Backpacker’s Brownie Breakfast Brew

Makes one breakfast drink

3 Tbsp brownie mix (we used Krusteaz gluten free double chocolate)
1 packet of Starbucks Via Instant coffee (Columbia)
1/3 cup Carnation powdered milk
1 scoop (27g) protein powder (we used IsoPrime because we got a killer deal, though it’s far from the tastiest protein powder on the market)
2 packets hot chocolate mix (we used the Big Y brand, but any should do)
1 adult multivitamin, powdered


  • Mix all ingredients in a sandwich size baggie
  • To serve, add four cups of water (hot or cold) and stir thoroughly
  • Some sediment may settle out, requiring additional stirring or shaking 

Moving to New England has opened a whole new world of experiences to me. I never knew how much I would enjoy strolling through deep woods beside crumbling stone walls, or watching the drift and swirl of snow on a sub-zero morning walk. However, in all my time here I have never forgotten the one thing this coast simply cannot deliver: mountains. I mean, sure, the east coast has mountains. I’ve hiked a couple peaks so far and freely admit that they had gorgeous views and were real lung busters to get up. Even so, nothing I have seen here so far has compared to the rugged, towering reaches of the High Sierra.

Before leaving California, Katja and I discussed my love for grand mountains. She wanted to know how I would feel leaving them far behind. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel terribly conflicted. After all, I rarely had enough time off to undertake satisfactory treks into the mountains. In a good year, I could slip away maybe once or twice. Moving to the east coast, I knew I would be on a teacher’s schedule. That would mean even less free time during the school year, but summers totally free. Katja and I could fly back to California to visit family and go hiking, and we would probably get to spend more time among the high peaks than we did when we lived there.

I am now half way through my first year teaching on the east coast in a historically underserved community. The job has kept me busier than any other job I have ever held, and the stress and frustration can often be overwhelming. I keep my sanity with the help of my amazing wife, the constant adventures of a new home, and the promise of our first summer back in California. Ever since moving here, Katja and I have planned to head back to the Sierra Nevada for a much-needed hiking trip. For her part, she wants to take on her longest through hike to date. For me, it will be a chance to refresh and reconnect with a place I love. Our plan is to hike the Tahoe Rim Trail, then hike the PCT down to the John Muir Trail. In total, we are looking at over 500 miles on the trail, through some of the toughest terrain the Sierras have to offer. I can’t wait.

With the New Year, the time has come for us to begin preparing for our hike. It’s not nearly as ambitious as the Pacific Crest Trail, but it will require plenty of planning nonetheless. One thing we wanted to start early was our meal planning. This was something I didn’t do nearly enough of in advance of my PCT hike, and I was fortunate to have my parents pick up a lot of my slack while managing my resupply boxes. This time around we want to make sure we save money, provide ourselves plenty of diversity in our menu, and pack as many calories into our meals as we possibly can.

Though it may sound cliché, breakfast on the trail truly is the most important meal of the day. It sets the tone for the day and provides energy necessary to tackle that 2,000 foot climb you didn’t have the heart to attempt the previous evening. On the PCT, I learned the value of a breakfast shake that could be served hot or cold. One that tasted like dessert so it was easy to drink, and that provided a jolt of caffeine to clear the cobwebs inevitably left over from the night’s Advil PM. Coupled with a handful of trail mix or peanut M&Ms, I could usually get almost a quarter of my daily calories down before the sun was fully up.

Katja and I both have some experience making breakfast shakes for the trail. My recipe came from my experiences on the PCT; hers from a recent solo through hike on the Northville Placid Trail. Neither of us were 100% satisfied with our creations. My drink was never quite tasty enough and hers, though delicious, didn’t deliver on calories. This past week we set about combining the two recipes, hoping to bring the best of both into one calorie-rich, tasty beverage. We combed the shelves at the local grocery store, looking for ingredients. Our only rule of thumb was the standard backpacking formula of at least 100 calories for every ounce.

For the most part we nailed this recipe on the first try. We selected brownie mix, powdered milk, protein powder, powdered peanut butter, and a Starbucks Via packet for caffeine. However, when I tallied and weighed the end product, I came up with 4.25 ounces and only 380 calories. Something needed to change. Surprisingly, it was the powdered peanut butter that didn’t meet our weight/calorie ratio, so out it went. In its place, we added two packets of hot chocolate, which boosted both the calorie count and the chocolaty flavor. The only other tweak we made was to add powdered multi-vitamin, which we ran through a spice grinder to reach the right consistency. I know the efficacy of multi-vitamins is up for debate, but the added weight was negligible and we figured the addition couldn’t hurt.

As we taste tested our concoction, we commented on how smooth and drinkable it was. Despite the massive doses of chocolate, it wasn’t too rich or filling to drink in one sitting (a problem I ran into on the PCT, thanks to the inclusion of way too much powdered creamer). Granted, this drink’s flavor profile is short of gourmet, and it creates a bit of sediment at the bottom of the Nalgene. However, for a calorically dense, trail-ready breakfast drink, this one hit the mark.

Below is a list of the nutrition information for our mix. All percentages are estimates based on USDA guidelines and my body weight.

Calories   550
Carbohydrates   66g (29%)
Protein   35g (67%)
Sodium   725mg (32%)
Potassium   814mg (17%)
Fat   2g
Calcium   56%
Iron   106%
Vitamin A   10%
Vitamin B6   100%
Vitamin B12   100%
Vitamin C   102%
Vitamin D   275%
Vitamin E   100%
Vitamin K   31%
Manganese   115%
Copper   25%
Selenium   79%
Zinc   73%
Magnesium   13%
Iodine   100%
Phosphorous   2%
Biotin   10%
Thiamin   100%
Riboflavin   100%
Niacin   100%
Folic Acid   100%
Pantothenic Acid   100%
Chromium   29%
Molybdenum   60%
Chloride   2%

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