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Stomach upset and appetite issues while backpacking.
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Rafi Harzahav
(rhz10) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
Stomach upset and appetite issues while backpacking. on 08/07/2012 10:12:35 MDT Print View


I've noticed that on every backpacking trip, my appetite seems to decrease and that I have stomach issues (somewhat loose stool if you must know). The appetite thing could be the food I'm bringing--the usual backpacking stuff (nuts, cheese, bars, some rei dehydrated meals) which seems to get tiresome pretty quickly--or the stomach issues. My appetite comes back immediately when the trip is over.

As for the stomach thing, I guess it could be the (filtered) water I drink or the dehydrated meals.

Has anyone else experienced these issues?



Edited by rhz10 on 08/07/2012 10:45:54 MDT.

Ben H.
(bzhayes) - F

Locale: So. California
I usually have the opposite problem. on 08/07/2012 10:40:27 MDT Print View

I and others I have talked to tend to get somewhat constipated when backpacking.

If your diet is drastically different than what you eat at home stomach/bowel issue would be expected. It is probably not the water, but if you are actually getting sick, the most likely cause would be hygiene issue (make sure you wash your hands). I've started packing acidopholous pills (live and active bacteria from yogurt) that help keep your system regular.

Loss of appetite is probably caused by food and physical exertion. Long distance hikers often report low appetite the first few days and then it comes back with a vengeance. It is probably nothing to worry about unless you are already malnourished.

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Stomach upset and appetite issues while backpacking. on 08/07/2012 11:24:59 MDT Print View

are you backpacking at an altitude significantly higher than where you live?
loss of appetite and queasy feelings can happen at altitude.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: I usually have the opposite problem. on 08/07/2012 11:28:57 MDT Print View

Rafi, I would not worry too much about either of those issues. As Ben stated, make sure you wash your hands. I get constipated on my trips and when I is diarrhea. As for food, try to make sure to pack as many items that has lots of taste. Food tends to be bland at altitude and I too suffer from not being hungry. The last trip I did I ate regularly and actually forced myself to eat. For once I ate breakfast too. You know what? I actually hiked much better and did not bonk out during the day. Since being diagnosed with diabetes I have had to really monitor myself and in turn it has made me a better hiker.

BTW, great question!

Ryan Smith
(ViolentGreen) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: I usually have the opposite problem. on 08/07/2012 11:32:02 MDT Print View

I also suffer from a loss of appetite when hiking. Ben is right, it's most likely the physical exertion causing your body to not feel hungry. I ended up changing my habits to eating a good breakfast in the morning when I am rested and then drinking most of my calories throughout the day. I will still eat a few snacks like Snickers and chocolate covered almonds. Helps me psychologically to eat and also feels good to have something on your stomach.
In the evening, I will rest for a little while then fix dinner, but I have to still force myself to eat dinner oftentimes.


Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Stomach upset and appetite issues while backpacking on 08/07/2012 12:40:11 MDT Print View

I also don't have much appetite at dinner time. It's partly just fatigue. It's worse at higher altitude. Loss of appetite is one of the symptoms of mild mountain sickness. So is nausea. I've found it better to eat hearty at breakfast and snack on dried fruit, nuts, cereal bars frequently during the day, but eat lightly at night. High-carb foods are supposed to help with altitude adjustment. It's also important to keep well hydrated, especially at higher altitudes. An electrolyte drink mix in your water may help; it does for me.

The change of diet can cause loose bowels. My grandson especially has a problem with this--it's the dried fruit and nuts that seem to cause it in him. Constipation is more my problem!

Personally, I can't stand commercial freeze-dried sawdust, so I spend the winter cooking and dehydrating my own meals. Check out for ideas on more tasty meals.

Edited by hikinggranny on 08/07/2012 12:43:36 MDT.

Rafi Harzahav
(rhz10) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
thanks for the replies on 08/07/2012 12:54:14 MDT Print View

With regard to some of your comments, we hiked at 7000 to 8500ft, but I recall having this same issue on other trips at lower altitude. The stomach issue started within 12 hours of the trip. I doubt it was hygiene related. We hiked in at night, ate dehydrated food for dinner, and the stomach stuff started the following morning and stayed with me for the rest of the four day trip.

Thanks again.

Edited by rhz10 on 08/07/2012 12:56:05 MDT.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
altitude plus exertion on 08/07/2012 13:04:08 MDT Print View

Possibly with a dash of heat thrown in would be my guess as to the cause of your eating problems. I have had the same symptom and found that these three factors often play a part. I have had good luck drinking my calories in. It may be hard to eat but rarely do I have issues with drinking maltodextrin based drinks. I spent a lot of time solving this by forcing myself to eat about 300 calories per hour. I was very precise about it and then eventually it became second nature and rarely do I see problems eating. I found the same thing as ken, if you can consistent get the calories in then you may find that you have less fading away or bonking later in the day.

Stephen P
(spavlock) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: thanks for the replies on 08/07/2012 13:05:51 MDT Print View

Prolonged exercise can have negative effects on the entire digestive system. There is decades worth of research with regards to this if you care to search for it.

How hard are you pushing yourself? How many miles are you hiking per day and what is your pace? How much are you sweating?

edit: (sp)

Edited by spavlock on 08/07/2012 13:06:33 MDT.

Rafi Harzahav
(rhz10) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
answers and questions on 08/07/2012 13:16:19 MDT Print View

The hiking was not terribly strenuous--maybe 10 miles/day some at night. Not tons of sweating either.

As for drinking most of one's calories--how do you do that? Powdered drinks? Which sort?

Thanks again.

