer, sunblock, maps, etc.). Fortunately–on the PCT–the route crosses roads at regular intervals (every 2-10 days) where you can go to town to resupply those consumables.

There are 2 ways to do resupply, both have pros and cons. Let me talk about the pros of each.

Buy-As-You-Go

Many of the towns/resorts along the PCT have ample food and hiker items to get you to the next resupply town/resort. With this method, you buy everything you need in town when you get there. With this method:

  • You are going to town already (all resupply strategies include towns unless you are fully “supported”–and even then you are probably going to want to go to town occasionally for a hot meal).
  • You don’t have to worry about items being lost in the mail.
  • You don’t have to adjust your hiking to account for post office hours of operation, which can be very limited in small towns.
  • It may be cheaper than mailing boxes ahead, depending on how expensive the town/resort is.
  • You can buy whatever food sounds good to you at the time (I can tell you, you will probably acquire odd cravings out there).
  • If, for some reason, you can’t complete your hike, you will not have wasted time and money preparing everything ahead of time.

Just a word on this last point. From what I understand, the attrition rate on the PCT is usually at least 50%. You are probably thinking, “that isn’t me”. So does everyone else! I was fortunate enough 10 years ago to be one of maybe 70 people to complete the trail. There were times I almost quit, despite my complete devotion to it. In fact, of the 10 long trails I have started, I have had to cut 5 of them short. There are so many variables when you are on a long trail, some of which are out of your control. I have gotten off trail due to injury, waterborne illness, family emergency, and lonliness. So, if you have bought all of your consumables in advance of your hike, you should be prepared (if you end up having to cut your hike short) to be stuck with a lot of trail food and potentially out a bunch of money.

Mail Drops

The alternative method is to do mail drops. With this method, you mail a box to yourself in advance (usually via “General Delivery” at the Post Office) containing your resupply items for the next section of trail.

This way:

  • You can mail whatever you want to yourself and not be limited to what the town has.
  • You don’t have to stress about running all around town to resupply when you get there. You can enjoy your time there!
  • Depending on the town or resort that you are going to, sometimes this is the more cost-effective method. Some resorts really have to elevate their prices to account for having to haul in supplies to their remote location.

Mail drops are going to be very useful for people with specific dietary needs or who need hard-to-find items. If you are vegan or diabetic, or your headlamp takes a special battery, this strategy will make your life easier.

A ressupply box operation in progress (Photo Cred Whitney

A resupply box operation in progress (Photo Cred Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa

Bounce Bucket

A version of the maildrop strategy is the bounce bucket or box. A bounce box is a container that you mail to a town ahead of you on the trail. But, unlike mail drops, when you reach that town, you pick the box up from the post office (or hotel), collect just a few items from it, then mail it (and the rest of its contents) ahead of you again.

Some people actually use a 3 or 5 gallon bucket because it is durable and easy for the postal employees to find on the shelf (with two hundred other hiker boxes). Some items people put in bounce buckets/boxes are: backup socks, stakes, ground sheets, repair tape, pack liners, sporks, Platys, or other items that are likely to wear out or break. Also, some people like to include items for town stops like: a change of clothes (for when they do laundry), laundry detergent, razors, toenail clippers, hairbrushes, iPads, or a camera charger. Also, it may be useful to include items that you don’t want to buy a whole box of in every town, or are hard to find in some towns like: mini Body Glide, a ziplock bags, odd-sized batteries, a favorite drink mix, or medications. I like to include dried minced garlic, veggies, fruits, refried beans, cheese, and meats, plus packets of mayo, mustard, cream cheese, and Cholula. That way, I can buy whatever staples that sound good at the time in town and bulk them up with flavor, protein and calories!

Note: Because you will probably out-hike the box if you try and do this at every town stop, I suggest, at most, only getting your box every other or every third town.

