Backpacking Tips for Food – Eating Well and Packing Light

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Napoleon once said that “an army marches on its stomach.” It is no different when it comes to backpacking. To have a great backpacking trip, you need plenty of nutritious food. It separates good backpacking trips from bad backpacking trips. By properly eating, your mood will change and energize you for the hike ahead.

After reading this article, you will know how to pack light and nutritious meals for your upcoming trip. It is the outcome we are aiming for. You will know all the ins and outs of proper meal preparation and healthy eating.

Helpful Tips to Have a Great Journey

When you are preparing your meals for your trip, there are a number of tactics to follow for a great trip. Follow these guidelines for a hearty trip.

  1. Store food in zip lock bags. These bags will be your greatest friend. They are air tight, inexpensive, and waterproof, making them perfect to seal any food item. Simply take the food out of its package, place it in the bag, and seal. These bags help to minimize volume.
  2. Set aside a meal in a labeled zip lock bag for each day. If you tend to eat a lot like me, then you will want to do this. It structures your meals for each day of the trip. In doing so, you stop your self from eating all the food and consequently starving your self.
  3. Food is fuel. When putting any food item into your pack, this should be a guiding principle for you. More than likely, you will be burning anywhere between 4,000 to 6,000 calories a day. The best way to understand your calorie intake is by weighing your food and dividing by the total number of calories. 120-130 calories per ounce indicates high calories food, which is good for you. Minimize weight while maximizing nutrition.
  4. Know your preferences. Everyone has different tastes when it comes to eating, so it should be no different while backpacking. Bring food that is tasty, nutritious, and easy to make. It is possible to have food like that.
  5. Convenience, on top of that, you need to know whether you are a convenience person or a cooking person. Do you like to cook or do you want to grab and go? Personally, I prefer eating to cooking, so I want everything ready to eat for me. Understand yourself when doing meal preparation.
  6. Fast food condiments, if you have ever been to a fast food place like McDonalds, Taco Bell, or Burger King, you will notice they carry small packets of hot sauce, ketchup, mustard, and relish. You can use those on your backpacking trip.

Food, the Powerhouse for Your Adventure

Now, I will discuss the many common foods that you could bring on your trip. It is a comprehensive list intended to provide a thorough food guideline for your backpacking trip. It is divided between breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Breakfast, the Meal that Energizes Everything

It is by far the most important meal of the day. Eating a proper meal then sets the tone for the rest of your day’s hike. Making sure you eat well in the morning is critical.

  • Oatmeal, by far one of my favorite breakfast items, oatmeal is a nutritious carbohydrate for filling you up for the long trek ahead. While I enjoy oatmeal, it takes a bit more time to make it for breakfast. It involves boiling water and anything you would like to add to it.
  • Cereal, this is a great item as it is dry and easy to munch on. You can easily store it in a zip lock bag. It is full of fiber and carbs, a great way for you to start your day.
  • Pop tarts, while a bit unhealthy, they do give a sugar boost and a bit of carbs to start your day. Small and easy to pack, pop tarts can fit in any pack.
  • Milk, this is a great drink to have on your trip, but takes up a lot of space. If you do decide to bring it, consider getting powdered milk.
  • Bagels, these are another great option to start your day. While you probably will not have a toaster on you, you can fill one up with cream cheese and any meat you may have.
  • Coffee, hot drinks are a great way to start your day. Coffee warms you up and helps you hit the ground running for your hike. The only downside is that you have to heat the water.
  • Tea, it is my preferred warm drink of choice. It heats you up for the day ahead, but has its own flavor distinct from coffee. It also has the same drawbacks.

Lunch, Essential for that Afternoon Hike

  • Sandwich, it is always great to have a sandwich. Packed with protein, vegetables, and carbs, they are great for lunch. The only issue is that their items can take up a bit of room, so I recommend packing one ahead of time.
  • Meat, salami, turkey, chicken, pork, and the like are always great options to get your protein in at lunch.
    The only downside is that they need to be relatively cold.
  • Tortillas, these are great for wrapping vegetables, cheese, meat, and carbs into the palm of your hand. It has the same downsides as sandwiches.
  • Cheese, Swiss, mozzarella, Godiva, and many others cheeses are high calorie foods, full of the energy you need for the day. The only issue is that they usually need to be refrigerated, but sometimes you can get away with it.

