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

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 hiking. This includes how to plan and prep your food, how much you’ll need, what types of food you should eat, and what foods are best for hikers with different dietary requirements or restrictions.

Why is food prep and planning essential for hiking?

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 hike, that the food won’t go bad, and that wild animals won’t smell it and be attracted to you.

What are the benefits of prepping your trail food in advance?

Below, we summarize the main benefits of prepping your hiking snacks and meals in advance.

  • It saves time on the trail
  • It reduces bulk in your backpack
  • Less packaging
  • It’s lighter
  • No need to carry a stove, gas, and pot 
  • You can store/package it in scent-proof bags so it doesn’t attract wildlife

Why is nutrition important when hiking?

To ensure we don’t “hit a wall”, and to optimize performance and prevent injury, we need to replace the reserves of energy we burn while hiking with healthy carbs, protein, and fats. 

Why are carbohydrates important for hiking?

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

Why is protein important for hiking?

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

Do you need sugar when hiking?

Several studies have demonstrated that foods that contain sugar (glucose and fructose) boost performance in endurance-based activities like hiking. 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 a hike?

Eating an hour to thirty minutes before you start a hike 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 hiking?

It’s a good idea to snack regularly throughout your hike (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, you should be good for a couple of hours before needing your first snack. 

How does hike intensity and duration affect food choice?

The intensity of your hike significantly affects how much food you need. If you’re hiking in mountainous terrain, you’re likely to burn up to 1,000 calories more in a day than if you’re hiking in relatively flat terrain. And, needless to say, on longer hikes you’ll need to carry enough food to keep yourself energized for the duration (roughly 300–400 calories per hour).

What food can you take hiking?

You can take just about any food on a hike, just make sure it’s nutritious, easy to carry, won’t spill in your backpack or stink it out, is correctly stored so it won’t attract wildlife, and provides enough slow-release calories to prevent the spike-and-crash in blood sugar levels that happens with simple carbs. 

Why are snacks important for hiking?

Regular snacking is the best way to stay energized on a hike. 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. 

What snacks are good for hiking?

The following list includes our favorite hiking snacks.

  • Nut butters and crackers 
  • Bananas
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Trail mix
  • Jerky
  • Dried fruit
  • Granola
  • Carrots
Why are salty hiking snacks a good idea?

Salty snacks are a good choice for hiking because the salt helps to replace two key electrolytes that you lose to sweat – sodium and chloride.

What snacks will help with hydration during long hikes?

Snacks that help with hydration when hiking include grapes, watermelon, and apples.

What are some gluten-free hiking snack ideas?

The following list includes our favorite gluten-free hiking snacks.

  1. Gluten-free energy bars
  2. Gluten-free jerky
  3. Dried fruit
  4. Dark chocolate
  5. Gluten-free trail mix
What are some vegan hiking snack ideas?

The following list includes our favorite vegan hiking snacks.

  1. Trail mix
  2. Vegan jerky
  3. Nuts and seeds
  4. Pretzels
  5. Fresh fruit
  6. Dried fruit
  7. Hummus
  8. Vegan energy bars

What hiking snacks can be made at home?

The following list includes some great hiking snacks you can make at home.

  • Energy bites
  • Granola bars
  • Custom trail mix
  • Flapjacks
  • Oatmeal muffins
  • Peanut butter and oatmeal cookies
  • Stuffed dates

What are the best pre-packaged hiking snacks?

The best pre-packaged hiking snacks are things like trail mix, energy bars, protein bars, chickpea snacks, chia bars, nuts and seeds, pistachios, dried fruit, jerky, and meat bars. 

What makes for a good hiking lunch?

The ideal hiking lunch should be calorie-dense and easily digestible. If it happens to have a good ratio of carbs to protein and fats (around 50:35:15), all the better!

What are some recommended hiking lunch ideas?

Some of our favorite hiking lunch ideas include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, packaroons, chicken, tuna, or SPAM packets, energy gummies, wraps, onigiri, ramen lunch boxes, healthy, asian spring roll wrap, energy bars and protein bars, rolled oat bites, hard-boiled eggs, cream cheese and smoked salmon bagels, pasta salad, dehydrated/freeze-dried meals, hummus or tuna and crackers, and sliced salami or beef jerky.

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 hike 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.

Why is no-cook food preferable for hiking?

No-cook food is great for hiking because it’s lighter, uses less packaging, means there’s no need to carry a stove, gas, and pot, and because there’s no need to cook it!

What are some no-cook food ideas for hiking?

Some of our favorite no-cook snacks and meals for hiking are overnight oats, boiled eggs, egg muffins, fruit stuffed wraps, fruit salad, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cherry tomato caprese salad, tuna salad, pesto pasta salad, smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel, and cold cut roll-ups.

What hiking food only requires boiling water?

Below are some great hiking foods that only require boiling water.

