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Emily Pennington | 04.24.2018

Though peak bagging and endurance hiking may look badass on the outside, an athlete’s stomach can often be a bit of a princess about what it wants in the backcountry – especially at altitude. I know my stomach frequently turns on me or neglects to get hungry entirely, instead opting to be distracted by a stunning alpine vista or a mind-blowing sunset. Nutrition is a tricky beast to conquer when you’re burning 300+ calories per hour hiking and need to replenish at least half of them as you move through your day in the wilderness. That’s why exciting snacks are a key part of any seasoned backpacker’s equation.

Now, I’m fortunate to not have a single allergy or dietary restriction, but I am concerned with and fascinated by how different people piece together the nutrition puzzle while out camping with scarce resources. I dated someone with celiac disease for nearly four years in my 20s, when I was just beginning my backpacking adventures, and I found myself quickly thrown into a whirlwind of new cooking techniques and quirky life hacks to keep us both well fed. Here are a few of my favorite celiac-friendly treats for backpackers!

1. Cheese Sticks

These protein-packed, individually wrapped morsels are some of the best bang-for-your-buck calories-to-weight ratio snacks that you could bring on the trail. Just make sure you buy the regular and not the light ones so you can load up on important fats while you beat feet.

2. Dehydrated Refried Beans with Corn Chips

I learned this life hack from a pair of ultralight backpackers who whizzed by me at the beginning of a 24-mile training hike. Crush up Fritos or a cup of your favorite corn chips (I like the Trader Joe’s brand) and set them aside in a Ziploc bag. When you get to camp in the evening, boil 2 cups of water and mix them into a bag of refried bean flakes, stirring until fully absorbed. Mix the chips in to taste and, voila! A tasty, vegan AND gluten free dinner that’s cheaper than Backpacker’s Pantry. (Word on the street is that this recipe works cold too!)

3. Make Your Own Trail Mix

For the better part of the last two years, I thought I had exhausted my capacity to love trail mix. I would schlep along large, 16-ounce bags of the stuff as an emergency calorie stash, knowing full well that I would not eat it unless I was dying. Then, as though in a dream, I realized one day that I could wave my magic wand over the dried fruit section of any grocery store and, like a Smartwool-clad wizard, create any flavor of trail mix that I goddamn wanted. Some favorites include: dried apricots, roasted cashews, dried peaches, and chocolate covered espresso beans.

4. Gummy Candy

I started grabbing a bag of Haribo gummy candies for any long trek at altitude or summit day when I’m worried about my mouth getting dry and my sugar level dropping. There are some who would argue that it’s easier to crash when you’re eating simple sugars throughout the day, but the candy is a hell of a lot cheaper than energy gels (which I also adore), and it serves me well when I’m worried about what my stomach will keep down above 13,000 feet.

5. Grass-Fed Beef Sticks

These are a godsend for those of us who have had enough of chewing our jaws ragged on traditional beef jerky! They’re individually wrapped, perfectly spiced, and right around 100 calories, making them an excellent, on-the-go trail snack. Just make sure you pack out the plastic casing they come in!

6. Quest Bars

These are, hands down, my favorite gluten-free protein bar. Every flavor comes in at around 200 calories, while packing a whopping 20-21 grams of protein! Plus, they weigh only 60 grams, making then nutritionally dense for how little of your precious pack space they’ll consume. Try the chocolate chip cookie dough flavor – it’s seriously addictive!

With temperatures warming and snow melting all over the local crags and mountain ranges, it’s time to scratch that itch to go outdoors and backpack every weekend! I hope this handy list of the tastiest gluten-free treats for hungry backpackers makes you feel ready to hit the trail soon as well. Happy hiking!


We don't have any pictures, but our favorite gluten-free food (especially at high altitudes when it's freezing and you don't feel hungry) is a rice noodle soup. We do ours with whatever we have on hand, but the favorite is made with dried pineapples and crunched-up peanuts. We have tried everything from bbq sauce packets saved over from fast-food meals to individually wrapped chicken bouillon squares to flavor the broth, but it truly is versatile, lightweight, delicious, nutritious, and naturally gluten free!
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