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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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November 16, 2009

Dear Mark: Primal Trail Food

By Mark Sisson
67 Comments

Just when you feel you’ve made the successful transition to Primal eating in everyday life, you stumble upon a scenario that sends you back to the drawing board. For some people, it’s the holidays. For others, it’s travel. For reader Brian, it’s regular camping trips into the real “primal environment”:

Dear Mark,

Each summer and throughout the year, I spend weeks at a time leading hiking, backpacking and camping trips in the backcountry. While this seems like it’s definitely a primal activity, traditional backpacking fare consists of oatmeal, tortillas, granola, peanut butter, pasta, rice, and beans. These foods are light, compact, durable, will fill you up, do not need to be refrigerated, and are easily packable. At the end of each week, though, I always feel worn out – depleted, almost – and I realize now that it is probably because of what I eat. Do you have any primal menu suggestions for those of us who actually live, at times, in a primal environment? (Hunting and gathering are unfortunately not viable options.) Thanks!

I know what you mean about being stuck in the wilderness with nothing but a big bag of carbs. I did a wildness trip a while back with a group that packed exactly that. Just a few days left me feeling miserable beyond belief.

As suggested, true backpacking imposes more limitations than base camping. Nonetheless, there’s still no reason to feel stuck in the traditional carb corner for the sake of packable convenience or physical need. If you pace yourself well and are already acclimated to the Primal eating plan, you’ll be perfectly able to rely heavily on fats, so there’s no need to carb up. (You can always bring along a couple sources of emergency fuel like a sports gel in case you “bonk.”) Rest assured that it’s entirely possible to eat Primally on long treks.

Lightweight and calorie dense is the name of the game for Primal packing. Obviously, dehydrated food can be a staple, and it’s a great way to work in plenty of veggies and fruits on the trail. I’d suggest dehydrating your own for price and variety sake, but many stores, especially good co-ops or camping outlets, will likely carry these as well. Think dried berries and apples, and veggie chips made from eggplant, sweet potato, zucchini, and parsnips. Throw in a couple pouches of sun-dried tomatoes and a little baggie of freeze-dried herbs/spices for good measure. If you prefer, you can always vacuum-seal some fresh veggies for days when you’re sick of the dehydrated stuff, but of course it will add the extra weight.

Dried meats, like jerky and pemmican, are obviously convenient choices and can help you get enough calories. In addition, you can consider including some chicken and wild salmon in foil pouches, a couple sardine cans, and the like. Freeze dried meat and powdered eggs are pretty easy to get a hold of. You can cook yourself a decent omelet with some dried egg, bell peppers, jerky and chives. Or add some meat to a dried soup mix for dinner.

For easy snacks and quick fueling, there’s always a good Primal trail mix (nuts, seeds and fruits), homemade fruit leather, as well as nut butter and Primal energy bars (both of which offer a good wallop of healthy fat). Although I don’t suggest living on it all week, a good protein/supplement powder can be a packable option, and it can help add calories if you feel you’re coming up short on a given day.

As for prepared meals, I’d say there are a few decent options out there, but I’d try to eat real food whenever you can. Not only are these meals expensive, but the prepared stuff generally reads like other processed foods do – chemicals, preservatives, and other odd laboratory concoctions. If you want to throw in a few packaged meals for convenience or variety, look for the natural or organic options, which leave out the fake stuff. (Just be prepared to add your own spices.) Of course, most are carb-heavy, but you can find some good omelet choices and occasionally a good low carb stew or chili. (Any brand suggestions out there, everyone?) Of course, you can always concoct your own fully Primal version ahead of time by putting together the dehydrated spices, meats, veggies, natural bouillon and other ingredients in individual baggies.

