Gluten Free Thru-Hiker Food and Mail Drops – What a boring title

Over the past six months, I’ve devoted plenty of blog posts to different gluten free foods that I’ve found and tried, but I figured it might be interesting and/or helpful to some of you out there to have one post where I discuss all of the staple foods that I plan to eat during my thru-hike. I’ll try not to make this post too dry, but I also know that I could have benefitted if I stumbled across a comprehensive list like this six months ago.

My approach and diet may not be for everyone, even other gluten free hikers out there. In fact, I’m positive I could successfully thru-hike gluten free without mail drops if I were less picky about food choice and nutrition. However, in addition to my gluten sensitivity, I have inflammation issues that are exacerbated by eating too much of several other common hiker food ingredients, such as peanuts and soy. At this point in my life, I know my limits, and six months of tempting fate with a poor diet would mar my experience.

Step 1: Take over your mother's dining room table. Take note of any eye twitching or teeth grinding.

Step 1: Take over your mother’s dining room table. Take note of any eye twitching or teeth grinding.

As many of you know, I’m fortunate to have the support of a wide variety of companies that have provided a selection of their products to fuel me during my trek. Of course I’m grateful for their donations, and I’m also grateful that my months of research turned up so many healthy gluten free products that are thru-hiker friendly. Six months ago, I was completely oblivious to the options available in the ever-growing gluten free market. Now, as you’ll see below, I’ll have a wide selection of gluten free foods at my disposal, and my diet will be anything but bland.

Unless otherwise noted, everything discussed here is gluten free. Regardless, I recommend that you always read labels when considering a purchase if food allergies are an issue for you.

OK, so let’s break the list down by meal. Who knows when I’ll actually end up eating any of this stuff, especially since I don’t usually eat until four hours after I get up, but for the sake of argument…

Breakfast:

  • Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free quick oats
  • Manitoba Harvest Hemp Hearts (raw shelled hemp seeds)

Lunch/snacks:

  • Kirkland Signature (Costco brand) gluten free Steak Strips (beef jerky)
  • Sunsweet prunes and dried apricots
  • Justin’s Nut Butters OR
  • Barney Butter almond butter (alternating jars)
  • Raisins
  • bars…

I feel like bars are a topic all their own. Remember that I have other sensitivities. Not only did I have to find gluten free bars, but I actively avoided bars that contain soy and whey protein (yes, I’m bringing lactase pills, but even so). I managed to discover a wide selection of brands that fit those criteria, much to my surprise. On that note, I’m bringing along bars care of the following companies and brands:

  • LARABAR
  • Pure (Naturals and Organics)
  • CLIF Kit’s Organic
  • Rise Bar (Energy and Breakfast)
  • FruitChia

Now moving onto dinner. Dinner foods are another topic worthy of discussion. Minute Rice will be supplying my staple carbohydrate to accompany my evening meals, but the task of finding suitable dehydrated entrees was more challenging. Despite the fact that gluten free meals exist, they’re not always available for purchase at outdoors stores since the retailer chooses what to source – even more of a reason to send mail drops.

There are several backpacker meal companies out there that offer gluten free meals, but I found it best to refer to several of them to keep the menu interesting. I won’t detail everything that each company offers. Instead, I’m just going to highlight what I’ve found noteworthy.

  • Backpacker’s Pantry – Mostly ethnic foods – think Thai, Indian, Cuban, Bayou. Offers about a dozen gluten free meals and another gluten free sides/desserts.
  • Mountain House – NOT certified gluten free. About 2 dozen wheat-free meals. Run-of-the-mill American food; think like Applebee’s or TGI Friday’s.
  • KNA Foods – owns Alpine Aire, Natural High, and Richmoor. Alpine Aire and Natural High produce about two dozen gluten free entrees as well as a bunch of sides/desserts. In fact, some recipes have VERY RECENTLY been converted to gluten free. Please leave me a comment if you would like me to email that unpublished list.
I have enough Honey Lime Chicken and Pineapple Orange Chicken for an army. And Chocolate Mousse definitely qualifies as a dinner entree, I'm sure of it.

I have enough Honey Lime Chicken and Pineapple Orange Chicken for an army. And Chocolate Mousse definitely qualifies as a dinner entree, I’m sure of it.

FYI, although the company was not able to product sponsor me, I want to acknowledge and thank KNA Foods for agreeing to sell me entrees at wholesale prices for the duration of my trek. Dehydrated meals are a significant cost for such an endeavor, and KNA’s generosity has helped keep my budget in check.

There we have it. For the time being, that’s the censored list of Jor’s Gluten Free Thru-Hiker diet (the uncensored version includes Ben & Jerry’s by the pint). I’m sure that my diet will evolve as I discover jars of Nutella or fresh deli meat at the grocery store, but rest assured that it will likely always include the above (I’m a creature of habit).

This is what three and a half days worth of food looks like. And hopefully that's two weeks worth of TP. You didn't want to think about the TP, did you?

This is what three and a half days worth of food (plus a safety net – almond butter) looks like. And hopefully that’s two weeks worth of TP. You didn’t want to think about the TP, did you?