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An example of a bounce bucket

Biggest Mistake

The most common regret I hear, with regards to resupply, is from hikers who made every single meal for the trail in advance of the hike. It’s an easy trap to fall into in January and February when perspective thru-hikers want to be doing something productive for the big hike! Most hikers I have talked to about this have told me that their tastes, caloric needs, and cravings changed a lot throughout the duration of their first long hike. While I like scoring the yummy homemade meals out of the hiker boxes when they are sick of them (or they have to get off the trail), I feel bad for all of the wasted time, energy, and money.

Best Bet

The majority of thru-hikers I have talked to use a hybrid strategy, and that seems to be the most successful. They buy as they go in the towns with good supermarkets and aren’t overly expensive. And, they have a family member mail a box to the towns that don’t have a lot, allowing for a little supplementation if something sounds good at the time. Add a bounce bucket every 3-4 town stops to grab some replacement items, and a well-rounded resupply is born! (How do you know which towns have what? Yogi’s PCT Handbook actually has a table in it listing every town and what you can expect to find in the way of hiker-specific resupply items. It is a helpful planning tool. I am sure there are other online references, too.)

Another possible hybrid strategy is to do maildrops from a large town while you are on trail. For example, some people resupply for all of Oregon once they reach Ashland, the furthest south town stop in Oregon. This way, they have a better idea if they will be able to complete the trail, their food will be fresher, and they will have a better understanding of what their body is craving right then.

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Buying food for several mail drops (Photo cred Sage Clegg)

If any of these terms are new to you, please refer to my  Thru-Hiking Glossary.

Gourmet Trail Recipes: Potatoes Au Gratin

The word “gourmet” is relative. Especially when it comes to long distance backpacking. As a foodie and a long distance backpacker, I struggle to find a compromise. Here is a sample of one of my recipes that takes a little extra time to make, but the reward is worth it!

Potatoes Au Gratin

Here’s a cheesy, oniony, bacony backpacking version of one of my favorite comfort foods. It also packs in the calories! Freeze dried potatoes are the only way to make this recipe with substance. Otherwise, you can use dehydrated mashed potatoes.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 c. Freeze dried potato dices
  • 1 packet (or about 3-4 T.) cheese powder (can use from a mac n’ cheese box)
  • 1 T. Whole milk powder
  • 1/2 c. Freeze dried (or dehydrated) shredded cheddar cheese 
  • 1/2-1 t. Dried minced garlic
  • 1/2 t. Ground black pepper
  • 2 green onions, chopped, dried (or about 2T. Jarred chives)
  • 1/3 c. French fried onions
  • 4 slices shelf-stable bacon, chopped (1/4 c. Bacon bits could also be used)
My favorite cheese powder

My favorite cheese powder

Optional Ingredients 

  • 1/4 c. dried green chiles

At-Home Preparation

Place first 6 ingredients in a pint or quart freezer ziplock bag. Place bacon and fried onions in a snack bag.

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On-Trail Preparation

Bring 1 c. water  to a boil. Pour over potato mixture and let sit 5-10 min, until potatoes are tender. Stir in bacon/onion mixture. Eat!

The finished product (minus a few bites)

The finished product (minus a few bites)

Makes about 2c., has 980 calories, weighs 5.8 oz. with baggies.

If you liked this idea, check out my other “Gourmet Trail Recipes”.

No way you would put this much work into trail food? Check out my articles entitled “Favorite Easy Trail Recipes”. New recipes coming soon!

Gourmet Trail Recipes: Carrot Cake

The word “gourmet” is relative. Especially when it comes to long distance backpacking. As a foodie and a long distance backpacker, I struggle to find a compromise. Here is a sampling of one of my recipes that takes a little extra time to make, but the reward is worth it!

Carrot Cake

Okay, this one is kinda silly and I bet none of you will make it, but I love to go all out when I am hiking with a friend on their birthday–and make them a cake! Carrot cake is one of my favorites.

It really helps if you have a fry pan and a canister stove that can burn really low. A wider diameter burner is better than a small one. A scorch buster doesn’t hurt either. You can probably make it in a 0.9-1.3L pot, but you will just have to rotate it around on the burner to make sure it doesn’t scorch.

