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How to get veggies in your diet on a backpacking trip

If you think there is a salad bar on top of that mountain, you better think again. PC: Wikimedia Commons
If you think there is a salad bar on top of that mountain, you better think again. PC: Wikimedia Commons

I eat an insane amount of veggies when I’m at home (i.e., not hiking or letting other hikers’ influence my eating preferences).

So I’m always looking to squeeze more vegetables and fruits into my backpacking diet. Unfortunately, since fresh veggies are heavy and bulky, this isn’t always the most efficient option.

This article is dedicated to ways I’ve found to tackle the age old problem of getting veggies in a thru-hiking diet.

Before I dive into the issue, here is a little about my cooking style, which is on the lazier end of the spectrum (which makes getting veggies into my diet even harder): When I backpack, I only use the freezer bag method to make “cooked” meals. This means that I add boiling water (or near boiling water) to a melt-proof bag full of food, wait typically 15 minutes, and then expect my meal to be totally edible.

The Hiker Must Do before the end of the month! Photo by Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons
The Hiker Must Do before the end of the month! Photo by Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons

Dehydrated Dried Veggies (Home made or store bought)

For my first thru-hike of the AT, I bought the  End of the World supply of veggies from Harmony House. What I didn’t know then and know now is that those veggies need to be cooked. It may only be a minute, or it may be more like 10 minutes—but either way, that’s a lot more fuel than I usually take on a trip. This was especially true for peas and corn.

The dehydrated method seems to work best for certain vegetables. I’ve had the best luck with ones I can dehydrate myself with ease. I’ve written extensively about my dehydrated kale process. I’ve had a lot of luck with shredded zucchini as well (it’s amazing how a foot long zucchini becomes so tiny after it has been shredded and dehydrated). Both these veggies rehydrate well with the freezer bag method—just add a little extra hot water, and you’re done.

One bag of freeze dried veggies this size can last a week if you put a little into every dinner.
One bag of freeze dried veggies this size can last a week if you put a little into every dinner.

Freeze dried Veggies

I’ve had the best luck with rehydrating freeze-dried veggies. These pop back to life with hot water, which is why even cheapskates like Cup A Noodles throw in a few freeze dried dehydrated peas to your 0.25 cent noodle dish.

I usually get the bag of freeze dried veggies from Alpine Aire, or if I’m going on a really big trip, the #10 can. Another brand that is available at Whole Foods or a lot of coops is the Just Tomatoes brand.

If I went bag of freeze dried veggies route, I’ll send that unopened in my resupply boxes and each night, use that bag of veggies to top off whatever I’m having for dinner. It works with ramen, instant mashed potatoes, or freeze dried dinners. Then, when I’m on trail, I can decide how many freeze dried veggies to add to each dinner depending on how much water I have, how hungry I am, etc.

Cooking up lunch on top of Taboose Pass
Cooking up lunch on top of Taboose Pass

If I go the big can route, I’ll either make a bunch of quart sized bags of just veggies, or I’ll add some spoonfuls of veggies to each unpackaged dinner I’ll be eating (say, if I got a big bag of rice noodles and split them into many smaller bags).

Technically, you’re supposed to eat your freeze dried veggies within a week of opening their packaging, but I’ve had freeze dried veggie pieces last at least a year in a ziplock freezer bag.

Veggie chips include a variety of vegetables.
Veggie chips include a variety of vegetables.

Veggie “Chip-Like” Snacks

Some natural food stores, like Sprouts, sell salted veggie chip mixes in their bulk section. They include beets, carrots, green beans, sometimes ocra…and you can also get the veggies separately. The closest thing I can find on the internet is this, but you can usually find them for about $7/lb, and you get A LOT of veggies for $7 (remember they have no water, so you’d be getting 7 lbs of veggies for that price of they were rehydrated).

Okra chips can be found in the bin just above the veggie chips.
Okra chips can be found in the bin just above the veggie chips.

Before my PCT hike, I got dried veggie chips at Sprouts and was obsessed…for a week, until I got to the point where I couldn’t eat them anymore. I loved the idea of having the salty-crunchy food that hikers love be something actually healthy instead of Pringles. I still love the idea. It’s funny how your tastebuds change on trail, though. I have no idea why that didn’t work out, and will probably buy some more before my next hike (but in smaller quantities).

Trips where I’ve been more sparing in my purchasing amounts did show me that they rehydrate decently when soaked in water or hot water and can add some bulk to a dinner.

Packaging on the TJs broccoli
Packaging on the TJs broccoli

*New discovery* Trader Joe’s Broccoli

Essentially, dehydrated broccoli, these veggies can be eaten like chips during snacktime and can also be used to top off a backpacking dinner with something green.

The snack is surprisingly filling—especially if consumed with water. My one compliant is that is could be saltier.

After you’re finished the snack, there is a fair share of “broccoli dust” at the bottom—about ¼ to 1/3 of a cup by my measurement.

I added ¼ cup boiling water to the dust and got almost ½ cup of rehydrated broccoli—an excellent addition to ramen, instant mashed potatoes, or a traditional freeze dried meal.

A similar technique can be used with Snap Peas. The only downside with the broccoli is that it’s made with palm oil.

Veggie powder may be the lightest way to get greens in your diet.
Veggie powder may be the lightest way to get greens in your diet.

Green Powder

No backpacking with veggies article would be complete without the green vegetable powder supplements or wheatgrass powder supplements you can buy at natural food stores. By gently dehydrating and then grinding the veggies into a fine powder, they are able to pack more veggies in a limited space. In fact, some companies claim to pack between 3-5 servings of veggies in one spoonful.

The downside is that these powders tend to be on the pricier side. I’ve been able to find the holiday flavors on steep discount–but only in brick and mortar stores.

While the packaging says that it needs to be refrigerated before opening, I’ve broken up a few jars of powdered greens into ziplocks and put one in each resupply box. Perhaps some of their nutrition had degraded, but they seemed totally fine when they arrived at my trail town stop up to 6 months later.

Sandwich challenge ready, I’m eating fresh veggies on the side of the Appalachian Trail
Sandwich challenge ready, I’m eating fresh veggies on the side of the Appalachian Trail

Bringing fresh veggies on your trip—but being selective

If temps are cooler, spinach can pack a lot of greens in your meal without weighing you down too much. A pound of spinach, afterall, is not dense at all—it could almost fill up the whole capacity of the MLD Burn 😉

That being said, spinach is a great veggie for that first night out of town and maybe the next day—not very an extended period. Unless temps are quite cool, your spinach will wilt and start to spoil—especially if you’re at all squishing or compressing it in your pack.

Better options are heartier veggies like brcooli, cauliflower, carrots, onions, garlic, and squash.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard from other hikers and experienced myself that organic veggies tend to last longer without refrigeration than conventional veggies. I have no idea why.

