What do you need to know about food and nutrition for going backpacking?

To stay energized and safe and maximize your performance on the trail, there are a few things you need to know about food and nutrition for backpacking. This includes how to plan and prep your food, how much you’ll need, what types of food you should eat, how to store your food, and what foods are best for backpackers with different dietary requirements or restrictions.

Why is food prep and planning essential for backpacking?

Food prep and planning is a good idea for several reasons, but mainly because it will help to ensure you have enough food to complete your trip, that the food won’t go bad, and that wild animals won’t smell it and be attracted to you.

What problems may occur on a multi-day hike due to poor meal planning?

If you don’t plan your meals carefully for a multi-day hike, you might end up running out of food, carrying more than you need, let food go bad, or not ensure you’ll be getting a good balance of adequate nutrients.

Why is nutrition important when backpacking?

When on a backpacking trip, we are exerting ourselves and so our bodies burn through our reserves of energy. To ensure we don’t “hit a wall”, optimize performance, and prevent injury, we need to replace those reserves with healthy carbs, protein, and fats.

Why are carbohydrates important for backpacking?

Carbs are important for backpacking because they provide the easy-access energy that your muscles use to fuel your adventure.

Why is protein important for backpacking?

Protein is important for backpacking because it helps prevent muscle breakdown and reduces fatigue.

Do you need sugar when backpacking?

Several studies have demonstrated that foods that contain sugar (glucose and fructose) boost performance in endurance-based activities like backpacking. These are the main source of fuel for your muscles and red blood cells, providing the energy you need to put in all those miles.

Do you need to eat before starting backpacking for the day?

Eating an hour to thirty minutes before you set off will give you the energy needed to fuel your muscles. Eating before a hike also helps you concentrate, can prevent dehydration, and reduces the risk of cramps.

How often should you eat when backpacking?

It’s a good idea to snack regularly throughout the day (every 1–2 hours) to keep yourself energized and avoid that bloated, full-stomach feeling caused by eating a larger meal at longer intervals. If you’ve eaten a good breakfast before you start hiking for the day, however, you should be good for a couple of hours.

How do trail conditions affect backpacking food choices?

If you’re off-trail, in rugged terrain, snow, or sand, you’ll burn more calories than when you’re hiking on a well-maintained, solid dirt trail. As such, you’ll need to carry extra or more calorie-dense food to make up the deficit. The same goes if you’re backpacking in winter – our bodies burn more calories in an effort to stay warm in cold temperatures.

Why is freeze-dried food popular with backpackers?

The reason freeze-dried food is especially popular with backpackers is because it’s lightweight, convenient, nutritious, and lets you enjoy a hot meal without all the prep and cooking.

What is freeze-dry food?

Freeze-dried food is frozen and vacuum-sealed. During this process, the food’s water content turns from ice to vapor, which dries the food out. It can then be rehydrated later by simply adding boiling water to the pouch.

What are the advantages of freeze-dry food?

The main advantage of freeze-dried food is it gives you the same nutritional and calorific value as regular food at a far lighter weight. It also reduces packaging and preparation is a breeze. 

What are the disadvantages of freeze-dry food?

The main disadvantage of freeze-dried food is the price – you can expect to pay around twice as much as you would if making the same meal with fresh, store-bought ingredients.

Why would you want to freeze-dry your own food?

The main reason backpackers freeze-dry their own food is to save money – DIY freeze-drying could save you a small fortune if you’ll be backpacking for multiple days. Freeze-drying also prevents food going bad and reduces the amount of packaging you need to carry.

How do you freeze-dry your own food?

To freeze-dry food at home, pack your food in freezer-safe bags and put the bags in a cooler. Surround the bags with dry ice, leave the food in the cooler for about 24 hours, and then remove the bags and store them in an airtight container.

What foods are great for freeze-drying?

The best foods for freeze-drying are fruits and veggies, but you can also freeze-dry meats, dairy, and desserts.

What foods don’t freeze-dry well?

Some foods that don’t freeze-dry well include oils, condiments, chocolate, butters, honey and jam, syrup, and peanut butter.

How long does it take to freeze-dry food?

Without a machine, the freeze-drying process can take anything from 24 hours to a few weeks, depending on the type of food you are freeze-drying.