Finally, although you mention hunting and gathering aren’t options for your situation, both are great ways to supplement your diet with fresh food while you’re out on the trail. Gathering (seeds, mushrooms, berries, greens, etc.) is arguably the more straightforward of the two, but you need to know what you’re looking for. Obviously, you don’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere having just eaten a toxic plant. Take a good guidebook along with you. Even if you don’t plan to forage in the bushes, it might not be a bad idea for some side entertainment (or the unforeseeable emergency). As for hunting, if you have the skill and equipment, it makes all the Primal sense in the world to kill small game. Be mindful, however, of the legal issues surrounding hunting where you’re at – private/public land use and state regulations (hunting licenses, game seasons, tag/bag limits, etc.). And one last option: fishing. Although government regulations again come into play, fishing is generally less restrictive than hunting. Given the modest equipment needs (which can be handmade on site if need be), fishing can be a more impromptu choice if supplies run low or if you’re craving the sizzle of fresh fish in the pan for dinner. Enjoy your time in the wilderness!

Other campers out there? Have more ideas for Brian? Add your suggestions and anecdotes. Thanks to everyone for the great questions and comments, and keep ‘em coming!

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67 Comments on "Dear Mark: Primal Trail Food"

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cocobean
cocobean
6 years 10 months ago

Great post! I was just thinking about this over the weekend. My husband and I went on a hiking trip and ate horribly the entire weekend and of course felt aweful because of it. next time we will try your suggestions!

Grok
6 years 10 months ago

You Just described my entire existence in one post!

All of these options are very traditional, very primal and very energetic! I literally have bags of dried veggies laying around here. I ran out of dried meat and fish the other day, so I need to get working on that.

Hunting and gathering is the mainstay of my diet!

dave, RN
dave, RN
6 years 10 months ago

Try some of those tuna in a pouch things. Lots of protein, and when they pack it most all the water is squeezed out, making it lighter and more compact.
I was actually just thinking of this topic, but in a different light: survival food. Most of that stuff is very heavy on carbs because it can be stored so easily. Think bags of flour and rice. I guess my survival cache might be full of canned vegetables and sardine and protein powder.

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[…] Original post by Mark Sisson […]

Martin
6 years 10 months ago

Haha, this is the exact situation I was in last weekend. Luckily for me, I had thought ahead. I dehydrated some meat and made pemmican.

Those tuna pouches would have been nice to have with me, great idea!

Ann
Ann
6 years 10 months ago

I love tuna but try to avoid it in a pouch as it contains MSG. It’s on the label as “vegetable broth”. A lot of canned tuna has this added as well, except the oil packed/premium tuna. Again you have to pay more to avoid the junk. 🙁

Martin
6 years 10 months ago

Well, that explains it. I’ve always been wary of the “vegetable broth” in the ingredients list.

Johnny at The Lean Saloon
6 years 10 months ago
Nuts, seeds, and fresh fruits are always lay-around items, and when I run out of them, I may skip them for a day or two — usually a good excuse for intermittent fasting, or hypo-caloric intake in which case I’ll eat whatever vegetables are left before I restock with abundance. But I’ve gone for days on camping and hiking trips taking along only nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. I always get plenty of energy from just these sources and don’t feel like they’ll slow me down at all. I’ve been meaning to buy a dehydrator, though, as dried meats sound… Read more »
Aaron Griffin
Aaron Griffin
6 years 10 months ago

A dehydrator is just a low heat source. You can use your oven, or just buy the cheapest one you can find.

Joshua
Joshua
5 years 7 months ago

A dehydrator is a useful appliance if you are going to use it a lot. Excalibur is the gold standard, but I erred in buying the 9-tray, which is expensive overkill for a single person living in an apartment. I don’t have a garden and am not planning to open a raw restaurant. Has large fan which makes a racket. The 4-tray is adequate, quiet, uses little energy. (Nesco brand is respected for making jerky, and is cheaper, but uses as much energy as the 9-tray Excalibur.)

gilliebean
6 years 10 months ago

Three words. Hard boiled eggs. Not good for longer trips, but will keep for a four or five day trek.