Considering that you may not have a chance to wash up your veggies easily while on the trail, you may consider washing off dirt before you leave town. That’s another reason to perhaps opt for organic—you don’t have to worry as much about washing off traditional pesticides.

Even if you aren’t inclined to carry veggies, I’ve heard of hikers carrying a few garlic cloves or a shallot to spice up their meals. In both cases, the real thing is so much more potent than dehydrated, that it can give a kick to your food for minimal weight penalty. And it can help keep the mosquitoes away, or at least the vampires.

 

What have I missed? Leave your ideas for other ways to get veggies into your trail diet in the comments section.

 

 

 

 

Food Review: Sporkables

Allgood cooks up a midday meal of Sporkables
Allgood cooks up a midday meal of Sporkables

Sporkables is a new dehydrated food company founded by a professional chef/ mom of an AT hiker. She created Sporkables to be “Home Cooking for Hungry Hikers”—nutritious, lightweight foods, that don’t take a lot of water to dehydrate. One huge advantage of Sporkables is that because it was founded by a mom of a hiker, she actually knows how to ship maildrops to your resupply points. She ships directly to your location on trail by going off of where you will be in 7-10 days.

Sporkables offers creative flavors and dishes that you don’t see in the mainstream backpacking food companies. I was particularly curious about the Ratatouille and Riboletta (I don’t even know what that is!). Their dishes are pretty reasonably priced and come in foil packets of single serving meals.

Three experienced thru-hiker friends and I took Sporkables on a very late season thru-hike of the Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood.

I tried the All Sauced Up during a lunch break on the first day. Although the packet felt pretty small (single serving), I was pretty shocked to find out afterwards that it is 682 calories for the 3 oz packet! It definitely tasted like homemade sauce, with a lot of love and care put into it. Unlike a lot of backpacking foods, it only called for 1 cup of water—which was great, because we were running low. The weight to calorie ratio and the low water requirement were really what made it a perfect meal for that trip.

Although the instructions suggest dumping the food in your pot, bringing it to a boil, and cooking for 1 minute, I always use the freezer bag/soaking method to prepare my meals. I just dumped the hot water in foil bag it came in and let it set for 15 minutes (the instructions say 20 minutes—I was too hungry to wait). The noodles were a little firm—but it was cold outside and we were at 6,000 feet in October, so maybe I should have waited longer 😛

The next day, I tried the Ratatouille during a wet lunch break under the trees after a really exposed snow storm. Maybe I was just really hungry and in need of a cold meal then, but it was honestly one of the best things I’ve ever had on trail. Sporkables uses a lot of vegetables in their food and as a veggie junkie, I really appreciated this big bag of essentially vegetables. At 3 oz and 380 calories, it’s not quite as weight efficient as the other dish, but I didn’t care. I wished my Ratatouille at home could turn out like that.

Sporkables is still a small company getting it’s feet off the ground but it will be interesting seeing where they go with the product. I’m always excited by the increasing number of food options on the trail for those who are willing to look beyond ramen.

 

Stocking Stuffers for Hikers: Food Edition

 

The term might be used best to describe how to train a dog, but I would identify myself as Highly Motivated By Food. So, when it comes to hiking up the next big climb or making big miles to the next water, there’s no incentive to keep moving quite like a Food Treat.

This holiday season, consider giving your hiker friends some inspiring non-perishable food that carries easily in a pack and can help turn a pretty awesome day of hiking into an extraordinary day of hiking. Treat Food is the kind of stuff that can be a little heavy and pricey to base one’s complete thru-hiking diet off of, but can make a dayhike or a hard backpacking trip all the more delightful.  Disclaimer: I’ve bought all of these, and they’re delicious.

These are a few of my favorites:

The Epic bar is a meat-bar that has fantastic art
The Epic bar is a meat-bar that has fantastic art

1)      Epic Savory Bar: I just discovered these bars, and they blow your usual trail jerky off the mountain. They come in great flavors like Bison-Bacon-Cranberry and Beef-Cherry-Habanero. One of these bad boys will motivate any meat-eater to pick up the pace.

2) Kale Chips: Let’s face it: It’s surprising that hikers don’t get scurvy that awesome. Throw your friends and loved ones a light-weight veggie alternative in multiple flavors including Radical Ranch (really!) and Alive and Radiant Quite Cheezy. They aren’t calorie dense, but sometimes, a hiker’s body doesn’t just need calories. I’ve currently addicted to the Rhythm Honey Mustard flavor and to the , but you can make your own (just be sure to get a good vacuum pack system on DIY kale chips as they get stale quickly). Also worth checking out is this variety pack of 4 flavors.

3)      Probar: One of my favorites and a true trail staple, these meal replacement bars pack in almost 400 real food calories. Probars are great for getting a bunch of energy before a big climb or mornings when it’s so cold that the best way to get calories is to walk-and-eat. It’s not surprising to find whole dried strawberries and real nuts in these bars. They tend to be a bit on the pricier side, so a few of these make a great treat to throw in a stocking stuffer.

(Hint: the Chocolate Coconut is AMAZING).

4)      Chocolate Covered Coffee Beans/Edamame/Marshmallows/etc. On my first thru-hike of the AT, one of my old hiking buddies, Rick, sent me a care package with a crisp $20 bill and a pound of chocolate covered espresso beans. It was one of the most tailored hiking presents I’ve ever gotten. Trader Joe’s is a great place to get anything chocolate covered. I would highly recommend the super-calorie dense Chocolate Covered Sunflower seeds, better than candy bar chocolate covered marshmallows, or chocolate covered dried berries.

5)      Starbucks Via: Along the lines of the coffee beans, why not give your hiker friends the good stuff? The Vias make the lightest (weight-wise) and most flavorful cup of coffee you can get. Plus, Starbucks is pretty infamous for having almost twice as much caffeine as their competitors, so a Via can really be a treat in the middle of a day. You can usually find these at Costco for a great price.

6) Honey Stinger Waffle: Anytime a “waffle” can be sold as food athletes can eat, I’m in. A more calorific and less expensive option is Trader Joe’s Belgian Butter Waffle cookies.

7) Single Serving drink mixes: These can be a bit pricey to live off of during a thru-hike, but sometimes can make quite a difference. I’ve hiked with

8)      FishPeople Meals: These delicious meal-in-a-packet foods are legitimately good—like they’re still really good even when you’re not on trail. Although these food packets are a little heavy to eat for every meal in the backcountry, it’s nice to have one on hand for hard stretches between resupplies. They come in mile-motivating flavors like Thai Coconut Lemongrass and Wild Salmon Chardonnay and feature a variety of sustainable fish-based protein sources. I remember pushing hard at the end of a day on the John Muir Trail so that I could down one of these dinners. Let’s just say they really spice up instant mashed potatoes.

