Planning the menu for backpacking trips is my job. I have two obsessions when hiking: calories and protein. Calories for the energy to keep going, and protein for muscle food.
I hike with a teenager, who has a healthy appetite. When we’re hiking, his caloric intake increases by a lot. It isn’t uncommon for him to finish dinner, then open a power bar to round out his meal. I always worry about planning meals with enough food to keep us happy and healthy.
Calories are easy. A bagel is easy to pack, for example, and it provides carbs for energy. Protein is harder. My go-to source of protein is meat, which spoils on the trail. Still, meat is such a good source of protein that it’s worth it to find trail-friendly options.
For a few years, I relied on pouches of chicken for protein. They’re easy to use, but the heavy water content in them is weight that I would rather not carry. Then I discovered dehydrated chicken. Mountain House sells a can of dehydrated chicken. It weighs next to nothing, and reconstitutes in hot water very quickly, turning into cooked chicken. It’s super convenient, and tastes just like….chicken!
I haven’t seen this product in stores, but it’s readily available from Amazon (disclosure: if you buy from this link, I will get a microscopic commission):
I like recipes that combine couscous and chicken. Quick cooking and easy to spice up in various ways.
Here’s another good source of protein: tuna fish in foil pouches. Just tear them open, dump it out into a flour tortilla, and you have a quick lunch. Convenient, and 15 g of protein per pouch.
I bought these at my local grocery store. It’s also available on Amazon:
Summer sausages are also a good source of (salty) protein, but I avoid eating food with nitrates. I found a sausage at Whole Foods that is high in protein and has no nitrates. Again, wrap it up in a tortilla for a convenient, no-cook trail lunch. Add a piece of string cheese for additional protein.
I read somewhere that the trail is not the place to lose weight: you’re walking all day, carrying a lot of weight on your back, so you’re burning a lot of calories, and you need to keep up your energy. In my experience, I lose a few pounds every time I go backpacking, just from the additional exercise. Getting enough nutrition is the smart thing to do.