Aaron Griffin
Aaron Griffin
6 years 10 months ago

Have you actually tried this? It seems sketchy to me….

MariaNYC
MariaNYC
6 years 10 months ago

In her younger years, my mom hiked throughout the vast USSR, including the central-Asia areas. Hard-boiled eggs were a staple.

Martin
6 years 10 months ago

This is a great idea! I was going to do this for my trip last week but I had run out of eggs.

gilliebean
6 years 10 months ago

I tried it on a three-day trip once. The eggs (which I boiled myself) kept quite well in little baggies. Also, there’s a note below where Nicole seemed to have tried it with good success for four or five days. 😉

hiker
hiker
4 years 11 months ago

Yeah – you gotta be careful. My hiking partner and I boiled a dozen eggs in Idyllwild, CA this spring and the next day started hiking NB. Second day out it was 105* at 10 AM. Even though my eggs were way down in my pack where it was cooler, I tossed them. Sure didn’t need a food-borne illness on the trail.

Randy
Randy
2 years 3 months ago

If you’re willing to take the extra care and space, freshly laid eggs in the shell last at least 3 weeks at room temperature. I’ll cut down a Styrofoam egg carton (best for protection) to hold however many eggs I want to take with me and rubber band it closed, then cook them fresh on the trail.

Hiit Mama - Meredith
6 years 10 months ago

We are a National Park Service family. (My husband is a ranger). We are mainly day hikers, but can clock in about 16 miles in a day. Cans or Sardines are the way to go. Light, very packable and easy.

Aaron Griffin
Aaron Griffin
6 years 10 months ago

I’d also like to suggest bringing some actual fruit along. One of the best things after a day of hiking is biting into a real fresh apple.

Accipiter Circus
Accipiter Circus
6 years 10 months ago

I definitely relate to this when I do assistant field work with graduate ecology students.

I usually make several pounds of jerky, bring some almonds and cashews, throw in a few cans of tuna or salmon, grab some oranges and can backpack with this stuff and do really well.

Icarus
Icarus
6 years 10 months ago
Properly made pemmican, consisting only of fat and meat, will keep forever and (apparently) provide for all of your nutritional needs. The high saturation of beef tallow (or bison tallow, if you want to get really authentic) keeps it from spoiling, unlike nuts, which are high in PUFAs and may go rancid quicker than you’d like – although on a short trip, that probably wouldn’t matter much. Indigenous Americans and European fur traders and arctic explorers lived on pemmican only for long periods of time, with no reports of ill health. (Once they started adding wonky stuff to pemmican, like… Read more »
Valda Redfern
6 years 10 months ago

I’d go for pemmican. Failing that, I’d take along two or three cans of ghee (each can would weigh just over a pound and yield about 4500 calories) and some jerky. Cans of sardines sound like a sensible alternative too.

AlyieCat
AlyieCat
6 years 10 months ago

You could feel “depleted” due to the fatigue of hiking all day or electrolyte depletion.

Just other thoughts along with the diet 😉

DC
DC
6 years 10 months ago

I’ve taken weeklong backcountry trips existing on avocados, sardines, and almonds. Run the combination through Fitday — it’s got everything that you need, even if it isn’t exciting.

Lovestoclimb
6 years 10 months ago

I’ve stumbled onto Landjaegar thanks to someone in the forums and they are now a staple for lightweight packable food that will pretty much last forever. You can keep this stuff on a shelf for a year and it’ll be fine.