9)      Probolts (or similar GU gel/Clif Bloks/Gummi Bear like items): Sometimes, a hiker can get so into hiking that he forgets to eat. When blood sugar levels plummet, hikers get “hangry” (hungry+angry) and all sorts of other bad side effects. Probolts, GUs, ClifShots, and other gummy or gel-y delicious things help counteract low blood sugar levels rather quickly.

10) Specialty Store Novelties: My friend Dave “Lucky” Brunstein introduced me to Cost Plus World Market as the place to go for Food Treats for hiking. I’m also a big fan of Trader Joe’s for finding reasonably priced Treat Foods, especially the chocolate-covered variety.

 

 

I hope this inspires you to spice up you, your family, or your friend’s hiker diets!

Do you have any favorite trail treat foods that would make a great gift?

Cheap, Tasty Hiking Foods from the International Market

It turns out that Americans are not the only folks who want food whose instructions are “just-add-hot-water.” For hikers, this opens up a variety of new tasty options for those who have had their fill of ramen, instant mashed potatoes, and Knorr sides this summer.

Every time I’m back in California, I check out the International Market in Rancho Cordova to top off the international flavor in my food bag. Here are a few things that make it into my shopping cart and then into my pack:

 

Dehydrated coconut milk: One of the best calorie-weight ratio drinks you can find anywhere, international markets always sell this for a much better price than general grocery stores. I add it to granola to eat as cereal. You can also mix it into noodle dishes with almond butter to make a richer dinner or drink it with chia seeds as a quick calorie-heavy drink.

Dried mushrooms:

Another item that is a bargain at international markets compared to specialty grocery stores. Most dried mushrooms rehydrate well with hot water and can make most hiking dinners seem meatier and more fulfilling. Plus, there are probably all sorts of nutritionally good things associated with mushrooms that we haven’t yet discovered.

Instant Beef Pho broth:

I love Pho and especially like to eat at Pho restaurants after especially hot and dehydrating hikes (like the Highline Canal Trail) to replenish salts and liquids. Now, I can have that same rejuvenating effect with instant Pho broth. Most vermicelli rice noodles (same as the rice noodles in Thai Kitchen Instant Ramen popular with hikers, but available much cheaper in bulk or at an international market) rehydrate easily with hot water and a soak. Add some dehydrated veggies, freeze dried tofu or meat, and this Pho broth, and you’ve got a cheap and delicious dinner.

New flavors of “ramen”

Instant noodles in flavors besides chicken, beef, or ….uh, that’s it. Spaghetti flavored? Cheese flavored? Chili Citrus? Green flavored?? (Actually, that chorella noodle ramen is AWESOME and a really great hiking food). These tend to be around the same price as typical ramen with the spendier ones still being less than a buck and comparable to Thai Kitchen’s hiker favorites.

Calorie-loaded hot beverages

I’m not sure how this tastes, but it’s got a decent calorie to weight ratio.

 

Instant Thai Coffee

Allgood’s backcountry barista on the Sierra High Route turned this into a favorite treat on cold mornings or mid-day snow storms. It’s a great pick me up and it feels downright luxurious drinking a fancy coffee with all the fixings while far away from a Starbucks.

Honey powder

Lighter than actual honey with a lower glycemic index than table sugar, powdered honey can be added to beverages or desserts. You can make your own pineapple chicken by taking bulk freeze dried chicken, instant white rice, freeze dried pineapple, chicken flavoring, and honey powder.

Beat it, Nutella! There’s a new sweet butter in town.
Beat it, Nutella! There’s a new sweet butter in town.

 

Vanilla sesame butter or Pistachio Cardamom sesame butter:

I haven’t tried them, but am intrigued. They look like a creatively gourmet-flavored seed-based alternative to Nutella for people like myself who are allergic to hazelnuts. I imagine it tastes like halvah, which has one of the highest calorie-to-weight ratios of any food I’ve seen besides straight oil.

 

Goya Saffron Powder

For a decadent dinner, add this seasoning along with some powdered sour cream to instant rice (maybe throw in some freeze dried chicken or veggies, too). I remember discovering this meal on the CDT and being really impressed by the delicious flavor I could get out of a no-cook meal. I cold-soaked the ingredients it in a peanut-butter jar. That impromptu meal made of everything left in a few hikers’ food bags was one of the best and most memorable trail meals I’ve had anywhere.

Dehydrated Whole Milk Powder

Many hikers know about Nido, which is dehydrated whole milk from Mexico. Nido can be mixed in with creamy dinners to add calories or consumed with cereal. There are other milk alternatives out there, too. I love Milo, which is a tasty malted milk with vitamins. It makes a great breakfast drink and cheap alternative to the hiker favorite Carnation Instant Breakfast. Anyway, the canned bulk dried milk from the international part of the store is way cheaper than gourmet dehydrated gourmet milk.

Dehydrated Seaweed

For those trying to get their greens on trail who want a lightweight, inexpensive, and healthy vegetables, look no further than adding a bit of seaweed to all your meals. Dried veggies tend to be expensive or heavier than many seaweeds. Seaweed is light and helps to add bulk and nutrients to your meals. Remember to add some extra water to each store bought meal (Ramen being the least weird) to give the seaweed plenty of liquid to rehydrate. You can find Eden brand Wakame Seaweed at Whole Foods, but it is 4x the price of what I paid at the international market!

Joint Rebuilding Teas

I don’t know if these actually work, but if it does, after hiking your way through all that food, a hiker could probably benefit from a sip of these!

 

What are your favorite international store finds??? Share below!

 

New Energy Bars, bites, and chews from Outdoor Retailer

The South African racebar debuted in the US at Outdoor Retailer 2015
The South African racebar debuted in the US at Outdoor Retailer 2015

The Outdoor Retailer trade show is the place to go when a new food items wants to show itself off to the outdoor market. Foods at OR recently trended towards all natural, low sugar, and low grain/gluten free. While in the past, bars may have focused more on flavor, many bars at OR this season centered on balancing fats-carbs-proteins for optimal performance. Here are a few of the bars that stuck out:

Energy Bars Made with Crickets

Chapul bars come in fun flavors and are made of cricket protein
Chapul bars come in fun flavors and are made of cricket protein

Chapul energy bars feature a special ingredient that has 2x as much protein than beef, 15% more iron than spinach, and as much Vitamin B12 as salmon. The secret ingredient? Crickets. Chapul bars (as seen on the entrepreneurial reality TV Show Shark Tank) say that cricket protein is good for the environment and good for humans. 10 pounds of feed can yield 1 lb of beef (40% of which is edible) or 8 pounds of crickets (80% of which is edible). Crickets require less water to raise and emit fewer greenhouse gases than other livestock or even soy, corn, or rice.

