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Trekking in Patagonia: How to plan for thru-hiking as a food allergy adult

Trekking in Patagonia: How to plan for thru-hiking as a food allergy adult

Ever since I learned about the glaciers in Patagonia, one of my bucket list travel items has been to visit them before they melt. As a kid, walking on them was more of a romantic idea, but as an adult who has become fond of hiking and a good challenge, a mere glacier tour was not enough. We have been flirting with thru-hikes for a while and finally decided to take the plunge by trekking in Patagonia! But what would it be like thru hiking as a food allergy adult in a remote place like Patagonia?

Wait, what is thru-hiking? Thru-hiking is longer trails prioritizing miles on ultra-light setup, whereas backpacking is short day or multi-day trips. Thru-hiking is a touch more serious business if you will. 

This was surprisingly a challenging thru-hike to plan. Not only because we would be in the middle of the wilderness, so having an allergic reaction is not ideal, but this would be our first thru-hike carrying all our gear. So, I will explain how we planned our hiking trip to Torres del Paine, the national park of the Chilean side of Patagonia. It took us a few weeks and many spreadsheets, and we only made one mistake along the way!

How do you even start to plan a weeklong thru-hike as an adult with food allergies?

Planning the Thru-Hike as a Food Allergy Adult

Torres del Paine has two famous circuits, the O and the W. We decided to do the O, which typically takes 8 to 9 days. You can book with a tour, or you can book it individually, making it much cheaper and more flexible, albeit the booking process is not easy. We booked the O circuit on our own and had to skip one of the campsites because it was booked up, meaning we did it for 7 days because we combined two hiking days. 

The booking process meant we had to book our campsite for each day. As it was our first time doing a thru-hike, we decided not to bring a tent, so we rented pitched tents and, since we booked pretty last minute, had two nights in shared rooms at the refugios (the name for the campsites). You can also book food if you want. For some bizarre reason, we booked food for me! More on that later.

Thru-Hiking Food and Eating in Patagonia

This was the busiest camping site and Christmas Day! I enjoyed a meal of dehydrated macaroni and veggies with a bean dip sauce.

We booked my husband most of his meals and booked a handful for me. But I was pretty sure that was a huge mistake because, with multiple food allergies, there was no way I was going to be taking any risks while on the trip of a lifetime in the middle of a national park with the closest hospital hours away. 

I have never been around so much trail mix, peanuts and pad thai in my life! You will definitely encounter nuts while hiking! 

Kortney

Not only did I know I needed enough safe food for seven days, but there were some big question marks like how safe food is in Chile, their allergen standards, how to ensure my food was not too heavy, and whether I get enough calories. The guy helping me buy my backpack told me I should not carry more than 12,5kg, including food, gear like a stove, sleeping bag and clothes. SO HOW THE HECK WAS I TO DO THIS?

Homemade Dehydrated Backpacking Meals

Homemade Dehydrated meals was the answer to my food allergy concerns. It is an effective way to preserve food, reduce weight, and ensure it remains palatable for extended periods. This method offers several advantages:

  • Safe Ingredients: Cooking meals with foods you know you can eat and dehydrating them gives you peace of mind that what you eat has been made in your kitchen. Of course, you can buy these meals, but taking this chance was not an option for me.
  • Weight!: Dehydrated meals are significantly lighter than fresh food and take up less space. 
  • Extended Shelf Life: Properly dehydrated meals can last for months, eliminating the need to frequent grocery stores or rely on limited options during your hike. They also allow you to prep beforehand and over a longer period. 

Planning and preparation are crucial when embarking on a thru-hike for food allergy travel. Here’s how I approached my Patagonian adventure:

1- Use foods you know:

This is for your meals and the pre-made snacks like allergen-free bars and candy.

I took no risks here and only packed foods I regularly eat. While cooking, I also ensured the areas were clean, as we have allergens in the house. 

2- Meal planning:

Plan your meals for the entire hike duration, considering the timing of meals, calorie needs, and the availability of water sources. Ensure your meals are balanced regarding macronutrients, including carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. This will provide sustained energy throughout the day. 

