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Milk is the New Gatorade

Dehydrated Milk Varieties are available for a lot of different dietary preferences
Dehydrated Milk Varieties are available for a lot of different dietary preferences

Milk is the new Gatorade for backpackers. At least dehydrated milk is. What other energy drink weighs so little but packs such a big punch in terms of calories and overall nutrition?

With a caloric density of 150 calories per once (dry), drinking a quart of whole milk will add 640 calories to your diet per day, in addition to loads of protein and electrolytes that hikers and backpackers have to work on getting enough of on long hikes. In liquid form, it goes down quick and doesn’t need a lot of preparation like cooked food.

Here’s a side-by-side head comparison of several varieties of milk vs. Gatorade to show you what you’ve been missing.

 Serving Size (g)Caloric density per ounce (dry)Calories per cup (liquid)Fat (g)Carbs (g)Protein (g)Sodium (mg)Potassium (mg)
Nido Instant Whole Milk301511609117105390
Myenberg Instant Whole Goat Milk281421407118115327
Instant Non-Fat Milk23111901.5188125390
Better-Than-Milk Instant Soy Milk239880012111525
Gatorade Orange Powder237460021014545

While Gatorade positions itself as an electrolyte replacement and energy drink, it’s basically just carbohydrates in the form of sugar, without the calorie rich fat and protein provided by milk. When compared side-by-side, Gatorade doesn’t even provide significantly more electrolytes than milk. Maybe, it’s time to get a milk mustache and toss your Gatorade into the hiker box.

Whole Milk

Chances are you grew up drinking regular whole milk after school with your cookies or to wash down a PB&J sandwich. Nido dehydrated whole milk is the most popular brand among long distance hikers and tastes great when mixed with cold spring water on a hot day. Anecdotal evidence has also shown a significant reduction in the number of thru-hikers who choke on Nutella/Flour Tortilla sandwiches when eaten with a cold cup of Nido whole milk.

Goat Milk

Lactose intolerant? Try Meyenberg dehydrated goat milk instead. While goat milk (like all natural milk) contains lactose, many people who react poorly to lactose don’t have the same problem with goat milk. Because of its digestibility, you may find it’s the perfect alternative. And it’s gluten free. (Remember if you have been clinically diagnosed with either true cow milk allergy or lactose intolerance be sure to consult your medical profession before drinking goat milk.)

Instant Non-Fat Milk

While instant non-fat milk is not as nutritious as whole milk and goat milk, it is much more widely available in small town grocery stores, which is a real consideration on long distance hiking trails. It’s also widely available in smaller stay-fresh envelopes, making it possible to buy in smaller quantities and more convenient to send to yourself in mail resupply boxes.

Soy Milk

If you don’t consume dairy products, you can also benefit by drinking Better-than-Milk Soy Milk. While it’s technically not milk, it’s a pretty good stand-in versus Gatorade. But if you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, you know all this already, right?

Written 2015. Updated 2017.

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3 comments

  1. I have tried powdered whole milk products but didn’t care for (1) their taste, and (2) the difficulty that I had in mixing them using cold water. Yes, I know that warm water works best, but that doesn’t cut it for use on my breakfast granola or as a beverage during supper.

    I have been pleased with the Milkman product in regards to its taste and ease with cold water mixing, plus it can be purchased in smaller quantities so that it never has a chance to go bad between hikes. On the downside, I don’t believe that it has as many nutrients and carbohydrates as the whole milk products. How does it compare to the products that were listed in your blog?

    I save my whole powdered mild to add as an ingredient in my dehydrated suppers. I also add dehydrated coconut powder to my meals whenever I can for its nutritional value, carbohydrates, magnesium (to prevent leg cramps), high amounts of dietary fiber, and its ability to help reduce joint inflammation.

  2. Philip, I took another look at the chart and I had a question on the values for caloric density. From what I read it is calculated by dividing the number of calories per serving by the number of grams in one serving. Nido is shown as having a caloric density of 151, but 160 calories divided by 30= a caloric density of 5.3 (calories per gram). Will you explain how whomever made the chart calculated a caloric density of 151?

    Milkman instant lowfat dry milk has a caloric density of 3.9 calories per gram (94 cal. divided by 24 gram serving size). Compared to Nido, per serving, it has less calories (94) owing to its lower fat content (1.4g.), more carbs (12g.), more protein (8g.), less sodium (92mg.), and fairly close to the same amount of potassium (355mg.)

    So it looks like, other than fat/calorie content and a slightly lower caloric density, Milkman is comparable to Nido. On the plus side it is easy to mix with cold water and it tastes better (in my opinion, others might disagree). The lower fat content can easily be made up for by consuming cheese and dried meats, or by adding powdered whole milk or dry powdered cottage cheese to the recipes of dehydrated meals.

    I did some checking on dietary recommendations for potassium. For those over age 14 the USDA recommends 4.7 grams per day (4,700 milligrams), or 12- 8oz. servings of Nido. For those with serious leg cramp issues it might be necessary to further supplement their diet with vitamins. Using powdered milk is a great way to help prevent leg cramps, as is the consumption of tomato paste/sauce, white beans, dates, raisins, trail mix, and dried papayas as part of a trail diet. When I am especially drained at the end of a long day on the trail a couple of Tylenol taken before bed helps to stave off my leg cramps during the night.

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