John Muir Trail Food

July 23, 2005

On the trail my brother and I both lost about 5 to 10 lbs. Since we were unaccustomed to the high level of exercise, weight loss may have been inevitable. Still, I think we didn’t bring enough food, especially lunch items. We relied too much on snack items like Clif bars, candy, and Gatorade during the day. We should have set aside a half hour each day to eat something substantial like a pita tunafish sandwich.

We brought 54 oz of white gas, and used about 35 oz. I think we prepared about 16 hot meals, half of them breakfast with oatmeal and coffee. Sometimes after dinner we would make some hot apple cider. The stove was burning about 10 minutes per meal. I had a Whisperlite stove, which I could turn down somewhat when the water got up to boiling–perhaps this conserved a little fuel. As you can see, this kind of usage consumed a little over 2 oz of fuel per meal. Incidentally, Vermilion Valley Resort sells white gas by the ounce, so we could have carried a lot less fuel during the first half of the trip.

The following is a list of the items we brought and which I would bring again:

GOOD FOOD LIST

pitas, whole wheat
potatos, instant
oatmeal, 5 minute
couscous, plain

salmon, smoked
tunafish
chicken
fish jerky

carrots
zucchini
onions, small
tomato paste, dehydrated
tomatos, sundried
mushrooms, dried

apples, dried
bananas, dried
apricots, dried
raisins

chocolate, dark
Clif bars
gummi bears
red licorice vines

coffee, Folger’s singles
apple cider, instant
Gatorade, powdered

butter
cheese, parmesan
cheese, cheddar
milk, dehydrated, Milkman
brown sugar
salt
pepper, ground
red pepper flakes

COMMENTS

Instant potatos and couscous are nice because they don’t need to be cooked–one merely adds boiling water. This conserves fuel. One could get instant oatmeal instead of 5 minute oats, but the better texture of the 5 minute oats makes them worth the fuel, I think. Pitas pack better than any other type of bread.

Next to the canned tunafish and canned chicken in the grocery store are tunafish and chicken wrapped in a sort of plastic-foil. These taste the same as the canned products, and are better for backpacking.

I brought some smoked salmon that was not preserved with nitrates and had to be refrigerated for long term storage. It had to be used early in the trip, but it was delicious. I also brought some cheaper smoked salmon in the plastic-foil package with better pack-life.

Trader Joe’s has jerky (including fish jerky) that is not preserved with nitrates.

Most vegetables don’t dehydrate well. Some stand up well in the pack fresh, and I think they are worth the extra weight. I brought some small zuchinis, and used them early in the trip. Bring a few whole, unpeeled carrots. They may get brown spots towards the end of the trip, but these can be removed by peeling before cooking. Select small onions, not of the sweet variety which are perishable. Tomatos dehydrate well, and I brought both sundried tomatos (from Whole Foods) and tomato paste which I dehydrated myself into a leather. I also brought dried mushrooms (Whole Foods).

Trader Joe’s is a good place to get dehydrated fruit, or dry it yourself. Avoid fried banana chips or candied fruits.

I took regular butter cubes and chopped them so they would fit tightly in a plastic container.

The harder the cheese the better it will last in a pack. Cheddar lasts better than Mozarella, though it may be more inclined to grow mold. Parmesan is both durable and because of its strong taste can be used like a seasoning.

Milkman, which you can get in packages that make 1 quart at REI, is better than the boxes of dehydrated milk available in the grocery store.

GOOD RECIPES

breakfast

oatmeal
raisins
brown sugar
butter
salt
milk

Use your cup to get the 2-to-1 ratio of water to oats. Bring water to boil, and add butter and salt. Boil oats for 5 minutes. Serve with raisins, brown sugar, and milk.

lunch

pitas
tunafish
cheddar cheese
dried fruit
salt & pepper

Salt and pepper the tunafish and eat it in the pitas with slices of cheese.

dinner 1: salmon & couscous

smoked salmon
couscous
zucchini
onion
salt
pepper
red pepper flakes
butter

Use cup to get 2-to-1 ratio of water to couscous. Bring water to boil and add butter, salt, pepper, and diced onion, and zucchini rounds. Cook for 4 minutes, then remove from heat and add couscous. Let sit for 5 minutes, then add salmon and serve.

dinner 2: chowder

fish jerky
carrot
onion
salt
pepper
red pepper flakes
butter
milk, dried
instant potatos

