Podcast Episode May 25, 2018

Podcast 003 | Backpacking Food and Nutrition



podcast 003 backpacking food nutrition featured


In this episode we tackle the science, myths, and dogma surrounding backpacking food and nutrition. Featuring guest Brian Rigby, certified sports nutritionist and author. We tackle food and nutrition issues as they relate to thru-hiking, ketogenic diets, plant-based diets (veganism and vegetarianism), gluten-free issues, and macronutrient-micronutrient nutrition. Some questions we ask: what are the caloric and nutritional needs of backpackers? Why do we need to address dogma and pseudo-science in this field? We also take a look at some new cooking and water treatment gear and discuss what’s going on in the world of Backpacking Light right now.


  • Andrew’s experience with backpacking nutrition during his Appalachian Trail and Colorado Trail thru-hikes
  • Ryan’s food journey over the past 30 years
  • Guest interview: Brian Rigby, MS, CISSN
    • Micronutrients vs. Macronutrients
      • What is the function of protein?
    • Caloric needs for backpacking
      • Resting metabolic rates
      • METs
        • How does activity level influence caloric burn rates?
        • Words of caution about using a metabolic rate calculator
      • What about using fitness trackers or apps for estimating caloric expenditures?
    • Nutritional Considerations
      • Is a calorie a calorie, or is there something about calorie quality that needs to be considered for backpacking vs. caloric density (calories per unit weight).
      • How about high caloric density junk foods? Yay or nay?
      • How long do we have to spend on a trail before junk food catches up to you and nutrition becomes important?
      • How about the lack of B vitamins in processed foods?
      • Health vs. performance on a junk food diet
      • 3 days vs. 3 months on the trail: macronutrient ratio differences?
      • Transition diets: lifestyle vs. on-the-trail
    • What about high fat, low carb (e.g., ketogenic) diets for backpackers?
      • Advantages, disadvantages, and risks
      • Impact on anaerobic power systems
      • Ketogenic diets – applicable for ultralight backpacking?
      • Be careful when reading thru-hiker “testimonials” about ketogenic diets
      • Can we tap into our body fat stores for backpacking energy, and save food weight?
    • Bonking
      • Can high fat, low carb diets mitigate the effects of “bonking” (i.e., what are the impacts on glycogen?)
      • The advantage of a high-carb breakfast before hitting the trail
      • Strategies for minimizing bonking for both high-carb and low-carb diets
    • Micronutrients
      • What’s the best way to maintain micronutrient balance on the trail?
      • Does food processing impact micronutrient quality?
      • The reality of Vitamin C: how much we really need
      • The Emergen-C myth
      • Thru-hiker needs for micronutrients and the risks of “pizza-gorging town stops”
      • How often do we need to be eating high-quality, micronutrient-rich foods (e.g., fresh fruits and vegetables) on a long-distance hike?
      • How about multivitamins?
      • Are any type of supplements needed for backpacking?
        • How about for vegans/vegetarians?
        • How about for women?
    • Specific strategies for vegetarian and vegan backpackers
      • Protein considerations: legumes, whole grains, and pseudo-grains
      • Calcium for vegans?
    • How does altitude and/or cold environments impact our food planning?
      • Do we need more carbs, or less carbs?
      • Clothing or calories? Considerations for staying comfortable in cold temperatures.
    • Challenging pseudo-scientific belief systems
      • Example: Ketogenic diets
      • Micronutrient requirements
    • What is the single best thing we can do with our food to improve backpacking performance?
      • How do we mitigate injury and illness?
      • What’s the risk of under-nutrition / caloric deficit with respect to overuse injuries and/or illness?
      • What is the best way to facilitate body repair during a backpacking trip?
        • Replenishing glycogen
        • Triggering muscle protein synthesis
  • Listener Q&A
    • What is the best way to eat keto/fat-adapted on the trail?
      • Andrew’s experiences with keto
    • What is the best way to eat vegetarian on the trail?
      • Ryan’s experiences with vegetarian/vegan
      • Protein, Omega-3 and calcium considerations
    • What’s the best way to eat gluten-free on the trail?
      • Ryan’s experiences with celiac and gluten-free youth on Scout trips
      • Rice and legume pasta discussion
    • What are some alternatives to Mountain House?
    • How do you source nutritious food for backpacking in chain grocery stores?
    • What are the advantages and disadvantages of going stoveless?
    • What’s the best way to get good coffee in the backcountry? Best-tasting creamer?
    • Challenges for managing diabetes on a multi-day trip?
    • What’s the best way to get enough fiber and stay regular on multi-day trips?
    • What are some ideas for no-cook lunchtime food other than bars and snacks?
    • What’s a good protein source other than jerky that doesn’t require refrigeration?
    • What are some foods that last longer in your pack than what the label says?
    • What are some foods that keeps well when it’s warm outside?
      • Ryan’s 3 recommendations
  • Q&A Speed Round
    • Best way to improve flavor of any dish?
    • Favorite backcountry recipe?
    • Favorite on the go snack?
    • Favorite trail mix recipe?
  • Gear
    • MSR Trail Base Water Filter System
    • Alcohol Stoves: Trail Designs & Zelph
  • Here and Now
    • Switchback Showcase Wrap-Up
    • Gila Wilderness
  • Summer Podcast Series Updates
    • Guide’s Roundtable (June)