How long will freeze-dried food keep for?

Freeze-dried food can have a shelf life of up to 25 years because almost all of the moisture in the food is removed during the freeze-drying process.

Can an air fryer be used to freeze-dry food?

No, air fryers cannot be used to freeze food, only to cook food.

Can you freeze-dry food without a machine?

Yes, you can freeze-dry food using either your regular freezer or a cooler packed with dry ice.

How does a freeze-dry food machine work?

A  freeze-dry food machine lowers the temperature of your chosen food below zero and then extracts the moisture content from the food via a high-pressure vacuum. 

Is it worth buying a freeze-dry food machine?

Freeze-dry food machines don’t come cheap. However, if you plan on doing a lot of backpacking trips and prefer to keep weight to an absolute minimum, it might be a worthwhile investment.

How much does a food freeze dryer cost?

For a home freeze dryer machine, you can expect to pay anything from $750 to $3,000 depending on the size of the machine.

Do freeze dryers use a lot of electricity?

Freeze dryer machines use about 1000-1200 watts of electricity per hour, which equates to about $1–$3 per day.

Are there different types of freeze-dry food machines?

The differences between types of freeze-dry food machines mainly relate to size. You can buy mini, microwave-size machines, standard domestic machines that are roughly the size of a tumble dryer, and commercial machines that are comparable to large fridge freezers.

What features are important in a food freeze dryer?

When choosing a food freeze dryer machine, you should consider capacity, dimensions, electrical requirements, user-friendliness of the display, and the included accessories.

What is the difference between a freeze dryer and a food dehydrator?

Dehydrated food is created in a specialized machine that circulates air around the food and removes its water content. Freeze-dried food, on the other hand, is first frozen and then vacuum-sealed, which causes its water content to sublimate (turn from ice into a vapor), thus drying it out.

Why is dehydrated food popular with backpackers?

Dehydrated food is popular with backpackers because it’s lightweight, compact, takes the hassle out of food prep, and has a stable shelf life.

What are dehydrated meals for backpacking?

Dehydrated meals are either store-bought or homemade meals created in a specialized machine that circulates air around the food and removes its water content. This gives the food a stable, long-duration shelf life and allows them to be rehydrated with just boiling water when you plan to eat them.

What are popular dehydrated backpacking meal brands?

The following is a list of our favorite dehydrated backpacking meal brands.

  • Backpacker’s Pantry
  • RightOnTrek
  • Good To-Go
  • Pinnacle Foods
  • Heather’s Choice
  • Gastro Gnome

Can you make dehydrated backpacking meals at home?

You can dehydrate food at home in a variety of ways – with an electric dehydrator, in the oven, air drying, or solar drying.

What foods and meals are best for dehydrating?

We’ve listed some of the best foods to dehydrate below.

  • Zucchini
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Bell peppers
  • Mushrooms
  • Carrots
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Strawberries
  • Pineapple
  • Mangoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Lean meats
What foods and meals don’t dehydrate well?

Foods that don’t dehydrate well are anything oily or fatty, such as butters, some meats, jams, syrups, and condiments.

Can you dehydrate food without a dehydrator?

If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can make your own dehydrated food in the oven, air drying, or by solar drying it at home.

How long does dehydrated backpacking food last?

Dehydrated food can last up to 5 years, depending on the moisture content of the food, how well it’s stored, and the climate.

How do you pack dehydrated meals for backpacking?

The best way to store your dehydrated backpacking food is in Ziploc mylar bags.

Are there recipes better suited for taking backpacking?

The best backpacking foods are those that provide the most nutrition at the lowest possible weight, so the emphasis should be on sourcing nutrient-dense, lightweight ingredients. Ideally, you should seek to eat a healthy mix of complex carbs, proteins, and fats. The ideal ratio, according to nutritionist and long-distance hiker Dr. Brenda Braaten, is 50% carbs to 35% protein and 15% fat.

What should the ideal backpacking recipe include?

To optimal performance on the trails, you should seek to eat a healthy mix of complex carbs, proteins, and fats. The ideal ratio, according to nutritionist and long-distance hiker Dr. Brenda Braaten, is 50% carbs to 35% protein and 15% fat.

