Backpacking on a Gluten-Free Diet 101

August 1, 2019

You’re about to take a friend on their first backpacking trip. After planning the route and finding gear this friend can borrow, you thought the preparation was almost over… until you realize that your friend cannot eat gluten!

If ramen is your base ingredient when eating on the trail, some changes will be needed to adapt to a gluten-free diet, but luckily for you, many gluten-free options are easy to prepare in the backcountry. Follow this short guide to find how:

Where is the gluten hidden?

Gluten is the name for some types of proteins that are found in wheat, barley, rye and other cereal grains such as triticale, spelt and kamut. Gluten is an important component of pasta, bread, many breakfast cereal, and bakery goods. These are the most obvious gluten-containing products, but gluten can also be found in a variety of food items such as soy sauce, gravy mixes, some chocolate bars, broths, soup bases, and deli meats. You should pay close attention to labels and choose certified gluten-free products whenever possible. In doubt, your friend following a gluten-free diet will be your best resource.

Celiac disease should be considered an allergy

People follow a gluten-free diet for a variety of reasons nowadays. Some of them were diagnosed with coeliac disease, which is often called “gluten intolerance”. Despite this name, Celiac disease should be considered like an allergy to gluten. Indeed, even very small amounts of gluten can cause harm to those affected. For this reason, I recommend treating it like a severe allergy. Would you bring a trail mix containing peanuts on a trip with a friend with an anaphylactic allergy to peanuts? No! So, planning a gluten-free meal plan for everyone on the trip would be the easiest way to avoid cross-contamination through cookware, utensils or in food storage.

Gluten-free doesn’t mean flavorless

Although many replacement products exist for gluten-containing products, many foods are naturally gluten-free. When it comes to maximizing flavor and texture, choosing naturally gluten-free foods is probably your best bet. I highlighted many recipes that have the potential to be gluten-free. However, make sure you double-check the labels of the products you choose. Pay special attention to broth powders, soup mixes, grain and pulses as well as any other transformed products.

What about oats?

Oats have traditionally been excluded from gluten-free diets because of common contamination with gluten in commercially available oats. Turns out pure uncontaminated oats are considered safe for a majority of people with coeliac disease. You can read more about this topic here. This is the reason why I included oatmeal recipes in the gluten-free section. However, before packing oats for your gluten-free friend, make sure to check with them.

Have fun out there!

Gen Masson, MSc, RD, CSSD

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