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 article will give you the basics on how to prepare your daily rations realistically and efficiently to use on all your hiking trips.
When preparing your backpacking food stock before going on a hike, you must first and foremost:
These two essential parameters revolve around four rules that you can adapt according to your eating habits and your practices:
You will find my latest food lists at the end of this article to better illustrate this guide.
Table of Contents
Knowing your daily needs for caloric intake is an important parameter because it will condition your ability to provide 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.
The 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 short, you will get cold!), and every morning you will feel more and more tired and weak.
So, at any cost, do not try shorting yourself the necessary caloric intake for your good physical condition just to lighten your backpack, without considering the pros and cons!
Unless of course, you know your needs and your metabolism very well, and that you are ready to ration yourself and limit your resources, for the sole purpose of rushing into the first pizzeria you find on your way back to civilization!
Finding the right caloric balance is done over time, by practice and experimentation.
One piece of advice: every day, take notes of your sensations. Did you overeat? 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 lengthy and painstaking tests.
Click here for a handy calorie calculator.
Then you only will have to fine-tune. The formula generally uses age, weight, height, and type of activity.
Keep in mind that 100g of food must bring you at least 500 Cal.
I mix rule # 1 and # 2: if you need 3,000 Cal per day, you need to carry 21 oz (600g of food), that is 7 oz (200g) of food per meal.
There you go, those who are in a hurry now have the basic ideas to take to the supermarket or the local organic shop! For the rest of you, 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 roughly, to avoid loosening up and adding a little of this or that, because it looks so good, and then you end up emptying the rest of the muesli into your Ziploc and completely mess up your quest to reduce weight!
“And what about this? Should you take it?”, “Oh! Yes, for some more grams…”
Hell No! We have a mathematical rule, and we will apply it.
A little reminder:
Another little reminder: Cal (upper case C) is equivalent to kcal (kilocalorie) which you will mostly see on the nutrition facts label of food products, also not to confuse with cal (lower case c) which is equivalent to 0.001 kcal or Cal. Sorry for my geekiness!
You will have to read the nutrition labels of each desired food product.
This will take some time at first, but soon you will have the knowledge of a wide range of possibilities that you can adapt to your desires and needs of the moment.
530 Cal per 3.5 oz (100g) for milk chocolate. I take at least one chocolate bar of 3.5 oz (100g) a day.
There are the classics: chocolate can easily exceed 500 Cal/3.5 oz (100g), nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, nuts in any shape…) that contain between 600 and 700 Cal/3.5 oz (100g).
Potato chips and dried banana slices also represent an excellent weight/calorie ratio.
To summarize, do not listen to nutritionists: the combination of fat/carbohydrates, this is exactly what you need!
One mistake to avoid: only bring butter with you, thinking that you understood everything about mathematics and that 3.5 oz (100g) = 900 Cal and you say to yourself: “We have a mathematical rule and we will apply it!”
Trust me, three 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 Cal/3.5 oz (100g)) and salted butter in a small airtight box which will give about 750 Cal/3.5 oz (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 useful in energy supply and weight to carry with sometimes a little monotony… well yes!
In addition to drinking water, there is no need to carry the water contained in food.
You can always rehydrate your hiking food at the time of cooking, 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 105 oz (3 kg) of liquid milk or 10.5 oz (300 grams) of milk powder?
Out go canned ravioli, your best chicken broccoli Alfredo in a jar recipe, or pumpkin soup carton!
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 robust, waterproof, weigh nothing, and as you empty them, they will take up less space in your hiking backpack.
Care to weigh your waste when you return home, it’s always instructive, and take notes to do better next time!
With those four basic rules and my advice coming from 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 tips in a very radical way to achieve energy efficiency and a lower weight at the expense of pleasure to eat, or you can give yourself some margins, cheat a little on Rule # 2 to not be in a smashing mood on the trails!
As promised at the beginning of this article here are some backpacking food ideas I brought with me on my last hike.
This list of hiking food is worth ten meals (Note that once in the field I eat when I want, and what I want, my only concern is getting my daily calorie intake).
The weather forecasted for my hike was not the best, with a 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.
Total: 91 oz (2,578 g) for 11,412 Kcal
In the end, I had a surplus of 1,412 Kcal in regards to my theoretical predictions.
That will give me a choice, for the next time, to quickly get rid of some food or to tell myself that I can spend an extra night and have a light lunch in the outdoors.
So make proper preparation, hydrate yourself and take notes, and you will know precisely what is your best backpacking food and the most adapted for any trail, for as many days as you have planned.
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