As far as mail drops, I packed and shipped all the boxes I plan to send through Damascus, Virginia – for a total of ten. Since I don’t know if that’ll take me a month or 6 weeks, I figured that ten boxes would be enough to ensure I don’t starve but not so much that I’ll worry about overdoing it. Worse comes to worse, I’ll throw a bag of rice in a hiker box or, conversely, go to a store in town for extra provisions. Once I get a solid handle on my pace of mileage and food consumption, I’ll discuss with my mom, who has agreed to pack and send boxes beginning after Damascus.

You know I'm too scattered and inefficient to do this myself. Scott, a family friend who's planned an A.T. thru-hike in the past, helped me organize and pack boxes.

You know I’m too scattered and inefficient to do this myself. Scott, a family friend who’s planned an A.T. thru-hike in the past, helped me organize and pack boxes.

Generally, when packing, I tried to keep my mail drop boxes conservative but reasonable. I planned to eat 2,000 calories a day on the trail in the first month and added a jar of nut butter every few boxes for “contingency” calories. In every few boxes I threw a roll of toilet paper, toothpaste, hair conditioner, batteries, ibuprofen, duct tape, etc.

20130305-130014.jpg

I’ll be the chick with the penguin print duct tape.

20130305-130043.jpg

Only the essentials: ibuprofen, simethicone, and zinc. You should probably talk to me about zinc. By the convo’s end, you’ll be a convert.

20130305-130024.jpg

The extra batteries…where should they go? Ah yes, with the panty liners and facial wipes. All the sense in the world.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten something, but it’s not the end of the world if I have to go shopping when I hit a trail town. However, have no fear: each and every box contains a sheet of lactase pills. This gluten free gal may not be able to eat a piece of Wonder Bread, but nothing’s going to get between me and my Ben & Jerry’s.

Meandering on,

Jordana

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14 thoughts on “Gluten Free Thru-Hiker Food and Mail Drops – What a boring title

  1. This post makes me long for the summer holidays, I want to climb a mountain again 🙂
    Sunsweet prunes and dried apricots are some of my favourite snacks to bring along too.

  2. Yikes. I thought it was challenging doing low carb. Most of my meals consist of some low carb pasta. Lunches will be heavy on protein & fat – cheese, peanut butter & jerky.

    • Gluten free is not challenging, I promise. It actually facilitates a more well rounded healthy diet, i think. Low carb may become challenging down the line, but for the time being I’m going to guess its harder for men than women on the trail. You’ll see. Good luck.

  3. I’m planning for an early March NOBO start. I also stick to a gluten free diet. I’m in the midst of planning my food now. I’m planning to dehydrate a lot of my own meals, but will supplement with purchased meals (and of course bars and nut butters.) Do you have a list of the GF meals that are available? Any favorites or “do not try this on the trail”? What worked to put the nut butters on? And any hints on how to get the product companies to donate or sell at wholesale would of course be welcome.

    • I think that’s awesome that you’re dehydrating your own meals! That’s the plan for my next thru. I do not have a comprehensive list of gluten free meals that are available, especially given that companies are changing recipes literally daily to try to accommodate gluten free diets. I will say that I would avoid Mountain House; not only does the company not certify gluten free, but also there are a lot of ingredients in those meals I can’t pronounce. Backpacker’s Pantry does an excellent job in offering GF; check out their website for the comprehensive list (they also have an awesome selection of ethnic foods, which were my favorite). KNA Foods – which owns several brands – has a great selection too and sold to me at wholesale prices.

      Generally, I would say pay attention to sodium content and don’t purchase low sodium. In my non-hiking life, I avoid sodium in my food so didn’t think twice, but I often found myself having to add salt to my food from all the exertion and sweating. Also, on that note, I highly recommend carrying Gatorade/electrolyte powder at all times, especially since GF means you won’t be eating salty foods like Ramen and Pasta Sides. I didn’t realize what a difference it made until a couple of months in.

      Also, I can’t tell if you are a woman or man, but if you are a guy, I would like to emphasize the need for carbs. Yes, protein, but also carbs. I’ve heard it helps stem weight loss (rice, quinoa, oats, dried fruit…all good GF options); women have different metabolisms and don’t have to worry as much. Also, regardless of gender (but especially if you are a woman), take a multivitamin daily. I had significant issues with bruising and bleeding easily, which improved somewhat once I started taking a multivitamin; it’s nearly impossible to get enough nutrients on the trail, and women tended to suffer more for the deficiencies.

      Back to meals, after a few months of purchased meals, I started getting sick of them and began eating cheesy rice constantly, which was just instant white rice with chunks of block cheddar cheese (the cheap kind…it can withstand several 90+ degree days, no problem). I’d usually supplement with pouch tuna (the kind with olive oil was my favorite). Incidentally, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to eat pouch/canned tuna again.

      Nut butters work really well on a spoon. Once or twice I mixed a few tablespoons in with a dehydrated meal for a change of pace or maybe put on a piece of fruit I carted in…but mostly just a spoon.

      As far as donations or wholesale prices, I started with this blog and then began emailing companies about my trek. I was surprised with how receptive the average company was, often taken with the spirit of this amazing adventure. Have patience and be persistent; it may take a few weeks to get responses. If all else fails, reach out to me in a couple of months. I might be able to dig up the contact info from KNA regarding wholesale purchases.

      I know this response is super long winded. I’m just so excited about being helpful to a fellow GF hiker! Let me know if you have any other questions.

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