An employee for Chapul holds up a container of cricket flour
An employee for Chapul holds up a container of cricket flour

Chapul’s crickets are ground into powdered protein that looks the same as whey or soy protein (both of which are common ingredients in bars). As a result, the bar looks and tastes the same as normal bars—you won’t find any legs or antennas in these bars. Chapul comes in four flavors: Aztec Bar (dark chocolate, coffee, and cayenne), Chaco Bar (Peanut Butter & Chocolate), the Thai Bar (Coconut, Ginger, and Lime), or my favorite and the newest bar, the Matcha bar (green tea, goji, and nori).

Four points bars are designed to maximize macronutrient balance
Four points bars are designed to maximize macronutrient balance

Four Points energy bars aims to create a balanced nutrition ratio with optimized glycemic load made of entirely raw ingredients. These fig and plum based bars are made in Colorado by outdoor athletes for outdoor athletes. The bar also have other superfoods like hemp seeds, flax seeds, and coconut, as well as most of the bars have whey protein isolate. Among the better tasting bars we tried, Four Points bar has a shelf life of 4 months and come in around 250 calories per 2.5 oz. Fourpoints bars come in Apple Cinnamon, Banana Bread, Mountain Mocha, Dark Chocolate Coconut, and PB&J.

racefood energy bars were a new energy bar from South Africa that debuted at this Summer OR. South Africa is well known for being home to a high number of endurance athletes and adventurers—and this bar was created with the feedback of South African athletes from a variety of outdoor activities and sports. The bar has a nougat base and uses simple and complex carbs to release energy without a spike. There are two varieties: Farbar (for endurance) and Fastbar (for instant energy). Racefood bars come in Cranberry & Almond and Cacao, Cashew, & Coconut.

Picky Bars are based in Bend, OR and pride themselves on being a balance between performance bars and real food bars. They have a 60% carb : 20% fat : 15% protein ratio and 200 calories per 45 g bar (note that some nutritionists believe that thru-hikers should have a ratio higher in fat than normal athletes). Featuring hip art, fun-product names (like Cookie Doughpness, Smooth Caffeinator, and Blueberry Boomdizzle), and sponsoring big name athletes, these trendy looking bars are available in run/bike stores and REIs and are going to blow up on the market soon. They feature a variety of flavors, my favorite being the All-In Almond.

Simple Squares: Sharing a booth with super supporter of the long trails, Salazon Sea Salt Dark Chocolate, Simple Squares showed its new line of 8 ingredient energy bars. Labeled USDA organic and gluten free, these bars are compact and pack in 230 calories in 1.6 oz. These squares had a great flavor and because they were free of the fruit base of many bars, seemed like they would be easy to digest on trail. What I liked the most about these squares were the funky flavors—including some sweet-and-savory bars: Chili pep, Honey Nut Sage, Rosemary, and Cinna-Clove.

Go Chia superfood bites: Totally different than anything else on the market, Go Chia created crispy bite-sized almost cracker-like snacks. The bites have a satisfying crunch that is quinoa and chia seed based and aren’t sweet, but mostly just feel very light and clean (despite having a very respectable 120 calories per oz). Of all the food from OR, they are the ones I wanted to eat the most while writing this article in the media room. GoChia bites are available in Chocolate Chunk or Cherry Chunk.

18 Rabbits: It seemed almost rare to have a traditional grain-based granola bar at the Outdoor Retailer show what with all the Paleo foods popping up everywhere. Nonetheless, 18 Rabbits had a small booth out in the Pavilions and honestly, had probably the tastiest bar I tried at the whole show, which was a granola bar Cherry Dark Chocolate and Almond bar. It was super coconutty and soft and sweet, although it has no wheat or refined sugars.

Skratch Although energy chew (aka gummies) aren’t quite energy bars, they can often operate a bit like one, and are usually great ways to deliver sugar to your system quickly before you bonk. Skratch made a name for themselves in the drink mix sector helping people prevent bonking by hydrating, and they are upping their game with Skratch Fruit Drops, vegan based jellies with real fruit powder. Unlike other similar items on the market, these drops do not have wax and are lightly coated in sugar. The flavor is certainly more subtle, which probably means easier to digest while exerting yourself. Considering how many gummies I tend to eat on trail, it’s surprising my stomach doesn’t have a big ball of wax inside. Available in raspberry and orange.

 

Setton Farms Pistachio bites: The pistachio is a totally under utilized nut in the energy bar industry. As a result, I found the flavor and texture on this bar to be different and refreshing. Setton farms Pistachio bites use all US grown nuts. The mini bite is 20g and has 110 calories, making it a quick pick me up. The best part is the cartoon pistachio bar on the packaging.

New Flavors of Old Favorites

Clif Organic Trail Mix Bar: The super company is rolling out their take on the Kind Bar—a gluten free whole nut bar, minus the weird chicory crisps. Unlike competitors, all the ingredients are organic and there are big fatty chunks of chocolate. Clif attempted a bar similar to this and has renamed it to the Organic Trail Mix Bar line. Their new flavor at OR 2015 was Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond.

Health Warrior Chia Protein bar: the company known for slow release energy bars is rolling out a new Protein line. It has 10 g of vegan protein (quinoa, pea protein, and almonds) per 1.76 oz bar. Flavors are Dark Chocolate Coconut Sea Salt, Peanut Butter Cacao, Honey almond, and Lemon Goldenberry

 

Watch out for the last food write-up from Outdoor Retailer 2015!

Bacon, Jerky, and Meat: Big Food Trends at Outdoor Retailer 2015

This is Part 1 of the Food and Nutrition trend articles from Outdoor Retailer 2015. It is Part 2 in the Outdoor Retailer 2015 Summer series.

Paleo Bars and Jerky

It seemed like there was a new meat product around every corner of the Outdoor Retailer Summer 2015 trade show. With what seems like half the young population in Colorado going Paleo (the other half is the increasingly less trendy but much better for the environment vegan), the market–as exemplified by the health and energy foods that show up at OR– has stepped up to offer fresh, fun flavors.

What this means for hikers is that we don’t have to be stuck with Slim Jims and Walmart Jerky for our backpacking trips anymore and that the market is expanding far away from the fruit-and-nut bar we’ve all eaten a million times. It also means there are more savory bars on the market (check out my series on savory bars). A bunch of these meat bars can also be used as dinner alternatives for the stoveless or dinner supplements for the stoved.

Wild Zora bars combine organic veggies and natural meats to create a paleo bar. Each package is 1 oz, 120 calories.
Wild Zora bars combine organic veggies and natural meats to create a paleo bar. Each package is 1 oz, 120 calories.

