This Is the Golden Age of Backpacking Food
Gluten-free? Vegan? Paleo? There's a snack for that.
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Lillian Hoodes lives in Boulder, Colorado, where she’s noticed a common theme among her outdoorsy peers: “Everyone has some sort of food allergy.” She’s not wrong. It’s estimated that 15 million Americans have some sort of diagnosed food allergy. That figure doesn’t include people who avoid certain foods for ethical or dietary reasons. Add in those folks and, well, that’s a lot of people with special food needs. So why does your neighborhood outdoor store stock exactly one vegetarian and one gluten-free backpacking meal option? Good question.
A year ago, Hoodes noticed this and started TrailFork, a company that provides fully customizable backpacking meals via mail. Customers can specify whether they need vegan, vegetarian, paleo, or gluten-free meals, and Hoodes tweaks the recipes accordingly. She already has REI’s attention; the retailer should start stocking TrailFork meals by September.
“People are not very satisfied with the current trail meal options,” Hoodes says, adding that the taste is lacking, too. “I started out by doing pop-ups with samples in Boulder, and people would taste the food and couldn’t believe how good it was.”
Even better, TrailFork is now just one of a bunch of companies offering meals for niche diets. From keto to dairy-free to gluten-free, these companies have your camp food needs covered.
Since launching her company in 2010, Kim Safdy says she’s seen steady growth in sales as more and more outdoor enthusiasts turn to diets free of animal products. Offerings include vegan mac and cheese, made with nutritional yeast and sun-dried tomatoes, and blackened quinoa salad with black beans and corn. Outdoor Herbivore also makes DIY kits, so you can buy dried veggies, grains, and bean flakes and assemble your own creations.
Hoodes envisioned her company as the Blue Apron of dehydrated food. To start, she asks for your height, weight, and the distance you’ll cover each day. From there, Hoodes sends meals matching your calorie needs. You can also give her specific allergy requirements, and she’ll exclude those ingredients (though TrailFork does work in a kitchen that processes tree nuts and gluten). Meals run the gamut from vegan-friendly coconut chana masala to Paleoats, which contain no real oats and are therefore paleo-approved. One note: The packaging is compostable, which is an awesome departure from all the plastic that makes up a lot of other company’s wrappers. However, you can’t boil in the bags, so bring a pot.
Next Mile Meals
Dehydrating keto food can be a challenge, since meat tends to go rancid quickly, so this brand-new company relies on freeze-drying. Options include meatballs in a low-carb marinara and beef tacos—sans tortilla, of course. These are literally bags of meat, no rice or pasta to pad the meal or defray the company’s cost, so be prepared to pay $12 for one packet. Also, Next Mile Meals is just getting off the ground. It’s taking preorders, but items won’t ship until later this summer.
This company started with meat and veggie bars but recently acquired the Paleo Meals to Go brand, which makes things like Mountain Beef Stew with carrots, mushrooms, and celery, and Canyon Chicken Curry with sweet potatoes and cauliflower. The meals are freeze-dried, not dehydrated. “At the end of our day, we’re for people who appreciate our mantra: ‘We only put food in our food,’” says Josh Tabin, the company’s co-founder.
Wild Zora goes a step further than most other brands and lists whether each meal is free of nightshade, allium, gluten, grain, or dairy.
Obviously, Backpacker’s Pantry isn’t new or small batch. However, the company now sorts all meals on its website by vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free, which means large-scale producers are taking note of consumer demands. We also like that the company has extended its gluten-free and vegan lines all the way into its dessert offerings, because sometimes you just need vegan mango sticky rice after a long, hard day on the trail.