What Foods to Pack When Hiking?
When it comes to hiking, particularly hikes that last multiple days, what foods to pack when hiking becomes an issue. Anyone who has overpacked will know how challenging this is, while underpacking can lead to low energy and an unpleasant walk.
Finding foods that are nutrient-dense and require little or no preparation is ideal. Protein bars, dried fruit, nuts, and meal replacement powders can work well. Planning your route around areas where you can resupply is also helpful.
In this article, we will look at what foods to pack when hiking and common mistakes people make.
Why the Weight of Your Pack is Important
When hiking, the weight you carry will affect your enjoyment of the walk. Pack too heavy a bag, and you will find it much harder to walk at a decent pace; you may also find that your feet are more susceptible to blisters as there is a lot more pressure on them.
Overpacking is perhaps the biggest mistake made by new hikers, and it has led to many a premature ending.
According to Joe Pasteris of Rei.com, your backpack should weigh no more than 20% of your body weight and only 10% if you are going on a day hike (and need to carry a lot less).
If you weigh 70 kg, then your backpack should not weigh more than 14 kg. If you weigh 50 kg, your backpack should weigh no more than 10 kg.
The longer you hike, the heavier your bag will be unless you can find accommodation or supplies midway through your route.
There are many ways to reduce your backpack weight; most involve getting rid of spare clothes and replacing heavier items with lighter alternatives. Replacing your old sleeping bag with a newer, lighter one can save you quite a bit. Finding a lightweight tent is also very important for longer hikes.
But one area where most new hikers struggle is when it comes to food. Not only do you have to pack the meals themselves, but you also need to pack cooking utensils, a gas fire, matches, washing up liquid, and cutlery.
What to Consider When Packing Food For Your Hike
There are several things you need to consider when picking your hiking foods. They need to be:
Easy to Transport
A hiker’s backpack is not the most stable form of transportation. Your food is going to get shaken up a lot and moved around. You want food that will be able to withstand a lot of movement but is also easy to carry. Unwieldy packaging can make food very difficult to transport, as can fragile packaging.
Able to Avoid Spoilage
Your backpack will not be refrigerated; it will be in a hot and humid environment. This makes many fresh foods a terrible choice, particularly if your hike lasts 3+ days. Uncooked meat, dairy products, and many forms of fruit and vegetables are not ideal for hiking as they can quickly go off and turn your hike into a nightmare.
Foods such as chorizo, salami, jerky, and hard cheeses can survive for several days without refrigeration and are also calorie-dense (see below). So you don’t have to turn vegan overnight.
You want an excellent calorie-to-weight ratio; if a food is very low in calories, you would need to carry a lot of it to provide you with enough energy. Foods such as dried fruit, energy bars, and nuts are great because they contain many calories while taking up very little space in your backpack.
Unless you are in the military, you are probably hiking for pleasure. This means that your food should reflect this. You don’t want to be eating bland, tasteless food surrounded by gorgeous scenes of nature. Your options may be limited, but there are still several tasty food options for the hungry hiker.
Easy to Prepare
As delicious as a fresh risotto maybe while hiking, your ability to cook is hampered by a lack of tools and flat surfaces to prepare food on. You don’t want too much washing up, nor do you want to be carrying a grater, sieve, frying pan, chopping board, and selection of knives. It would just weigh too much. These tools are great for camping but not for hiking.
Light in Weight
A cast iron griddle pan is not a good idea if you can only carry a maximum of 20 kg on your back. You also don’t want foods that will take up too much space or weigh you down.
This isn’t a consideration for everyone, but keeping the cost per meal down can make hiking much more economically viable for many hikers, particularly if you travel for long periods. This is not much of an issue if you walk for three days. But if you embark on a 90-day mega-hike, you will want a low cost per meal.
What Foods to Pack When Hiking?
Now that we’ve gone over what you should consider before packing your bag, we can look at what foods are ideal for packing when hiking.
Dehydrated meals, and ration packs, are trendy in the hiking community. They are tasty and pre-prepared and can be cooked using boiling water and a small gas fire.
These meals are also very light, often weighing around 100-200 grams. They are also calorie-dense, meaning that you get a lot of calories per gram of food. This is not seen as a benefit in everyday life, where people tend to overeat, but you can benefit from the extra calories during a hike.
The only downsides to dehydrated meals are that they can be pretty expensive per serving and usually require boiling water. This means you will need a gas stove and a pan to boil the water and hold the food while it cooks.
None of these issues is a big deal; the price per serving may seem expensive, but not compared to eating out at a restaurant or even buying a quick meal at a fast-food outlet.
Dried Fruit, Nuts, Trail Mix
Dried fruit, nuts, and trail mix are great options for hikers. They are calorie-dense, easy to transport, don’t spoil, and require zero preparation. They are also very cheap per serving. They also taste great and can be used as snacks, a dessert, or part of your breakfast.
Meal Replacement Shakes
Meal replacement shakes are a fantastic food choice for hikers. They are calorie-dense; 100 grams of Rootana contains 400 calories, and their high fibre and protein content can help you to feel fuller for longer.