  1. Noodles.
  2. Ramen.
  3. Dehydrated meals.
  4. Freeze-dried meals.
  5. Instant rice.
  6. Pasta.
  7. Couscous.
  8. Instant oatmeal.

Is having boiling water when hiking feasible?

Absolutely. All you need to get boiling water while hiking is a camping 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 is freeze-dried hiking food?

Freeze-dried food is frozen and vacuum-sealed food. 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 do you need to pack for freeze-dried meals?

All you need to pack to prepare dehydrated meals are something to eat them with and something to boil water.

What is the difference between dehydrated food and freeze-dried food?

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.

How do you dehydrate your own hiking food 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.

Can you get all the energy you need from vegan hiking food?

Vegans should have no problem at all getting the energy they need to fuel their hiking adventures. Most pre-vegan hikers assume that getting enough protein 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 hiking snacks like energy and protein bars.

What are some vegan hiking food ideas?

Some of our favorite vegan hiking foods include 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, and

Pear’s Snacks Flavored Nuts.

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

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

What are some gluten-free hiking food ideas?

Our favorite gluten-free hiking 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

What should you eat to maximize hiking output?

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.

How many calories do hikers need?

Most hikers 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 hiking?

Below are some high-calorie foods that are great for hiking.

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

What important nutrients are needed on a hike?

The key nutrients needed on a hike 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 hiking foods?

The following list includes some of our favorite nutrient-dense hiking foods.

  • 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-hike recovery?

After a hike, it’s a good idea to get in plenty of fluids and electrolytes to aid recovery. Hiking 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 carbs and 25g of protein).

What foods are best for post-hike recovery?

The ideal meal for post-hike 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 you pack and store hiking food?

The following list contains our top tips for packing and storing food for hiking.

  • Repackage everything to save weight and waste
  • Use heavy-duty ziploc bags
  • Store the ziploc bags inside dry bags or scent-proof containers
  • Label your bags and group them by meal
  • Store soft foods on top of hard foods
  • Cook in advance to save time on the trail

Why is it important to store food correctly on the trail?

Failing to store food correctly on a hiking trip can have various (unwanted) consequences, which we’ve itemized on the following list.

  • 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 should you pack and organize food when hiking?

When packing and organizing hiking food, repackage everything to save weight and waste, use heavy-duty ziploc bags, and store the ziploc bags inside color-coded dry bags or scent-proof containers. Store your snacks on top of meals in your backpack (you’ll need the snacks first) and store soft foods on top of hard foods.

What are the best foods to pack for a thru-hike?

The best foods for thru-hiking are calorie-dense, nutritious, and have a long and stable shelf life.

What mistakes are made when packing food for a thru-hike?

The following list points out the most common mistakes thru-hikers make when it comes to food.

  1. Not repackaging
  2. Not enough variety
  3. Too much sweet and not enough savory/salty
  4. Packing too much food
  5. Not packing enough food
  6. Crushing soft food under heavy food or gear
  7. Not enough nutrients and vitamins
  8. Spending too much cash on dehydrated or freeze-dried meals
  9. Neglecting to bring the occasional treat
  10. Bringing too many treats

What factors affect the amount of hiking food to pack?

The main factors that affect the amount of food you need to take hiking are summarized on the list below.

  • 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

What mistakes are made deciding the amount of food to pack?

The most common mistake hikers 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.

How do climatic conditions affect hiking 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.

What are the nutritional requirements for hiking 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 hikes. 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 some popular food choices for cold-weather hiking?

Our favorite cold-weather hiking foods include soup, ramen, instant rice, hot porridge, and any regular snacks that won’t freeze!

What are the nutritional requirements for hiking in summer?

When hiking in summer, 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 some popular food choices for summer hiking?

The following list includes some popular snacks and lunches for summer hikes.

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

What foods are more practical when hiking in the rain?

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

What are some popular food choices for hiking in the rain?

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

How can food selection affect trail safety?

The National Parks Service (NPS) warns that particularly odorous foods are more likely to attract wild animals, so you might want to leave those capers and blue cheeses at home.

What are the food guidelines for hiking in bear country?

The following list summarizes what to do (and not to do) with your food when hiking in bear country.

  • Store your food in scent-proof containers
  • 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 your food?

To avoid attracting bears, make sure you store your hiking snacks and lunches in scent-proof bags and containers. When you’re done eating, make sure you put any trash and eating utensils in there too.

What constitutes hiking emergency food?

Hiking emergency food is anything that will help keep you energized if you happen to get lost or involved in an incident that prevents you returning to your trailhead at the expected time. This generally means foods that are calorie-dense and have a long shelf life, like energy bars.

What mistakes are made when packing hiking emergency food?

The most common mistakes hikers make when packing emergency food for hiking 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 hiking?

The following list contains some edible foods you might find on hiking trails.

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

What foraged foods will provide most nutrition for hiking?

According to Healthline, for nutritional purposes, the best foraged foods you’ll find near hiking trails are berries.