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Hike Hard and Eat Great

How one hiker turned her passion for food and the outdoors into a new business and a new way of life | By Jessi Loerch

Aaron Owens Mayhew’s business, Backcountry Foodie, began with a massive life change.

“I had a midlife crisis. I think we can put it that way,” she said. “I was at a job where I was unhappy and getting ready to turn 40. So, I decided to quit my job that I had intended to retire from and thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail.”

Aaron, who was living in Seattle at the time, had been a dietitian for 16 years. As she prepared for her PCT hike she had a realization.

“I’ve been an athlete my entire life. I know how much I eat — and I eat a lot,” she said. “Once I started preparing for the hike I started panicking. I thought ‘how can I physically carry this much food?’”

Aaron on the Olympic Coast. Photo by Chris Mayhew.jpg
Aaron in the office. Photo by Chris Mayhew.

On her shorter trips, she’d been able to get away with tossing in whatever. And, if her nutrition wasn’t ideal, no big deal. She’d just recover when she got home. But the PCT would be different.

She knew she’d need 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day. So, being the dietitian that she is, she started doing the math and she began experimenting with making her own lightweight food — something that would fulfill her calorie needs as well as all of her nutritional needs for protein and vitamins so that she could stay happy and healthy on the trail for months.

“I was able to get all those calories and all that nutrition in two pounds or less,” she said. “And people were just in awe. But I was new to this, so I didn’t realize it was such a big deal.”

Aaron’s PCT journey didn’t go exactly to plan. She had a shoulder injury after 375 miles. After rehabbing from that, she hiked on both the Appalachian Trail and the PCT in Washington for a total of 1,200 miles in 2017. The next year, she thru-hiked the entire Oregon Coast Trail, all without a stove. After all of that, it was time to figure out what was next.

Ultimately, what was next was creating her own business, her husband quitting his job and the two of them moving into a van full time.

The van, a 2014 Mercedes Sprinter, made their business possible by allowing them to dramatically reduce their living expenses. But getting it ready to go was a lot of work.

Aaron at Yellow Aster Butte. Photo by Chris Mayhew.jpg
Aaron hiking at Yellow Aster Butte. Photo by Chris Mayhew.

“Essentially, it was empty when we got it. It was just a cargo shell,” she said. “It was really nice, because we could start from scratch. We built all of it ourselves — with zero building experience.”

The build was specifically designed to support Aaron’s recipe development. The kitchen includes a deep sink, large refrigerator, extended countertop and lots of cabinet space not typically found in camper vans. Two 30-gallon totes including ingredients, a dehydrator, vacuum sealer and other meal prep items are stored in the rear of the van. And then, they made room for the rest of the gear. The build was challenging, but actually living in limited space was easier than expected.

“We’ve actually downsized four times since we’ve been in it,” Aaron said. “It’s kind of like being a thru-hiker. You realize that you just don’t need a lot.

Now, Aaron and her husband, Chris, both work out of the van. Chris, who has a corporate background, runs the business aspects of Backcountry Foodie while Aaron is in charge of all things food.

They’ve been on the road full time since April 2019, and they love it. They work in the van, live in the van and adventure from the van.

They primarily spend their time on forest roads and in primitive campgrounds — the more remote, the better. They only stay in town when they are passing through or need to do town chores.

“We are in such a better place than we were before,” she said. “That’s made it worth every bit of it. Life is too short to be miserable. … I try to talk everyone one in to it. If you’re in a miserable job, get out. Figure it out. If you never try, you never know if you can make anything of it.”

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Aaron trail testing food. Photo by Chris Mayhew.

Backcountry Foodie

Backcountry Foodie is a one-stop shop for nutritional needs on trail. It’s designed to work for everyone from casual backpackers to folks hoping to set a fastest known time on a long-distance trail.

As part of the service, members have access to an ever-growing website including ultralight recipes, meal planning worksheets, sample meal plans, webinars and group web calls. New recipes are released each week.

All of the recipes are designed to be made in 5 minutes or less, either at home or on the trail. They’re lightweight, use minimal water and are non-bulky — important when you need to carry a bear can.