Use cup to get 1-to-1 ratio of water to potatos, but add a little extra water for the milk. Chop up the fish jerkey to be like bits of clam. Chop carrot and onion. Boil jerky, onion, carrot, salt, pepper, butter for 4 minutes. Add milk and boil for another minute. Remove from heat and add potatos while stirring until consistency is right.

dinner 3: chicken & potatos

chicken
instant potatos
onion
sundried tomatos
dried mushrooms
salt
butter
pepper
red pepper flakes

Chop up sundried tomatos into small pieces, since they will stay tough. Boil tomatos, onion, mushrooms, salt, butter, pepper for 5 minutes. Add potatos, then chicken and serve.

dinner 4: spaghetti

chicken
couscous
onion
tomato paste, dried
salt
butter
pepper
red pepper flakes
parmesan cheese

Break up tomato paste leather so that it will rehydrate quicker, or better yet rehydrate in small plastic container during the day. Boil tomato paste, onion, butter, salt, pepper for 5 minutes. Add couscous and let sit for 5 minutes. Add grated cheese and chicken and serve.

desert

hot apple cider
chocolate

GENERAL PRINCIPLES

In the past we’ve loaded up on Clif bars and the instant backpacker meals where you just add hot water. This makes shopping and food preparation easy, but I’m not sure how nutritious the meals are. They use freeze-dried chicken and vegetables, which retain a bad texture, even after boiling, and they use MSG and extra salt to cover up the taste.

When selecting ingredients, I avoid (1) nitrates, used to preserve meats but implicated in stomach cancer, (2) partially hydrogenated or trans fats, which have better shelf-life but damage arteries, (3) artificial sweeteners such as aspartame or sucrolose, and (4) MSG since it is often used to enhance the flavor of inferior food.

The basic technique of food preservation at the backpacker’s disposal is dehydration, which has the added benefit of making the food lighter. In general, we want to avoid carrying foods that have high water content. On the other hand, some foods such as meats and vegetables don’t dehydrate well, and it is better to accept the extra weight. Meat can be turned into jerky, but other than the chowder recipe I have not found much use for it. It is hard to eat plain because it is so salty and chewy.

FOODS THAT DIDN’T WORK WELL

I brought egg powder. I intended to make scrambled eggs and toasted pita bread. However, to do this one needs a good frying pan, and the lightest decent frying pan weighs about 12 oz. Instead I attempted to use my pot lid as a frying pan, and I burned the eggs.

Another recipe that didn’t work too well was pita pizza. It is made using the pot lid as a frying pan. You butter the pita and toast it, and then you cover the pita with mozarella cheese, parmesan cheese, and tomato paste. You add a little water to generate steam heat and cover with the pot. It was hard to execute with our equipment and turned out excessively greasy. Maybe this was because I used too much butter. Doing the dishes afterwards was a chore.

I purchased some stew beef and froze it. Then I put it in the pack with some frozen vegetables, a succotash mix. The idea is that they would dethaw during the day, and that night I would use them to make a stew. This was too much effort, however, since I had to bring a cooler when driving up to Yosemite, and I almost forgot them in the car. The best way to do it is to have the butcher cut steak into small cubes and wrap them in butcher paper. I made the mistake of buying stew meat in the pastic wrapped styrofoam tray, so I had to transfer the meat to a plastic bag, which does not absorb the meat juice, resulting in a mess. Also, use steak since stew meat is decidedly inferior. Some of the meat had tendons which made them too tough to eat. After preparing the meal you must wash the wrappers that held the meat, since they will develop a strong odor in your garbage bag. Washing the wrappers and dumping the gray water in the soil undoubtedly creates odors that attract bears. Also, to create a good stew you need to cook much longer than the 5 minutes that is reasonable in the backcountry. I considered bringing bouillon cubes to make a soup, but I discovered that they typically contain MSG, so I decided against it.

GORP (Good old raisins and peanuts) are a traditional snack food while hiking, but not a good one. I brought some peanuts and dried fruit to eat during the day, and I felt poorly after eating it. Foods that are eaten while exercising should be very low in fat and fiber. Moreover, I thought I had bought dried bananas, but I actually bought fried banana chips.

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2 Responses to “John Muir Trail Food”

  1. Ro Says:

    I am allergic to msg I ate powdered scrambled eggs at a hotel and got sisk the next day . Is it likely thet there was msg in the powdered eggs how do I find out?


  2. […] Muir Trail Gear Filed under: hiking — clarkgrubb @ 3:29 pm See also food list and trip […]


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