Obsessing about protein on the trail

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!


This is what is looks like dry. Once it’s reconstituted, it’s indistinguishable from cooked 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.

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