Intake: Backcountry Dining Without Regression

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, April 1995

Intake: Backcountry Dining Without Regression
By Ami Walsh

For Tim Loveridge, program coordinator of the Boston-based Appalachian Mountain Club, a trip into the backcountry is an excuse to indulge in the sort of grub most of us haven't stocked the pantry with since college. Camping outings aside, Loveridge, 39, never buys strawberry-frosted Pop Tarts or so much as a single Peppermint Patty. But in the wilds, he subsists on the stuff, because it's easy and it tastes good. "I usually have a can of tuna or sardines as a backup," he says. "But I've had the same can for a couple of years."

Chances are you likewise succumb to some dietary regressions when you camp. You're forgiven--but watch it. For one thing, you're not going to last by snarfing fast-burning simple carbohydrates like sugar: Hiking for six hours with a 50-pound pack consumes about 2,800 calories, the same amount of energy you'd expend playing volleyball or riding your bike for six hours. You're even burning calories while you sleep, to keep warm. The fuel you need is complex carbos. And you don't need salty snacks: Particularly at altitudes over 8,000 feet, sodium can lead to water retention and swelling.

Cheer up. If you forgo the frosted toaster pastry and the Fritos, you can eat your Fig Newtons with dignity--and without straying from the nutritionist-recommended diet of 55 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent fat, and 15 percent protein. "I'm not about to give up my M&M's," says Julie Ann Lickteig, a registered dietician on the faculty of Colorado Mountain College. "But I'm going to be sure my gorp has sesame sticks and dried fruit, too."

In fact, nutritionists who routinely prepare backcountry menus caution against overly stringent health-food regimens. "Over the years," says Claudia Pearson, chief food-ration manager for the National Outdoor Leadership School, based in Lander, Wyoming. "I've issued nutritionally oriented items--powdered eggs, soybean products, powdered milk--and I've found that people won't eat if the food isn't convenient or doesn't taste good. What's most important is that they're eating on a regular basis, eating a variety of foods, and hydrating." Here's a backcountry meal sampler that does all that--without taking you back to the dorm.

1 bagel
1 packet jelly
1 packet instant raisin oatmeal
1/2 cup dried skim milk
1 cup hot cocoa
1 cup water
Avoid breaking the fast with fatty bread-spreads like peanut butter; your body will store the backpacking perennial for energy down the trail. You need more immediate gratification: Jelly is higher in complex carbos, which burn quickly for morning motivation.

4 dried apricot halves
2 Fig Newtons
2 cups water
Not that you'd be tempted to do so, but don't skip the Fig Newton break. Both the filling and the cookie around it are high in complex carbos, exactly what you need between meals.

2 ounces American or Swiss processed cheese
2 eight-inch flour tortillas (or large pita)
1/4 cup dried banana slices
1/2 cup Honey-Nut Cheerios
2 cups lemonade
Skip the salami and other processed meats, which are notorious sodium offenders. Salami, for one, has three grams in a single ounce.

1 Rice Krispie snack bar
1 medium apple or dried fruit equivalent
2 cups water
This grain and fruit combo has an edge over gorp, which is loaded with peanuts, read fat: One cup of peanuts contains 72 grams, while a cup of raisins has less than one. Suitably svelte raisin substitutes: dried pineapples, bananas, or cranberries.

Campside Casserole
2-1/2 ounces canned or freeze-dried chicken
1 cup boiled noodles
2 tablespoons creamed vegetable dry soup mix
1/4 cup dried skim milk
3 medium sugar cookies (or instant pudding)
2 cups hot apple cider
Better to concoct your own pasta dish than to rely on a prepackaged one: They're usually stocked with sodium

Calories from...
...carbohydrates: 68 percent
...fat: 20 percent
...protein: 12 percent

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