CriQue312
CriQue312
6 years 2 months ago

Wow! I learn so many new things from Marks’ posts and from many comments on a more and more frequent basis. I have never heard of Landjaegar before. Thanks so much for posting about them. I looked them up and found a picture and quick description that I wanted to share for anyone else who had never heard of them. I plan on finding them somewhere. I live in PA and with all of the German/Dutch food floating around it shouldn’t be too hard (I hope). Here’s the link I mentioned….

http://www.lobels.com/store/main/item.asp?item=297

Elisabeth
Elisabeth
3 years 5 months ago

this link didn’t work for me so i looked it up on wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landj%C3%A4ger

Nicole
6 years 10 months ago
I do a few hundred miles of long-distance backpacking every year. I’ve been working my way up the Appalachian Trail, and I’ve got 500 of the 2,100 still to do. Coconut oil is awesome stuff and does really well in a pack. It’s very much worth it’s weight. I can just eat it out of the jar, but you could add it to any of your hot foods, if you’re cooking. Wilderness family naturals sells dry coconut milk. It’s high in fat, so it only lasts about a year, but plenty long for backpacking! This is great as a base… Read more »
gilliebean
6 years 10 months ago

This is great stuff! Thanks Nicole!! 🙂

Josh Roman
Josh Roman
6 years 10 months ago

Kippers. Pemmican. Prosciutto. Nuts. Olive oil. Dried fruit.

When backpacking, my body turns into a furnace that burns anything, no matter how calorically dense.

I used to do oatmeal w/ powdered milk + whey protein powder in the mornings, but now I love the convenience of munching on prosciutto and fruit while breaking camp. Fire up the stove for tea if you need a hot starter, but having dried oatmeal on my plate at the start of dinner was never particularly appetizing.

Nicole
6 years 10 months ago

I hate waking up to oatmeal – I always have.

I usually eat sausage and cheese in the morning and hit the lara bars later in the day.

I find that Olive Oil is sneaky and I can’t seem to contain it effectively, but coconut oil never winds up all over my food bag.

I haven’t tried prosciutto. I find it crazy salty at home, but I’d probably really like it in the woods.

Jo
5 years 1 month ago

Nicole, last time we resupplied at Red’s Meadow on the JMT, I found some small foil-packs of organic extra virgin olive oil, about the size of those salad-dressing to-go packs you find at salad bars. Seemed like a great idea to me, even with packing out the empties.

Randy
Randy
2 years 3 months ago

I snagged a couple of 3 ounce glass bottles of olive oil at a supermarket that are very portable. Another option I’ve used is to clean out mini alcohol bottles.

I’ll have to try prosciutto, I usually dehydrate slices of ham for easy breakfasts with a larabar or cheese.

Alicia W.
Alicia W.
6 years 10 months ago

Hi Brian!
I like to take baggies of walnuts and bacon with me when I go hiking. I know bacon lasts at least a day un-refrigerated. It satisfies that salt craving I always get when I’m on the trail. Also, I have a great chicken salad recipe. I just pack it really tightly with ice. I have only ever done day-hikes, so those may or may not be viable options for overnight hikes.

Grok on!
Alicia

Linda
Linda
6 years 10 months ago

I absolutely love this post and will be filing away everything I’m reading for an Appalachian Trail Hike (or part of the trail anyway). I’ve been to the base of it a few times, last time sans shoes. Soon….

DThalman
DThalman
6 years 10 months ago
Dehydrated fruit works only if you have a ready source of pure water. That’s not so in most of the places I pack into, so dehydrating my fruit only means I have to carry more water because the dried fruit is gonna suck it outta you! I’m with the folks saying just bring real fruit…clementines are my favorite. Jerky, seeds and nuts too. Nitrite free salami keeps pretty well for a day or so, depending on temps. Shelled fresh coconut is good for the first couple days. Yes, sardines. Canned oysters, too. I’ll bring frozen cooked steak for day one,… Read more »
Mari Ann "Fat Stomach"
6 years 10 months ago

I don’t know how I stumbled across your blog, but I enjoyed reading ideas here! Thanks for sharing thoughts 🙂

Grok
6 years 10 months ago

You probably trolled your way over here from my blog.

