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Thru-Hikes + Food Allergies = Conundrum
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Miles Barger
(milesbarger) - F - M

Locale: West Virginia
Thru-Hikes + Food Allergies = Conundrum on 12/12/2006 13:05:29 MST Print View

I'm thinking about thru-hiking the PCT in the next year or two. I'm hoping to ship myself food as little as possible, just buying stuff along the way while keeping stops at a minimum. But...

I've got food allergies. Annoying food allergies. They're especially annoying when it comes to backpacking because they really exclude me from a lot of the popular on-trail food. Here's the main ones:
peanuts/peanut butter
any kind of nuts
large amounts of legumes
lots of milk
And remember, even the PowerBar-type bars that don't have those things in the real ingredients often have trace amounts that, while usually not a problem, could become so when I'm much too far from any hospital to get help in time.

So, what in the heck should I eat that will provide enough calories, slow-burning energy, good nutrition, and not cost a ton/require a lot of pre-prep and food drops?

Bryan Hoofnagle
(bhoofnagle) - F

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Re: Thru-Hikes + Food Allergies = Conundrum on 12/12/2006 14:55:36 MST Print View

Your allergies eliminate all the easy, cheap, and largely available food you'll find along the route. I can only speak for the AT here, but I assume access to food stores is harder along the PCT.

Well, it sounds to me like you need to fully explore your options. I found when I thru-hiked I focused so much calories I totally forgot about nutrition. Nutrition (and I don't mean a multi-vit. or tons of balance bars) is best found in whole, unproccessed foods. You're in luck with your allergies since the abundance of crappy sports foods are automatically eliminated.
After my hike I re-read Ray Jardine's ideas about nutrition. There's a lot to be said for the convienence of drop-in-a-boiling-pot-and-ready-in-minutes-meals, but those meals have been processed to a point where the integrity of the food is sacrificed, lost, and replaced with less beneficial nutrients for "instant-ness".

Foods I would pre-prepare and live off of as staples on your hike (just like making your own gear, making your own food on your hike can be just as personally rewarding):

-Muesli (raw cereal): This is the easiest way to start your day--no cooking. Mix raw whole grain oats,any seeds (flax, pumpkin, sunflower), any dried fruit (currants, raisins, cranberries, and any thing else you want--just make sure to mix a bunch of different mixes to satisfy your need for diversity on trail
-Granola: Canola oil, honey, oats or other flaked grains (kamut, spelt, triticale), shredded coconut, and spices. Easy and so tasty as a daily snack.
-dried fruit: ideal as that sugar boost during the day when energy is fading.
-whole grain pastas:corn, quinoa, kamut, wheat.
-dehydrated veggies or fresh ones (these will be more alive with nutrition) when you find them.
-even though a lot of bars contain ingriedients you need to avoid there are so many different bars and the market changes constantly--so check your options
-bring olive or coconut oil for fat intake
-your challenge may be beans, nuts, or fish. there's TVP (vegetable protein-soy)and jerkey
-variety in trail food is all about spices so bring along your favorite as it will make seemingly bland food taste like heaven.
-dark chocolate for the fat, taste, and antioxidants

--the main thing here is to not let conventional western food limit your options. this may require more pre-trip cooking and packaging, but I promise you it is completely worht every minute.

your walk will be fueled by you meeting your nutritional needs and that is best done with a variety of unprocessed foods. I wish I had heard this before my hike as I filled my meals with empty "food" like cous cous and pasta and instant rice--all lacking the nutrition native to the grains. And when we scruntinize our gear so much why not our diets, you don't have to eat candy bars and "nutrion bars" dipped in peanut butter to walk all day, everyday.

**Note you want to buy this stuff in bulk at any health food store or through a distributor if none is available. Packaged food is much more expensive.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Question on 12/12/2006 16:56:02 MST Print View

A better viewpoint is: what do you like to eat? What do you eat at home?
Take that, figure out what you eat normally, and then go from there, and start planning menus. Almost anything you eat at home can be figured out for the trail. It took me a couple months to figure out how to ditch sodium, most processed foods, and anything with preservatives, colors or flavors, but after a while it became quite easy! I eat pretty well these days-I just mimic what I eat at home and figured out ways to cheat on prep on the trail.

Laurie Ann March
(Laurie_Ann) - F

Locale: Ontario, Canada
Re: Thru-Hikes + Food Allergies = Conundrum on 12/14/2006 05:43:57 MST Print View

Miles I think that no matter how you slice it you probably are going to have to do a little bit of the mail drop sort of thing. If you want I can help you convert some of your favorite home recipes to backpacker fare. I did this for a friend of mine who is allergic to dairy, eggs, seafood and nuts which except for the legumes sounds pretty much like you. She goes into anaphlaxis (spelling?) and it would be serious if she came into contact with any of these foods. She also is on a low-sodium diet. What we did was find 10 of her favorite meals from home and make a trail variation.

Don Wilson
(don) - MLife

Locale: Koyukuk River, Alaska
Re: Thru-Hikes + Food Allergies = Conundrum on 12/14/2006 19:00:05 MST Print View

Miles -

About 50% of the typical trail stops have pretty easy access to a major super market. There, you can get most anything, except maybe real specialty foods.

With a little more hitching you could probably make it to a major market about 75% of the time. The remainder will have to be mail drops, even if you didn't have any allergies. So the issue really only impacts a small percentage of the total stops - it's mostly a matter of hitching versus mail drops.

You should be able to get a feel for the amount of food you need over the first few weeks. And in those first few weeks, you will be able to reach a major market in every town, except Warner Springs. After Warner Springs, food selection is very good in Idyllwild, Big Bear, Wrightwood, Agua Dulce and Mojave. If you can survive on supermarket food, you'll be fine.

