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Outdoor Action

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Special Dietary Needs in the Backcountry

Students with Special Dietary Needs on Outdoor Action

Jewish Students and Shabbat

Keeping the Jewish Sabbath on OA

Usually, Frosh Trip does not conflict with Sabbath observance, since the trips are not in the field during Shabbat. However, some Leader Training Trips may be in the field on a Saturday, and in that case, there are a lot of measures your trip can take to ensure you are fulfilling your Sabbath observance. Some of the issues of observing the Sabbath are covered below. (See Kosher Menu Planning below). Since traditional observance varies greatly, some students will observe all of these, some a few. Be sure to talk to your trip leader about how you would like to observe Shabbat on your trip.

Requirements of Shabbat

Shabbat lasts from one hour before sundown on Friday to the time on Saturday night when three stars are visible. In order to maintain the spirit of the festivity, Jews do no work on Shabbat. Also a Jew is prohibited from asking others to do work for him or her. Work, along with what people usually think of, includes carrying things in an open space, tying knots, lighting a fire, or turning on a flashlight. It is possible for others to volunteer to do things for someone observing Shabbat, but they must not be asked to do the work. Your trip will be scheduled so that you get into camp at least two hours before sunset on Friday and stay at that location until Sunday morning. There may be some type of local activity on Saturday for people who don't celebrate Shabbat such as a day hike, trail maintenance project, or rock climbing trip. Short hikes on Saturday are fine for some people who want to keep Shabbat as long as they don't have to carry anything. If this would be okay for you on your trip, your leaders would carry water and food for any observant people and volunteer to do that first thing in the morning.

Preparing for Shabbat

Because Jews cannot carry things in a public domain, it is necessary that the group stay in an enclosed are such as a tent, lean-to or cabin. Your group will set up camp early on Friday so you won't be rushed, making sure that all tarps, bear bag lines, etc., are up. For the bathroom, they will designate a spot for Shabbat and leave some toilet paper in a Ziplock bag. For light, you can light a three-hour candle and let it burn out. If you consider using flashlights work-related and therefore prefer not to handle them during Shabbat, bringing a 12-hour Cyalume™ light stick and breaking it open before sunset may be an acceptable alternative. If not, others will have headlamps so you can see around the campsite.

Special Dietary Considerations

We will take into consideration the different eating habits of all the group members when planing the menu. There may be people with food allergies, those who are vegetarians, and/or those who keep kosher. We will plan a variety of food, especially on longer trips, and will be asking trip members and checking forms for dietary needs before the menu is finalized. Throughout the trip, we will cook milk, meat or whatever part of a meal which cannot be eaten by everyone separately. It will be aside in a separate dish for people to add to their own individual plates.


Not all vegetarians exclude the same foods. The most common forms of Vegetarians are:

  • Ovo-lacto Vegetarians: will eat eggs and milk products but no red meat, poultry, fish or animal by-products (lard, etc.).
  • Vegans: eat only foods of plant origin. These individuals must plan a careful diet to make sure that they are getting adequate nutrients.
  • Pescatarians and others: avoid eating red meat, but will eat fish and/or poultry.

If you are vegan, you might be interested in bringing vacuum packed containers of tofu (soybean curd). It is also important to remember that the daily demands of wilderness travel require high caloric intake which may be difficult for some vegetarians since fats are often obtained in meat and dairy products. Nuts and peanuts contain oils which are good sources of both fats and calories and we will have lots of them on the trip. We will also be eating lots of other non-meat protein sources like hummus, beans, and quinoa. Still, you are welcome to bring your own supplementary snacks, like protein bars, if you would like.

Food Allergies

Food allergies are a critical safety consideration that we need to know about before you go out on the trail. Someone who is extremely allergic to a food can have an anaphylactic reaction (see Chapter 9 - First Aid & Emergency Care: Anaphylaxis). In many cases, we use substitute foods for the offending item. Some examples of substitutions we make include using sun butter and almond butter on peanut-free trips, and replacing the GORP with GORK: good old raisins and Kashi (and chocolate chips!)