Ingredients

  • 1 c. Carrot cake mix (Duncan Hines makes one that has a separate packet of dried carrots and raisins)
  • 1/2 packet of dried carrots and raisins
  • 1/3 c. Dried matchstick carrots (if you couldn’t find the Duncan Hines mix)
  • 1 small box of raisins (if you coudln’t find the Duncan Hines mix)
  • 1.5 t. Egg powder or Egg Replacer
  • 2.5 oz. Olive oil
  • 1/4 container of cream cheese frosting (package separately)
  • Birthday candle

or

  • 1/4 c. Confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 t. Dried whole milk (package these together in their own snack ziplock)

or

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Dried carrots and raisins that come with the Duncan Hines boxed carrot cake mix

 

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Examples of pre-packaged olive oil

At Home Preparation

Put the cake mix, carrots/raisins, and egg replacer in a small ziplock bag. In a separate bag, package your frosting or frosting mix.

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On-Trail Preparation

To the cake mix baggie, add just enough water to make it cakey, but not too runny. Let sit about 20 min to allow carrots and raisins to rehydrate.

If making your frosting, add a small amount of water to the sugar/milk mixture to make a thick glaze.

Put a small amount of oil in the bottom of your fry pan and turn stove on its lowest setting. Squirt cake mix out of the baggie into the pan. Cover and allow to cook until you see holes from bubbles in the middle of the cake–about 2o min. (Note, I live at 8000′, so I don’t know how long it would take at sea level).

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Finished cake has holes throughout, including the middle

Allow to cool slightly and add frosting.

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Add candle(s) if it is someone’s birthday. 🙂

 

If you liked this idea, check out my other “Gourmet Trail Recipes”.

No way you would put this much work into trail food? Check out my articles entitled “Favorite Easy Trail Recipes”. New recipes coming soon!

Stoveless Isn’t Lighter

Considering going stoveless on a long hike? There are a lot of good reasons to do so. But, if weight savings is your highest priority, you’re doing it for the wrong reason.

Benefits of going stoveless include:

1. Without worrying about a stove, a pot, a windscreen, and fuel, you have less stuff to worry about. This simplicity can be very freeing.

2. Less wait (no, not weight). I just mean you can eat right away without having to fire up and heat your food. This is especially nice when you roll into camp late and you are tired.

3. Don’t have to deal with resupplying fuel. Sending fuel in the mail is not straight forward. It has to go “ground only” and must be properly labeled with specific wording. Ordering it online can be difficult for the same reasons. And, finding your type of fuel in a small trail town may be difficult too.

4. Burn bans don’t affect you.

5. No permit required. In California, you are required to have a Fire Permit for operating a stove. It is free, not difficult to obtain, and the requirement is unlikely to be enforced, but it’s one less thing to worry about.

6. When you walk into town, your food setup will weigh nearly nothing.

7. Potentially less bulk. Hydrated foods like bars, tortillas, nut butters, cheese, and nuts are calorically dense and can take up little space. This can be handy when using a bear canister.

8. Nutrition. Many of the non-cook foods are more nutrient dense than the dehydrated foods most thru-hikers eat.

9. Many people make the argument that it is lighter. It can be, but the way a lot of people do it, it is usually about the same or even heavier.

Comparing The Food

For comparison sake, let’s talk about dinners. The other meals of the day between cookers and non-cookers seem to be about the same.

The dehydrated dinners I make that pack in 700 calories weigh about 4-5oz. at most. I try to add coconut cream powder, whole milk powder, sour cream powder, dried sausage crumbles, or freeze-dried shredded cheese (some of which have 180 calories/oz.) when I can to increase the calorie to weight ratio.

Although most dehydrated meals can also be cold soaked, most non-cook hikers that I have seen are more likely to eat bars, jerky, nut butters, nuts, coconut flakes, M&M’s, trail mix, tuna, and tortillas—most of which contain some water content (read “weight”). To get 700 calories from these types of food, one would need to carry about 6-7 oz. per night.

