Forget gels and chews. When Susie Smith, the owner of DAK Bars and Flying Pancakes Catering, adventures in the Adirondack Mountains, she uses real foods that pack rich flavor and nutrition.
For each outing, Smith designs menus that contain 40 percent protein, 30 percent carbs, and 30 percent fats. "If you eat only carbs, they convert to sugar, burn really quickly, and then you crash," she says. "When you introduce fats and proteins, that causes a slower, more sustainable burn." And maintains energy levels during long days of backcountry travel.
Next, Smith considers trip duration. Afternoon trail run? A DAK Bar goes in a pocket—the Bear flavor mixes oats, strawberries, walnuts, ginger, and hemps seeds for an energizing snack. On dayhikes, cheese, bread, and beef jerky or hard boiled eggs create a summit picnic, topped with a sprinkle of smoked paprika. For family car camping trips, Smith relies on crowd-pleasers like macaroni and cheese with diced hot dogs—and packs the heavy cast iron skillet to toast tortillas or fry eggs over an open fire.
That approach sounds familiar to hiking guide Jenny Mugrace. She leads 46er treks with Adirondack Rock and River in Keene, and a typical day means trekking 15 to 20 miles (or 11 to 14 hours) on the trail.
"I bring foods that are higher in fat content," says Mugrace. "That's what your body burns when you're moving for a long period in an aerobic state, which means you're moving along but you can still talk."
Because nuts supply fats, Mugrace often tucks chocolate-covered almonds in her pack. Fruit delivers a carb-heavy burst of energy—plus a thirst-quenching snack on sunny days. And to make her own energy bites, Mugrace combines oats and nuts in a food processor, then adds dried fruit (try unsweetened cranberries), cocoa powder, chia seeds, and occasionally banana. A dose of honey brings everything together into a fudge-like consistency. Then she stows them in a hip belt pocket for a quick boost on the trail.
And when Mugrace stays out overnight? She packs a baked good—say, banana nut muffin—adds nut butter, and eats that while preparing hot water for coffee and oatmeal. Then she adds dried fruits and more nuts to the hot cereal. The dinner menu usually features a fast-cooking grain and preserved protein; think macaroni and cheese with diced sausage, or couscous with tinned chicken.
"The best part is they don't require much work after a long day of hiking," she says. "And sometimes I pack veggies that don't spoil easily, like peas, corn, or carrots, and add those."
With practice, Smith has adapted prep skills honed as caterer for backpacking trips. As she cooks at home, she dehydrates and freezes separate portions of meat, pasta, and vegetables. These combine for just-add-water meals, easily made in a lightweight titanium skillet on a single-burner camp stove.
"They're simple to put together and taste gourmet," says Smith. Consider this entree, served at an Avalanche Pass lean-to: spinach pasta topped with roasted red pepper sauce and chicken. Even better? The next day, Smith summited Mount Marcy, Mount Skylight, and Grey Peak—an alpine adventure made possible by real food.