What are easy-to-make backpacking recipes?

The list below includes our favorite no-cook or hassle-free backpacking meals.

  • Overnight Oats
  • Boiled Eggs
  • Make-Ahead Waffles or Pancakes
  • Peanut Butter & Jelly Crackers
  • Cold Cut Roll-ups
  • Risotto
  • Couscous
  • Mac ‘n’ Cheese
  • Fried Rice
  • Pesto Pasta
  • Ramen Noodles
  • No-Bake Energy Bites
  • No-Bake Mini Cheesecakes

What backpacking recipes produce meals that will last on the trail?

Creating dehydrated meals is the best way to get food that will last on backpacking trips. Some of our favorites are listed below. 

  • Risotto & Veggies
  • Red Lentil Chili
  • Mac ‘n’ Cheese
  • Chicken and Rice
  • Beef Noodle Soup
  • Curried Cashew Couscous
  • Mushroom Jerky Pasta
  • Pad Thai Curry

What nutrition should a good backpacking breakfast include?

As with all backpacking meals, the best backpacking breakfasts are those that include a healthy mix of carbs (50%), protein (35%), and fat (15%).

What are ideas for backpacking breakfasts?

Below, we’ve listed some of our favorite backpacking breakfasts.

  • Overnight oats
  • Pancakes
  • Granola with powdered milk
  • Breakfast burrito
  • Campfire hash browns with potatoes and sausage
  • Nut butter and crackers

What make-ahead backpacking breakfast options are there?

Below, we’ve listed our favorite make-ahead backpacking breakfasts.

  • Breakfast Burritos
  • Make-Ahead Pancake Mix
  • Egg Sandwiches
  • Avocado Toast and Boiled Eggs
  • Dutch Oven Banana Bread
  • Overnight Oats

Are there any egg substitutes for backpacking?

Powdered egg mix or egg beaters are a great substitute for real eggs when backpacking. They’re lightweight, affordable, packable, and taste surprisingly like the real thing.

What are no-cook breakfast ideas for backpacking?

Our favorite no-cook backpacking breakfasts are listed below.

  • Overnight Oats
  • Boiled Eggs
  • Egg Muffins
  • Fruit Stuffed Wraps
  • Make-Ahead Waffles or Pancakes
  • Fruit Salad

Is fruit enough for a backpacking breakfast?

Fruit will give you a quick boost in the morning, but it won’t provide the nutrients you need to fuel your engine and stave off hunger until lunch. For that, you’ll need a little more protein and healthy fats.

What are good backpacking lunch recipes?

Our favorite backpacking lunches are listed below.

  • Peanut Butter and Jelly
  • Packaroons
  • Chicken, Tuna, or SPAM Packets
  • Energy Gummies
  • Wraps
  • Onigiri
  • Ramen Lunch Box
  • Healthy Asian Spring Roll Wrap
  • Energy Bars & Protein Bars
  • Rolled Oat Bites
  • Hard-Boiled Eggs
  • Cream Cheese & Smoked Salmon Bagels
  • Pasta Salad
  • Instant Oatmeal
  • Dehydrated/Freeze-Dried Meals
  • Nuts & Seeds 
  • Apples
  • Cheese Slices
  • Hummus + Crackers
  • Tuna + Crackers
  • Sliced Salami or Beef Jerky
  • Olives
  • Dried Fruit
  • Trail Mix
  • Dates

When is the best time to stop for lunch?

The best time to stop for lunch on a hike is 3–4 hours into your day’s hiking in a sheltered spot (i.e. not on a ridge or summit when it’s cold and windy and in the shade when it’s hot). To prevent your muscles cooling down, try to keep your lunch break under 20 minutes.

What are some week-long backpacking meal plans?

Below, we’ve outlined a simple way to create a week-long backpacking meal plan that will provide you with the required 3–3500 calories per day.

  • Choose seven dinners that have a healthy mix of carbs, protein, and fats.
  • Choose seven lunches.
  • Choose seven desserts and breakfasts.
  • Order your plan so you eat the heaviest meals in the first few days.
  • Count the calories for each day.
  • Add enough snacks to reach the desired total calories.
  • Add an extra 20% of your total for a single day to your overall stockpile, just in case.