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Scouts with severe food allergies on 05/19/2009 08:20:44 MDT Print View

This was the only thread I found that dealt with food allergies to any degree, and since it was over 2 years old thought maybe it would be good to revisit for others with this issue.

Our troop has a father and 2 sons that are deathly allergic to peanuts and to a lesser degree to other nuts and some soy products. Because of this, we don't allow ANYONE to bring any of those ingredients (or food processed on the same equipment) on troop outings. We'll be doing our first backpacking trip in Oct, likely in the Hoosier National Forest.

We don't have the issue of thru-hiking as the OP did so I imagine we can do fine with some of the normal instant/processed food options since maintaining long-term nutrition won't be an issue. Are there ones in particular you would recommend?

In keeping with the spirit of the original thread, I am intrigued by the idea of converting what they normally eat at home for the trail. How would you go about this? Since this is our first trip, I'd prefer it just involving boiling water and simmering if needed.

BTW the dad also has diabetes and uses an insulin pump. He's been working with his doctor on learning how to control it better while camping. He always carries some emergency food in case the pump can't handle a major drop.

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Thru-Hikes + Food Allergies = Conundrum on 05/19/2009 09:05:52 MDT Print View

Isn't making everyone in the troop not bring peanuts-based foods a little much? I'd just make those 3 bring their own food, and cook by themselves. And I'd think they would feel safer that way.

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: Scouts with severe food allergies on 05/19/2009 09:36:18 MDT Print View

They can react even to the smell of nuts though not as bad. Same with touching a surface that had nut products on them.

Maybe your boys could be extra vigilant about never eating anywhere near them, never touching anything before washing their hands, etc. We choose to just eliminate the danger.

Going to camp is fun, too. We always try to schedule the first week and the camp doesn't order any peanut products for that week.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Scouts with severe food allergies on 05/19/2009 10:40:23 MDT Print View for how to do it, simple: have all the boys (and parents) get together a week or so before the trip. Pick a couple recipes that sound good. Then go buy the ingredients in bulk. Everyone then makes the meals and bags them.

Hence, nothing goes in that is an allergy. By making all the meals at home before going you have full control.

You can also preset chocies for the recipes ahead of time for voting on what sounds good.

And look at it this way: if people like mashed potatoes and meat at home, well make that on the trail! Same with those who have special needs...ask them: what do you eat at home?

Walter Carrington
(Snowleopard) - M

Locale: Mass.
Food allergies. on 05/19/2009 10:41:06 MDT Print View

I sympathize. Onions make me sick. It's not a serious allergy (no anaphylactic shock), but onion gives me a stomach ache.

One of my staples for camping was an instant, just add water, pea soup. I'd have that immediately while I was cooking dinner. Then they added onion to the recipe :( I just bought a dehydrator and now I'll make my own instant soup.

Laurie March's offer to help you convert your home diet into trail versions is very kind; you should take her up on it.

Peanut allergy: Making a whole scout troop omit peanuts doesn't seem like overkill to me.

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Scouts with severe food allergies on 05/19/2009 11:01:56 MDT Print View

Hi Michael,

To the advice already given I'll add investigate getting a dehydrator and vacuum sealing system--two tools that are extremely handy in support of self-created meals for the trail, as well as repackaging off-the shelf stuff that either comes in bulk or in dumb packaging.

The scouts have plenty of time to hone their skills and test recipes before fall, maybe even earn a merit badge.



Laurie Ann March
(Laurie_Ann) - F

Locale: Ontario, Canada
Re: Scouts with severe food allergies on 05/19/2009 14:35:35 MDT Print View


I will send you a private note. I am also a diabetic and just finishing up my manuscript for my second cookbook which covers dietary issues as related to hiking.

Converting what you normally eat at home for the trail often requires the use of a food dehydrator. I wrote a how-to article on food dehyration for the Washington Trails magazine (it's in the current issue) and with the permission of the moderators here I could post a link to the pdf I have of it on my site.

The biggest things are of course to try and eliminate the possibility of a reaction but also to know how to deal with the allergy if something does trigger it.

Edited by Laurie_Ann on 05/19/2009 14:45:14 MDT.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Re: Thru-Hikes + Food Allergies = Conundrum on 05/19/2009 23:51:24 MDT Print View

Per previous posts, you'll want to mail more packages than the average thru-hiker; it's do-able, but more important for you to have a reliable person at home doing your logistics, mailing those boxes out on time.

You should definitely buy Yogi's book set,

Use that to determine exactly which towns to mail boxes to. Last year, I sent more boxes than I think most do (about 30 !); I'd send less if doing it again, but I don't have any alergies. Getting quantities right is a challenge, but unless you're on a tight budget, so what if you leave some excess in hiker boxes? There are always folks coming along on a tighter budget that will appreciate what you don't need. And you can talk to the person sending the boxes to adjust what you find you want as you learn what that is.

As an aside, I liked using Sarbar's Freezer Bag Cooking approach, whether or not I used her recipes ---
It's just nice to pour hot water into the ziplock and not have a pot to clean.

If you're building a lot of meals in advance at home, I also suggest you consider getting a food dryer, and maybe even a vacuum sealer. The latter isn't essential, especially if you store your dried meal creations in the freezer until they get shipped out, but I felt better using it with things like dried meats.

Laurie Ann March
(Laurie_Ann) - F

Locale: Ontario, Canada
using freezer bags on 05/20/2009 09:16:16 MDT Print View

It's surprising how easy it is to rehydrate homemade foods (whether or not you use a freezer bag or another vessel to reconstitute the foods). The beauty of homemade is complete control over what you are putting into your body.

The poster above has some great advice about food mailings too.

Also the Lipsmackin' Backpackin' series of books is great as many of the recipes were submitted by thru-hikers.