Those that have seen my reviews of Tally’s Silver Spoon, Windigo Store, or Angry Trout Cafe have seen that in the last few years, I’ve done a handful of backpacking trips with Fitpacking, a New England-based backpacking group focusing on “weight loss backpacking”. While most everyone I know will agree that while I’m certainly not very overweight, I could stand to lose a few pounds, but more than few people that know my outdoor experience have asked, “Why is Rich, an experienced and able backpacker, using an guide service like Fitpacking when you could just do everything yourself?”

There’s a handful of reasons for it; One of the bigger ones is that while one of the enjoyments of the great outdoors is getting some solitude, I generally enjoy being part of a smaller group of like-minded individuals, and a guide service like Fitpacking is one of the better ways of pulling that off. And I’ve met quite a few interesting folks doing these trips, including NASA flight controllers, retired pilots, lawyers, engineers, and even the occasional hot dog stand owner.

And Fitpacking is great at finding some of the more unusual destinations; while certainly offering a lot of trips to standard backpacking locales like Yosemite, Isle Royale, or Mount Rainier, they also find a lot of neat itineraries to less-common trails, like New Jersey’s BaToNa through the Pine Barrens, or California’s Lost Coast trail.

But probably the biggest attraction to me is the organizational one. I easily get frustrated with the processes of permitting, campsite reservations, boat reservations (for a place like Isle Royale), and itinerary planning (finding a basic itinerary that’s challenging enough for everyone while not overtaxing anyone). And I’m quite frankly terrible at coming up with creative ideas for backpacking food. Sure, I could just do like a lot of backpackers these days and hit up the local outdoor store for some packets of Mountain House or Backpacker’s Pantry, where “cooking” generally consists of boiling some water and tossing it in a packet. While the instant food offerings are substantially better than they were when I was growing up, they still mostly reduce eating to a maintenance activity instead of an enjoyable one, and honestly, after a solid day of hard backpacking, there’s fewer things better than a good hot meal. But when it comes to my own meal planning, I often draw a blank on good ideas, and don’t have a good idea about scaling meals. Fitpacking handles the organizational part extremely well. And if you’re doing a group trip? Then you inevitably have to deal with special dietary needs; on my last trip, we had vegetarians, vegans, spice-loving, spice-hating, no-sugar, and no-artificial-sugar participants. Talk about a planning challenge, but they handled it with surprising grace.

So the question comes down to it, how well do you eat on a Fitpacking trip? With a name like Fitpacking you’d think it was all sprouts and granola, but I’ve been quite pleased with the variety involved in my various fitpacking trips. There’s always going to be a handful of constraints with backpacking; everything’s got to be lightweight, and aside from maybe the first meal non-perishable, but you also want everything to be reasonably healthy and tasty as well. But you can also splurge a bit when backpacking: 6-10 miles a day of hauling 40-50 lbs of pack, often with vertical climbs of several thousand feet burns more than a few calories, so you don’t need to exactly starve yourself to lose weight, either; the backpacking is doing it for you (this isn’t too far removed from my tradition of doing “Death March” urban explorations where we hike 20 miles in a day through a city, dining as we go).

I haven’t taken a lot of photos of the food on my trips, but did make sure to get pictures of one meal: about halfway through our Black Hills trip in South Dakota, our guide Steve made us… pizza. After settling into camp, he set up at one of the picnic tables, mixed up some dough, and started rolling out individual pan-sized crusts for each participant. Each dough was first cooked on each side, and then dressed with sauce, cheese, and toppings, and covered and allowed to melt everything. Is it going to replace Frank Pepe’s Pizza or Pizzeria Bianco? Of course not. But as backpacking fare goes, it’s top rate.

A few of the other memorable meals have included things ranging from standard backpacking fare, like blueberry pancakes, quesadillas, or a potato soup (made from freeze-dried potatoes and mushrooms), to some more exotic fare: “cowboy wraps” (tortillas filled with shelf-stable chicken, fresh cole slaw, sun-dried tomatoes, and roasted red peppers) and an inventive breakfast hash made from veggie sausage, dehydrated eggs, and crushed-up Sweets and Beets chips that was surprisingly rich and flavorful.

We’re not completely spoiled: while the guides do most of the food prep, the group members are all carrying their share of the food (nicely parceled into Ursack bear bags for hanging at night), plus often carrying a share of the fuel and cookware. Still, by the end of a weeklong trip to start to run into something most distance backpackers have already learned: it’s almost impossible to eat enough while doing a demanding backpacking trip to not lose weight.

So in the end, I’m a real fan. It’s a great way to get out and see some of the best backpacking spots in the country, meat interesting people, improve my fitness… and compared to a lot of guide services, it doesn’t break the bank, either.

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