Knowing what to eat when hiking and also that you will have to carry all this food on your back is not always easy.
This is why I will present you, in this article, the basics on how to prepare your daily rations realistically and efficiently to use on all your hiking trips.
When preparing your food stock before going on a hike, you must first and foremost:
- Maximize the nutritional efficiency of each of your meals in terms of calorie intake,
- Minimize the weight and volume of each of your food rations.
These two essential parameters revolve around 4 rules that you can adapt according to your eating habits and your practices:
I would put one of my latest food lists at the end of this article to better illustrate this guide.
Rule # 1: Identify your daily nutritional requirements in Kilocalories (Kcal)
Knowing your daily needs for caloric intake is a very important parameter because it will condition your ability to provide an effort, to recover from your day of hiking, and to refill your energy reserves to be in full shape the next day.
If your caloric intake is too low, fatigue will quickly slow you down and your thermoregulation will be less effective.
Result: by accumulating the hiking days and by providing the substantial effort needed for walking on uneven terrain with the weight of the backpack on your back, your physical and mental condition will degrade quickly.
You will suffer from thermal discomfort at night in your sleeping bag (in clear, you will get cold), and every morning you will feel more and more tired and weak.
So do not bother saving on caloric intake necessary for your good physical condition in order to lighten your backpack at any cost, without considering the pros and cons!
Unless you know your needs and your metabolism very well, and that you are ready to ration yourself and limit a little more your resources, for the sole purpose of rushing in the first pizzeria you will find on your way back to civilization!
Find the right caloric balance is done over time, by practicing and experimenting.
One advice: every day, take notes of your sensations. Have you eaten too much? Not enough? Was the ration sufficient? You will then be able to review your notes before your next hike so you don’t reproduce some of the mistakes.
Calorie calculators can be found easily on the internet, which can help you get a quick idea of your needs without having to go through long and painstaking tests.
Click here for one handy calorie calculator.
Then you will just have to fine-tune. The formula generally uses age, weight, height and type of activity.
Rule # 2: Learn the caloric equivalent by weight of each food
Keep in mind that 100g of food must bring you at least 500 Kcal.
I mix rule # 1 and # 2: if you need 3000 Kcal per day, you need to carry 600g of food, that is 200g of food per meal.
There you go, those who are in a hurry have now their basic principle to run to the supermarket or the local organic shop! For the others we will dig a little deeper.
I like this calculation because it works all the time, when I’m in a hurry, tired, dehydrated, far from my favorite store.
It can be applied in a rough way, to avoid loosen up and adding a little of that which looks so good and ending up emptying this rest of muesli in your Ziploc and completely messing up our quest of reducing weight!
“And that you don’t take it?”, “Oh! Yes, it is not for some grams…”
Hell No! We have a mathematical rule and we will apply it.
A little reminder:
- 1 g of carbohydrate = 4Kcal
- 1g of protein = 4Kcal
- 1g of fat = 9Kcal
You will have to read the nutrition labels of each coveted food product.
You will spend some time there at first, but then you will have the knowledge of a wide range of possibilities that you can adapt to your desires and needs of the moment.
530 kcal per 100g for milk chocolate. I take at least one chocolate bar of 100g a day.
What food is good for hiking?
There are the classics: chocolate can easily exceed 500 Kcal/100g, nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, nuts in any shape…) that contain between 600 and 700 Kcal/100g.
Potato chips and fried banana slices also represent a good weight/calories ratio.
To summarize, do not listen to nutritionists: the combination of fat/carbohydrates, this is exactly what you need!
One mistake to avoid: only take with you butter (I know who!) thinking that they understood everything about mathematics and that 100g = 900 Kcal and the guy said “We have a mathematical rule and we will apply it!”
Believe me, 3 meals a day just butter-based, well, it can be heavy on the digestion and the spirit.
On the other hand, you can smooth out our studious calculation by taking with you instant mashed potato (350 to 400 Kcal/100g) and salted butter in a small hermetic box which will give about 750 Kcal/100g. Do you get the idea?
By following this rule (# 2) you will be able to eat good things that are effective from a nutritional point of view, or only effective in energy supply and weight to carry with sometimes a little monotony… well yes!