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A typical stove-free resupply. Photo Cred TrailtoSummit.com

Comparing The Cook Kits*

I personally own 4 different cook stoves/kits, so I compared them. For each cook kit, I weighed the burner, the windscreen (if needed), the container to hold the fuel, the cookpot/lid, and the stuff sack. Assuming I want to cook up about 700 calories per dinner, I also figured out the weight of the fuel for each dinner (although conditions can be very variable). It should be noted that there are lighter kits than mine and there are heavier. But, the ones I used for this comparison are definitely on the lighter end of the weight spectrum.

*If you would like a breakdown on the components of each kit, feel free to message me.

Solid Fuel

Not many people choose this method anymore due to its finicky-ness, but I want to include it because it has been my method of choice for 7 years now. A few companies make a solid fuel “tablet” that you light under your cook pot to bring water to a boil (or at least to very hot). The advantages of solid fuel include: inability of spillage of fuel, very light weight, and due to the really low intensity of the flame, one can usually get away with a smaller cook pot with no handles. The disadvantages are that it is very sensitive to wind and cold, it takes a long time to heat water, the tablets are hard to find (although, they are easy to ship or carry extra), and there is some odor to the burning tablet (especially Esbit brand).

My solid fuel kit weighs 3.6 oz. The fuel needed to heat up a pint of water weighs about ½ oz. per night.

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A lightweight solid fuel kit

Alcohol

When I hiked the PCT 10 years ago, many people were still cooking with alcohol stoves. Alcohol burns clean, and it is easy to find (in the form of the product HEET) in almost any town with a convenience store. However, alcohol stoves take some practice and they are sensitive to wind and cold temperatures.

My alcohol stove kit weighs about 4 oz. and the alcohol weighs about 0.75 oz. to heat a pint of water.

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A lightweight alcohol kit

Canister/Pressurized Gas

Most thru-hikers these days are using canister stoves, probably due in part to an increase in the frequency of burn bans each summer. When a burn ban is in effect, The only stoves allowed must have a shutoff valve (although there is zero enforcement). They are also really convenient; all you need to do is turn on the valve, light it, and you are eating in just a few minutes!

They are quite efficient on fuel, however, to carry gas under pressure, the empty fuel canister itself weighs 3.5 oz.! Also, these canisters are usually only sold in outdoor retail stores, are pricey, can only be shipped via ground, are not supposed to be thrown in the garbage (they can be recycled if you can safely puncture them), and it is hard to know how much fuel is in them.

My canister fuel kit weighs about 7.8 oz. in total (including that empty canister). The fuel itself needed per night weighs about 1/3 oz. (although, it should be noted that because it is hard to know how much fuel is in the canister, most people usually end up carrying far more fuel than needed and possibly even another canister, which weighs 7 oz. full).

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A lightweight canister stove/kit

Wood Burning

Wood stoves are lightweight, there is no fuel-weight penalty, and they kinda make you feel like a badass cavewoman. The downsides are that they are difficult (not impossible) to do in a completely LNT-manner, they require fairly dry tinder to work at all, they take some time (to collect materials, start the fire, and then to bring water to a boil), they cover your cook pot (and hands) in black soot, and everything you wear after cooking with one will smell strongly like wood smoke.

My wood burging kit weighs 5 oz. The fuel weighs nothing, as you burn sticks, pine cones, and dry grass that you find when you stop for dinner.

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A lightweight wood burning kit

Comparing No-Cook and Cook

These numbers include the weight of the dinners (no other meals or snacks), fuel needed for all of the dinners, plus the cook kit from above.

Non-Cook
A traditional non-cook dinner weighs about 6-7 oz. per meal for the food itself. So, dinners for a 4-day resupply (3 dinners) would add up to 18-21 oz. However, on the day walking into a resupply, non-cook will weigh nothing.

Solid Fuel
Dehydrated or freeze-dried food weighs about 4-5 oz. per dinner for the equivalent calories. So, on a 4-day resupply—dinners plus a solid fuel cook kit—will weigh about 17-20 oz. On the way into town, it will still weigh 3.6 oz.

