Dear Mark: Primal Trail Food

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!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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