Rule # 3: Take only dry or dehydrated food on the hike
In addition to drinking water there is no need to carry water from food.
You can always rehydrate your food at the moment of their preparation with water you have gathered on the spot.
Water contained in certain foods can represent 80% of their weight, and much more in some cases.
For 3 liters of milk, do you prefer to carry 3 kilos of liquid milk or 300g of milk powder?
Out go canned ravioli, your best chicken broccoli Alfredo in a jar recipe or pumpkin soup carton!
Rule # 4: Manage food packaging for hiking
Managing food packaging, means anticipating the production of waste.
Before going on a hike, get rid of unnecessary containers (plastic packaging) or rigid containers.
Recondition your food in Ziploc bags: they are strong, waterproof, weigh nothing and as you empty them, they will take up less space in your hiking backpack.
Care weighing your waste when you return home, it’s always instructive, and take notes to do better next time!
Some additional tips on hiking food
- Make sure to keep a balance between salty and sweet food base, whatever your usual food habits. Once on the paths, many things are happening at the metabolic level, the needs change, we acclimate. Salt is essential to replace the one evacuated by perspiration to overcome the problem of dehydration. Sugar in all its forms is an efficient fuel for the effort as well as for recovery.
- Try to remain simple when choosing your foods, it gives you more possibilities of adaptation. A ready-made dish does not allow you like instant mashed potato or rice to adapt it to your desire of the moment: salty, sweet, nature.
- Avoid food surprises, this is not the time to discover a brand new food that will go wrong (in terms of taste and nutrition) lost in the middle of a storm.
- Plan at least one ultra-simple meal to prepare. In that case, the freeze-dried meal finds its place in case of heavy tiredness after a long day of hiking.
- Plan that a part of your food needs nothing as an addition or preparation to be consumed. The important is to know that you will be able to eat something cold, hot, rehydrated or not, always to be able to compensate for possible trail problems (not enough water to cook, no more gas, burner down, being lazy or too tired to cook).
- Take vitamins even if the risk of deficiency is low over short to medium hike lengths and if on longer hikes we always manage to reprovision. But as you will provide an unusual effort during your hike I recommend to give everything needed to the “machine”.
- Pay attention to the cooking time of certain foods (rice, lentils), soup. Especially if you carry the energy needed for cooking (gas, fuel, alcohol). Know that there are precooked and dehydrated foods (rice, quinoa).
- I always take food I love to eat and some I like less. It’s important to be able to eat something good depending on the circumstances (comfort food), but be sure to have something that will stay and wait at the bottom of your backpack if you are too greedy.
With those 4 basic rules and my advice ripened with my experience in the field, you are now able to prepare your food rations for hiking, depending on your needs, your tastes and your eating habits.
You can follow my advice in a very radical way to achieve an energy efficiency and a very low weight at the expense of pleasure to eat, or give yourself some margins, cheat a bit on Rule # 2 to not be in a smashing mood on the trails!
As promised at the beginning of this article, I will share with you what I brought with me on my last hike.
This list of food is worth for 10 meals (I specify that once on the field I eat when I want and what I want, my only concern is having my daily calorie intake).
The weather forecasted for my hike was not the best with drop of temperature and some snowfall.
So I compensated for these more tiring weather conditions by increasing my caloric intake: 3,000 Kcal/day, which means 1,000 Kcal/meal.
- 100g of precooked quinoa <> 355 Kcal
- 200g of potato chips <> 1,080 Kcal
- 185g of Balisto bars (10 bars) <> 930 kcal
- 550g of muesli <> 2623 Kcal
- 80g chocolate powder <> 692 Kcal
- 125g instant mashed potato <> 453 Kcal
- 200g organic crackers <> 910 kcal
- 254g of dry salami <> 990 Kcal
- 130g petit-beurre biscuits <> 639 Kcal
- 300g of milk chocolate <> 1,665 Kcal
- 60g salted butter <> 435 Kcal
- 194g instant soup <> 640 Kcal
Total: 2578g for 11,412 Kcal
At the end, I had a surplus of 1,412 Kcal in regards to my theoretical predictions.
That will give me the choice, for the next time, to easily get rid of some food or to tell myself that I can spend an extra night and having a light lunch in the outdoors.
So make a good preparation, hydrate yourself and take notes.