What are some budget-friendly backpacking meal plans?

Below, you’ll find an example of a budget-friendly meal plan for a single day of backpacking.

  • Breakfast: Instant oats
  • Lunch: Ramen noodles with jerky
  • Dinner: Pasta and single-serving tuna pack with single-serving condiment pack
  • Dessert: Homemade no-bake s’mores bars
  • Snacks: Protein or energy bar

Can you get the energy you need for backpacking from vegan food?

Vegans should have no problem at all getting the energy they need to fuel their backpacking adventures. Most pre-vegan backpackers assume that getting enough protein from vegan backpacking food will be a challenge, but this isn’t the case. The average adult only requires around 0.35g of protein per pound of body weight per day, which equates to just 56 grams if you weigh 160 lbs.

It’s also easy to find healthy, energy-rich vegan backpacking snacks like energy and protein bars.

What are some vegan backpacking food ideas?

Our favorite vegan backpacking foods are listed below.

  • Oatmeal
  • Outdoor Herbivore meals
  • Backpacker’s Pantry vegan selection
  • FirePot dehydrated backpacking meals 
  • Trailtopia breakfasts
  • Fernweh Food Company meals
  • Heather’s Choice Packaroons
  • Unreal Candy Bar
  • Nutiva Hazelnut Spread
  • Bobo’s Oat Bars 
  • Quinn Peanut Butter Filled Pretzel Nuggets
  • Pear’s Snacks Flavored Nuts

Can you get the energy you need from gluten-free backpacking food?

Yes, plenty of gluten-free foods contain more than enough carbs, proteins, and fats to fuel your backpacking adventures.

What are some gluten-free backpacking food ideas?

Our favorite gluten-free backpacking foods are included on the following list.

  • Gluten-free energy bars/granola bars
  • Gluten-free trail mix  
  • Brown rice cereal
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Gluten-free jerky
  • Gluten-free crackers
  • Dried fruit
  • Dark chocolate

Can you take cheese when backpacking?

Fresh, unaged soft cheeses are unsuitable for backpacking because they go bad when exposed to high temperatures and within a day or two of setting off. Hard and dry cheeses like cheddar, gouda, and parmesan, however, can last up to two weeks if stored carefully.

What types of cheese are best to take backpacking?

The best cheeses to take backpacking are hard cheeses like gouda, cheddar, and parmesan.

What backpacking food only requires boiling water?

Noodles, ramen, rice, pasta, freeze-dried meals, and dehydrated meals are examples of backpacking food that only requires boiling water.

Is boiling water feasible when backpacking?

All you need to get boiling water while backpacking is a backpacking stove, some gas, and a pot. You can even skip the pot and the stove if you’re in an area where fires are permitted by building a campfire.

What are some backpacking recipes for trail snacks?

Our favorite DIY trail snacks are listed below.

  • No-Bake S’mores Bars
  • Cinnamon Rolls
  • Oatmeal Energy Balls
  • S’mores Nachos
  • No-Bake Energy Bites
  • Nutella Dips
  • Bananas with Nut Butter
  • No-Bake Mini Cheesecakes

Why are snacks important for backpacking?

Regular snacking is the best way to stay energized on the trail. Eating a smaller snack every 1–2 hours, rather than a bigger meal, will ensure that your blood sugar levels don’t spike and crash, and help you avoid that post-meal lethargy and sluggishness.

Why is it important to store food correctly when backpacking?

Failing to store food correctly on a backpacking trip can have any or all of the consequences listed below.

  • It might attract bears
  • It will attract smaller critters that might damage your gear to get to it
  • The food itself might dirty your gear
  • The food will go off more quickly
  • The food will get damaged

How to prevent food spoilage when backpacking?

Below, we’ve listed our top backpacking food storage tips.

  • Freeze-dry or dehydrate food that may spoil.
  • Wrap any perishable foods in kraft paper.
  • Don’t bring fresh meat – it will go bad quickly and could contaminate your other food.
  • Reseal any packages you have open immediately.

What are some tips for organizing backpacking food?

Below, we’ve listed our top tips for organizing backpacking food.