Feedback, Questions, Tips?

  • Submit them via email¬†or Twitter¬†and get featured on our next podcast!
  • Next podcast topic: Guide’s Roundtable¬†– a roundtable discussion about ultralight backpacking, life, and public lands protection with our trekking guides, to be recorded live in the field during our Guide’s Training Trek¬†in June 2018.


  • Backpacking Light – Executive Producer
  • Ryan Jordan – Director and Host
  • Andrew Marshall – Producer and Host
  • Brian Rigby – Guest Interview
  • Look for Me in the Mountains – Music

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Home Forums Podcast 003 | Backpacking Food and Nutrition

Viewing 10 posts - 1 through 10 (of 10 total)
  • Author
  • #3538404
    Backpacking Light


    Locale: Rocky Mountains

    Companion forum thread to: Podcast 003 | Backpacking Food and Nutrition

    In this episode we tackle the science, myths, and dogma surrounding backpacking food and nutrition. Featuring guest Brian Rigby, certified sports nutritionist and author. We tackle food and nutrition issues as they relate to thru-hiking, ketogenic diets, plant-based diets (veganism and vegetarianism), gluten-free issues, and macronutrient-micronutrient nutrition. Some questions we ask: what are the caloric and nutritional needs of backpackers? Why do we need to address dogma and pseudo-science in this field? We also take a look at some new cooking and water treatment gear and discuss what’s going on in the world of Backpacking Light right now.

    James Marco
    BPL Member


    Locale: Finger Lakes

    Long and informative podcast. Thanks!

    James Marco
    BPL Member


    Locale: Finger Lakes

    I am not sure how many people do this. But, I often only eat once per day at home. Generally, I do not consider a snack of less than 100C a meal. I generally eat about 5 snacks per day. At supper, I load up with carbs, proteins and overall fatty foods. Often this is homemade pizza (pepperoni, cheese), fried peppers (olive oil), and other foods rich in fats. (Yeah, salmon is good, smoked steelhead, fried trout, too.) I think my calorie load is about 3/4 in the evening, 1/4 the rest of the day.

    I am type 2 diabetic. I avoid processed white bread, mac&cheese, wraps, and other foods that are >50% carbs. I generally cut my dose in half, or less when I am out on a longer trip. Though, I carry a couple cups of flour (whole wheat/bisquick 25%/75%) and cup of finely ground dried apples mixed in for apple fritters. Usually I substitute rice for carbs and bring a bag of a couple pounds of brown rice. Diabetes/blood glucose is not supercharged with rice like it can be with breads and other carbs. For those times when I get into low blood sugar, I carry some hard candy.

    I generally eat a high protein/high fat diet, with some carbs to get me moving through the day. And, yes, I use a vitamin/mineral supplement to insure scurvy, etc are avoided. Does it work? I can’t say, because I never feel that bad/lacking anything except water/salt over the course of any one day.

