5 Healthy Portable Foods to Bring on Your Next Camping Trip , Put down the sodium-packed ramen and consider these nutritious, energizing choices instead.
You never really consider the weight of your food until you need to carry it on your back for a few days. When you’re camping — especially if your excursion involves physical activity — you’ll be happy you did before you set off.
If you’re hiking with elevation, for example, that can of chickpeas may start feeling like it’s measured in pounds, not ounces. Plus, when following leave-no-trace practices, you’ll have to haul the empty can — and all the trash from other meals, too — all the way back out.
That means choosing lightweight options — but that’s not the only factor. You’ll need enough fuel to stay properly nourished while spending time in the outdoors. If you’re hiking, you’ll need to consider distance, elevation gain, and average grade on the trail.
As one hiking calculator indicates, a 150-pound hiker carrying a 40-pound pack on a 10-mile hike with an elevation gain of 1,000 feet will burn just over 1,200 calories on the way, and that’s with a fairly flat trail. “When you’re hiking and being active all day, your body is going to need more nourishment than you might be used to,” says Kara Hoerr, RDN, of Madison, Wisconsin. “Energy-dense foods can give you concentrated calories without taking up much space.”
Relying on freeze-dried meals or other packed food can be problematic, because they’re often loaded with sodium. In the short-term, that can cause water retention, especially in the hands and feet, and tends to elevate blood pressure, according to a study published in September 2019 in Nutrients. Not exactly a comfortable situation when you’re out in the wild.
Fortunately, there are numerous choices that can help keep your body nourished and your energy up, so you can enjoy everything the natural world has to offer.
Dried Oatmeal Packets Offer Healthy Carbs
“Oatmeal provides complex carbohydrates for adequate and lasting energy before a day of hiking or exploring,” says Hoerr. “Also, they’re lightweight, compactible, and easy to prepare at a campsite.”
High-quality carbs are a still solid energy choice for activity, according to a January 2018 commentary in Nutrition Today, and although protein and fat are still important, the paper notes that carbs are an essential macronutrient to keep energy up during high-intensity exercise because they’re broken down rapidly.
Peanut Butter Pouches Give You Nutrients on the Go
Nut butters are energy dense, says Hoerr, which means they can boost your calories without making you feel overfull. They’re rich in heart-healthy fat, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, so they’re nutrient dense as well, research has noted.
On a recent trip backpacking through Yosemite, Hoerr discovered that adding a packet — individual pouches are convenient and less messy than trying to eat from a jar, she says — to her morning oatmeal kept her sustained through elevation-gain hikes until lunchtime.
Tuna or Chicken Packets Provide a Quick Protein Boost
The “individual packets” theme continues. These are ideal because they’re easy to fit into those smaller spaces in a pack, and can be tucked into jacket pockets so you have them handy for snacks when you need them most.
“Listen to your body for signs it’s needing more food right now,” suggests Hoerr. “You might be getting light-headed, or the activity is feeling harder than it should. Those are signs you’re lacking in energy. Packets of tuna or chicken are shelf-stable and have so many great flavors now that you can eat them on their own.”
Protein Powder Can Balance Your Meals With a Plant-Based Option
If you’re not a fan of meat, or are on a plant-based diet (such as a vegan or vegetarian one), protein powder provides a way to get your fix of this nutrient. Consuming protein in powder form can also be ideal for hiking because it’s lightweight and you can mix it with the water you already have.
“Ideally, spread out your protein throughout the day,” Allen suggests. “For example, if your protein needs are 60 grams (g) a day, aim to get 20 at each main meal, rather than trying to load up all at once. This will help you maintain satiety.”
When you’re camping and being active, you may not have set mealtimes, so a protein shake can make it easier to pace your protein intake.
Dried Fruit Is a Portable, Quick Source of Energy
The concentrated sweetness of dried fruit like raisins, dried apples, and prunes makes it a welcome go-to snack on the trail. Dried fruit also offers a quick carb fix to fuel activity, says the Brooklyn, New York–based Jackie Newgent, RDN. The fruit maintains its vitamins and minerals in the dehydration process, she adds, so you’ll be getting a nutrient-dense snack.
“The nutrients are more concentrated ounce per ounce, which means they’re packed with beneficial bioactive compounds,” Newgent says. “Be sure to check ingredients, though, since some sugars and preservatives may be added, and it’s best to get options where you’re just getting the fruit.” For example, she suggests avoiding sugars like corn syrup or sucrose and preservatives like carrageenan and potassium bromate. Many preservatives have been linked to higher health risks and uncomfortable side effects. For example, one review found that in animals, carrageenan exposure was associated with the development of ulcers and cancerous growths. More studies on this connection in humans are needed.
Author: Elizabeth Millard