Wild Zora:

The first meat and veggie bar on the market, Wild Zora uses grass-fed beef, local lamb, and free-range turkey to create moist creatively flavored bars. The bars have no nuts, gluten, soy, grains, MSG, chemical additives, or sugar or sweetners and run under the motto that “fruits and nuts do not make a complete meal” (those two ingredients, of course, being the contents of most of the bars at the Show). Wild Zora bars are 1/3 organic veggies, making one bar a full serving of veggies. This can be useful to hikers to help up our veggie intake. Zora Bars come in Chili Cayenne Apricot Beef, Parmesan Tomato Basil, BBQ Hickory Tomato, Turkey Masala Spinach, and Lamb Rosemary Spinach. My favorites were the lamb (which was among the moistest bars on the market) and the Parmesan Tomato (a really unique flavor for a meat bar.

Fusion jerky mixes tender Asian-style jerky with funky Western flavors.
Fusion jerky mixes tender Asian-style jerky with funky Western flavors.

Fusion Jerky:

A mix between Asian-style jerky tenderness and America-style jerky flavors, Fusion Jerky offers meat-eaters funky flavors and new animals to jerky. Fusion Jerky is the first jerky line to offer chicken jerky. They also offer some intriguing flavors including Garlic Jalapeno Pork Jerky, Rosemary Citrus Turkey Jerky, and Basil Citrus Beef Jerky. The only jerky company to be owned by a woman of color (she’s Asian and came up with the idea while hiking Kilimanjaro, so of course I have a soft spot for her), the company uses only US animals and is MSG and nitrate free. Her family has been in the jerky business for 50 years and makes their jerky in Nebraska.

Brick bars mix grass fed meat and nuts to make a milk/gluten/soy/grain free bar. 130 calories and 11 g of protein in 1.5 oz.
Brick bars mix grass fed meat and nuts to make a milk/gluten/soy/grain free bar. 130 calories and 11 g of protein in 1.5 oz.

Bricks Bars:

A new Paleo bar out of Brooklyn, Bricks Bars combines grassfed, antibiotic-free meats, veggies, fruits, and seeds to create a moist and richly flavored bar. Flavors come in Grassfed beef/uncured bacon/cranberry/sunflower seed AND Turkey/sweet potato/cranberry/pumpkin seed. These brand new bars blew my mind in the taste test and I look forward to seeing the company progress as they develop new flavors and grow.


Duke’s Small Batch Smoked Meats:

This Boulder Colorado-based jerky company has their own smoke house and crafts everything in batches of 500 pounds or less. Duke’s prides itself on less sugar, only hardwood smoked (not liquid smoked), and only US raised meat. There are three varieties 1) slow smoked thin cut jerky 2) extra thick and tender strips 3) and slow dried old world style sausages (kind of like a high class version of the Slim Jim). They features fun flavors like Bourbon Beef Steak Strips (made with actual Jim Beam), Chile N Lime Beef Strips, and Stubb’s BBQ braised pork strips

Epic bars are coming out with new flavors and new meat products
Epic bars are coming out with new flavors and new meat products

Epic Bars:

I’ve written about the Epic meat bars before on this blog, so was excited to see that they are rolling our 3 new flavors: the uncured bacon bar, the Chicken sesame BBQ bar, the Pulled Pork Pineapple Bar, the Beef Apple Uncured Bacon Bar, the Chicken Sriracha bar and (get ready for it) the Liver beef and sea salt bar. The company is also rolling out a new line called Hunt and Harvest Mix which includes jerky, berries, fruits, nuts, cacao nibs, and coconut chips to create a sweet and savory trail mix. This is the trail mix meant to appeal to the Hunter and Gatherer Paleo types. Epic also has come out with Bites—mini bars essentially—that are a portion-control re-sealable snack (whatever that means). These come in new flavors: bison/bacon/raisin/chia, beef/cranberry/sriracha, bacon, and chicken/currant/sesame.

The next section of the Outdoor Retailer Food and Nutrition Write-up will focus on intriguing options for the stoveless, new caffeine delivery systems, how to eat crickets on the trail, and how to drink less water. That and more…next time!

A Trip Report in Four Meals: Good to Go Gourmet Backpacking Food Review

Badger enjoys the Marinara Penne for breakfast in the Sand Dunes
Badger enjoys the Marinara Penne for breakfast in the Sand Dunes

With new backpacking foods popping up on the market everywhere these days, a crew of long distance hikers and I wanted to test out some new flavors and varieties before outdoor season gets into full swing.

As big time foodies who also love backpacking, we were stoked to discover a relatively new company on the market, Good to Go, which calls itself a gourmet backpacking food—and for good reason! Founded by Iron Chef winner (and longtime owner of NY Times 4 star rated restaurant Annissa in NYC), Jennifer Scism, Good to Go is a new pre-packaged backpacking dinner that first appeared at Summer OR and is quickly hitting the shelves of specialty outfitters.

Good to Go offers four flavors: Thai Curry (380 calories per 3.8 oz), Smoked Three Bean Chili (vegetarian, 340 calories per 3.5 oz), Mushroom Risotto (410 calories per, Classic Marinara with Penne (460 calories for 3.5 oz)
Good to Go offers four flavors: Thai Curry (380 calories per 3.8 oz), Smoked Three Bean Chili (vegetarian, 340 calories per 3.5 oz), Mushroom Risotto (410 calories per, Classic Marinara with Penne (460 calories for 3.5 oz)

I had the chance to try a few bites of Good to Go at Winter OR—and was blown away by the restaurant quality flavor. But how would food prepared by a top chef perform in the backcountry when faced by a crew of hungry hikers? We took Good to Go on a three day backpacking trip in Great Sand Dunes National Park and the foothills of the Sangre to Cristo Range in Colorado to test our Good to Go’s flavors—Herbed Mushroom Risotto, Classic Marinara with Penne, Thai Curry, and Smoked Three Bean Chili.

I bring you a trip report told in the story of four meals. The abridged version is that while hikers generally enjoy eating, on a cold and wet trip, Good to Go raised our spirits and made the being outdoors experience even more beautiful.

Dinner: Smoked Three Bean Chili

As the chef at any American Long Distance Hiking Association West Gathering can tell you, long distances hikers have an appetite bigger than a college freshman football team. Yet, after spending the day walking as far as the eye could see climbing dunes, we still found the Good to Go portions if anything, generous. Unlike many other backpacking food companies, one container=one generous meal for one person. If you’re hiking with two, bring one for each of you.

As we watched the storm roll in, we cooked up the Smoked Three Bean Chili. The meal was light in salt, but big on flavor. We loved the smokiness of the paprika mixed with the ancho chili powder. After getting pelted by wind and sand all day and not seeing a soul around, having a warm, gourmet meal really hit the spot and added to the epic-ness of our adventure.