Stephen P
(spavlock) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: answers and questions on 08/07/2012 13:40:46 MDT Print View

The goal is to replace what you are expending. You want to match your water and sodium intake with your sweat output and eat enough carbohydrates to "fuel" your activities for the day. It's a fine balance and may seem way too technical for a simple hike. I agree, but since you are having some digestive issues, it may help to work on this balance. On average, I think we only voluntarily drink about half of what we are expending, so it helps to be conscious of the amount you drink.

I like to use Nuun for electrolyte replacement and sometimes use "Clif shot bloks" for a little boost of carbohydrates. There are better products than Clif, but they are cheaper and easier to pick up for me. These don't offer much in the terms of calories and are really just supplemental. If you don't have the appetite to eat much, it's still important to make sure you are getting enough water and electrolytes. For a short term hike, your body can use energy from stored fat to make up for the calorie deficit.

If there is a nutritionist on here, they could go into a lot more helpful detail.

Bottom line: water and electrolyte replacement

Stephen P
(spavlock) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: answers and questions on 08/07/2012 13:57:55 MDT Print View

You could try a meal replacement powder on your next trip. I don't have any recommendations, but there are a plethora of companies that market these types of things to body builders. I think they have a bit more protein in them than you would want, but maybe there are some that are more carb heavy.

It might be a little easier to force down if you are really struggling with the appetite.

I've had the exact same problems that you have been experiencing on many occasions. I haven't found a perfect solution yet...

michael levi
(M.L) - F

Locale: W-Never Eat Soggy (W)affles
. on 08/07/2012 20:43:20 MDT Print View

I suffer from a lack of appetite too, being obsessed with BPL I guess doesnt help :)

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Stomach upset and appetite issues while backpacking on 08/07/2012 21:13:05 MDT Print View

I suspect that your stomach might be protesting against those preservatives and high sodium levels in many commercial freeze-dried meals. Many are high in monosodium glutamate which is upsetting to many. Reading the label on some of those can be scary! Try some of those brands with less preservatives (although higher priced) such as Mary Jane's Farm or Packit Gourmet (there are others).

IMHO, if your backpacking diet is similar to what you normally eat at home (using freeze-dried fruits and veggies instead of fresh), your system should tolerate it better. That's one reason I dehydrate portions from my home meals. I live alone so cook up an enormous batch of a one-dish meal, freeze some in meal-sized portions (to zap in the microwave later) and dehydrate several batches for backpacking. Note: don't do this if your dish contains peas; they'll remain the consistency of buckshot and will break a tooth. Instead, omit the peas and buy freeze-dried peas to add later. Also, meat has to be in very tiny pieces, preferably ground.

Ryan Smith
(ViolentGreen) - F

Locale: Southeast
Re: answers and questions on 08/07/2012 21:14:03 MDT Print View

Drinking your calories - In a nutshell, determining how many calories you wish to take in for a given day & then using a drink mix to meet that goal. A lot of folks use Perpetuem. Drinking that many calories can be an acquired skill so I would start out replacing maybe a 1/3 of your daily goal and then seeing how that works for you.


Rafi Harzahav
(rhz10) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
more on 08/07/2012 23:15:02 MDT Print View

Ryan--thanks for the info.

Mary--the only dehydrated meal I ate (on the first night) was Mary Jane's Farms chilimac.

thanks again.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Drinking Calories on 08/08/2012 09:34:04 MDT Print View

If you want to try drinking your calories I would buy a container of Carbo gain. This is plain maltodextrin vs. other more expensive products such as Hammer Perpetuem or similar. I have had mixed experience being able to stomach Perpetuem due to the other ingredients contained in it such as protein. The thing I like about plain Malto is being able to mix up my own brew, flavoring it with just about anything. Malto has no taste and a mild sweetness so I ended up mixing it with crystal light mix and electrolytes. It tastes like crystal light and I like those favors better koolaid or other products. You can also mess around with concentration a bit. My latest stretgy is to pack out 900 calories in a half liter water bottle then dump that in my 32 oz gatoraid bottle and fill with water. This basically makes a triple strength brew and will give you enough calories for 3-4 hours depending on you target calorie intake. Using 4 hours.. It would mean you drink 8 oz. of drink mix an hour. You will also want to drink water as well during those hours since the mix is concentrated. I have found that this has worked well for not only myself but likely a dozen or so thru hikers that are using this recipes either last year or this year.

Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
Drinking Your Calories +1 on 08/08/2012 10:38:52 MDT Print View

I don't share your problem when hiking, but I do have a problem with tolerating solid foods during other endurance events like a longer run, ride or a long 5+ hours paddle. I believe it to be from the high level of physical exertion. For those scenarios, I rely exclusively on drinking my calories.

I haven't had good luck with the Hammer products. The Perpetuem makes my stomach turn; I found it to be like trying to drink runny batter. I want something light and with mellow flavor/sweetness.

So, I use a mild electrolyte/carbo sportsdrink mix (Suceed Ultra or Suceed Amino, depending upon the duration) and then supplement it with additional pure carbs (Carbo-Pro) as needed. It's a similar product to what Greg G (above) mentions. It has no flavor and dissolves readily into fluids, so I can add it to my drink mixes no problem.

I'll add in electrolyte tablets (like S-caps or Enduralytes) and Sportleg tablets (to help prevent lactic acid build-up) as needed throughout the event.

William Segraves
(sbill9000) - F - M
stomach upset and low appetite on 08/09/2012 18:08:19 MDT Print View

Agree with most of the explanations above. For different people, it's going to be different things or different combinations of things. You kind of have to figure out what works for you. It took me a lot of experimenting to find a diet that works well for me, and to confirm that if I'm going at high intensity for full days, I'm not really going to feel very hungry for the first week and a half or two of backpacking.

One thing not mentioned above is the effect of the pack's hip belt, if you wear one. If it's sitting in the wrong place, it can be a problem for digestive system and appetite.


Bill S.