On a nut-free Outdoor Action trip, typically only 3-4 of the frosh will actually be allergic to peanuts and/or tree nuts. However, to avoid any nasty allergic reactions, all of the provided food will be nut-free. We’ve worked really hard to find delicious nut-free alternatives to standard Outdoor Action food that is not safe for people with nut allergies. We save all of the original packaging of our food so that you can look at the ingredients list if you would like.

All students with particularly severe allergies are placed in areas with easy access to hospitals, and might be shuttled by Support from Princeton to the trailhead since we cannot guarantee a nut-free environment on a bus.

Kosher Meal Planning

If you have indicated that you keep kosher, your leaders will talk to you about what your observance entails. In some cases keeping kosher involves avoiding some foods, for some it will mean using only Kosher versions of foods, and in other cases it may mean having cookware (pots, utensils, etc.) that have been kept kosher.

  • Kosher and Non-kosher Products: Foods items that are Kosher are manufactured under strict standards supervised by a Rabbi. These items typically are labeled with a U symbol or a K symbol or the word Parve.
  • Unkosher Combinations: Mixing a meat (poultry and red meats) with a dairy product (any dairy products including milk, cream, cheeses, and butter is not considered kosher. However, fish is not considered a meat so fish and dairy can be mixed. There are some fish that not are considered kosher, and all shellfish are unkosher.
  • Solutions: The easiest way we keep kosher on our trips is avoiding bringing any meat products (poultry and red meats). We bring some fish products, like salmon. 
  • Utensils: For those who need to have kosher utensils, we provide brand-new cookware so that we know it has not been used to prepare any unkosher food. We will be careful not to mix non-kosher personal utensils with the group's kosher utensils. 


On a Kosher Outdoor Action trip, typically only 2-3 of the frosh will actually keep Kosher. However, to avoid isolating Kosher frosh, all of the provided food will be certified kosher. Prepared foods may require the certification of an outside agency to be sure that there are no non-kosher ingredients- even in small quantities. We retain all of the original packaging of our food so that you can check the labels if you would like.

Throughout the trip your leaders will make sure that all of the food preparation conforms to your needs and those of the other students on the trip.

Keeping Halal

Halal, the Islamic dietary laws, are simple when applied to OA.  They only include restrictions on meat and alcohol (which should not be relevant to Frosh Trip!); everything else is acceptable.  For meat to be Halal, the name of God must be said while it is sacrificed.  Because seafood is not considered “meat”, we have removed the meat and added in extra salmon.  There are no restrictions on cooking utensils or combinations of foods.

Gluten Free Trips

On a gluten-free OA trip, typically only 3-4 of the frosh will actually have a gluten allergy.  However, to avoid isolating frosh, most of the provided food will be gluten-free.  The most serious reason for a gluten-free diet is celiac disease, which results in gastrointestinal discomfort if gluten is ingested. A gluten-free diet normally consists of corn, potatoes, rice, or quinoa instead of wheat products. Although oats themselves do not contain gluten, they are often been cross contaminated with wheat, and thus your GF frosh will be issued a special bag of GF oatmeal.

 For Frosh Trip, some of the meals have been replaced with a gluten-free alternative (wheat pasta becomes rice pasta, etc.).  One is tortillas; wheat tortillas are more durable on the trail so they are provided for the group, while the gluten-free individuals will receive gluten free tortillas. You will also have quinoa pasta as a base for dinner the night of pita pizza (but can eat all the veggies, sauce, and cheese)

Other Dietary Restrictions

Participants with particularly restrictive dietary needs (such as no fruits and vegetables) are contacted over the summer so that the menu for Frosh Trip can be reviewed with them in advance and plans made accordingly. In many cases, you might have to bring separate food for yourself, generally equivalent food items that can replace those carried on frosh trip (e.g., corn tortillas instead of flour ones). For any frosh with special dietary needs, leaders will review medical forms one-on-one and discuss what needs to happen on the trip to keep the frosh safe and comfortable. If you need to bring your own food, your leaders will review your food items to make sure they are suitable for backpacking and that you will be well-nourished the entire trip.