Breakfast: Classic Marinara with Penne

So, it was harsh night out in the Dunes. Despite our efforts to find a wind-free spot, gusts of sand spit into our sleeping faces, we got snowed on, and one of our crew got lost in the Dunes doing some night photography.

We needed a breakfast pick me up. BAD. So we cooked up the Classic Marinara with Penne. As with all the Good to Go Meals, prep is simple enough it can be done when the brain is still in a pre-coffee state. We simply boiled up so water, tossed it in the pouch, and sealed it, and waited 20 minutes—enough time to get some coffee brewing!

I’m a big sucker for marinara—especially while backpacking. It’s a classic flavor, and one that is often botched in the backcountry. Good to Go’s marinara was spot on and I could just hear my Italian friends saying that it was like being back in their grandmother’s kitchen. Except not. We were in the middle of a Sand Dune getting snowed on.

Dinner: Herbed Mushroom Risotto

By 10 am, the weather had turned, and soon the snow was coming down hard. Temperatures and visibility dropped. It was snowing so hard, that we decided not to hike on in the afternoon. Luckily, we got out tents up in a relative break in the snow, and were able to hike around basecamp and enjoy the beauty of the snow for a few hours. But by dinner time, we were cold, wet, and ready for something to warm us from the inside out and give us the energy to keep our bodies toasty though the cold night ahead.

I’m always a big fan of risotto, and Good to Go’s cremini mushroom, garlic, white wine, walnut, and basil seemed rich enough to keep me snug all night. Amazingly, Good to Go actually uses Arborio rice like a true risotto, not like the mock risottos made of instant rice that I see in other backpacking foods and that I make myself. Good to Go Foods are all dehydrated, so they take a little longer to soak in boiling water than backpacking goods that are freeze dried and won’t work for those who go stoveless. If you’re impatient like me, or at altitude (water boils at a lower temperature at altitude, so backpacking dinners soaked at high altitude will take more soaking time), you can always stick your food in your pot and cook it for 5 minutes.

I’m not sure how they were able to turn Arborio rice into something that would rehydrate in the backcountry, but the result was creamy and hearty and just want our cold and wet crew needed.

Dinner: Thai Curry

After staying surprisingly comfortably warm all night (with only a heavy snow-covered branch falling right by our tent to disturb the night) we packed up our wet tents and headed out. We enjoyed a relatively warm and dry day watching the foot of snow melt and evaporate. To celebrate how we’d been able to make the best of the weekend—regardless of the weather—I cracked into the Thai Curry, which I knew from the beginning was going to be my favorite flavor of the four.

It’s filled with tons of veggies—green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, and peas. But the best part is the flavorful sauce of coconut milk, but also spices you never see in other backpacking foods– Kaffir lime, cardamom, tamarind, and lemongrass. That night, I went home but could only think of the months I spend each year hiking in remote places that don’t have ethnic food restaurants. How even tastier this meal would have tasted then!

In conclusion, Good to Go offers high quality ingredients (in fact—all pronounceable) in a gourmet style dehydrated backpacking food. You can check out their flavors and where you can get them at Good to Go. While some long distance hikers may find the food too gourmet (and pricey) to eat for every meal, it is the perfect treat for special trips such as the time you have to take your food picky mom out on her first backpacking trip, a hiking trip with a hot date you’re trying to impress, or the really hard part of the your long distance hike when you’re going to want a big pick me up.

Flavors: Thai Curry (380 calories per 3.8 oz), Smoked Three Bean Chili (vegetarian, 340 calories per 3.5 oz), Herbed Mushroom Risotto (410 calories per 3.5 oz), Classic Marinara with Penne (460 calories for 3.5 oz)

 

 

Backpacking nutrition: fat, fat, fat

Carefully choosing and my backpacking food. Admittedly, it looks like my rations at the end of this 7 day trip were down to nothing but Probar wrappers.  Photo by Grant Sible.
Carefully choosing and my backpacking food. Admittedly, it looks like my rations at the end of this 7 day trip were down to nothing but Probar wrappers.  Photo by Grant Sible.

This Spring, I’ve been experimenting with foods and nutritional science to improve on-trail diet and help me carry less food weight during my backpacking trips. The justification for this was simple: A better diet means less food to get the nutrition I need, meaning less weight carried on my back, which means being able to walk further.

I’ve noticed on hikes that a diet loaded in sugar (hiker favorites include Poptarts and Snickers) can lead to crashing (aka “hitting the wall,” “bonking,” and “pooping out”). I usually burn through high sugar energy after an hour and then am hungry again, even if I just downed 500 calories! As a result, I end up needing to eat more and eat more often—and thus carry more food.

Not the healthiest fat being consumed here on the CDT
Not the healthiest fat being consumed here on the CDT

While there’s lots of info on the Internet about fat loss associated with long slow distance exercise (aptly named LSD)—essentially what thru-hiking is—it’s a bit harder to find info about eating fat. In fact, googling long slow distance just results in a lot of Crossfitters hating on LSD and calling it boring (Guess what? I think what they do is boring compared to thru-hiking).

Birds, whales, and pretty much every other animal relies on stored fat to go on migrations—again, essentially what thru-hiking is. It turns out that not just stored fats, but also high fat diets may improve endurance in long slow distance activities.

Eating Wild Friends almond butter straight from the jar at snacks break. This is the first time I ever used my new Toaks long titanium spoon. I can finally reach the bottom of the jar!
Eating Wild Friends almond butter straight from the jar at snacks break. This is the first time I ever used my new Toaks long titanium spoon. I can finally reach the bottom of the jar!

Like all things, nutrition on trail requires a balance. Some marathoners recommend balancing your diet with 50% carbohydrates 30% fat, and 20% protein. But frankly, a lot of hikers walk farther than marathoners, and we certainly do it slower. In fact, our goals are different than most runners; we’re not trying to beat times, lose fat, or even build muscle. We’re out there to have a good time, see some nature, and not feel like garbage while we’re doing it. Since our goals, speed, and distances are different than marathoners, our nutrition should be slightly differed, too. At least one nutritionist suggests that for thru-hikers to meet our goals, the hiking diet should contain 35%-40% fat.

The best suggestion I’ve found anywhere is that thru-hikers should eat foods that our stomachs can actually hold down. Getting food—any food—to your stomach is better than having a pack full of all the “right stuff” and not eating it (that, or puking it up—that’s bad too).

Along those lines, while nuts and seeds are considered a thru-hiker staple, I’ve been eating the same boring fatty foods for enough seasons that downing this “typical hiker fare” feels like the proverbial “eating my vegetables”—I do it because it’s good for me, not because I like it.

