Food allergies on the trail

For better or worse, staples of long distance backpackers include ramen noodles, mac & cheese and snickers bars. These can all be found very easily at any trail town on the AT, no mail drops (when you send food ahead to a post office near the trail and pick it up when you hike into town) necessary. Gluten, dairy, soy and other prevalent food allergies make life challenging on the trail because we can’t just count on getting easy food. What if it is a choice to eliminate foods because of ethics or a preference for highly nutritious foods. What’s a hiker to do…?

Not to worry, it can be deliciously done!


Right before my husband and I section hiked the Maine section of the Appalachian Trail in 2005 I came to the dreaded realization that I had to give up dairy. I had struggled my whole life with what I thought was lactose intolerance. I couldn’t seem to take enough lactose pills though, so when I developed serious knee inflammation and had to stop dancing ballet professionally, I decided to explore the possibility that it was an allergy and not an intolerance. Sure enough once I gave it up, my inflammation went down to a manageable level and I was not in constant stomach discomfort. Yay…as a dancer and a person, but poop…as a hiker.

When I eliminated dairy I lost fifteen pounds, which I did not have to lose in the first place, so I couldn’t afford to lose calories on the trail because of my allergy. Since prepackaged foods were off the menu I had to try to become a trail gourmet. I have since developed an allergy to apples too, which added to my need for creativity. I love cooking and have worked with natural foods since 2003 so I went back to basics and then built from there. There are, of course, delicious imitations of beloved trail foods if you do a little planning ahead.


The biggest problems with breakfast are what to do for delicious hot drinks and what to do about powdered milk for granola or oatmeal (or breakfast rice if you’re gluten free). For hot drinks I like an Etsy shop called Apropos Roasters that my mom turned me onto . They have many vegan and gluten free options like Mexican hot chocolate. I also purchased powdered almond milk from that you could use to make your own hot chocolate with sugar and cocoa or put in instant coffee or cereal. It’s a little chunky but tastes delicious and is a great alternative if you have a soy allergy.



Best high energy trail lunch with a minimum of additives…bag salmon (chicken or tuna – they all come in weight friendly bags now), a couple of mayo packets (mustard or olive oil) and crackers or tortillas. is where I get all my little condiments. You can buy any amount you want and they don’t charge a lot. You can also get a non-dairy version of nutella too… by Justin’s brand.


Here’s where I really got into it. I love to buy stuff in bulk and make my own trail mix. Since I can’t put M&M’s in it, I like to put the more expensive yummy unsulphured dried fruits like blueberries, cherries and papaya. I also love to add exotic nuts like pistachios, macadamia, and hazelnuts with pretzels too sometimes. Be daring when mixing! The different flavors really make the lack of chocolate barely noticeable. There are dairy free M&M’s out there but they can be hard to find and chocolate chips tend to melt all over the mix unless the weather is cold. We really love turkey pepperoni too 🙂


For dinner I like to really get down to basics like a grain dish with some vegan broth cubes, dehydrated veggies, olive oil, Mrs. Dash and some nuts, beans or meat. I also love dehydrating my own fancy meals like stew with potatoes, carrots and ground beef. Check out this great vegetarian site if you don’t want to do it yourself. I haven’t tried them yet but they sound delicious . Grab some rice noodle soup in the asian section of the grocery store as an easy and light option. Sometimes I’ll even just opt for packaged dried hummus or refried beans that you can get at almost any grocery store in the natural foods section. I also love to turn favorite home recipes into trail favorites like my dairy free tuna casserole (noodles, broth cubes, freeze dried peas, dried onion and cilantro, tuna, mayo – a hot mama favorite) or thanksgiving dinner (mix all your favorites in one bowl; stuffing, dried gravy, dehydrated mashed potatoes, chicken and dried cranberries).



If you miss a good Snickers bar here is a website that offers options for every allergy Make sure you look hard at trail town grocery stores because I did find Tofutti ice cream at one in southern Maine. You can also usually find gummy candy or dark chocolate too. And you’d be surprised how good fresh fruit tastes when all you’ve had is dried for so long.

Have a happy trail tummy! Look for other Hot Mama favorites from our longer trips in upcoming posts.

What’s your favorite trail food?

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