Food (What and How Much)

Food can be heavy and can take up a lot of space in your pack. Besides water and fuel, this is the other variable that does not count toward your base weight. If you are hiking a few miles to a luxury camp, it doesn’t really matter, but if you are hiking many miles where both weight and nutrition are paramount, then you’ll want to invest the time to find the right balance.

How much food?

There is nothing worse than ruining your trip by having too little food or by having the wrong foods. At the same time, you don’t want to waste energy on the trail by carrying food packed by not eaten. I remember coming home from trips with several pounds of remaining food. It’s a learned science and one that needs to be adjusted based on miles, difficulty, number of days, weather, etc.

A few tips:

  • This is NOT the time to diet
  • NEVER trial new foods on a backpack trip (trial eats/drinks on strenuous hikes before allowing them in your pack)
  • Plan for a reasonable number of nutrition calories; you’ll be burning more than normal with added weight over the miles
  • Look for calorie dense food of 125-150 calories per ounce (nutrient dense is a plus)
  • Target weight  is 1.5-2.5 pounds of food per day (dehydrated foods can reduce this weight significantly – on a recent trip for 5 days my weight was 3.25lbs)
  • For most, the popular dehydrated meals (i.e. Mountain House) contain too much for a single meal (some are marked for 4 servings), consider splitting and preparing for freezer bag cooking at home in advance (or bring an extra freezer bag to split at camp).
  • There are lots of foods you can find in the grocery store which work well for backpacking, require less work than dehydrating your own meals, and cost much less than Mountain House meals. I personally rule out most of the pasta dishes due to the amount of fuel required. I dehydrate my pasta meals at home, thus requiring only enough fuel to boil water.
    • Macaroni and Cheese
    • Stuffing Mix
    • Dry Soups
    • Knorr Sides
    • Rice Mixes
    • Instant Potatoes (Idahoan has small ziplock bags)
  • There are plenty of foods which don’t require cooking and are available in single-serve packages. If you choose not to bring a stove and fuel, you can bring extra weight in food.
    • Spam
    • Tuna
    • Chicken
    • Salami
    • Cheese
  • My philosophy is Keep It Simple (add spice and variety to keep things interesting)
  • Link to my Food Blog Post from the Arizona Trail.

Meal planning:

(1) BREAKFAST – what do you eat at home? can it be adapted to a backpacking meal? do you skip breakfast?

  • Coffee – If you enjoy a hot cup of Joe in the morning, you might want to consider the single-serve packs of instant coffee (i.e. Starbucks VIA). Save money by preparing your own individual servings. Do you have a suitable container for drinking hot beverages? If you like creamer in your coffee, powdered Coffee-mate straws are now an option, as is powdered milk (i.e. Nestle NIDO). Most likely you would never reach for a cup of instant coffee at home, but on the trail, it tastes great and I’m happy to have it.
  • Main Course – Hot cereal seems to be the most popular breakfast on the trail, followed closely by breakfast bars and protein drinks. To reduce weight, you may consider transferring your hot cereal into freezer ziplock bags at home, and then cooking in the bag to eliminate washing dishes on the trail. Adding dried fruit and milk to your cereal ziplock also increases calories and nutrition. (Great Resource: Healthy Oatmeal – TheYummyLife.com)

Resources:

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