They are inexpensive, can be easily transported, and don’t weigh much. They require no equipment other than a shaker bottle and just 400-500 ml of water. They also taste great, which is always essential.
Protein Bars, Energy Bars
Another delicious and calorie-dense food option. Protein and energy bars are great for hiking as they don’t take up much room, don’t spoil, and taste great. You don’t want to overpack these, though, as they can weigh quite a bit when bought in bulk.
Deli Meats and Certain Cheeses
Without refrigeration, most meat will spoil and will completely ruin your hike. However, smoked or dehydrated meats can be kept out of the fridge for long periods without any issue. Salamis, chorizo, smoked sausages, and jerky or biltong are great hiking choices.
Cheese is the same. Many kinds of cheese would go off quickly in a backpack, but smoked or well-packaged cheeses such as edam (think baby bell) can survive a hot bag very well.
The Importance of Planning Your Route and Diet in Advance
If you are hiking for the day, or two days maximum, then you can be a little more laissez-faire with your planning. But anyone planning a longer hike must have their route and diet planned out. You can’t realistically carry enough food and water for longer than two days while keeping your pack light.
For many hikes, there are quite a few options available to you, though not all options are available on all walks. If you are hiking on a well-planned route such as the Camino De Santiago in Spain, you will rarely have to pack food for longer than two days as many options are available. However, many hikes are in complete wilderness.
Here are some things you can plan to help you with your food:
Hotels, Campsites, Hostels
While many hikers consider hotels and hostels a luxury that should be avoided, there is much to be said about breaking up a 5+ day hike with a hotel room. You can clean your clothes, remove unwanted kits, get rid of your rubbish, have a proper shower, and restock your supplies.
If you have been experiencing bad weather, you can also dry out your equipment and thoroughly clean any utensils. Getting your evening meal and breakfast the following day from a hotel or hostel can also help, as it means you don’t have to pack for these meals.
Pubs, Restaurants, Cafes
Another option is to schedule your walk, so you come across a pub, restaurant, or café at some point during the day. If you are hiking in the UK, this can be quite pretty, as many hikes tend to be near small villages for at least part of the route.
You can also try to plan your walks to encounter a shop at some point. This allows you to buy more food and replenish your supplies, and you don’t have to carry as much food on day one. It can also allow you some fresh food that you can eat before spoilage becomes an issue.
If your hike is long and you know in advance that you won’t have access to shops, restaurants, or hotels, then a food stash might be an idea. This is where you purchase a few days’ worth of food and stash it at some point in the hike.
You can do this yourself by driving to the location and hiding the food or leaving it in a secure place (campsite, for example). Or, if you have good friends/family, you can get them to drop it off for you on the day you reach a specific location.
For example, let’s say you walk for ten days, at an average of 18 miles per day. On day five, you would schedule for someone to meet you 90 miles from your starting point with a bag of supplies.
Or, if you were doing this alone, you would drive to the 90-mile mark before embarking on your hike, bury the food, and then drive to the starting position.
Resource Gathering (Advanced Hikers Only)
This option is for advanced hikers only, but if you know how to forage safely, this could be an option for bolstering your supplies. This is particularly useful for fresh water, as thirst will affect you quicker than hunger.
That being said, poisoning yourself with berries or fungi that you foraged is not a great way to spend a hike. So please, only do this if you are 100% sure that the food is safe.
Why Meal Replacement Shakes Are Perfect for Hiking
Meal replacement shakes have a massive advantage for anyone embarking on a hike. They tick a lot of boxes. Meal replacement shakes are:
- Calorie-dense – 100 grams of powder, mixed with water, provides 400 calories. This is a superb weight-to-calorie ratio, meaning you can carry more calories while your pack weighs less.
- Easy to transport – meal replacement shakes can be carried in their resealable pouches, which are durable, lightweight, and effective at preventing spillages.
- Quick to prepare – Unlike most meals, no heat source is required and no cooking utensils. Pour water and add the powder to your shaker and then consume. This can be achieved in less than one minute.
- Tasty – Meal replacement shakes are often delicious and are designed to satisfy you. They aren’t affected by being in a hot and humid backpack for four days, won’t go stale, and are very consistent.
- Nutritious – When hiking, it can be hard to get enough vitamins and minerals due to the lack of variety in your diet. A meal replacement shake provides all the nutrients you need, protein, and fibre. Check out our article on the health benefits of Rootana to learn more.
What Foods to Pack When Hiking
This article has discussed the many issues that hikers face when packing food in their bags. Weight, sustainability, durability, nutrition, taste, size, and whether you can easily transport it. Luckily, there are several solutions.
A combination of real-food solutions, classic hiking foods such as trail mix, dehydrated meals, and high-quality meal replacements can keep you fuelled without weighing your pack down.
If you are interested in trying out a meal replacement shake on your next hike, Rootana is an excellent option. High in protein, high in fibre, 400 calories per serving, and completely free from artificial sweeteners and colourings. Perfect for nature lovers everywhere.