Dinner, the Big Meal to Recharge Your Body

At the end of the day, I usually want a heavy, filling meal, so I can fall asleep faster and provide me with the energy that I need for the next day. Hiking all day tires you out, so you need lots of high energy foods to replenish your body

  • Ramen, full of nutrients like salt and pepper, ramen is a great addition to your meal plan. All it takes is a bit of hot water. While some say it is unhealthy, it is a great food if you are on a budget. On top of that, there are plenty of elaborations that you can do from adding left over food to the sprinkling of spices.
  • Rice, it is always a great one to have. Personally, it is one of my favorites as it compliments virtually any meal.
  • Pasta, this is one of the great carbs for your next day. Eat a lot of it and eat it well to get plenty of energy. The downside, though, is that it has to be cooked, but all you need is boiling water.
  • Stuffing, it can be at any super market and is a great addition to any backpacking trip.
  • Meats, these include some such as chicken, tuna, ham, and many others. They give you the protein for your sore muscles. The only issue with meats is that they usually need to be refrigerated and they take up space.

Snacks – Stop that Hungry Anger in its Tracks

One of your biggest friends on a backpacking trip will be snacks. When you are hiking and want to take a quick break, a snack will be available in your front pocket for easy access.

  • Protein bars, I like bars. They are high calorie food items with fiber and protein, a perfect
    fit for a hiker.
  • Nuts, these are great because they are dry and full of protein. For vegetarians, they are excellent.
  • Trail mix, it contains many nuts, dried fruit, and m&ms; for you to eat. Just as the name implies, it is great for the trail.
  • Crackers, excellent carbs and taking up little space, crackers are an excellent addition to any backpacking meal plan. On top of that, you can put cheese on top of them.
  • Beef jerky, this is one of the many common trail foods you will find. Full of protein and calories, beef jerky is a great food to munch on.
  • Chips, crunch! Chips are always great to eat. They are full of carbs and delicious nutrients. The only issue is that, to generally be good, they require air, meaning they take up volume in your pack.
  • Dehydrated fruit, even though it does not taste as good as real fruit, dehydrated fruit is a great addition to any backpacking snack plan. It is lightweight and low volume.

Condiments – Eat Fancy even when Camping

Just because you are out in the wild does not mean that you do not have to eat flavorless. Many condiments are in fact small enough to fit in your pack. These include spices, olive oil, small spice packets, hot sauce, and drink flavors. All of these items can either be stored in a small plastic bag or in a Fast Food condiment packet.

Dehydrated Prepackaged Food for those Long Days

Whenever you are backpacking, there will always be the option for dehydrated food. They are lightweight and take up little volume, always a great combo when backpacking. Some are simple like dehydrated fruit, while others are more complex meals like beef stroganoff. For any meal of the day, you can bet that there is a dehydrated meal available.

While there are many backpacking foods available, they tend to be expensive. As an alternative, grocery stores are a splendid choice. You can find inexpensive, prepackaged dry foods. Simply take them out of their package and zip them into a zip lock bag.

Depending on how long you want to wait, check the cooking time for each item. If you are like me, you are going to be really hungry, so you will not want to wait a second longer. It is really important to consider this when getting cook able dehydrated food.

Extra Items to Satisfy Your Cravings

While many of the foods listed above are great. There are some items that take up room, but not too much, that are a great addition to any backpacking trip.

  • Fresh fruit, after hiking on a long day, you will be craving something sweet. While it takes up a lot of room, fresh fruit is absolutely delicious.
  • Peanut butter, this item is a personal favorite of mine. Crunchy in my opinion is the best. But if you like smooth, that also works.
  • Chocolate, this item is a nice and sweet. Just remember that, if it is hot out, then you risk it melting it in your pocket and you won’t be a happy camper.

Of course, remember that some of these food items can be switched between each meal time. You are not obligated to have bagels at breakfast; it is just when people usually have them.

Things Not to Do, Save Yourself Some Future Headaches

While there are many important techniques for you to do, it is probably just as critical if not more so to avoid doing certain things. Doing the wrong thing can set you back considerably.

  1. Avoid canned food. While they are very convenient, canned foods are also clunky and heavy, taking up space in your pack that could otherwise be filled with some other items.
  2. Under packing food. Too often people under prepare their meal plan. You do not want to find out on the third day of your five day trip that you will not have enough for the fifth day. Nothing is worse than working out while being hungry. As such, over prepare and, if necessary, you can over eat. It is way better than under eating.

Critical Questions to Ensure a Hearty Meal Plan

Questions are useful because they provide the impetus for you to think creatively. They give you a starting point and your brain, without thinking, responds to your thought, creating an internal conversation. As such, here are some questions to consider.

How do I eat at home already? Some people just microwave frozen meals for food. Others cook at every meal. This question serves to provide a framework of guidance for cooking your meal. Some want to cook as quick as possible. Others prefer to enjoy the process and stew over it. With backpacking, you will have to compromise some of this.

