Backcountry Recipes: How to Gain Weight On Even the Most Grueling Thru Hike

A photo of meals prepared using backcountry recipes developed by extreme hiking expert Chris Atwood.

Text & photos by Chris Atwood.

Chris Atwood did a 57-day thru hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon with Ambassador Rich Rudow (Read “The Grandest Walk: A 700-Mile Thru Hike Below the Rim“). During the trip numerous adventurers accompanied them, including Hyperlite Mountain Gear CEO Mike St. Pierre. The length and severity of the hike meant that the group had to eat a lot of calories to have the energy to continue hiking. But with proper planning of his backcountry recipes, Atwood managed to gain around five pounds while still exerting himself to the limit every day and hiking a grand total of over 600 miles. In this post, he shares backcountry recipes he used as well as an example daily ration of food.

Gaining Weight on a Grueling Thru Hike? All it Takes is the Right Backcountry Recipes

Before the trip began, Rich Rudow jokingly said he wanted to be the first Grand Canyon thru hiker to gain weight. I thought it a lofty aspiration, considering the challenging food logistics of this fully self-supported trek. We all knew it would be tall order to fuel the two months of hard work required to walk from Lee’s to Pearce in one push. And although gaining weight was not my goal, staying completely full and charged, at all times, by nutritious and healthy food that I loved to eat was. And with an eye toward carrying the lightest load possible, I didn’t want any more food than would be necessary. My idea was ample daily eating with an extra ration or two to cover any delays due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances.

Chris Atwood during the Grand Canyon thru hike. Photo by Rich Rudow.

So I carefully planned my six major supply caches with this goal in mind. Most of my backcountry recipes were prepared and dehydrated at home, their portion sizes and ingredients carefully measured. A vacuum sealer was used to not only reduce overall volume in my pack but to preserve the contents completely. All meals were designed and packaged to be prepared in the field using boiling water and a quart bag-size, Reflectex cozy.

And wouldn’t you know it? Success! I came home to Flagstaff and immediately weighed myself. At 172 pounds, I was seven pounds heavier than when I left Lee’s Ferry late last September. Even if we excuse the In-n-Out Burger gorge session and liter of water I had on the drive home and call it an even five-pound gain, I still came out ahead!

Here, a typical day’s meals are described. A table breaks down the nutrition content.

Typical Day’s Ration, Grand Canyon Thru Hike 2015

Breakfast: Irish Oats with fruit and honey, hot or cold, with 2-3 servings of Real Bacon. Matcha green tea and oftentimes coffee for a beverage.

Snacks and Lunch: Steady diet of 8oz. dates (Deglet Noor’s are my favorite) and 8oz. nuts (mainly pecans, but also almonds, walnuts, pistachios and macadamia nuts) daily. Soba noodles with veggie bullion and salami slices for a hot lunch most days. Packet of olives and/or seaweed snacks to supplement electrolytes and satiate veggie cravings.

Supper: Couscous mac-n-cheese with ground beef, coconut oil and hot sauce. A few squares of dark chocolate, some m&m’s or more honey for dessert.A chart of the caloric breakdown of backcountry recipes from a thru hike of the Grand Canyon.

As you can see, backcountry recipes are really less recipes and more of a framework for how to consume a minimum number of calories to consume in one day. The fact that the work simply requires this much energy, and at times even more, tends to trump things like balanced flavors and sumptiousness. Toward the end of the trip I was ramping this typical intake up with the addition of sugary meal replacement bars, Snickers and extra servings of soup.

On hard hiking days that can only be described as gruels, when the only remedy is a good night’s rest with a full stomach, this menu was my saving grace.

For more backcountry recipes, check out our Food & Recipes blog posts, including “Lightweight Recipes for Hikers & Backpackers.”