Planning what to eat on the trail is one of the most important parts of backpacking trip preparation. Without proper food, it will be impossible for you to survive the long hiking days. However, your food choices should have high nutritional value and calorie density and must be easy to cook.
Considering something lightweight is also necessary so that you don’t make your backpack too heavy to carry. Remember you still have to leave extra room for the rest of the backpacking equipment.
Here is a guide on the best backpacking food ideas that will keep you moving with a spring in your step. These are amazingly tasty, easy to prep, and will get you cleaning up less. But just before that, a few things to keep in mind.
Backpacking Food Requirements
Hiking will get you to burn a lot of calories. An average backpacker burns up to 4000 calories in a day so it is important to pack enough energy giving foods that will keep the body fueled throughout the day. However, the amount of fat you break down will depend on your activity level, weight, size, and age.
Some foods (think almonds and bagels) tend to take up more space than others, yet they contain the same amount of calories. While this may not be a biggie when going on a short trip, for a long journey, you may want to think about how much space each type of food occupies to make an informed decision.
One big mistake beginner backpackers make is packing too much food. Okay, you don’t want to starve yourself in the wilderness – we get that – but you also don’t want to carry the unnecessary weight that will get you lagging your crew behind. Do some pre-trip calorie calculation to determine how much is too much. This will ensure that you only pack the right amount of food.
Even though it is difficult to eat a totally healthy diet in the backcountry, bringing foods that have a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats are important. These topped up with a good amount of veggies, fruits, and fiber, will provide your body with the nutrients it needs to propel you forward.
After long hours of mountain climbing, hunting, or berry picking, all you want to do is sit on your chair, lean back, and watch the sunset, not spend the rest of the evening preparing intricate meals. You also don’t want to deal with dirty dishes later, so your best bet is to keep things as simple as possible. Pack “just add water” foods for dinner. If you are going to make an elaborate meal, do it during the day preferably between noon and 3 pm. Chances are good you won’t be hiking at this time of the day because the scorching sun won’t let you. The best way to get the most out of it is to do your cooking and spend the better part of the evening hiking.
Fresh Food Vs Dried Food
Fresh foodstuffs will be bulkier and more delicate to carry. Bring dried food if possible. These are easier to pack and since the water has dried up, they have a higher concentration of fats, calories, and minerals.
Avoid these at all costs. Most canned food doesn’t have enough calories and will occupy more space than dried foods. They will also create bulky trash to carry home.
If you will be requiring water to cook, set up your camp at a spot that has a water source. For dry camps, make sure to bring enough water. However, it would be wise to avoid areas with scarce or no water sources because this is one item you can’t survive without. Even if you don’t need it to prep your meals, it will come in handy when you need to refill your water bottles.
If you will be spending the night in the woods, you may need to devise a way to store your food safely. Bears will sneak on you while you sleep and steal your food if you don’t have safe storage. Pack a few bear canisters to store your food safely. A lunch cooler will also be a great add on for those meals and drinks you want to keep chilled.
Some of the meals you bring along will require cooking while others will need hot water added to them to get ready to eat. Packing a stove will make things a lot easier for you. Backpacking stoves are the best alternatives to firewood. They are easy to operate, fast, and don’t get your pots sooty. Just don’t forget to bring enough fuel.
Best Food For Backpacking
Now that you know the factors to consider when planning your backpacking meals, let’s find out what kinds of foods and snacks should go inside that food pack.
1. Packets Of Oatmeal
These are among the most important backpacking food items and can be obtained even from your convenience store. Just cut the packet open and pour the contents into a bowl. Add hot water and voila! You got yourself a healthy meal.
Some brands produce oatmeal in different flavors. Whether you like it regular or a little spicy, you can get different tastes for different days. The best thing about oatmeal is that it contains a high amount of fiber and low calories to keep your digestive system in check and keep your body working optimally on the trail.
Another amazing item on our backpacking food ideas is a packet of grits. Just like oatmeal, these are highly nutritious and are easy to prepare. Add a few packets to your breakfast meal plan and you will have started your day on a healthy note.
3. Seeds And Nuts
You need as many calories as possible; roasted, salted, boiled, whatever works for you. Cashews, peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, etc. are the tastiest and most effective way to pack a good amount of calories, healthy fats, oils, and proteins. Have these before you leave your tent and stash some in your fanny pack to munch on the trail.
4. Dried Fruits
Fresh fruits are bulky and will just add extra weight to your pack. Consider dried fruits instead. These have a dense amount of sugar and will be a great and healthier alternative to sweets and candy.
When fruits lose water, their sugar, nutrient, and calorie content gets more concentrated. This means that by consuming just a handful of such fruits, you are actually taking in more sugar, nutrients, and calories than when eating fresh fruits. That is why they would be great for breakfast as that is when you need to feed the body with as many calories as possible to prepare it for the task ahead.
5. Powdered Egg Packets
You may not like the texture and flavor that comes with powdered eggs but tell you what, these are among the most popular backpacking food ideas today. They are lightweight and contain plenty of protein. One packet of these is the closest thing you will ever have to chickpeas in the backcountry.
The good thing about powdered eggs is that they are cheaper and have a more prolonged shelf life than fresh eggs. They will occupy a small pack space and will be easier to carry than their fresh counterparts.
6. Powdered Coffee and Milk
Who wouldn’t love a warm cup of white coffee before heading to the trailhead? It would be a great way to start your day, especially when backpacking in the rain or cold weather.
Powdered milk is rich in fat, calories, protein, and potassium and will be perfect for boosting your energy on the trail. Try adding it to your oatmeal to make it creamier or mixing it up with dried fruits and granolas for breakfast.