Sometimes, the best way to get your fat is to cook a mid-day lunch. Somewhere between Salida and Twin Lakes on the Colorado Trail
Sometimes, the best way to get your fat is to cook a mid-day lunch. Somewhere between Salida and Twin Lakes on the Colorado Trail

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with a few high fat foods that take a twist that proms them up and makes them amazingly delicious. Like, I keep coming back for them delicious and can’t wait to have more. Sure, there’s a little sugar in these, but not anything near the usual hiker favorites—Little Debbies, Homerun Pies, or even many bars.

These food items pack out easily, have a great calorie to ounce ratio, and taste awesome enough that I can’t wait to down my daily fat:

Navitas Organic Coconut Chips

I took this on a dayhike where I was just starving all the way to the top of the mountain. In fact, I’d been starving when I started. I had one 2 oz bag to share between two people. Amazingly, the fat—or something—in these chips made me feel immediately full and satiated afterwards. That would’ve never worked with 1 oz (ok, maybe I ate more than my fair share…) of any food I’ve hiked with before. Future plans involve carrying nothing but these coconut chips to trick my thru-hiking body into fullness.

 

 Olomomo Nut Company

For people like me who are highly food motivated, sometimes food serves more than just fuel for a hiker’s body, but also for a hiker’s inquisitiveness.With flavors like Maple Masala Kettle Roasted Pecans and Cinnamon Cayenne Almonds, these nuts are never boring. I first discovered these at OR last year, and horde them whenever I find them on sale. They’re definitely pricier than the usual roasted nut, but come in such intriguing flavors that they never sit at the bottom of my pack and actually become a huge incentive that has gotten me through some big climbs. I wasn’t sure what a Mango Chipotle almond tasted like, but my curiosity got me pushing over the next bump.

Wild Friends Nut Butters

As a person who is allergic to peanuts and hazelnuts, it’s really hard to find nut butters that come in anything but plain or creamy. Once again, the crazy flavors are a winner for me, from the Breakfast of Champions Vanilla Espresso Almond Butter to the Maple Sunflower Butter. The butter comes in plastic jars (a must for backpacking) and they are also available in single serving squeeze packs for dayhikes or backpackers who enjoy the easy clean up. There’s pretty awesome peanut butter flavors like Honey Pretzel Peanut Butter or Cinnamon Raisin for those who can eat them without dying.

Navitas Organic Coconut Hemp Pepitas

I’ve taken this tasty standby on two urban thru-hikes in areas where I knew the only food I would find would be fast, fried, and disgusting. I wanted instead to carry a food in my urban hiking pack that would be tasty and fatty enough that I’d be able to say “no” to the temptation of the abundant town food nearby, but also something a heck of a lot more nutritious. I can’t say I enjoy hemp seeds or pepitas raw—I’ve just eaten waaaay too many of them. I don’t know what Navitas did to these seeds, but it took a lot of resistance not to eat the entire pack in one sitting. Delicious—and at 170 calories per ounce, it makes a perfect trail food, even when you’re not walking right through town.

Avocado Oil
This carries more calories per ounce than the hiker-favorite, olive oil, while also having a subtler taste. I’ve met numerous thru-hikers who’ve downed so much olive oil that they gag at the sight of it in a hiker box. Avocado oil mixes well with breakfast drinks like the hiker favorite Carnation Instant Breakfast without making it taste like dinner.

New Trends in Backpacking Food: Outdoor Retailer Sneak Peeks at What To Eat

 

Part 4 in the series on Outdoor Rertailer 2015. 

Being more of a foodie than a gearhead, I was especially stoked to sample, nibble, and gorge on all of the new foods announced at the Outdoor Retailer Show this year. Here’s a sneak peak at what to eat, from the intriguing, scrumptious, to just plain disgusting.

Most Innovative: Clif Energy Food

Clifbar unveiled their new energy food packets at Outdoor Retailer
Clifbar unveiled their new energy food packets at Outdoor Retailer

Part real food gel, part adult baby food, these pouches taste way more “real” than the competitors’ energy goop. These totally organic, gluten-free packets come in re-sealable pouches and have a shelf life of 12 months.

One major selling point on these bad boys is that they’re easier to digest than real food, but tastier and mor

e wholesome than gels. Props to Clifbar for the innovative idea. Because of the limited calorie density, I can’t see this taking off in the long distance hiking community as more than an occasional treatbar. As much as I love the Clif Energy Foods, I worry it won’t stick around for long, so start hording these before they end up on the cutting block!

The sweet flavors (90g): Banana Mango Coconut (100 calories) and Banana Beet Ginger (110 calories).

The savory flavors (120g): Sweet Potato and Sea Salt (200 calories) and the Pizza Margherita flavor (120 g—my favorite).

New Dehydrated Food: Good to Go

 

Founded by Iron Chef winner Jennifer Scism (and long time owner NY Times 4 star rated restaurant Annissa in NYC), Good to Go is a new pre-packaged backpacking dinner that first appeared at Summer OR. The flavor is pretty much advertised—restaurant quality.

The only downside is that Good to Go is dehydrated instead of freeze-dried, so Soakers like my friend Bobcat aren’t going to be able to use this food to its full potential. It appears to have as many calories as the competition, but a single serving Good to Go retails for the price of a double serving of the competition. I guess it’s still cheaper than dinner at a 4 star hotel.

Flavors: Thai Curry (380 calories per 3.8 oz) , Smoked Three Bean Chili (vegetarian, 340 calories per 3.5 oz), Mushroom Risotto (410 calories per, Classic Marinara with Penne (460 calories for 3.5 oz)

Sweet and Savory: Navitas

 

Health food store standard, Navitas organic superfood company made an appearance at Outdoor Retailer and rocked the potential for flavor and variety of all natural backpacking snacks. I was already a big fan of backpacking with the Cacao Nibs and Chia seeds, but was stoked for their new line up set to roll out this spring.

Coconut chips (three flavors): cacao, caramel, and chili lime (I tried this was and it was AWESOME). These have the potential to be a low glycemic alternative to potato chips. Of course, coconut chips are never inexpensive, but at least these come in creative flavors.

Superfood+ Line: Cacao Hemp Almonds, Chia Rosemary Pepitas, Coconut Hemp Pepitas, Goji Basil Cashews, Goldenberry Ginger Almonds, Maca Maple Cashews (incredible), Tumeric Tamari Almonds (turmeric is an all-natural ibuprofen alternative).

Although they aren’t new, I was pretty intrigued by the Power Snack cubes (Flavors include: Cacao Goji, Citrus Chia, Coffee Cacao, and Lemon Goldenberry). At $10 for 8 oz, these raw organic cubes are less expensive per oz than many other raw organic bars out there and have no added sugar.