This was the most time-consuming part of the planning. I looked at how much we were hiking that day and ensured the meals would be enough. I ate two meals on some days, so it was not perfect as I underestimated the calorie count (I packed more than needed, thank goodness!). Knowing how much to pack is a fine balance because you want enough food but don’t want excess weight.

3- Equipment:

I bought a dehydrator and vacuum sealer. It took two weeks to dehydrate all the food and a few days to pack them. I dehydrated single ingredients and built meals instead of dehydrating fully prepared meals. 

Here are the two blogs I used to plan all of this. 

4- Snacks and supplements:

Carry nutritious snacks to replenish energy levels as needed – think bars and, of course, some candies. Also, consider adding electrolyte supplements and broth to maintain hydration. Also coffee!! Lots of coffee!

See Also

Kortney enjoying tuna after hiking in patagonia
Lunch on Christmas Eve! I brought this tuna with me on the hardest day to enjoy it midway through a 28 km and 2000 m elevation day.

Foods That Travel Well That We Brought From Home: 

  • Oatmeal packs (next time I would bring something sweet to add to these)
  • Instant coffee with oat milk powder
  • Pita bread with avocado and canned tuna
  • Allergen-free protein bars 
  • Nut-free Chocolate
  • Dried fruits
  • Packs of olive oil for fat and added calories

My Best Homemade Backpacking Meals: 

  • Pasta with bean sauce – basically bean dip with noodles and some dehydrated veggies
  • Rice with veggies and legumes. Amped it up by using both to rehydrate.
  • Sweet potato, spinach and lentils with spices

As I mentioned at the beginning of this epic post – we booked meals for me. I honestly have no idea why! Since we paid for them and they were not cheap, why not see what we can do about it? OMG,  were they amazing! When we checked in, they asked immediately if there were any allergies. I gave them my allergy card, and they didn’t even bat an eye. 

My husband made a great point that they cannot afford an allergic reaction, so they must take it seriously which they did! Ultimately, I ate two of the booked dinners and parts of the breakfasts. It was a little surreal, and honestly, I have never had a better experience than the refuggios for feeling taken care of. 

Lunch from the reffugio - totally allergy safe
My lunch! Made by the beautiful chef who made sure I had a super safe and allergy-free eating experience.

My Thru Hiking Packing List as a Food Allergy Adult 

Beyond food, I brought other things for my Patagonia hike, including:  

Medication for travel:

  • 4 epi-pens
  • 2 inhalers
  • A lot of antihistamines. The climate and flora change so often that you don’t know what you may encounter, such as grass pollen, which someone on our trek felt quite a bit. 

Cooking & Eating Gear:

  • Thermos helps lessen the cooking time, so you half cook the food and then let the thermos do the rest for an hour or so. It is great for a hot lunch along the trek but does add weight to your pack.
  • A water bottle that is distinctly marked so no one else accidentally drinks from it. There are a lot of water bottles, so ensure yours is safe and close to you. You will encounter a lot of nuts on trekking routes. 
  • We rented a stove, pots, bowls, and utensils. Before heading on the trek, I made sure to triple-wash these items to be sure there were 0 traces of allergens from the previous renters. You can never be too safe. 

Clothing: 

  • 3 t-shirts
  • 2 pants
  • 3 underwear
  • 3 socks
  • 2 seaters
  • 1 scarf
  • 1 hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Gloves
  • Raincoat
  • Fleece jacket (doubles as a pillow)
  • Hiking boots
  • Camp shoes – like flip flops or something light

And Other Thru Hiking Essentials…

  • Backpack 
  • Sleeping bag
  • Iso mat
  • Headlamp
  • Deck of cards or another light game (keyword light as in not very heavy in weight)
  • Book or Kindle or magazine

Letting food allergies be an obstacle is not an option for me. There is always a way. Whether you go with a tour group or spend two weeks dehydrating food and sacrificing a few t-shirts for some safe rice, the journey is up to you! If you are considering a thru-hike with food allergies, I encourage you to embrace the adventure, both in the prep and while on the trail.


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