7. Dried meat
Dried meat is one of the best backpacking lunch ideas. It doesn’t require refrigeration, so you won’t need to bring an extra cooler for it. Add some tuna, salami, and beef jerky and you will have a complete meal plan for your entire stay in the woods. All these are mouth-watering and a great source of protein and sodium. If you are looking for a quick, hassle-free lunch, then this is it.
Although this will be heavy food for light backcountry travelers, it will provide a good amount of fat and calories for the afternoon hikes. If you are a heavy hiker or eyeing an energy-zapping excursion, the cheese will be an awesome add-on to your lunch meals. Plus it can really improve the flavor of the dried meat.
When shopping for backpacking cheese, consider “harder” options. These are more shelf-stable and will be much easier to transport.
9. Tortillas And Bagels
Bread can be quite fluffy and bulky for backpacking. Pack some tortillas instead. These are more compact and rich in calories, which you need to keep going. You can wrap your tortillas with cheese, meat, peanut butter, or anything else that makes your bites more pleasant.
If you feel like tortillas are too flat, have some bagels standby. These will provide the “fluff” feel of the ordinary bread and have plenty of calories. Also, they are less delicate than bread and more packable.
10. Instant Noodles, Rice, And Potatoes
Seasoned foods are easier to prepare than creamy pasta and don’t need much cleanup. After a hike, it is obvious that you are tired and don’t have the time to cook detailed meals, neither do you want to deal with a sticky mess on your cups and plates afterward. Instant noodles or rice will save the day. Throw in some potatoes and you will have a meal with a lot of carbs. You can even add some oil, meat, and spices to make the meal livelier.
11. Dried Vegetables
Just as dried fruits, dried veggies will have more nutrients than their fresh cousins. They make healthy meals on the trail and are easy to pack and prepare. Just add a handful to your instant rice, potatoes, or noodles, and you will have a memorable dinner.
12. Dried meals
These are the easiest to prepare as you just need to add water, stir, and wait a few minutes. Carry several packets of dried meals for the days you will be completely exhausted to even look at your instant noodles. There are a variety of flavors and recipes to choose from so you will never have to eat one meal twice unless you want to.
Since you will be spending more time on the trail than in your tent, have some snacks to munch on the go. The best snacks to consider will be:
13. Energy Gels And Chews
These are an amazing energy boost and will keep you highly motivated to keep moving. Some are loaded with electrolytes and will be the best way to recover the salt you lost through sweat and evaporation. They come in different flavors too, so get the one you fancy the most.
14. Fruit Leather
Anything fruit-related is a great source of natural sugar. Fruit leather is no exception and will be a great alternative to candy. They are referred to as “leather” because they are thick and feel like leather when chewed.
15. Peanut Butter And Honey
Many of us will use these on bread and crackers but for serious backpackers, peanut butter and honey are excellent backpacking food ideas. They are crammed with carbohydrates, protein, fats, and sodium. Use these to smoothen or sweeten up your tortillas or eat them straight from the bottle. Whichever way you love doing this, you will reap maximum benefits.
16. Granola Bar And Hummus
Whether you are looking for a snack bar, energy bar, protein bar, or food bar, a granola bar’s got you covered. All these options are ready to eat and high in nutrition. Hummus, a lesser-known backcountry food item will also keep your energy flowing on the trail. With a huge amount of carbohydrates, calories, fiber, and protein, this is just what you need to feed your muscles.
Any energy drink will be good for the day. Just keep it chilled if the weather is too hot. The most effective backpacking drinks will include:
17. Drink Tablets And Mixes
These are not necessarily drinks but they can make a good one. Just drop one tab in your water bottle, let it fizz away, and then drink. Drinking tablets are a good source of electrolytes and will help keep you hydrated.
Mixes have similar benefits as tablets. They contain electrolytes and enhance hydration. The only difference is that they come in different flavors. Some even have mineral and vitamin enhancements.
18. Tea Bags
There is nothing more refreshing than a hot cup of tea after a long hiking day. It soothes the mind and helps you stay warm in cold weather.
Yup! Get high on the trail (just kidding). If you have successfully bagged the highest mountain in the region, don’t you think it’s something worth celebrating? Having a toast with your buddy is no sin. A bottle of beer or two will help end your day on a “high” note and mark those small victories you have made along the way.
20. Water, Water, And More Water
There is no way you are leaving your home or tent without enough water to sustain you through the hike. Always pack enough water for the day, even if the weather seems gloomy. Your body will lose plenty of it through sweat and evaporation and staying hydrated is the only way to maintain a good balance of bodily fluids.
But don’t wait until you start feeling thirsty; drink water regularly. Refill your water bottles at every clean water source you come across along the way to make sure you never run out.
Watch out for signs of dehydration. If you start experiencing dizziness or memory loss, it is an indication that your body doesn’t have enough water. Take some rest in a shade and drink enough water. Adding some drinking tablets to it will also help recover the lost electrolytes.
Global Surf Overview
Eating healthy in the backcountry is not as hard as it seems. If you know what foodstuffs to carry, you can enjoy tasty and healthy meals just like at home.
The above list has the simplest backpacking food ideas to help you eat nutritious meals on the trail. Make sure your food options are light enough, have the right amount of calories, and are easy to prepare.
Consider dried foods as these are more nutritious, easier to pack, and have a longer shelf life than fresh foods. Don’t forget a bear canister so that you can store your food safely during the night. Bring enough water and energy drinks to keep your body properly hydrated.
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- 28 Tasty Foods and Snacks to Pack on a Backpacking Trip, countryliving.com