Ketogenic Backpacking — Eating a Low-Carb Diet on the Trail

Ketogenic dieting has taken over the minds and eating habits of millions of people in recent years. Diets professing the benefits of “low-carb” seem to be all over the internet. What do ketogenic diets have anything to do with backpacking?

The simplest definition of eating ketogenic is consuming a diet that is low in carbohydrates and moderate in protein, often making it high in fat. If you’re on any sort of strict diet, it can be tough adapting to your needs in the wild. But for those striving to maintain ketosis, there’s a huge incentive to tailoring your outdoor meals: ketogenic meals are often the best types of camping food for multiple reasons.

Ketogenic Meals Can Reduce Pack Weight Effectively

Hiking, particularly distance and thru hiking, is centered around the almighty ounce and the all-important pound. That is where keto foods can really pack a punch. Calorie-to-calorie, pound-for-pound, ketogenic food is simply far lighter given its caloric density.

Here are some examples to demonstrate the efficiency of keto foods.

Keto Foods Are High in Fat Calories, Which Means More Energy

After you calculate and plan for your daily macro-nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat), all you really need to worry about is calories.  Keep in mind that calories equal energy, and energy is what you need most when hiking. Packing those calories into food that is light as possible (increasing your caloric density) means that you’ll be able to consume the most energy while carrying the least amount of weight.

Let’s break down the caloric density for various macro-nutrients:

  • 1 gram of carbohydrate—4 calories
  • 1 gram of protein—4 calories
  • 1 gram of fat—9 calories
  • 1 ounce of carbohydrates—113 calories
  • 1 ounce of protein—113 calories
  • 1 ounce of fat—255 calories

The conclusions should be clear. Simply put, ½ an ounce of fat has more energy than an entire ounce of carbohydrates. That’s half the weight for the same amount of energy.


Case Study for Ketogenic Meal Planning

Here’s an example of the extreme weight difference.

Several years ago, I spent a week hiking the back country of the Grand Canyon. For nutrition, I brought enough food for 2,500 calories per day. My food pack, not including the large amount of water I needed to bring, weighed in at just under 11 pounds. It was full of common salty snacks, loads of carbohydrates, and classics like Jiff peanut butter.

My food pack had a ratio of 101 calories per ounce, which only qualify for a two-star rating using OutdoorFoodLab’s ultralight rating system.

In 2018, a few of us at OutdoorFoodLab decided to repeat this trip. I had been eating a ketogenic diet for several months and had no desire to stop for the upcoming adventure. So, I put together a daily meal plan that allowed me to consume less than 25 carbs per day, but still maintain the 2,500 calorie mark I use for most week-long hikes.

Cutting out the carbs did limit the variety of food I brought, but packing foods like smoked bacon, peanut butter cut with coconut oil, and salted almonds dramatically cut my weight down. I had a calorie-to ounce-ratio of 182, well surpassing our 5-star rating threshold for food weight.

Eating Ketogenic brought down the weight of my food pack, with the same 2,500 calories per day, to just over 6 pounds. That is a drop in pack weight of 5 pounds! That weight reduction is a game changer on longer or more difficult hikes.

Going Keto Is a Budget-Friendly Way to Lower Weight

Those of us who take trail hiking seriously will literally spend several thousand dollars trying cut weight. And while low-carb, ketogenic food can be a bit more expensive, it is no where close to the cost of a Z-packs cuben fiber backpack that, at best, might shave a pound or two from your total pack weight.

I’ve seen so many instances in which serious hikers have spent hundreds, if not thousands of dollars shaving off the final few ounces of gear weight, only to add unnecessary pounds via their meal planning. For a few extra bucks per day at most, going keto on the trail is your best bang for your buck. You likely won’t get to oohs and ahhs that the latest gear often elicits, but you won’t mind when you have three less pounds to carry on your final push.

If you’re looking for more ways to lighten the load, discover why using powdered oil to cut weight is our best-kept secret.

Our Keto Foods That We Personally Use

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