Squirrel Jo
Squirrel Jo
6 years 10 months ago

There are some great ideas here. Avocados? Wow, I never thought of that, the will certainly last a few days. I made pear leather the other day for the first time, it was delicious and needed no extra sweeteners or water just a splash of lemon juice.
PS: I’m so excited, my Primal Blueprint book has just arrived 🙂

Rae
6 years 10 months ago

Fruit leather and jerky are my two favorites with my dehydrator. Both much better for you than the store bougt varieties, which have a lot of added sugars and salt.

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JAMES HOWELL
JAMES HOWELL
6 years 10 months ago

The problem with dried foods purchased in most stores is they have either sulphur dioxide or sugar or both. A grocery store here in town carries dried cherries or blueberries, etc., but they all have a coating of suger. Be damned sure to read the ingredients list before you lay down your dollars.

I have a food dehydrator so I make jerky, pemmican, and a variety of dried fruits. (I get rather odd looks when I go to a local butcher shop and get 20 pounds of beef fat to make the beef tallow used in the pemmican.)

Scott Stewart
Scott Stewart
6 years 10 months ago

Excalibur makes excellent food dehydrators.

I’ve had one over 10 years problem free.

Asian shops carry a wide variety of dried seafoods. The packaged squid, cuttlefish and octopus are tasty but usually contain MSG.

Extreme Fitness Results
6 years 10 months ago

Excellent post. I’d never considered just how carb heavy hiking food usually is. I’m going to bookmark this post and come back to it next year when I start getting ready for my annual hike. Thanks!

David L.
David L.
6 years 10 months ago

I always bring a nice can of home made canned moose. Although I know the can itself weight a certain amount after 4 days of eating the classic egg, cheese nut, dried fruit,fish and jerky I find the weight worth it. A nice hot meal of meat after 3-4 days give me all the strength I need to keep going.

Canned meat is quite easy to do and is stable for freaking long.

Marc
Marc
6 years 10 months ago
Let me share what I eat on backcountry trips in the central and northern Sierra Nevada here in CA. In an average year, I spend about 20 nights in the backcountry during all four seasons. Much of what’s been mentioned here works if you’re hiking on the AT with regular resupplies and ready access to stores or towns. You don’t face the same weight restrictions as backcountry backpackers, so eat up! When it comes to backpacking, things have changed a lot in the last 5-10 years. Until recently, most backpackers hauled 60-70 lbs loads for just a week in the… Read more »
Marc
Marc
6 years 10 months ago
A couple more comments/suggestions I’m prepping for a trip this weekend. Last night I experimented with cooking quinoa and then dehydrating it. Works great. Rehydrates with just water and only takes 5 minutes from adding boiling water to ready-to-eat. I don’t think there should be storage issues. – Quinoa + powdered coconut milk (or regular powdered milk) + dried berries + slivered almonds + cinnamon is really good. Nutty and crunchy. I’d imagine you could add honey to this if you wanted more sweetness or calories. – Dehydrated cooked ground meat works well. It loses 50% of it’s weight when… Read more »
Jo
5 years 1 month ago

Marc,
I’ve been trailfood planner for several 100+ mile Sierra treks over the past 10 years; I’ve tended to focus mostly on carbs & fat but thanks to primal blueprint reading, this year I plan to beef up (as it were) our protein consumption. Could you speak to what % of the macro-nutrients you have found work best for you? Thanks so much for your long & detailed post!

Marc
Marc
5 years 1 month ago
I’ve never broken done the exact calculations, but it varies dramatically depending on season and if it’s the first or last days of a trip. In the winter on a backcountry ski trip we’re probably looking at 50/30/20 Fat/Pro/Carbs. Summer trips mean less fat as it just can’t stand up to the heat. However, I’ll bring some high fat foods and eat it all day one and two. So day 2 of a 8 day summer trip would probably be 40/40/20 f/p/c. Day 7 or 8 looks more like 10/30/60. In the last 18 months since I posted my original… Read more »
Jenna
5 years 2 months ago

Thank you for this post. I am a Field Instructor for a wilderness therapy company called Second Nature and spend 8 days at a time, twice a month, backpacking. Not only are my trips pretty long, but it’s year-round in the high desert of southern Utah. This was much more realistic. Thanks!