Alcohol
Again, using dehydrated food, on a 4-day resupply, the alcohol method weighs 18-21 oz. with dinners. On the last day, it will weigh 4 oz.

Wood Burning
On a 4-day resupply (assuming you can find dry materials to burn) this kit + dinners will weigh 17-20 oz. On the way into town, it will weigh 5 oz.

As you can see, cooking and non-cook end up being pretty close in weight for a 4-day resupply. Choosing non-cook for resupplies lasting longer than 4 days will end up being quite a bit heavier than if you cook with almost any method (although 4 days is pretty typical on the triple crown trails).

Making the Choice to Cook or Not

Cook methods usually end up being lighter at the beginning of the resupply section, and non-cook is lighter at the end (usually on the last day), so making the decision to cook or not should really depend on factors other than weight. Remember, there are also advantages to having a stove and a metal pot:

1. You can have hot coffee.

2. A hot meal at the end of the day can be a real morale boost; you can feel more like you are eating “real” food.

3. A hot meal can warm you up on a cold day.

4. A warm meal is more easily digested.

5. There is more potential for variety.

6. In an emergency, you can boil water for heat or water purification.

The Lightest Method

As I alluded to above, there is actually one way you can make no-cook the lightest choice all of the time. Instead of eating bars and nut butters, tortillas and trail mix, you can “cold soak” dehydrated food. In this strategy, you take dehydrated or freeze-dried dinners (the same as if you were cooking) and add cold water instead of hot, allowing the food to rehydrate over 30 minutes to 2 hours. Therefore, your food is as light as possible, but you will not have any of the weight of a cook setup. A 4-day resupply would only weigh a cold-soaker 12-15 oz.** Weight is the obvious advantage. The downside is the food: can you stand to eat cold mashed potatoes or mac n’ cheese?

**Although you can just rely on [lighter and more compact] freezer bags for cold soaking, many people who choose this method use a small plastic container (peanut butter or gelato) to soak their food. This way, they can add water to their food, secure the leakproof lid, throw it back in their pack, and walk for the last few miles while it rehydrates. Hopefully, by the time they get to camp, it is ready. These containers usually weight about 2 oz., but you are still only looking at 14-17 oz. for a 4-day resupply.

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A container that could be used for cold-soaking

Conclusion

There are pluses and minuses to all of these methods. You have to decide what your priorities are and what inconveniences you are willing to put up with. Whatever you choose, it is not set in stone. You can fairly easily make changes as you go. My point is, don’t stress out about it too much. Have fun with your planning and remember that “once you are on the trail, half of the work is done”. (Quote by d=rt)

Easy Trail Recipes: Thanksgiving Dinner

For those of you who like to get outside for the Thanksgiving holiday, or thru hikers who just want something savory and easy on trail, try this one!

Ingredients

  • 1/3 box instant stuffing (I like the cornbread flavor)
  • 1/3 bag instant potatoes (I like roasted garlic flavor)
  • 1/3 packet powdered gravy packet (I like turkey gravy)
  • 1 box (1 oz.) Craisins
  • 1 (4.5 oz) can or foil pack chicken or turkey (or you could use the fresh or frozen chicken strips or 2-4 oz. deli turkey)
  • 1 T. Olive or vegetable oil (optional)

 

At Home/In Hotel Preparation

Place stuffing, potatoes, gravy, and Craisins in a freezer ziplock.

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On-Trail Preparation

Add very hot water to ziplock so that it barely covers the dry ingredients. About 1 1/4 cups. Let sit 1 minute. If you carry oil, add about 1 tablespoon to add flavor and about 100 calories. Add chicken/turkey.

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Makes about 3 cups of food. About 800 calories with oil.

Women: I Know Why Your Backpack is Heavy

So many ladies ask me why they can never get below the 10-15 pound mark on their base weights like their male counterparts. Over my 10 years of thru hiking and working in outdoor retail, I have definitely noticed some generalized differences in what men carry and what women carry. And it isn’t necessarily the amount of money they are spending.