  • Save space by repackaging.
  • Pack and clearly label each meal.
  • Use dry bags to group meals by day or by meal type.
  • Store the bulkiest bags lower in your pack with the smaller ones on top.
  • Make sure you have enough calories per day.
  • Ensure you give yourself plenty of variety.

How does bear-proof food storage work?

Bear lockers and bear canisters have hard-sided materials that cannot be penetrated by a bear’s teeth or claws. They also use seals or closures that even the wiliest of bears cannot manipulate to access your edibles. 

Should you use a bear bag or bear canister when backpacking?

Bear canisters are heavy and bulky but highly effective. Bear bags, on the other hand, are lightweight and packable, but need to be hung in a tree – something that experts in the field have warned may not be nearly as effective as we’re apt to believe.  

How do you pack food for ultralight backpacking?

To save packed weight, take all of your food out of its original packaging and repackage it in mylar bags or Ziploc polythene bags.

What are some lightweight food storage solutions for backpacking?

To minimize weight when packing your food for backpacking, substitute the original packing for lightweight containers like mylar bags, Ziploc freezer bags, a bear canister, Ursack bags, Ratsack bags, or dry bags. 

What factors affect the amount of backpacking food needed?

Below, we’ve outlined the main factors that affect the amount of food you need to take backpacking.

  • Terrain. You’ll burn more calories in snow, deep mud, and if there’s lots of ascent
  • Altitude. You burn more calories per hour the higher you go
  • Temperature. You can burn up to a third more calories on the same trail in winter compared to summer.
  • Personal metabolism rate. Some bodies are hungrier calorie-guzzlers than others
  • Resupply points. If these are few and far between, you’ll need to carry more food in the gaps.

What mistakes are made deciding how much food to pack?

The most common mistake backpackers make when deciding how much food to pack is underestimating how much they’ll need. If in doubt, add a little more – it’s better to carry an extra few ounces of weight than go hungry.

Is it too much hassle to have coffee when backpacking?

Making coffee while camping is easy and no hassle at all. There are a variety of methods you can use to make your morning brew, all of which will get your cup of good stuff ready in around the same time it takes at home.

How do you make coffee when backpacking?

You can make coffee in a variety of ways when backpacking. This includes instant coffee, coffee in a bag, the sock method, single serving pour-overs, pour-over drip stands, and cowboy coffee, and with an AeroPress, French press coffee maker, percolator, integrated cook system, or moka pot.

How long does it take to make coffee when backpacking?

This depends on which method you use. With instant coffee, coffee in a bag, single-serving pour-overs, and pour-over drip stands, it will take around 30 seconds longer than it takes to boil water on your stove. With a moka pot or French press, you’re looking at around 7 or 8 minutes. 

What coffee brands do backpackers prefer?

Below you’ll find some of the most popular coffee brands for backpackers.

  • Alpine Start Original Blend
  • Hiker’s Brew
  • Kuju Coffee’s Pocket PourOvers
  • Cusa Instant Coffee
  • Mt. Hagan
  • Voila
  • Stoked Stix

What should you eat to maximize energy when backpacking?

To optimal performance on the trails, you should seek to eat a healthy mix of complex carbs, proteins, and fats. The ideal ratio is 50% fats to 35% protein and 15% fat.

How many calories do backpackers need?

Most backpackers will need to eat 18–25 calories per pound of body weight per day. Naturally, you’ll need fewer calories on a shorter day or if you’re hiking in relatively flat terrain, and closer to 25 calories per pound of body weight if you’re hiking in mountainous terrain, with a heavy pack, or at higher elevations. 

What are some high-calorie food options suitable for backpacking?

Some high-calorie foods that are great for backpacking are listed below.

  • Trail mix
  • Nut butters
  • Dried fruits
  • Energy bars
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Hard cheeses
  • Dark chocolate
  • Granola

What important nutrients are needed when backpacking?

The key nutrients needed when backpacking are slow-release carbs, protein, healthy fats, and water.  Ideally, your meals should have a ratio of around 50% carbs to 35% protein and 15% fats.

What are the most nutrient-dense backpacking foods?

Our favorite nutrient-dense hiking foods are listed below.

