Eating your backpacking meal is always one of the highlights of any trip to the Great Outdoors. But knowing what to pack is not always the easiest.
If you are anything like me, then when you go on a hike, your preparation towards what is the best food to take with you on your way out is pretty abysmal.
My preparation tends to amount to a trip to the supermarket en-route, hastily buying all manner of snacks and sweets without any consideration to weight and calorific values – not the best camping snacks.
Not only do I add unnecessary weight to my backpack – but I also wind up bringing half of it home, and half of that, after being stored in a warm bag over a weekend of hiking, is then thrown away a week later when I finally empty my backpack.
Well, let’s learn together the best foods to take out on a hike, so that you and I no longer make this mistake.
Consider Your Body’s Needs
If you were going on a long journey in a car, you would fill up the tank before you left, just to ensure that you made it to your destination. Your body is absolutely no different. When hiking, your body is burning a lot of energy, and you are going to need to keep the tank topped up.
Many factors will determine how many calories you will burn. To get some idea of how much food you will have to take, you may want to consider:
- The distance
- The weight of your backpack
- The terrain which you will be tackling.
The climate also makes a difference. When planning backpacking meals for cold temperatures, additional calories help keep us warm.
It’s also worth packing a little more than you require too, in case you take a wrong turn, or choose an alternative route which takes longer than you anticipated. But that being said, you don’t want to pack too much.
Your backpack is going to go with you on your journey, and the last thing you need is to be burning additional energy because your bag is so heavy. By considering weight per calorific value, you can help minimise pack weight whilst maximising the energy that you expel.
By taking food that contains high amounts of protein, fiber, and carbs, you will feel full, and also have the energy to keep going for longer periods.
Consider a hot meal
Even the hardiest of hikers cannot depend solely on camping snacks to keep going. If you are considering a lengthy hike and/or camping trip, then it is crucial that you also prepare or take a meal or two, and therefore something to cook it on.
It’s best to take meals that you can cook with minimum fuss and preparation, which require little or no additional utensils to your backpacker’s pantry.
You may just want to add ready to eat food like instant noodles or rice to your backpacking lunch ideas. It’s also best to take things that cook relatively quickly to conserve fuel.
However, some people enjoy cooking delicious foods out on the trail, which we hope to cover in more detail at some point in the near future.
Will you have enough water?
the most important question
For multi day hikes, you will require a lot more water than on a single day hike. You will probably need it for cooking as well as for keeping yourself hydrated – so it’s worth taking note of where there are water sources along your route.
As well as water purification tablets, there are also some very effective water filters on the market to help clean up any water that you may acquire en-route – and as an additional safeguard you can always boil water too, just to make sure.
Best Backpacking Meals
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are among the best backpacking foods you can pack on your journey. They are lightweight, easy to store, high in calories, and full of goodness. In fact, nuts are one of the highest rated foods when it comes to calories per weight.
High in vitamins, fibre, minerals and protein, this lightweight hiking snack choice packs a good punch.
The usual trail mix also contain fats which not only help to keep hunger at bay but are actually good for your heart. Fats from nuts also take a longer time to burn which means that the energy they release is perfect for any endurance sports.
FACT – Did you know that Almonds, Peanuts and Cashews are actually classed as seeds?
A great source of vitamins as well as Iron and Magnesium (and in the case of the hearty banana, Potassium), fruit is an amazing healthy food. However, fresh fruits are tricky to include in a backpacking meal plan so it’s best to opt for the dried version. When dried, they become lighter whilst still maintaining their amazing benefits.
Dried fruits also contain a natural sugar known as fructose. Fructose works alongside the fruits’ own fibre to break down sugar at a steady rate which helps to stabilize the bodies glucose levels whilst producing energy to burn.
The best dried fruits are apples (which are even better for you with their skins intact), raisins (which as you know is a dried grape), bananas and dried mango or pineapple.
Berries are also a great snack, but they are best eaten fresh, as store ready dried berries often contain additional sweeteners and additives.
Jerky / Biltong
Beef jerky or Biltong are dried strips of meat. It’s an amazing source of protein for any hiker. Dried and cured the jerky is a lightweight meat, which can be consumed as a snack or even added to your meals to bulk them out and add calorific value.
Jerky is available in most places, but it is also something that you can make at home too if you have your own dehydrator.
