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April 2017

Eating better on the trail

food preparation

Author: Anthony Raspa, who works at Valhalla Pure Outfitters Red Deer.

Whether it be a scramble up Ha Ling or a week long hike on the West Coast Trail, hydration and nutrition are key to health and fitness. Living out of a backpack and setting up a temporary home-away-from-home is an amazing experience but requires work and planning before heading out. For people new to planning X amount of days out, this can be an overwhelming and timely process, but once you’ve got it dialed this is all part of the fun! Here is a basic list of things to consider while food planning with some tasty recipe favorites.

Food for thought

For the average person it is recommended to consume two pounds of food per person, per day. This works out to be roughly 1500-2500 calories, although calorie intake can be as high as 6000 calories or more depending on the demands of the activity and size of the person. For people looking to get the most out of what you eat, try to make 50-70% of your food intake carbohydrates, 15-25% proteins and 15-25% fats.

Carbohydrates are the easiest for your body to convert into energy, so when picking carbs think; pasta noodles, rice, bread, whole grains, cereals and crackers as these are all sources of healthy carbohydrates.

Proteins will help to regulate metabolism as well as repair muscle tissue. Without protein muscle tissue will break down and your body won't be able to produce energy. Think; dairy products, eggs, nuts and meats for good sources of proteins.

Fats such as that from an avocado, grains and beans offer your body twice the amount of calories per gram as carbohydrates and proteins. Fats take longer for your body to break down thus keeping you satisfied longer. (On cold nights try something high in healthy fats such as a handful of nuts before bed to help keep you warm throughout the night.) Other healthy fats include; eggs, oils, butter, peanut butter, beef jerky and cheese.

Food Planning

Food planning will vary from person to person and is totally customizable. People who are needing to pack ultralight may opt out of a stove and will rely solely on cold, ready to eat food such as jerky, nuts and power balls. This saves on the added weight of pots and pans, stoves and fuel and will allow someone to hideout in a tent without the worry of having to cook in bad weather conditions. Others looking for backcountry comfort may choose to bring a lightweight backpacking stove (see our latest blog post about Camp Stoves) such as the MSR Pocket Rocket or JetBoil as this offers you a warm cooked meal at the end of the day. Experiment with dehydrated meals as they are lightweight, tasty and easy to cook (in most cases only requiring you to add boiled water to the dehydrated meal). Dehydrating is the process of removing the water content from the food using a dehydrator or oven. This eliminates the growth of bacteria, yeasts, and mold and also preserves the nutrients. Dehydrating is easy to do at home and is relatively cheap, but at the end of the day it comes down to personal preference and the energy and effort you're willing to put in. When meal planning it helps to write everything out on paper using a chart to break everything down. Below is an example of someone planning a two night, three day trip in the backcountry. (Make one chart per person)

Day 1Day 2Day 3

Breakfast: N/A

(Prepare something at home before heading out on the first day)

Breakfast: Oatmeal, pre-packaged instant coffee.Breakfast: Cereal and powdered milk, pre-packaged instant coffee.

Lunch: (Something fresh that requires no cooking)

cheese and crackers, carrots.

Lunch: Power balls, homemade jerky.Lunch: Homemade jerky, trail mix.
Dinner: Dehydrated homemade chilli. Dinner: Dehydrated vegetable yellow curryDinner: N/A (Buy dinner on the way home)
Snack: Nuts, tea.Snack: Nuts, tea.Snack: Anything leftover if needed.

For the first day out keeping food fresh isn't an issue, so bring anything you want! Veggies, fruits or cheeses are an option as they won't spoil on the first day but keep in mind this is a tradeoff in weight. It isn't until the second and third day out that it starts to become more difficult to keep food from spoiling, that's where you have to become creative with your food prep and planning.

Breakfast for most people will typically consist of either pre-packaged oatmeal or a cereal with powdered milk being that both options are simple, lightweight and nutritious. Coffee drinkers will usually be boiling water anyways, so it's no hassle to boil extra water when eating oatmeal. Powdered milk is a great lightweight option for people eating cereal that needs no cold storage and requires only water to rehydrate the milk, no boiling required.

Lunch will typically be meals for on the go, requiring no heating or boiling. Power balls, fruit leathers, jerky, nuts, trail mix and many more options are available for quick nutritious meals, giving you energy to power through the day.

Dinner for most people will typically consist of dehydrated meals simply because they are lightweight, tasty and require no prep outside of the home kitchen. Simply add boiled water to your dehydrated meal using a zip-lock bag, lock the bag and wait 5-10 minutes until the meal is rehydrated.

Pro Tip: when camping in the backcountry bring a thermos and boil water for tea just before bed. Throw the thermos filled with your hot fresh brew in your sleeping bag, this will help keep cold sleepers warm and you’ll also have hot tea for the morning without having to leave the comfort of your warm sleeping bag!

If you don’t have the time or ways to pre-make your meals, you can get ready-made dehydrated meals at any Valhalla Pure Outfitters. Pre-made dehydrated meals are a good option (and are in my experience usually pretty tasty), but they can be more costly and there is nothing like having a homemade meal in the backcountry. I've included some of my go-to recipes below that were mentioned in the chart above. They are simple, tasty and nutritious, but as I had mentioned before, food prep is personal and totally customizable, so have fun with it!


Following are some of my favourite go-to meal and snack ideas from Trail.Recipes. By the end of May we will have their book ‘Good Food for Outdoor Adventures’ by Tanya Krezevska available online at We are excited to introduce Trail Recipes from Latvia to Canada! Stay tuned.

