Food Prep & Recipes for Ultralight Thru Hike Adventures

Stripped Down Ultralight Recipes, By Mike St. Pierre

I live for adventure. I love owning and operating a growing ultralight outdoor gear company (even the stress and chaos!) But I thrive in the middle of nowhere. The backcountry is where I perfect our packs and shelters, come up with new product ideas and continue to hone my lightweight/minimalism skills. This fall I’m heading into the Grand Canyon for 16 days to accompany the foremost expert on that natural wonder of the world, Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Rich Rudow. Rich is thru hiking about 700 miles down river and then back up the other side, all below the rim of the canyon and all off trail. The route is roughly mapped out, but the terrain will dictate the path; some days we’ll be walking (or bushwhacking) by the river and other days we’ll be scrambling 4th– and low 5th-class terrain through the seven layers of rock that make up the cliffs of the canyon; we may hike up to 6000 feet on any given day, gaining 3000 to 4000 feet in elevation. In this Series of blog posts I’ll be focusing on what it takes to prep for a major expedition like this. This first post is about ultralight food preparations for a multi-day thru hike in the backcountry. Plus, I’ve included some of my recipes.

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Packing Light:

I always travel light, but I have had to rethink my backcountry food practices for this adventure. I’ll be carrying seven to nine days of food at a time, averaging 1.5.lbs. of food per day, and we’ll be restocking at caches that Rich and his team are setting up every eight days or so. I’ll need more food our second week because of the energy I’ll be expending making my way through some of the gnarliest terrain I’ve ever traversed. I need light, compact food that is easy to carry. Food must be instant (i.e. everything will be prepped such that all I need to do is add water). The food has to be rich in nutrients. To maintain my current body weight (I’m 5’8” and 145lbs.), I need roughly 2600 calories per day the first week and 3000-4000 the second week. My goal: carry a pack that weighs less than 30 pounds when all is said and done—10.5lbs. of food, 15lbs. for gear and camera equipment and 6.6lbs. for three liters of water.

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Cooking & Dining Methods:

On most trips I don’t stop for lunch; I eat just two meals and then I graze throughout the day. But we’re doing things a little differently on this trip. Because we’ll be working so hard, we’re ensuring we get sufficient calories by stopping to eat three full meals per day and we’ll be grazing in between meals.

As well, four people are sharing a Jetboil stove, and we’ll boil water for three meals per day, though I do have a few meals that I don’t have to heat to rehydrate, (it’s not always easy to eat a hot meal in hot weather). Rich has figured out that he can get 25 10oz. boils of water out of a small fuel canister and 50 out of a large one. Knowing this, he was able to calculate the fuel consumption for all people on the trip.

Finally, we’ll be rehydrating all our foods in a Lipton Ziplock cup insulated with an Antigravity Gear Pot Cozy, which weighs 1.8oz. and traps the heat in so food continues to cook after you’ve poured in boiling water. We’ll cut our vacuum-sealed meals open, pour water in the bag, stick the whole thing in the cup and then keep hiking for a couple miles until the food is ready to eat. When we’re ready we’ll just open the cup and chow down. All we have to deal with is the plastic bag waste.

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Kind of Food:

My food choices were dictated by this cooking method (outlined above) and by the amount of calories I will need. I was shocked to discover that the average prepackaged backpacker meals typically have only 300 to 600 calories. On the high end, that’s only 900 to 1800 calories per day. So, in order to beef up both the nutritional value and calories of my meals, I bought a variety of dried vegetables, powdered whole fat milk and cheese and powdered butter, pine nuts and olive oil (which are calorie and fat rich). I’m shooting for foods that have at least 125 calories per ounce.

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Food Prep & Repackaging:

I planned carefully and strategically. I don’t want to go hungry, nor do I want to slow the team down because I’m not eating enough or have an overly heavy pack compared to the rest of the team. Step by step, here is what I did:

  1. Assembled a spreadsheet with the numbers of breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks that I needed.
  2. Ordered a bunch of dehydrated and freeze dried meals. I tried to get as healthy and as natural stuff as possible, where I recognized all the ingredients (Good-To-Go, PackIt Gourmet are great examples)
  3. Made piles of all the breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks.
  4. Assembled individual meals. At times I had to repackage two meals into one in order to get enough calories.
  5. Added up the calories in each meal and supplemented the ones without sufficient calories with powdered butter, cheese, and foil packages of salmon (that weigh just 3 oz!).
  6. Wrote on the bags the meal description, the breakdown of fats, carbs, protein, calories and how much water will be needed for rehydration.
  7. Repackaged everything in vacuum-sealed bags.
  8. Once all my meals were packaged, I mixed and matched each day’s worth of food based on my calorie needs and to give myself some variety.

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This system maximizes our travel time and is super efficient. There’s no actual cooking, and all the prep is done beforehand. Below are a couple of my favorite recipes.

Wake The F Up Coffee & Cream (250 Calories, weighs .7oz)

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  • 1 tbsp. powdered creamer or Dry whole milk powder (Nestle Nido, Great American Spice Company Whole Milk Powder, etc)
  • 1 tspn. Organic sugar
  • 2 pouches Starbucks Instant Vias

Mike’s Potato Salad (1100 calories, weighs 10.4oz)

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  • 1 4- to 6-oz package of freeze dried potatoes
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2tsp chicken powder
  • 2tsp powdered butter
  • One relish packet
  • 4 mayonnaise packets
  • 1 packet mustard

Backcountry Salmon Ramen (340 calories, weighs 7.5oz)

SalmonRamen

  • 3oz packet salmon
  • 1 package Ramen Noodles
  • 1 tbsp. freeze dried green beans
  • 1 tbsp. freeze dried onions
  • 1 tbsp. cup freeze dried bell peppers
  • 1 package hot sauce
  • .25oz olive oil.

For more recipes ideas, check out our Food & Recipes blog posts.