Any good backpacking enthusiasts will tell you that the focus should be on foods that are lightweight and calorically dense. After all, it makes sense to carry the least weight possible in your pack for a multiple day excursion in order to minimize total energy expenditure and the strain on your back.
Most non-paleo backpacking enthusiasts advocate grain/carbohydrate rich foods. Pasta, granolas, and other grain-based foods are lightweight. But, many of you reading this know that grains should be avoided while following The Paleo Diet. Grain-based foods have only been a major part of the human diet since about 10,000 years ago at the start of the agricultural revolution. For the majority of our evolution as hunter-gatherers, grains were not a staple food source in the human diet.1
Below are a few Paleo-friendly food options that pack an energetic punch and will keep the weight off while backpacking:
Historically, pemmican was favored by North American Plains Indians as a dense energy source that sustained their nomadic lifestyle between hunts.2 Pemmican is prepared by mixing beef or bison tallow with equal portions of dried, pounded ruminant meat. Berries are added to taste. In order to avoid spoilage it needs to be stored in an airtight container. Pemmican leans towards being heavier for backpacking, but its extra weight is balanced by its impressive caloric density. You don’t have to carry a lot to last you a while.
Although heavy nut consumption is generally not advocated while following a Paleo lifestyle, consuming a larger quantity of nuts for a few days to a week in the backcountry will likely not compromise your health negatively. Nuts are a great source of calories and various fats and typically do not add a lot of weight to your pack. Consider making a mix from pistachios, walnuts, almonds, shredded coconut and dried berries for taste. If you’re looking for a more calorically dense Paleo twist on your traditional trail mix, try melting down a small jar of 100% extra virgin coconut oil and then add the trail mix ingredients mentioned above. Solidify the mixture in a container and enjoy. Note: this may not be great for warm weather backpacking since coconut oil liquefies around room temperature.
Sardines, mackerel, herring, salmon, tuna, and many other seafood products are available either canned or in foil pouches at most conventional grocery stores. Canned seafood is relatively lightweight and is a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids while out on the trail.
Jerky is another great protein source while backpacking and does not add too much weight to one’s pack. Try to source free-range bison or beef jerky that is lower in sodium and free of gluten, hydrolyzed soy and corn, MSG, and other artificial flavors and preservatives. Better yet, look into buying a dehydrator and jerky kit to create your own at home!
Dehydrating your food beforehand is likely the best bet for reducing pack weight while maintaining nutrient and caloric density out on the trail. Nearly every Paleo food imaginable can be dehydrated, thrown into a food processor, and pulsed to a powder consistency. Simply add water to your dehydrated food mixtures wherever you decide to setup camp and cook. For an easy well balanced recipe, try boiling and mashing two sweet potatoes with your favorite spices. Throw the sweet potato mixture in your dehydrator and store it in an airtight container for the trail. Rehydrate with dried sausage, dried veggies, and a pack of tuna. Boil it and you have a delicious backcountry chowder.
For those truly looking to live out a hunter-gatherer experience, consider bringing fishing tackle, hunting gear, and/or an area-specific handbook for plant identification to forage and hunt for your own food. As a strong warning, do not consume any plants or fungi while out hiking or backpacking unless you are absolutely certain that what you are eating is not poisonous. Also, make sure to check the area’s local fishing and hunting ordinances before you embark on your trip.
If you have any additional paleo backpacking food prep tips and or ideas, feel free to include them in the comments section below.