If you want to get directly to the nitty-gritty, here’s a web story with 25 delicious backpacking food ideas for your next hike:
Read on for more backpacking food and meal planning tips and if you want to learn more about general rules for choosing great trail food.
What makes for good backpacking food?
In short, you want your trail food to be:
- Lightweight – When planning your meals for a backpacking trip or thru-hike one of the most important things to consider is weight and volume, more specifically calorie-density for a certain weight and volume. Food and water will most likely make up most of your pack weight, every ounce saved here will help. So you want to have a “calorie to ounce ratio” as high as possible.
- Easy-to-prepare – While on the trail, you probably won’t have the time for a 2-hour three course meal cooking sessions. You want to choose foods where you just have to add some hot water and that are read to eat after a few minutes or require no preparation at all. A variety of snacks can fuel you during the day so you won’t need to stop.
- Nutrient-rich – Hikers burn through a lot of calories, when walking for 10+ hours a day. You’ll need as much as 6000 calories per day to refuel. You’ll need protein to rebuild your muscles, carbohydrates to provide enough nutrition for long days on the trail and rich sources of fiber, minerals and fats.
- Non-perishable – If you can’t resupply every day you need food that still tastes good even after multiple days on the trail without refrigeration, stuffed into your backpack. You can get away in bringing a few things that are perishable during the first few days, but for the most part you want to stick to options that will last at least a week or longer.
- Delicious – Now this is very subjective, but the worst food is the one you’re carrying and end up not eating for one reason or another. Choose food you’re looking forward to eating, instead of trying to get used to exotic foods in order to save weight. Make sure you tried the food you’re bringing at least once at home before, so you don’t get surprised when on the trail during your backpacking trip.
How much food should you pack for your hike?
A general guideline is 1.5-2.5 lbs (0.7-1.1 kg) per day, per person. However it depends on your height, weight, intensity of your hike, how long you’re hiking per day on average. It’s best to get a sense of how much you’re eating on a few weekend trips before heading out to longer hikes. An important consideration is that you’ll burn more energy the heavier your pack weight. When carrying heavier food you’ll have to eat more calories and in turn carry more food, it’s easy to see that choosing food that has a high calorie density is paramount and after the big four (shelter, backpack, sleeping pad and sleeping bag) the most important consideration for ultralight backpacking.
Outsider has created a neat calorie estimator that can help you calculate your calorie needs during your backpacking trips.
For more ideas on backpacking meals and hiking cooking recipes check out this article.
Meal Planning for the Trail
Meal planning is an important part of every backpacking trip. Depending on the number of days you intend to spend on the excursion or the activities you will be doing, you should make a detailed plan before heading out and pack bags with everything you’ll need for each day.
Breakfast is maybe the most important meal of the day and very important in order to get a good start into the day and should provide enough energy and a good source of nutrients. Backpackers need high amounts of energy to kick start their demanding day (if they are going for strenuous hikes).
A good backpacker breakfast could include some of the following: Grits, dark chocolate, Bagels, instant oatmeal, tea or instant coffee.
Timing: It’s ideal to have breakfast directly after waking up so you can get in some early miles.
Snacks are delicious small amounts of food either processed or homemade that are carried on a hike and eaten in-between meals. Healthy backpacking snacks, on the other hand, help you cover extra miles. Some healthy and delicious snack examples are: Granola, peanuts & other nuts, and trail mix (dried fruits and nuts).
Timing: Take snacks every few hours to have enough energy throughout the day.
Lunch is a light midday meal between breakfast and dinner. A good lunch should contain minerals, fat, carbohydrates, proteins, and a mixture of vitamins. Hummus, instant noodles, couscous, and hard-boiled eggs make a good backpacking lunch ideas during most hikes.
Timing: Midday lunch can be eaten anytime during a pause while you’re hiking.
Dinner is the main meal of the day. A good hiking dinner should contain vegetables, protein, grains, and healthy fat. Beef Jerky & Dried meat, Tuna, rice, and lentils are good items to include in a nutritious and healthy dinner.
Timing: In the evening after you’re finished hiking for the day.
Fruits are also important sources of nutrients. Good examples are peach, oranges, mango, apple and berries. It’s good practice to bring some fresh fruits for the first days for longer hikes even though they have a bad calorie/weight ratio and dried fruits for the rest.
Timing: Eat fruits as a snack between meals, or before/after lunch or dinner.
Backpacking Food Tips
If you are planning to pack different amounts of the same food/snack, use one re-sealable bag to store different types of food. Re-sealable bags will take up less space and you will have more room to pack other backpacking accessories.
Use natural honey instead of sugar
Honey is a natural remedy that can heal burns and wounds during an excursion. It can also be used as a medicine. Sugar can increase the heart rate when hiking causing fatigue or blood pressure.
In fact, without honey, you should consider brown sugar. Brown sugar can be either partially refined or unrefined at all.
Always stay hydrated
Drinking plenty of water helps your body regulate its temperature and maintain other bodily functions. You should carry along plenty of clean drinking water if you plan on trekking on dry terrain like deserts or during the hot season.
The amount of water you need depends on the temperature, weather, the difficulty of the hike and elevation gain. Be prepared by knowing where to find water sources during longer hikes and plan carefully to never run out.
Food Safety Practices
Good food practice includes safe storage, food disposal, and cleaning.
Here is what to know before and during a backpacking trip:
- Wash your hands thoroughly before touching or preparing any food.
- Cook food according to their correct cooking temperatures
- Perishable food should not be taken under extreme temperatures
- Correctly dispose of leftovers and leave no trace!
Dos and Don’ts
There are a few things you should do and those you should not do concerning backpacking food. Here are a few you should know before embarking on your next journey.
- Don’t pack too much or less – Over-packing hiking food can often lead to trouble. In most cases, the food will go to waste. Under packing a trail mix, for instance, can leave you starving during a hike, that’s why good meal planning is so important.
- Plan and write early – about everything you intend to pack during the trip. Careful planning will allow you enough time to know how much food is going to be enough or the correct items to carry.
- Substitute different kinds of food – For instance, if you plan on packing a loaf of bread that is full of carbs, proteins, fibers, and carbohydrates, you need to know that it needs plenty of space inside your backpack. You can substitute it with cooked sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes do not take as much space and are naturally healthy.
- Pack a wide variety of backpacking food – Carrying different varieties of food not only ensure good taste. Different varieties help to keep you healthy and give you energy. You should not forget to pack enough savory dishes.
- Know the best foods for your season – Winter hiking is different from summer or spring hiking. The ideal winter hiking food should contain extra levels of calories to keep your body warm and full of energy. Extra vegetables and fruits are ideal during summer hikes. The natural water found in fruits help to keep your body well-dehydrated.
- Keep in mind your diet preferences and needs – everyone has his/her own dietary needs. Some hikers prefer not to take any meal when heading out in the morning, instead relying on snacks as they get hungry. Some prefer taking meals at regular intervals. Find a meal schedule and plan that works for you and practice on shorter hikes before embarking on a thru-hike.