    On a through hike, or a two week outing, I have breakfast: oatmeal, 2 scoops of instant coffee, and a half packet of cocoa…Marco’s Mud. The type of coffee is not a high priority, but strong coffee is. Tasters Choice or Caf√© Bustelo work fine, a double scoop works for me. I often have a second/third cup of mocha. (What the hey, sometimes four cups, but only the first has oatmeal.)

    Fritoes, potato chips, corn curls, etc make up my snacks during the day…usually about 1 small bag. Lots’a fats and calories.

    For supper, about 1/2 cup of rice, jerky, a tablespoon of pemmican, pepperoni, salami, sausage, etc, and dehydrated/cooked veggies. I eat about 2oz of jerky a day, often having some as a snack.

    Sometimes I will make a soup with one of the mixes from the market. A large variety is available but I am partial to minestrone, chili and lentils. I substitute dried beef, chicken, salmon, turkey, pork, (jerkys) for any ground meat. And add in some olive oil (I carry about 8oz on a two week hike.)

    This adds up to about 1.1-1.2pounds per day average. I plan on using my ample fat reserves for the difference. Generally, I have found you tend not to metabolize fat well if you eat during the day. Your body will use the easier route of for food. So, forcing this with small snacks and a more constant low level fat burn all day keeps me from bonking. I average something more than a half pound per day of fat loss, or around 5lb/wk. Being older also means less food requirements. I would estimate that my diet consists of about 30-35% protiens, 30-35% fats/oils, and around 35-40% carbs by the number of calories I eat.

    Stephen Kundell
    BPL Member


    Andrew, have you tried Injinji toe socks? I used the liners for a while, not the hikers and have had absolutely no blisters. On the other hand, I am an old guy, wear light boots, and only do about 10 miles/d.

    Ken Thompson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Right there

    Featured guests blog can be found here,


    Sarah Kirkconnell
    BPL Member


    Locale: Homesteading On An Island In The PNW

    On the gluten-free concerns:

    Coming from the Mom of a child with severe allergies, if a person on a trip has celiac or food allergies, it is up to THEM to do their food. It’s not a big issue frankly, and most people with those concerns will do better if left to them.

    Be wary of legume noodles if you are not sure of tolerance, so try them at home first :-)

    I know for us, he hates most GF pasta. He eats mostly meat, veggies, and fruit with other items for carbs when needed. Funny that my 6 year old eats better than most of us ;-) Hah!

    AK Granola
    BPL Member


    Very interesting, but also not surprising. My 16 year old said, with regard to the keto diet while backpacking and the vain hope of burning body fat for energy: ‚Äúwandering around in the wilderness without enough food sounds really duuuuumb!‚ÄĚ I¬†guess that‚Äôs one takeaway.

    I‚Äôve always taken a daily multi, and known that I‚Äôm probably peeing out most of it. But when I stop taking them I get moody and depressed, sort of PMS feeling, although that condition is no longer applicable. I‚Äôve stopped and restarted the multi enough times in my life to believe that it is somehow connected with the mood issues, but have no proof to back it up. I eat a pretty darned healthy diet, so I shouldn‚Äôt need any extra vitamins. And yet… maybe all just in my head!

    Wayne Norman
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California

    Your podcasts are well researched and quite informative.  For me, this was the best one yet. Lots of great information.  Really looking forward to the webinar.

    MGA van Vliet
    BPL Member


    Thanks for the podcast. It made my commute to work a bit more manageble ;-)

    On your blister problem:

    An old remedy to prevent blisters (at least in the Netherlands) is Camphor Spirit (a 10% solution of Camphor in (rubbing) alcohol) (The name over here is “kamferspiritus”).

    About a month before your trip start treating your feet daily by rubbing the alcohol/camphor solution on your feet, and letting it dry. This will cause the skin to harden slightly, The skin will become more resistant to blisters. Do NOT apply to broken skin.

    Before using please also read:


    Hanz B
    BPL Member


    There’s a new nejm  review article on  intermittent fasting benefits and what different animal and etc trials concluded if folks are interested. I know it comes up a lot in backpacking light. This a good jumping off point to guide you to reputable studies https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra1905136?query=TOC

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