Five days. Fifty miles. Two 14,000+ foot peaks. Solitude. Rain. It was going to be the quintessential backpacking trip deep into the High Sierra. It was my first trip in a long time that was longer than a weekend and I was looking forward to it. Besides the obvious preparations for a long backpacking trip, I had three obstacles to overcome before I would be ready to depart: The first was that I did not have a bear canister; the second is that I recently discovered that I am gluten-intolerant and would need to concoct a new gluten free backpacking food menu; the last problem was that…well, I was broke.
I solved the first problem by finding a Bear Vault BV450 Solo Canister on sale and with free shipping, which helped address problem number three too! When the canister arrived, I realized that fitting five days worth of high calorie food into it was going to be a challenge. Nevertheless, I set off to solve problem number two – finding food that I could eat without enraging my gluten intolerance and that would also provide enough calories/fat/protein (aka energy) to sustain me. I soon discovered that there are several freeze dried gluten free backpacking food options out there. However, for a backpacker on a budget, the $7-12 per meal price tag quickly adds up.
At those prices, food for my trip was going to cost me close to $150! I knew I could do better and so I went back to the drawing board. Here is what I came up with.
- Tofu (make sure you read the label – some tofu is chock-full of gluten)
- Chicken (canned and precooked)
- Mashed potatoes
- Cream Cheese
Preparations and Notes
For breakfast I added three packets of grits to a Ziploc baggie. Since no one likes plain grits (alright, maybe some people do, but I am not one of them) I added dried blueberries, cranberries, raisins, sugar, and butter (the powdered kind). This added a lot of flavor, very little weight, and nutrition.
To spice up the lunch I munched on dried mango, chocolate, avocados, trail mix (dried raisins, cranberries, blueberries, soy nuts, and almonds) and I added cream cheese and capers to my salmon, which was quite tasty and high in energy to boot! With the capers I recommend you store them in a spill-proof container. Mine leaked inside my bear canister and it took a month or two to air out the smell.
For dinner I discovered that canned chili, while a bit heavy, is very nutritious and once double bagged the risk of explosion inside your bear canister is minimal (it never happened to me). To add flavor to the chicken I added six tablespoons of buffalo sauce per one and a quarter cups of chicken (the mild flavor has more calories) and added garbanzo beans.
I also brought a lot of tea as it is my preferred source of caffeine while in the hills. Often times I find that dehydration/elevation headaches can be alleviated or cured by consuming caffeine! I had tea with all three of my meals and sometimes midday too.
I enjoy cooking meals that require a little more prep than just boiling water and don’t mind waiting. All of these meals I could cook in my Olicamp XTS pot, so dishes were minimal and clean-up was a breeze.
It may not be for everyone but I enjoyed creating my own menu – by pre-bagging and pre-measuring all my meals into Ziploc bags, I saved time and fuel when cooking and avoided lugging around excess weight/trash with me. Also, having a scent-proof heavy duty Ziploc bear bag helped with trash storage. They are reusable too – just rinse, wash, and turn inside out to dry when you get home.
After a little planning I worked out a menu for the trip that cost $48.60 – one third of the cost of a freeze dried menu and that only weighed 160 ounces or 12 pounds – including the bear canister. I ate 13 meals that averaged 2300 calories per day; 250g carbs, 100g fat, and 100g of protein. At the end of the trip I still had some food leftover – even after off-loading a bunch with a thru hiker and trading some for toilet paper with another group of hikers!
Our hike ended at Whitney Portal after we had successfully climbed Mount Whitney and Mount Tyndal. At the trailhead, sore and exhausted, we ordered cheeseburgers (I took the bun off), fries, and a couple of beers (both are source of gluten I just cannot remove from my diet). It was a great end to an unforgettable adventure.
For those of you going on an adventure where weight, space, and spoiling are not an issue here is a great dessert recipe idea!
Take a banana and slice it down the middle – make sure to leave the peel on and DO NOT slice from end to end. Stuff the banana with dark chocolate (okay, really any kind of chocolate will do) and let it rest over a bed of hot coals. Wait until the chocolate is bubbling then scoop the gooey contents out of the banana peal with a spoon!