Tasty creations for Vail’s trails
VAIL CO, Colorado
I have heard stories of people who can live like this – I even encountered a couple of guys on the Appalachian Trail who were through hiking on boxes of macaroni and cheese – but the thought of eating the same bland food for days on end makes my stomach shrivel up in protest.
So recently, as I was planning a backpacking trip, I turned to the Internet for my meal planning. It was there that I found Chef Glenn, the self-described Backpacking Chef.
Glenn’s goal is to help his readers pack lightweight backpacking meals without skimping on nutrition and flavor. The key to doing this is a whole lot of preparation before hitting the trail, and it all starts with a food dehydrator.
“Removing water from food (but not the flavor and nutrition) with a dehydrator can cut the food weight in your pack by two-thirds,” Glenn says on his website.
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Dehydrating backpacking meals at home has multiple benefits, Glenn says, from saving money over pre-packaged meals to keeping out unwanted ingredients, such as excess sodium and hydrogenated oils. It also allows you to create more varied, flavorful meals.
“Pre-packaged backpacking meals are typically light on veggies and heavy on starches,” Glenn says. “Backpackers need starches for energy, but I want my veggies, too.”
Preparing meals at home ahead of time also allows you to choose what goes into them and determine your own portion sizes. Don’t like eggplant? Leave it out or substitute a different vegetable. Not a garlic fan? Try a combination of your favorite savory spices instead. If you can mix it up and dehydrate it, pretty much any meal can become trail food, from cheesy chili and chicken carbonara to oatmeal and pineapple upside-down cake.
Most meals are a simple equation of meats or proteins, such as beans; a starch base, such as rice or potatoes; and vegetables.
“By combining one meat, one vegetable and one starch, I get a tasty meal with lots of color and texture and the balanced nutrition I need to tackle the next leg of the trail,” Glenn says.
Once prepped at home and assembled into zip-locked or vacuum-sealed packages for travel, dehydrated meals are easy to cook on the trail: just throw it in a pot over your stove and add water. Most meals require only a few minutes of cooking time, saving even more weight in your pack by allowing you to bring less fuel.
Don’t have a food dehydrator? Glenn shares a couple of online sources for dehydrated veggies and freeze-dried meats on his website. City Market in Vail carries a large selection of dried fruits, as does Safeway in Vail, along with a limited selection of dried veggies. Mountain Man Nut and Fruit in Avon also has a varied selection of dried fruits and snack mixes, some of which include dried fruits and veggies.
And though having tasty meals on the trail can do wonders to elevate your backpacking experience, the most important thing, at the end of the day, is ensuring you consume enough calories to keep you going. Food is fuel, and you want to be running on the premium stuff.
“You can easily burn 3,000 calories per day on the trail,” said Dan Smith, with Vail Mountain Rescue.
Smith said hikers get into trouble when they don’t pack enough food. They hit the wall, they don’t have any energy, and they don’t have any way to get it, he said.
“They get out there and they’re going uphill and your calorie meter is just running backwards,” he said. “They are mildly hypoxic (from the altitude), they usually don’t drink enough water – a gallon a day is minimum. … You start to subtract those things – oxygen, calories, water – everything starts to not work and you start to make bad decisions.”
So the next time you’re staring down the possibility of five days of powdered soup and instant rice on the trail, remember that with some preparation and planning, your fuel can become food again.