Oh, the New Year. A time for change, optimism, and goal setting. If you're a seasoned hiker or camper, you may be excited to start planning your backpacking calendar for the year. The ground outside the Next Mile Meal's office is snow covered and frozen so we're certainly thinking longingly of summertime creeks and hiking shorts and debating whether sunscreen is worn weight or carried weight.
All of that dreaming keeps us going through the darker winter months, but if you've recently developed dietary restrictions or are tackling new health goals as part of your New Years resolutions, you may be feeling a little bit intimidated by the prospect of finding foods that fit your new needs. Not sure if paleo backpacking meals exist? Or need to find gluten free options? Being a keto-focused company, many of us here at Next Mile Meals have stood in your shoes thought, “Eating well is challenging enough in the front country... how can I possibly do it in the back country??” We did it, and so can you – with a little bit of planning and preparation, you can have a successful and enjoyable backpacking trip, even with dietary restrictions.
Here are some tips to get you started:
Don’t wing it.
Do your research and establish a comfortable , especially if this new diet is part of a recent lifestyle change. If you don’t know how to keep keto (or other way of eating) in your house with ease, the wilderness is no time to be a hero. Have a good grasp of what types of foods are ideal for you to eat and what brands or products you can trust. If you’re lucky, there may already be backpacking-specific products that are made with your dietary needs in mind (like Next Mile Meals), but knowing how to plan and purchase meals when you have access to a grocery store is meal planning on easy mode; don’t expect backcountry meal prep to be any easier.
It takes more than two months build a habit, and it can take upwards of a 12 weeks to be fully fat-adapted. That’s not to say you NEED to wait that entire time before putting on a pack, but make sure you’re body is in fat-burning mode and full ketosis before running out and trail testing your diet. 10,000 ft of elevation is no place to get the keto flu.
Tip toe, Don’t Leap
Your first outing with your new diet should not be your largest trip planned this year. Try an overnight, a weekend, and gradually scale up until you feel confident that taking your new diet on the road, er... trail, can be done without any issues or complications. Prior to Jessie's 2017 Thru Hike, she had gone on a number of shorter trips of varying lengths (from overnights to a week+ on the Wonderland trail) before she felt sure that my diet would not be the reason she had to get off trail (if that were to happen). With all that practice under her belt, she only had to deal with the standard thru-hiking challenges (and the naysayers who said she was crazy and that she wouldn’t make it 100 miles on keto).
With so many of your go-to shelf-stable options off limits now, it’s a great time to think about whether you can incorporate more fresh foods into your meal plan. Prior to going keto, many of us never dreamed of packing avocados, berries, oils, and fresh cheeses and meats as part of our menu. We stuck to the standard cliches: trail mixes and protein bars and freeze-dried meals. Now we all pack a few fresh items into every pack-out and resupply (especially if only for an overnight, or when just leaving town on a thru).
Pack your meals carefully
Now that you’ve got a few different types of food in your pack (fresh foods, new foods, oils, etc...) be sure to package and separate your foods so that no cross contamination can happen. Wrap hard cheeses in their own bag to keep them as fresh as possible, and berries and avocados go high in your pack so they don’t get crushed. Another pro-tip is to individually package your meals for each day: you did the hard work of counting carbs or nutrients to meet your dietary goals per day, why not put each of those daily menus into their own ziplock bag to make it easy to grab-and-go when you pack up out of camp each day?
A big congrats on taking on new health and wellness goals this New Year. Taking those new lifestyle changes on trail can be intimidating, but with a little bit of planning and preparation, your trip will be just as amazing as it was before your new diet updates. Don't be afraid to ask for help or advice from experienced backpackers (feel free to reach out!), and be sure to bring plenty of safe and nutritious foods to keep you fueled and energized on the trail.