New Twist on a Trusted Bar: Probar

Although they didn’t have a booth at Winter OR this year, during the show, several of my friends swung by ProBar headquarters and met with Jules, the CEO, who had kindly supplied the Gossamer Gear Jamboree in Moab with snacks. I’ve been excited for their two newest flavors, which rolled out a few months ago:

Almond Crunch: Let’s just say that the hikers who tried this bar loved it so much, that what they want to do to this bar is inappropriate to write in the blog. This flavor is phenomenal. (And thank you, Probar, for making a peanut-free bar!)

Strawberry Bliss: It’s like they took my favorite ingredient from the Wholeberry Blast and just dedicated a whole bar to it.

Probar also rolled out their new line, Bites, which offers the same great flavors as their Meal Replacement Bars, except in smaller-portioned (and thus lower calorie) bars. (Hikers, of course, are best sticking to the Meal Replacement Bar).

Best Idea Ever: Alpine Aire Guacamole

How many times have I been sitting on a mountain and wished that I had some guacamole for my chips? Up until now, I didn’t think it was possible to dehydrate an avocado. I thought it was physically not possible. But Alpine Aire has done it–and it’s incredible. Keep your eyes and tongue peeled for this amazing, incredible, much-dreamed about new food idea. Hikers: I introduce you to freeze dried guacamole!

Reading Material: The Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook

Stackpole Books presented their newest backpacking food recipe book, the Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook, which includes 398 recipes. Suitable for preppers and hikers alike, if you’re looking for an off-season hobby to get you prepared for backpacking, this book has enough projects in it to keep you busy until next off-season. It includes full color photos of what can be done with a dehydrator—although, admittedly, many of these are way too fancy for a lot of hikers.

Oldie But Goodie: New Clif Bar Flavors

At the Conservation Alliance Breakfast, Clifbar rolled out two new flavors for attendees to try:

Berry Pomegrante Chia

Nuts and Seeds

Macrodelicious: GoMacro Bar

I was pleased to see health food staple Go Macro bar at Outdoor Retailer, showing off some of their cool new packaging designs–which recently won an award for awesome art. Outdoor Retailer was a great place for them to showcase some of their new flavors that I haven’t seen in stores yet: banana + almond butter, sunflower + butter chocolate,  sesame + butter dates, and cashew caramel.

Trail Magic Award: PowerPop

The ultimate in trailside magic showed it’s face at OR this winter: an Otterpop like ice popsicle with electrolytes. I’m just saying if someone showed up at Scissor’s Crossing handing out a few of those, they’d instantly get the status of “angel” from some near-dead hikers.

For a Good Cause: Salazon Chocolate

At Outdoor Retailer, Salazon rolled out their Continental Divide Trail specific salted chocolate bar: 72% Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt and Almonds. All Salazon bars are Oragnic, Fair Trade, and Rain Forest Alliance certified. Packed with plenty of energy, uppers from the chocolate, and salt to keep your electrolytes in balance, proceeds from this bar go to the Continental Divide Trail Coalition. Now that’s some good chocolate!

Are there any food trends or flavors you’re excited to try in your backpacking food?

Stay tuned for the final segment on Outdoor Retailer: gear and marketing trends in the Outdoor Industry!

 

Mushroom Trip Report

Lobster mushrooms and golden chanterelles
Lobster mushrooms and golden chanterelles

I’ve done some hiking, and done some eating, but never before has hiking actually yielded me more food than I started the trip with!

This fall, I went on my first mushroom forage with mycologist extraordinaire Lara from Portland, OR. I had always imagined mushroom foraging to be like hiking, except taking breaks here and there to pick some fungi. In fact, mushroom foraging is very different. I learned a lot on this trip, and got a taste of a new outdoor hobby with as many quirks, rules, and advice as any outdoor activity I know.

The amazing mushroomologist, Lara
The amazing mushroomologist, Lara

Lara drove us out to a top secret location in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. After a mile on-trail, it was obvious that other foragers had been through recently as the path was lined with the abandoned stems of numerous mushrooms.  Not discouraged, we hopped off trail and hit the slopes. The bushwhacking in Pacific Northwest forests was steep and brushy, but, much as in hiking, it was amazing how just getting a little bit off the beaten path can be so rewarding.

A mushroom foraging trip is a great excuse to get outdoors in the fall
A mushroom foraging trip is a great excuse to get outdoors in the fall

I quickly learned that mushroom foraging is a forest adventure not steeped in making miles! We walked in many circles and often chose the path of most resistance. Lara advised us that mushrooms tend to prefer the wetter southern facing slopes, so off we tromped up and down hills, with no care for where point A or point B were.

Can you find the mushroom in this photo?
Can you find the mushroom in this photo?

At first, it was hard to spot the chanterelles, which popped up timidly from thick old man’s beard moss and pine needles. Once one of us spotted a mushroom patch, though, we all searched the area below. Lara explained that mushrooms reproduce through spores which tend to move downhill. Mushrooming, just like thru-hiking, has its own fascinating etiquette and one of the “rules” of the hobby is that after finding a patch, a forager should leave behind a goodly amount so that the mushrooms will continue to sustain themselves.

Mushrooming requires getting creative with your cross country travel
Mushrooming requires getting creative with your cross country travel

Once we found mushrooms, Lara explained that we should harvest the fungi by slicing the stem cleanly at an angle above the buds of newly forming mushrooms, aka the “babies”. Pulling a mushroom completely from the ground messes with the underground mushroom network, reducing the chances that new mushrooms will appear in the future.

Suzy, Lara, Suzy’s boyfriend, and I celebrate our mushroom haul
Suzy, Lara, Suzy’s boyfriend, and I celebrate our mushroom haul

It was especially easy to find the bright red and aptly named Lobster Mushroom, which creepily is not actually a mushroom, but a parasitic fungus that eats other mushrooms! Unfortunately, the hot temperatures and lack of rain the Pacific Northwest had been experiencing rendered many of the Lobsters a little too squishy and stinky to pick, but we still found enough for our friend Allgood to cook up two batches of glorious Hungarian Mushroom soup. Surprisingly, we hauled in more of the rare white chanterelles than the common golden chanterelles, which Allgood fried up with butter, onions, and eggs for a mind-blowingly great breakfast.

You can order chanterelles and scrambled eggs at fancy restaurants, but they’ll never give you THIS many mushrooms!

What I love about hiking is moving with purpose, and mushroom foraging is moving with purpose as well—just with the goal of collecting fungi as possible instead of amassing miles. This trip gave me a small taste of the rabbit hole that is mushroom foraging and it is clear that there is a library’s worth of information to learn. I greatly look forward to next season when I can further partake in this hobby.

Have you ever been on a mushroom foraging trip?