For me, hiking lighter isn’t [just] a geeky fettish, it is imperative. I am a small person with bad knees, and I am no spring chicken. I simply cannot comfortably carry a 35+ pound pack and do the miles. Many ladies I know are small, but somehow waaaay tougher than me, so pack weight isn’t a problem. I am envious. But, for me, when my pack is heavier, I tend to trip more (and harder). I also have less freedom to motor to the next water source if I am running low. Sometimes, I even find myself skimping on resupply food to save weight. Not good.

Over the years, I have dialed in my base weight. It has been as low as 5.5 lbs, and is now pretty consistently below 8 and I am a pretty happy camper. My total pack weight is almost never over 25 lbs. So, if your desire is to go lighter, for whatever reason, I may be able to help you. I think I know why your backpack is heavy!

1. Let’s get the hard one out of the way: Women tend to run colder than men. Therefore, they need warmer clothes and a warmer sleeping bag. This translates to A LOT more weight. Sure, your bag may be shorter, but it has to be rated to 15F instead of 30 or 40F like the guys. (I could go on forever on this subject, so I will try and keep if brief. Message me if you want details.) Here is a quick and dirty list of considerations:

– Think of your sleeping warmth as a whole system. You may be able to save weight over all (and money) by looking into a pad with good insulation (R-value).

– Consider a vapor barrier while you sleep (on cold nights, I use my pack liner inside my sleeping bag around my feet and increase my comfort level by about 10 degrees).

– Consider your campsite choice: drainages and depressions tend to be cold at night. Stay out of the wind. Pitch on some pine needles or duff. Camp lower in elevation if you can.

– Close up your tent. Yes, you will probably get some condensation, but it will be warmer.

– Carry a lightweight hat and gloves and wear them to bed if you need to.

– Change into dry clothes before bed. Get out of that wet bra.

– Keep your sleeping bag clean (=lofty; =warm). Have a set of sleep clothes that you don’t hike in. When you are done with your trip, wash that thing (properly).

– Loft your bag up every night when you set it up. Unpack your bag every night, even when you stay in hotel rooms. Never stuff your bag when you are off trail. These will all keep your sleeping bag lofty. Equals warm.

– If you use a synthetic sleeping bag, replace it every 3 years. They lose about 2-3 degrees per year. Down bags, kept up well, will last 10+ years of heavy use.

If you follow these tips, you should be able to get away with a higher temperature bag and a lighter insulation layer! This translates to ounces if not pounds!

2. Women carry more clothing than men. I know, I just told you that women are colder and that you should have an entire outfit designated for sleeping in only (excepting emergencies). That’s not what I am talking about. Do you really need 3 changes of underwear (or any)? Do you have to have 3 shirts? A wind shirt and a rain jacket and an umbrella? 12 oz. camp shoes? This is actually one area I think women add most of their weight and bulk. There are many ways to do this one and I would be happy to advise you on options (without putting yourself in danger). But beware, I am gonna tell you that your clothes are gonna stink and get salty. And that’s okay. If you can let this go, you just might save 2 lbs in your pack like the dudes. That’s a lot!

3. Women carry more toiletries. This, again, comes down to personal preference and some sacrifice. But, deodorant, soap, nail clippers, and lotion weigh a lot! Sure, some of this is luxury, and we all are allowed some of those. I carry individually-wrapped Wet Ones and clean up at night (they weigh 6 grams each). And, you will find that deodorant doesn’t really do much for what you are doing. Nail clippers can go in a bounce bucket, or buy a cheap file in town. A menstrual cup can save you on tampon bulk.

4. Women often carry more electronics. Actually, I think everyone but me carries more electronics. I don’t listen to music much, and I don’t check apps or social media much on the trail. I basically carry my phone and use it as my camera and occasionally my music. I check my email and messages once or twice a day when I can. So, I just carry my iPhone 5 and my wall charger and charge it in town. No solar panel. No external battery. No camera. On airplane mode, with background refresh off, closing down apps after I use them, and turned off at night, I get AT LEAST 7 days out of my phone. That’s plenty of time on most long trails to get it to the next town and recharge.

