Out of all the gear and items you bring along with you on a backpacking trip, nothing it more important than water, or water treatment items. Coming in at a close second is backpacking food. While it may initially seem that packing a few sack lunches is the simple way to go, the truth is that a little more strategy and logic is needed.
The food you bring on your trip will be what fuels your ability to backpack in the first place, so special care and planning is needed, not only for optimal nutrition, but also to avoid any unwanted situations, as well as being prepared if something goes wrong.
Everyone is different when it comes to food preferences, but there are a few concrete factors that you need to keep in mind when planning your food supply.
It’s tempting to want to bring along an excess amount of food, but don’t give in. Try to keep your load to around 1.5 lbs per day. The extra food supply can add up quickly, giving your body more stress and taking up precious pack space. Plan accordingly.
The best backpacking food is both light and high in calories. The reasons for this are obvious; you want to carry as light of load as possible, while supplying your body with enough calories to make up for what you are burning. Whatever your normal calorie intake is during a normal week won’t be enough for when you are backpacking. You need to constantly replenish what you are using.
There are plenty of ways to obtain calories and fill yourself up, but not all of them are good ideas. A candy bar may have plenty of calories, but you are setting yourself up for a crash. Avoid excess sugars and junk foods. Try to create a balanced food intake throughout the day if at all possible.
The goal of backpacking is to pack light, so you’re probably going to want to avoid loading up on cans of soup or beans.
Most cooking with backpacking food involves boiling water. If your hike yields limited water availability, you’re best off planning meals that don’t need it. You don’t want to exhaust your precious water supply just to heat up some noodles.
You aren’t likely to be in the mood to stop and set up your stove or fire multiple times a day to cook. Choose foods that need little preparation. For the ultimate convenience, consider freeze dried food packs that only need a little water added.
Here is a quick breakdown of some common items, and some of the best backpacking food choices.
Pastas, instant rice, noodles, and powdered drink mixes are void of any water weight, while also giving you plenty of versatile options for cooking. It’s wise to rely heavily on these. Freeze dried food packs are a great option as well.
Unless you are going on a 1 or 2 night trip, it’s best to avoid canned food items, as the weight will wear on you. Smaller cans like tuna or chicken aren’t so bad however, and they make for easy additions to noodles and pastas.
The easiest way to add different flavors without weighing your pack down. Bring a few of your favorites along. Spices go a long way in helping you mix things up with limited options.
While snacks may seem optional and not nearly as important, they can be a great asset to your trip when used right. Healthy snacks such as nuts and many energy bars give you added calories without a sugar crash, or unnecessary filler ingredients. Light snacking in between meals on the go keeps the energy flowing.
Here are are few quick meal ideas that are suitable for most any backpacking trip, and easy to bring along and make.
Backpacking food is largely the same regardless of environment and trip duration, but there are a few scenarios that present more calculated choices.
Do you have a gluten allergy? No problem, your meal plan just needs some slight tweaking.
Here are a just a few options suitable for backpacking: jerky, dried fruit, coconut oil, honey, nuts, dried kale, dried vegetable chips, canned fish, dark chocolate, gluten-free protein bars.
Ultralight backpacking involves, well, packing as light as you possibly can, so that means a lot of food options are out the window.
Here are some that aren’t: nuts, peanut butter, Nutella, tortillas, powdered milk, muesli, granola, angel hair pasta, veggie chips, popcorn, crackers, and tuna tuna pouches.
You don’t have to depend on pre-made freeze dried meal packs, or boring single ingredient meals. With a little planning and vacuum sealer, you can easily create your own meal packs and snacks to bring with you.
You can make your own granola bars ahead of time and customize them however you’d like. Peanut butter, honey, M&M’s, flax seed, almonds -- these are just a few ideas. Simple mix together, form into bars, and leave them out to set. When ready, wrap them in wax paper, and use a vacuum sealer to keep fresh. You can even package individually if desired.
Another idea is to create your own boil-in-bag meals. Using a boil-proof plastic zipper or vacuum bag, mix together dehydrated ingredients such as spinach, peppers, and potatoes together, along with instant rice, pasta, or noodles. Toss in a few spices, seal, and you have a complete meal that can easily be cooked by throwing in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes at the end of a long hike.