Aaron maximizes all of the ingredients to provide as much nutrition as possible. She looks for foods that have protein, fats and carbs all at the same time. So, for instance, she doesn’t use white rice but instead uses quinoa, which packs in more nutrition for its weight. She uses chickpea pasta instead of regular pasta, because it’s so much higher in protein.

For those who love to geek out about the numbers, Aaron provides detailed information on nutrition and weight. If you’re counting grams, Aaron can help.

To learn more about the service, and to get 40 percent off a 1-year membership, go to You can try out the service for free for 30 days before you commit.

Lemon blueberry oatmeal. Photo by Chris Mayhew.jpg

 Lemon Blueberry Oatmeal


  • ½ cup instant oatmeal (40 g)
  • ¼ cup whole milk powder (30 g)
  • 2 Tbsp freeze dried blueberries (6 g)
  • 1/8 cup almonds, slivered (12 g)
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar (14 g)
  • 1 packet True Lemon™ powder (0.8 g)
  • ½ Tbsp coconut oil (7 g)

Substitution: Coconut milk powder may replace whole milk powder.

Home directions:

  1. Put all dry ingredients in a bag or container to be used in the backcountry.
  2. Pack ½ Tbsp (7 g) coconut oil, per serving, in a leakproof container to be added to the meal when consumed. Double bag the oil in the event there is a leak.

Field directions:

  1. Add 8 oz (240 mL) hot water or to desired consistency.
  2. Stir and let stand, allowing blueberries to rehydrate.
  3. Add ½ Tbsp (7 g) coconut oil.
  4. Stir to mix well and enjoy!

Marinated chickpeas. Photo by Chris Mayhew.jpg

Marinated Chickpeas


  • 1 cup chickpeas, dehydrated (99 g)
  • 1 ½ tsp oregano, dried (1.5 g)
  • 1 tsp parsley, dried (0.5 g)
  • 1 packet True Lemon™ powder (0.8 g)
  • ¼ tsp table salt (1.5 g)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil (41 g)

Note: Canned chickpeas can be easily dehydrated at home. Rinse, drain and remove the skins. Dehydrate at 125 degrees Fahrenheit (52 degrees Celsius) until completely dry.

Home directions:

  1. Remove skins from the chickpeas. They will otherwise sink to the bottom of the container after rehydrating making the meal less appealing.
  2. Put chickpeas in a bag or container to be used in the backcountry.
  3. Put the remaining dry ingredients in a separate bag to be stored with the chickpeas.
  4. Pack 3 Tbsp (41 g) olive oil, per serving, to be added at the time the meal is consumed in a leakproof container. Double bag the oil in the event there is a leak.

Field directions:

  1. Remove the herb packet.
  2. Add 4 oz (120 mL) cold water or enough to cover the chickpeas to the bag or container.
  3. Let stand, allowing chickpeas to fully rehydrate. This will take approximately 25 minutes. Do not over soak the chickpeas or they will become mushy.
  4. Once rehydrated, consume or properly dispose of the water to follow the Leave No Trace principle.
  5. Add herb packet and 3 Tbsp (41 g) olive oil to chickpeas.
  6. Stir to mix well and enjoy!

Chocolate peanut butter shake. Photo by Chris Mayhew.jpg

Chocolate Peanut Butter Shake


  • ½ cup whole milk powder (60 g)
  • ¼ cup PB Fit peanut butter powder (32 g)
  • 1 x 1.26 oz packet Carnation Breakfast
  • Essentials™ powder, chocolate (36 g)

Note: PB2 peanut powder is lower in fat and does not provide the same nutrition per gram weight. Emergency Essentials peanut powder is a higher fat (per gram) option that can be purchased at discount grocery stores such as Winco.

Home directions:

  1. Put all ingredients in a bag or container to be used in thebackcountry.

Field directions:

  1. Add 8 oz (240 mL) cold water to container. Adjust water as desired.
  2. Stir or shake vigorously to mix well.
  3. Massage bag with fingers or use utensil to break up any lumps.
  4. Enjoy!
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Support trails as a member WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.