That said, I do sometimes carry a GPS on the lesser traveled routes I have been doing lately. I consider it a luxury because I always carry paper maps and a compass (and know how to use them). But, on the PCT, AT, and increasingly the CDT, I don’t think a GPS is necessary at all.

The bottom line is that most people can save weight not by spending more, but by dropping stuff they don’t need. Need and want are personal. It just comes down to how important it is that you shave weight on your pack, as you will have to make compromises.

Shoe Advice for the Newbie

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It comes in many variations, but one of the #1 questions I see on the forums is, “What are the best shoes for thru hiking?”.

To me, asking that question is like asking, “What prescription of eyeglasses should I get?”. What style, which brand, and what size of shoe to get is VERY specific to the individual. How can a stranger on a Facebook forum answer that for you? So, if you are looking to the answer to that question here, I apologize. You won’t find it here (although, read til the end for some suggestions on the most popular shoe styles on the trail).

What you will find here are some lessons I HAVE learned about shoe selection for long distance hiking. It is based on my experience as a multiple-trail long distance hiker, an outdoor retail employee, and a person with foot issues. Here are 6 pieces of wisdom I feel comfortable telling anyone I care about who is getting into long-distance hiking.

1. Seek a professional. Whatever style of footwear you decide on (boots, hiking shoes, trail runners), have someone who is knowledgeable look at your foot. Most reputable hiking or running stores have at least one of these employees on hand. Do you have a narrow or wide forefoot and heel? Do you have a high or low arch? Do you pronate or supinate? What is your pack weight? How strong are your ankles? These are all questions that should come up. Even if you spend full retail on a few pairs of shoes to make sure they are the right shoe, it will be worth it in the long run. It’s your feet. You will be on your feet a lot. Don’t skimp here.

2. Consider orthotics. Shoe companies’ reps are the first people to tell you that the insoles that come with a shoe are the LAST thing the company thinks about. A good pair of orthotics can: make sure you fit in the shoe properly, make sure your arch is supported, make sure your foot does not slide forward or backward in a shoe, prolong the life of the shoe. Again, a professional can help you with this.

3. Don’t buy too many pairs in advance of your first long distance hike. It seems like stocking up is a good idea, especially if you find a deal. The problem is, you will be VERY LUCKY to find the perfect shoe for your hike before you have gotten at least a couple hundred miles into long distance hiking. Even if you have backpacked a lot. Even if you run a lot. Some people wear the same shoe size their whole life and then start the PCT and have to go up 2 sizes. It’s really hard to know. Stock up on Zappos or REI gift cards, but not shoes.

4. Lighter weight is almost always the better bet (to an extent). Some people never embrace the trail runner. But almost every long distance hiker I have seen [in the west] with any mileage under their belt will tell you that lighter is almost always better. You will feel less fatigued, they will dry easier, and you won’t have a break in period.

5. Don’t wait for the soles to wear out. Too many thru hikers fall prey to this. But, by the time the lugs on the soles of your shoes have worn flat, the midsoles of your shoes (the main support for your feet, knees, hips, back, neck) is long GONE. Don’t use the soles to judge whether  you need to replace your shoes. Your WHOLE BODY will thank you if you replace your shoes every 400-700 miles (depending on the shoe, your pack weight, and your body type). Money is tight and shoes are expensive. I know. But, this could end your hike. Or even your hiking career. If you are starting to have foot, knee, or back pain and your shoes are over 400 miles, consider at least sending them home (for later) and trying a new pair. Chances are, you will feel better instantly.

6. Once you are confident that you have found the perfect shoe, buy as many as you can afford. Next year, that shoe company will likely change your shoe. And, it is almost never as good as it was. They will fit different or wear faster. Find them lightly used on EBay. Find them on sale. Get discount codes from brand ambassadors. But stock up!