Beef Jerky

Trail Chili

Vegetable Yellow Curry

No Bake Energy Bites

Beef Jerky

These thin strips of dried beef are extremely lightweight, easy to pack and offers a good balance of fat, proteins and carbohydrates.

Servings: 3

Weight: 38g / 1.34 oz

Category: dairy-free, dehydrated, high-energy, lightweight, snacks

Nutrition info: Calories: 249, Protein: 33.1 g, Carbs: 13.2 g, Fat: 6.4 g, Sugars: 7.3 g, Sodium: 1485 mg

What you'll need:

300g/0.66lb lean cut of beef

For marinade:

1/2 cup light soy sauce

1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

At home:

  • Trim off any excess fat and silverskin from beef.
  • Place beef in a zip-lock bag and freeze for about 2 hours until firmed up.
  • Remove meat from freezer and cut into 1/4”-1/8’’ (3-6mm) strips.
  • In a bowl combine all the ingredients for marinade.
  • Add the beef to marinade and stir well to coat each slice.
  • Cover and refrigerate for 6-8 hours.
  • Take meat out. Drain in a colander.
  • Place beef slices on dehydrator tray.
  • Dry at 160-165F/71-74C for 1 hour, then reduce temperature to 155F/68C and continue to dry until pliable, with no moisture pockets visible (about 5-7 hours).

Trail Chili

This super-easy and yummy trail chili has to be one of the best dishes to serve on a backpacking trip.

Servings: 1

Weight: 150 g / 5.29 oz

Category: dehydrated, dinners, gluten-free, high-energy, lightweight

Nutrition info: Calories: 568, Protein: 49.6 g, Carbs: 66.2 g, Fat: 13.8 g, Sugars: 14.5 g, Sodium: 177 mg

What you'll need:

1 tsp olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup lean beef mince

1 sweet red pepper, chopped

1/3 cup canned kidney beans, drained

1/3 cup canned sweet corn, drained

1 tbsp chilli con carne spice mixture (Santa Maria)

1 cup canned diced tomatoes



At home:

  • Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan.
  • Add onions and garlic, cook until soft and golden.
  • Add the ground beef and cook until fully brown. Transfer in a colander. Drain.
  • Return the meat to the saucepan.
  • Tip in red pepper, beans, sweet corn and chilli con carne spice mix.
  • Continue to cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Pour the diced tomatoes together with juice into a saucepan.
  • Season to taste with salt and sugar.
  • Turn down the heat. Put a lid on and leave to cook for 10 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and cool thoroughly.
  • Spread trail chilli on dehydrator trays covered with non-stick sheets or parchment paper.
  • Dehydrate at 63C/145F for 8-10 hours until brittle.
  • Pack the dried meal into a ziplock bag.

On the trail:

  • Pour dry chilli mixture into the pot; add 1 cup water and stir well.

  • Place pot over medium heat and bring to a boil.

  • Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.

  • Remove from heat, cover, and let stand another 5-10 minutes to rehydrate meal completely.

Vegetable Yellow Curry

I love curries. All sorts of them: veg and non-veg, spicy or mild. They are full of colour and flavour; are easy to make and taste great. This spicy vegan curry is made with three ingredients only: mixed vegetables of your choice, yellow curry paste and coconut milk. Serve it with plain basmati or jasmine rice for a delicious, healthy, and nutritious backpacking dinner.

Servings: 2

Weight: 170 g / 6 oz

Category: Asian, dairy-free, dehydrated, dinners, gluten-free, lightweight, vegan, vegetarian

Nutrition info: Calories: 445, Protein: 7.6 g, Carbs: 61.1 g, Fat: 17.2 g, Sugars: 5.5 g, Sodium: 263 mg

What you'll need:

100g/3.53oz basmati rice

1 tablespoon Thai yellow curry paste

2 cups frozen vegetable mix

4 tablespoons coconut milk powder

  • At home:
  • Cook the rice according to package instructions.
  • Drain and cool slightly.
  • Spread rice, vegetables and curry paste on separate dehydrator trays, covered with non-stick sheets or parchment paper.
  • Dry at 135F/57C 4-8 hours.
  • Put the dried meal into a zip-lock bag. Add coconut milk powder and seal.

On the trail:

  • Pour vegetable curry mixture into the pot; add 2 cups water.
  • Place pot over medium heat and bring to a boil.
  • Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand another 5-10 minutes to rehydrate meal completely.

No Bake Energy Bites

Servings: 10-12

Weight: 34g / 1.20 oz

Category: Dairy-free, gluten-free, high-energy, paleo-friendly, snacks, vegan, vegetarian

Nutrition info: Calories: 160, Protein: 1.5 g, Carbs: 16.4 g, Fat: 11.2 g, Sugars: 12 g, Sodium: 2 mg

What you'll need:

1 cup pecans

1 cup dried pitted dates

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, divided

At home:

  • Pulse pecans in a food processor until finely chopped.
  • Add dates and 1/4 cup of shredded coconut.
  • Process together until you get a sticky paste.
  • Using tablespoon, scoop out the mixture and shape 10-12 balls about an inch in diameter.
  • Roll each ball in the remaining coconut flakes.
  • Place bites in the freezer to set for at least an hour.
  • Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week, until you are ready to put them in a your backpack.

If you are wondering which camp stove you should bring on your trips, have a look at our post Camp Stoves: Liquid fuel vs Canister fuel.

Whether you're a cook or not, food planning and preparation can be fun for everyone with endless options! For more tips, come in and talk with the staff at your local Valhalla Pure store!

Technical and nutritional information for this article adapted from: Eng, R. C., & Pelt, J. V. (2010). Mountaineering: the freedom of the hills (8th ed.). Seattle, WA: Mountaineers Books.