Flavoured sweets are a great way to keep your sugar levels up on any backpacking trips. I often take Midget Gems, Fruit Pastels and Jelly Babies. I also like to treat myself to a sweet at the end of personal goals or when I reach a waypoint – it helps to keep you pushing on.
to keep you hydrated
Staying hydrated is essential on the trail, and so considering what drinks you take is just as important as considering your trail food. Becoming dehydrated can be detrimental to your health, your performance and your stamina.
It is best to sip little and often than to guzzle large quantities of drink as you go.
Obviously water is one of the best and cheapest sources of hydration on the trail. You may prefer to add a little flavour to these by inserting some fruit flavoured squash. If you do, you may consider opting for any that are low in sugars and additives.
There are many sports drinks on the market, and many of them add extra sugar, glucose, and electrolytes, all of which are beneficial to any energy expelling activities. However, a lot of the so-called sports drinks are mainly sugar and caffeine, both of which are not really beneficial at all, so be sure to check those ingredients and nutritional information before you buy.
Tea / Coffee
Whilst tea and coffee is a great drink to have on a cold day, and during the evenings at camp, any drinks containing caffeine have the opposite effect when hiking.
Remember that caffeine is a diuretic, which means that it vastly increases the amount of fluid and salt that the body expels through urine.
Backpacking Meal Ideas
Cereal Bars / FlapJacks
Cereal bars are lightweight and convenient, and many full of oats and nuts which are a great source of slow release energy. However, as with many shop bought products, they can be often high in additives, preservatives, and sweeteners.
What can be much better for you is if you were to prepare your own flapjacks. Using nuts, oats, seeds and fruit, flapjacks are full of goodness and nothing is quite as tasty as something that you have cooked yourself. I like to add peanut butter and chocolate to mine too to make them even tastier.
Oatmeal / Porridge
A solid breakfast at home or on the trail, Oats are among the best backpacking breakfasts that you can enjoy to set you up for the day ahead.
Oatmeal, or as we Brit’s like to call it , porridge, is a great source of long-lasting vitamins, fibre, and minerals. They are light and easy to store when dry – they come in handy pouches that you can easily pack, and they have a massive calorific value for their weight.
By adding hot water or milk to them, they are also a great way to get your body temperature up if the weather is cold and you can add dried fruit, or nuts to them to give a little extra sugar, fat or protein content too.
Backpacking Meal Ideas
Below is a list of some of my favourite backpacking meal plans for when I am hiking for more than a day.
Crackers Cheese and Meat
Crackers are a great source of salt, and are light as well as tasty. You can eat these with cheese (hard cheeses are preferable as they are more shelf stable than soft cheeses), and a variety of meats.
Cured meats like ham, or salami are ideal for backpacking as they have a great shelf life, or perhaps you prefer tuna or salmon, which are a great source of additional protein and omega.
Also, bread such as Pitta and Tortilla wraps are also a great lightweight alternative to crackers.
Noodles or Rice Meals
Lightweight, and easy to store, Noodles and rice make a fairly easy meal choice. Rice, in particular, is a great source of protein, and is low in fat, whilst also providing vitamins and minerals.
The beauty of rice and noodles is that you can add meats or ready bought flavour pouches and sauces to them. In fact, you can even buy flavoured noodles or rice which you simply cook in a pot of water. To save on washing up, if you are eating alone you can even eat straight from the pot.
Top Tip – Why not pack extra spices? These can always brighten up any backpacking meals.
Dehydrated Meals / Boil in the bag Meals
If you really don’t want the hassle of cooking your own meals, then you may opt for ready-made dehydrated meals. They are designed for outdoor activities, are high in nutrition and having no water content, are extremely lightweight.
You can also find boil in the bag meals, which are cooked inside their packaging by boiling them in their bags.
These are both great options for quick and easy meals after a long day on the trail, but can be quite pricey, and after a lot of them they soon become bland and boring.
I sometimes like to make my own meals at home and freeze them into my own foil pouches to boil out on the trail.
You can also buy yourself a dehydrator, in which you can dehydrate meals that you have prepared at home. Of course, it’s always best to check which foods can be safely reheated and rehydrated.
So, there’s plenty of food for thought (excuse the pun), with lots to consider before you go out on your hike. As is common with backpacking, there is no right and wrong, but rather what suits you and your taste buds, just make sure that you have enough to get through your distances, and not so much that you cause yourself a back injury trying to carry it.
About the Author
"I am so glad that I found walking and would recommend it to anyone who is in need of a little direction."
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