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DIY Trail Food: Building a Better Backpacking Meal, Step Three - Veggies

Now that you have your base and protein picked out, we will add some color, flavor, and nutrition with veggies!  Backpackers and survivalists are not interested in counting calories to lose weight.  Just the opposite is true: backpackers count calorie per gram of food in order to get the highest calorie content from the lightest amount of food.  Packing nutrient dense food in your BOB or backpack will give you the most calories but with a pack that weighs less, which is helpful whether you are hiking up a mountain or running away from zombies :)

Fruit and vegetables are often sorely lacking from trail food bags for several reasons; fresh, they are heavy (most fruit is ~80% water weight), they bruise and spoil easily, and they provide few calories per gram of weight.  This article focuses on:

  •  why we should include veggies in our trail meals,
  •  ideas on easy ways to add them to our meals, and
  •  tips for home dehydrating  
Fruits will be touched on, but I will cover fruits more in depth in future articles about breakfasts and snacks.

Why Should I Include Vegetables in My Trail Meals?  

My previous articles on Step One and Step Two talk bout how the simpler carbs of the base, and the protein of the meat provide building blocks of our diet, or macronutrients.  These nutrients are needed for tissue repair, energy, and basic cellular function (we will talk more about fats in the next article on sauces and gravies). 

So if carbs, protein, and fats are the building blocks of our bodies, then vitamins and minerals, or micronutrients, are the mortar that holds our structure together.  These micronutrients are found in fruits, veggies, herbs, and spices, which are easy to add to our homemade meals.  The micronutrients help our cells function properly.  But perhaps more importantly, they repair the damage caused by the stress of exercise, and also prevent infection and certain cancers.

This Mt. Rogers pony isn't kissing me; it's trying to lick the salt from my skin!

You may think you have a balanced diet that is enough to keep you on the move, but one study surprisingly found that of a sample of both athletes and non-athletes:
  • Males averaged deficiencies in 40% of the vitamins and 54.2% of the minerals required. 

  • Females averaged deficiencies in 29% of the vitamins and 44.2% of the minerals Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) required. 

  • Both male and females as a single entity recorded 138 micronutrient deficiencies out of the possible 340 micronutrients analyzed, or 40.5% micronutrient RDA-deficiency from food intake alone.
So, chances are we are already deficient in some kind of vitamins or minerals. Now consider that we are planning for something; whether it is a long trail backpacking trip, a possibly lengthy stay in the wilderness, or an emergency like a zombie apocalypse or natural disaster. Any of these scenarios means the body and brain will be additionally strained by increased activity, trying to stay warm, and plain old stress. This can affect your mental ability and judgement, and prevent your body from fighting off infection.

MicronutrientRole in HealthDietary Sources
B VitaminsEnergy production, Building and repair of muscle tissueGreen Leafy Vegetables,
Vitamins C&E,
Beta Carotene,
Protects cell membranes from oxidative stress of prolonged physical activity.  May reduce inflammation and muscle
Carrots Squash
Green Leafy Vegetables
Calcium, Iron,
Zinc, Magnesium
Growth, maintenance, and repair of bone tissue.  Regulation
 of nerve conduction, muscle contraction, blood clotting. Formation of oxygen-carrying proteins. Energy production
 and immune protection. Hormone functions.
Leafy Greens
Sodium, Chloride, Potassium, 
Sodium is a critical electrolyte, especially for those with
increased sweat losses. Essential for muscle function and
 nerve conduction.

Getting Your Veggies is Easy!

Other than potatoes and rice, many store-bought freeze-dried dinners have little in the way of nutrition from vegetables.  Homemade lunches and dinners are easy to make and allow you to add extra veggies to your meals.  Dehydrate extra vegetables when they are in season and store in jars so you can toss tablespoons of fresh-from-the-garden goodness whenever you put your meals together.

Some starchy vegetables such as carrots, corn, peas, and potatoes, can be dehydrated with good results when prepared in soups and stews, or chopped very fine.  But these starchy veggies do not rehydrate easily when added to freezer bag meals. Buy freeze-dried cans of corn, peas, and potato chunks for  great in recipes, and delicious snacks right out of the can.

Read my full article on How to Dry Vegetables in Your Home for how-to on specific vegetables, as well as methods of dehydration, preparation, and use at home and in trail meals.

Dehydrated and Freeze-Dried Veggies are Easily added to Trail Meals

Vegetables That Can be Dried

  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Bean Sprouts
  • Beets
  • Bell Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chili Peppers (i.e. Poblano)
  • Collard Greens
  • Eggplant
  • Green Beans
  • Green Onions
  • Kale
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
Now that we have the "bulk" of our dinners completed, it's time to start adding some real flavor with Step Four: Sauces and Fats.


  1. "Micronutrients." Orthomolecular.Org: Therapeutic Nutrition Based Upon Biochemical Individuality. Riordan Clinic:A Non-profit Medical, Research And Educational Organization, n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2014. <>.

  2. Rodriguez, PhD, RD, CSSD, FACSM, Nancy R., and Nancy M. DiMarco, PhD, RD, CSSD, FACSM. "Nutrition and Athletic Performance." Medscape. Riordan Clinic:A Non-profit Medical, Research And Educational Organization, 1 Mar. 2010. Web. 04 Nov. 2014. <>.

  3. Driskell J. Summary: Vitamins and trace elements in sports nutrition. In: Driskell J, Wolinsky I, editors. Sports Nutrition. Vitamins and Trace Elements. New York (NY): CRC/Taylor & Francis; 2006. p. 323-31.

  4. Milsner, PhD, Bill, "Food Alone May Not Provide Sufficient Micronutrients for Preventing Deficiency". J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2006; 3(1): 51–55. Published online Jun 5, 2006.


  1. Adding spinach or kale flakes is an easy way to kick start breakfast nutrition, and won't affect the taste of your oatmeal, cereal, smoothie or eggs.

    1. Yes! Leafy greens that are dried and powdered are a great addition to any meal or dip. Although your food may end up a little greener looking :)