Best Backpacking/Hiking Foods to Carry

Winter has finally ended. It’s time to get outdoors again and enjoy nature.

Some folks like to do this by spending two or three hours hiking. Others would rather turn it into several days of backpacking. Regardless of your preference, you’re going to want to include some food in the equation.

This is something that requires plenty of thought and planning. Today I’m going to provide you with a variety of things to consider about the types and amount of food you take with you on a hiking or backpacking excursion.

Food is the fuel you will need to keep going when you’re tired. And the right kinds of food will allow your body to respond how you want it to along the way.

4 keys to food choices

First off, here are the four keys to packing food for a hike or a backpacking trip:

  • Lightweight. You and your companions will be carrying most if not all of the food you’ll be consuming, so you’re going to want food that doesn’t weigh you down and tire you out quickly. Select compact dehydrated or freeze-dried foods. You want a high calorie-to-ounce ratio.
  • Filling. Your food needs to be more than easy to carry. It must have the ability to fill you up because otherwise you’ll have to stop more often to eat. You need a variety of foods that are rich in complex carbohydrates and proteins. You want to feel full, but not weighed down. Hiking burns up a lot of calories.
  • Nutritious. You can find lightweight food that’s filling, but unless it’s packed with nutrients, it won’t sustain you very well during a hike or backpacking trip. And that goes for both meals and snacks. Nutritious food and beverages with fiber, carbs and electrolytes will give you the energy you need.
  • Ready to eat. Minimal or no preparation is the key to eating while on a hike or a backpacking trip. Keep it simple. And even if you’re setting up camp for an overnight stay, try to limit yourself to “one-pot meals.”

What to pack

High-octane food will fuel your body best for a hike or backpacking trip. Here are some examples of what you might want to carry with you. Which ones you include will be at least partially dependent on how long your excursion will be.

Dry foods. This would include rice, soup mixes, tuna and salmon packets, and instant noodles. Also, dried fruit, granola bars, protein bars, trail mix, nuts and seeds, jerky, and pork rinds.

Cheese. This can keep well and it’s loaded with calories and protein. And it can be added to just about any other food.

Instant oatmeal. Look for oatmeal that does not include added sugars and artificial ingredients. Add fruits, nuts and seeds to improve the taste. 

Dehydrated/freeze-dried foods. This comes down to which foods you prefer. Regardless, you can enjoy a calorie-dense meal simply by heating water.

Peanut butter and almond butter. Stick with the natural stuff in easy-to-carry packets. No need to worry about spoilage.

Spices. If you’re out on the trails for more than a day, spices will add much-appreciated flavor to your meals.

Olive oil. Same thing with oil. Providing fat and calories, olive oil will make a variety of foods taste better.

Beverages. In addition to water, this could include powdered milk, coffee and tea. Caffeinated beverages might make you more alert, but don’t overdo it because you could become dehydrated.

Additional tips

And now for a few other tips to keep in mind that will make your trip more enjoyable.

  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before you start out, and of course carry plenty to keep yourself refreshed throughout the trip. As you’re hiking, drink water even when you don’t feel thirsty, as it will keep you energized.
  • Carry a water purifier. Even if you believe you have enough drinking water, this is a must. You never know what might happen to your supply, and you may need a way to decontaminate water from a stream.
  • Choose lasting energy. Sugary foods will give you a quick boost, but the crash comes quickly. Complex carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats are digested more slowly and release energy for you along the way.
  • Don’t neglect fresh foods. Most of your hiking and backpacking food will be non-perishable, but add some fresh fruits and vegetables as well. You can eat them on the first day while they’re still fresh.
  • Cool it. If someone is willing to carry a small cooler with an ice pack, add a few other perishable foods such as a cold pasta salad to the mix, as well as a few other beverages.
  • Minimize utensils. The fewer cooking tools and eating utensils you need for your food, the less weight you’ll have to carry around. Perhaps one pot for boiling water and a few spoons and forks will be enough.
  • Pack plenty. Even though it will add some weight, take more food along than you think you’ll need. Better to carry a little extra weight than realize you’ve run out of food.
  • Don’t leave a trace. Dispose of all of your waste properly so those behind you can enjoy nature as much as you do.

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