All that said, here is a little specific shoe reccos. These are some of the most popular styles on the trail.

It took me 10 years of long distance hiking to find my perfect shoe, and here it is. Topo Athletic Terraventure

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This is why:

  • Neutral shoe (doesn’t compensate for runners who tend to roll on their foot to the inside), light weight (low fatigue)
  • Durable (I get about 600 miles out of them instead of 300 miles I was getting out of the previous brand)
  • Inexpensive (they retail for $20-$60 less than the comparable trail runners),
  • Large toe box (super comfy in the toes, especially when wearing toe socks
  • Not “zero drop” (this seems like more of a trend that my feet did not approve of with a pack on–even though I had been wearing zero drop for running for a long time)
  • Small heel (I have a wide forefoot, but I don’t want my heel to slide around and blister). Again, this is the shoe that works for ME.
  • Well-made–not just a box on the inside, but actually has the shape of a foot (=less blisters)

If you have a narrower foot and you want more cushion, check out Brooks Cascadia. If you are an ultralight backpacker with strong feet and a wide forefoot, check out Altra Lone Peak 2.5 or 3.0. If you have a wide foot and you would like a bit more stability, check out the Merrill Moab Ventilator, which also comes in a mid-height shoe if you are toting around a heavier pack.

 

 

 

Gourmet Trail Recipes: Cheesy Burritos

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The word “gourmet” is relative. Especially when it comes to long distance backpacking. As a foodie and a long distance backpacker, I struggle to find a compromise. Here is a sampling of one of my recipes that takes a little extra time to make, but the reward is worth it!

Burritos

This has been my go-to recipe for my last 3 thru hikes. This doesn’t have to be gourmet. Dehydrated beans, some Knorr side, and a bunch of fresh cheese in a burrito works very good! But, if you have a little time, trail burritos can be out of this world.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 c. Instant refried beans or black beans (I like Santa Fe Bean Company)
  • 1/4 c. Dried or freeze-dried shredded cheese (I like Packit Gourmet) or 2-3 oz. fresh cheese
  • 1/4 c. Spanish, Mexican, or Taco-seasoned rice (I like Knorr Sides)
  • 1 T. Dried, sliced black olives
  • 1/2-1 T. Dried cilantro
  • 1/2-1 t. Dried, sliced or chopped jalapeños (optional)
  • 2 8-10″ Tortillas
  • Hot sauce packet, if desired (I like Cholula)

 

Optional Ingredients

  • 1/4 c. Dried cooked and crumpled ground meat, freeze dried meat, or TVP (I like turkey. You could taco-season it while cooking for added flavor)
  • 1 T. Dried, chopped green chiles
  • 1 T. Freeze-dried corn
  • Fresh avocado

 

At-Home Preparation

Place beans, cheese, and cilantro into a snack-sized Ziplock (these ingredients rehydrate instantly). In a pint or quart Freezer Ziplock, place rice, olives, jalapeños, snack bag with bean/cheese mixture, (meat, chiles, corn), and hot sauce packet.

Note: if you plan to make this several months in advance, whether using fresh or freeze-dried cheese, I would recommend freezing it. The cheese will not get rancid this way.

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On-Trail Preparation

This is a bit tricky to get just the right amount of water. Err on the side of less water, as you can add more if needed later. Pour rice mixture into your cook pot and barely cover contents with water. Then, add about 1/4 c. more water. Bring to a boil and cook until rice is done. Remove from heat and throw in bean/cheese mixture. Make sure it is submerged in the water. If not, enough until it is barely submerged. Stir. Let sit about 5 min. Scoop onto tortillas (add avocado and hot sauce, if desired)

 

Serves 1. Calories: ~710 without tortillas (~950 with 2 10″ flour tortillas). If you are a big eater, do 50% more of each ingredient.

 

If you liked this idea, check out my other “Gourmet Trail Recipes”.

No way you would put this much work into trail food? Check out my articles entitled “Favorite Easy Trail Recipes”. New recipes coming soon!