What would I really enjoy eating? Personally, I really enjoy rice, so I bring it with me on every trip. It fills me up and provides all the energy I need for the next day. You already know what you like, so bring it! There is no reason why you should not savor what you eat while backpacking.

How do I pack light, eat well, and eat nutritiously? Just because you are in the wild does not mean you have to totally forgo good food. There is plenty of delicious, healthy, and inexpensive food nearby. It is all a matter of exploiting the resources available to you.

Final Thoughts to Take Home with You

As I have said in previous articles, please comment if you have any thoughts or think I missed anything and remember to share this piece if you enjoyed it. This article is meant to serve you.

Otherwise, Congratulations! You now know how to properly plan and prepare your backpacking meals. Your meals will be nutritious, tasty, and light. While other backpackers will be drudging along, you will be spright and limber, looking forward to each and every day. Proper eating is an essential component of every memorable backpacking trip. If you have any thoughts, questions, or think I missed anything, please comment below and remember to share the article. Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!

Since you are a backpacker, you love high quality gear. If you are looking for a great backpack, then you should check out my article on the Teton Sports Scout 3400. It is a phenomenal backpack for beginners.

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16 Comments on “Backpacking Tips for Food – Eating Well and Packing Light”

  1. Thanks for this list of foods to bring for a backpacking trip. I guess I will save up on those fast food condiments instead of tossing them away the next time. Would you recommend bringing along a small pot of cooking?

    1. Yvonne, a small pot of cooking is definitely a good item to bring. The nice aspect of pots is that they are versatile. You can cook many different foods in them. Just remember to use it or else it is just extra weight. Thank you for sharing your question.


  2. Thanks for the tips and advice on camping and hiking. I totally agree that we gotta eat well and pack light. In June 2017, I walked a rugged tropical mountain range. It took me 4 weeks. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables was key. Drinking too much water was dangerous. Even the small load I carried got heavier and heavier as the time passed.

    1. Oh wow, that is really interesting Kez. Usually, it is best to drink lots of water, but I do not know all the details of your situation, so I cannot know for certain. Thank you for sharing.


  3. Thanks for sharing theses very helpful tips. I never thought about some of these foods when I am hiking or camping. I usually just pack some sandwiches and some basic snacks but now I know better!

  4. Great choice in food Alex, I always find myself struggling to decide what to make in order to sustain myself. So when I go camping I will definitely put your recommendations on my checklist! I’ll make sure I at least over pack just in case I run into any problems.
    I’ll give your post a share too!

    1. You are right Jeremy. Sometimes it can be difficult to sustain yourself. Over packing is an option to consider. “Over prepare and then go with the flow” is a great motto to live by, but for backpacking I would recommend packing smarter. For your meals, this entails, in short, choosing low weight and low volume, but highly nutritious food. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and I hope you make it a great day!

  5. Great tips for hiking food. Quite Simple yet effective survival food for the long trails and experiences you will have. As long as the coffee and some of the other items are hot its good. Love the scenes you portray in your blog too. Look forward to coming back here after your next hiking or camping trip.

    1. Hey Andrew, it is nice to hear that you enjoyed the tips. These are all important for having a memorable trip. I appreciate your compliments. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  6. Thank you for this interesting article. Usually I take for longer hikes the dehydrated meals with me, some are really tasty, some are…well, lets say not so tasty. As I have always a little lightweight aluminium pot with me, I never thought about mixing the ingredients for my meals portion-wise in zip-lock bags….that is a cool idea, saves a lot of space and hassle when being out in the wild…Sometimes the easiest things you cant see because the brain gets too complicated 🙂 Really helpful…Thanks!!!!

    1. Hey Joe, you are right that dehydrated meals can be hit or miss. Zip lock bags with portions set aside are a good option for you. It is quite a simple system when you think about it. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  7. I was so happy that you incorporated peanut butter! I love peanut butter and it’s such a great snack when you are hiking or camping. Anyway, this is a such a fantastic post, you cover a lot of ground and it’s all very informative. I love the idea of separating food and meals into appropriate portions so you don’t eat all of your food on day 1. The problem we have when we go camping is that we want to eat like kings. Which is okay, if we are only going for a few days. Although you seem to eat pretty darn well when you go on a trip as well. The ziplock bags could serve a dual purpose. You could put trash in them when you are done with them. Do you re-use them for other stuff when you are backpacking?

    1. Hey Steve and Kris, peanut butter is very enjoyable. It is quite delicious, especially for backpacking. I appreciate the compliment on quality of this post.

      When you are backpacking, zip lock bags are a wonderful friend to have. Personally, I reuse zip lock bags when I go backpacking. Nothing goes to waste on my trips. For any backpacker, that should be the same mentality.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

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