  • Peanut butter
  • Fruit and nut bread
  • Dark chocolate
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Pecans
  • Pine nuts
  • Brazil nuts
  • Walnuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Flapjacks

What nutrition does your body need for post-backpacking recovery?

After a backpacking trip, it’s a good idea to get in plenty of fluids and electrolytes to aid recovery. Backpacking also depletes your body’s reserves of carbohydrates and the proteins needed to repair your damaged muscle tissue, so make sure you get plenty of carbs and proteins to replace them (the average adult will need a minimum of 60g of carbs and 25g of protein).

What foods are best for post-backpacking recovery?

The ideal meals for post-backpacking recovery should contain plenty of protein, complex carbs, and a mixture of nutrients. This might mean something like whole grains with meat and veg for your main followed by blueberries and yogurt or a vitamin-packed smoothie for dessert.

How do climatic conditions affect backpacking food choice?

Your body will require different nutrients, and in different quantities, in different weather conditions. 

In warm conditions, the emphasis is on hydration, so snacks and meals with water content (noodles, watermelon, apples), are the way to go. You also want foods that won’t melt in your backpack.

In cold conditions, you want foods that will warm you up (soup, porridge, ramen). You’ll also need more of them – your body will burn up to a third more calories on the same hike in cold weather than it will in warm weather. You should also make sure you carry foods that won’t freeze easily in your backpack.

Are there extra nutritional requirements for backpacking in cold weather?

Our bodies burn more calories in an effort to stay warm in cold temperatures, so you’ll need to carry more food with you to stay energized on cold-weather backpacking trips. A study by NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) in 2017 revealed that participants who went on the same hike in winter and spring burned around a third more calories on the winter hike. 

What are popular food choices for cold-weather backpacking?

Our favorite cold-weather backpacking foods are listed below.

  • Soup
  • Ramen
  • Instant rice
  • Hot porridge
  • Any regular snacks that won’t freeze!

Are there extra nutritional requirements for backpacking in summer?

On summer backpacking trips, you’ll need the same healthy balance of protein, complex carbs, and fats as at any other time of year. However, if you can add some snacks that help to prevent dehydration by supplying water (watermelon, apples) or electrolytes (pretzels, salted nuts), all the better.

What are popular food choices for summer backpacking?

Below, we’ve listed some popular snacks and lunches for summer backpacking.

  • Fresh fruit
  • Pasta salad
  • Watermelon slices
  • Apple slices
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Berries

What foods are more practical when backpacking in the rain?

The most practical foods for backpacking in the rain are any that won’t spoil or go soggy if they get wet (no sandwiches!).

What are popular food choices for backpacking in the rain?

Our top food choices for backpacking in the rain are protein bars, energy bars, fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds.

How can food selection affect trail safety?

Particularly odorous foods are more likely to attract wild animals, so you might want to leave those canned capers and blue cheeses at home.

What are the food guidelines for backpacking in bear country?

When backpacking in bear country, take the precautions listed below.

  • Store your food in scent-proof containers
  • Use a bear canister
  • Always keep your food close to hand
  • Never leave food unattended, even if it’s in your backpack
  • Wash any utensils or dishes immediately after using them
  • Don’t dispose of food scraps on the trail – pack them out
  • Never attempt to feed bears

What can you do to minimize attracting bears?

To avoid attracting bears, make sure you store all food in scent-proof or bear-proof bags and containers. When you’re done eating, make sure you put any trash and eating utensils in there too.

What constitutes backpacking emergency food?

Backpacking emergency food is anything that will help keep you energized if you happen to get lost or involved in an accident or delayed for any reason. This generally means foods that are calorie-dense and have a long shelf life, like energy bars.

What mistakes are made when packing backpacking emergency food?

The most common mistakes backpackers make when packing emergency food for backpacking are not packing enough of it and forgetting the use-by date – you can’t survive on what’s not there or on something that’s not safely edible. 

What foraged foods are safe to eat when backpacking?

Some edible foods you might find while backpacking are listed below.

  • Ground elder
  • Stinging nettle
  • Wild garlic
  • Dandelion
  • Plantain
  • Blackberries.
  • Huckleberries
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Salmonberries

What foraged foods will provide most nutrition for backpacking?

For nutritional purposes, the best foraged foods you’ll find when backpacking are berries.