Sara
Sara
6 years 10 months ago

All this food makes me want to go hiking!

Pan
6 years 8 months ago

Once people realize that dehydrating their own food is not that difficult more people will eat much better.

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6 years 5 days ago

[…] Primal Trail Food […]

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[…] Primal Trail Food – Because granola bars just won’t do, this list of Primal munchies will keep you energized hiking all day. […]

Joel
Joel
5 years 1 month ago

Here’s a great website I stumbled upon while preping for a multi day backpacking trip that has a lot of easy and lightweight recipes: http://www.heatherlovespaleo.com/index.html

Jo
5 years 1 month ago

Thanks for the reply, Marc. I julienned some sweet potatoes, roasted & dehydrated them & will be adding to my one-pot meals. Don’t think I am ready to give up beans just yet, but I’ve also dehydrated several lbs of grass-fed hamburger & pulverized it for easy dehydrating.

As for fat, I find that nuts keep very well, even up to 24 days & so does olive oil. I find that a high-fat evening meal helps me sleep & doesn’t make me loggy on the trail.

I just got a 9-tray dehydrator & love it!

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[…] More food advice here: Primal Trail Food […]

Molly
Molly
4 years 1 month ago

I’m going on a couple of backpacking trips within the next month (a 3 day and an 8 day) and I think I’m going to be pretty good on the food front. I’m making my own granola (http://mindyourbeesandtrees.com/2012/01/18/chock-full-of-nuts-grain-free-granola/) and dehydrating my own chili for dinners. Taking tuna packs and nori for lunch, primal bars, nuts, jerkey, hard cheese for snacks. Not super lightweight, but I think it’ll be ok. Can’t wait to find out.

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[…] mist up in the air? You’ve got a potent recipe for negative air ions. Could that be why camping out in the great outdoors is so rejuvenating and so energizing? Sure, you could argue that camping […]

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[…] mist up in the air? You’ve got a potent recipe for negative air ions. Could that be why camping out in the great outdoors is so rejuvenating and so energizing? Sure, you could argue that camping […]

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[…] throwing mist up in the air? You’ve got a potent recipe for negative air ions. Could that be whycamping out in the great outdoors is so rejuvenating and so energizing? Sure, you could argue that […]

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[…] throwing mist up in the air? You’ve got a potent recipe for negative air ions. Could that be why camping out in the great outdoors is so rejuvenating and so energizing? Sure, you could argue that […]

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[…] Low Carb Trail Food | Mark’s Daily Apple – Just when you feel you’ve made the successful transition to Primal eating in everyday life, you stumble upon a scenario that sends you back to the drawing board. […]

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[…] Low Carb Trail Food | Mark’s Daily Apple – Just when you feel you’ve made the successful transition to Primal eating in everyday life, you stumble upon a scenario that sends you back to the drawing board. […]

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[…] throwing mist up in the air? You’ve got a potent recipe for negative air ions. Could that be why camping out in the great outdoors is so rejuvenating and so energizing? Sure, you could argue that […]

grisly atoms
grisly atoms
10 months 27 days ago

Dried fruit! Look for a co op where you can buy in bulk. Sardines canned in olive oil, and jerky.

Some fresh fruit and veggies are great as well. Boiled eggs keep for a while without refrigeration (or, try pickling them for a couple weeks before you go).

Last but definitely not least, coconut oil and/or beef fat. Why not both?

liz
liz
7 months 29 days ago

Thank you so much for this! I am planning to take on the Marathon des Sables in 2017 and I will have to carry all my food for the week; I have been eating lchf for seven months and I feel great. I was a bit worried about having to fall back on carbs for convenience sake but you’ve provided lots of useful suggestions for alternatives. Cheers, Liz, UK

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