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Backpacking Food Tips: How to Backpack Food for the Trail

Backapcks and food on grass
Rita Warfield
Written by Rita Warfield

Backpacking food for the long haul is not as easy as most people would think. Nothing is quite substandard than unpacking your food just to discover that it has gone bad. You have to go for meals that will not be easily affected by the compactness of backpacking and the heat.

This includes all the factors that can otherwise render easily perishable food bad.

You certainly need backpacking food tips when preparing long rations, such as a day or more. This article teaches you the basics of food backpacking.

How to Backpack Food for the Trail

Food fit for backpacking does differ considerably from home food. Everything changes when there is no refrigeration, and you have a load of cooking equipment and food on your back. You need an entirely new approach from the one you use for home food when choosing as well as preparing your food for outdoors.

Whatever considerations you make are closely associated with the length of the expedition, and the expected conditions. The following are the most important considerations to make:

Weight of Food

In actual fact, this is the most important consideration when backpacking food for any outdoor activity. The length of your trip depends entirely on the weight. The longer the journey, the more crucial weight becomes. The food you will pack for a day trip is not the same as food that you will pack for a week’s trip.

You will be very much okay carrying fresh fruits and vegetables if your trip is short, since the additional weight will not be too much of a challenge. Then you will have to consume the heavier foods before the lightweight ones in order to release some space on your backpack.

Food into backpack

The same cannot be said for longer trips. The water content of food tends to increase the weight. You should consider cutting down on water concentrated foods when going for a longer trip. Basically, you have to significantly reduce the weightiness of your portions in order to carry enough to last you the entire trip without going bad.

With that said, your options are narrowed down to dried and dehydrated meals. Lightweight and compact food give you enough room to pack enough for a week or so.

Statistically, a single person will need about one and a half pounds of dried food per day – an equivalent of approximately 2,500 calories.The weight of food goes hand in hand with durability.

Most people have certainly tried to backpack light yet perishable foods. Fresh bread and eggs will definitely not fare well after a three-day trip. However, such foods can still qualify for short trips, such as a day-long trip.

On the other hand, canned foods have proven to be quite helpful on the trail, but they are somehow heavy. As far as canned foods are concerned, you must carry what is absolutely important.

Shelf Life

This is particularly important when long distance backpacking. Most people prefer to backpack earlier enough; for instance, if the trip is on April, you start backpacking on February or March.

Basically, there is much that you have to ask yourself, and there is much that you have to know. Highly durable foods are the ones with the longest shelf life. Foods with longer shelf life must be able to resist light, oxygen, moisture, and heat.

Carefully dried, sealed meat has a shelf life of weeks; while dried and sealed grains, vegetables, and fruits can last a year or more. The more you dry your foods, the longer is the shelf life.

Dried vegetables and fruits

Nonetheless, you have to prudently examine your dried/ dehydrated foods prior to backpacking for your expedition. Look out for any indication of food spoilage including odd aroma, molding, or discoloration. Some people claim that commercially dried and dehydrated foods have a longer shelf life compared to the food you have dried or dehydrated at home.

With that said, most backpacker’s food measures are approximately similar, which includes high energy content, long shelf life, and low mass and volume. Some of the most preferred kitchen foods by backpackers are pasta, peanut butter, fruit, sausage, bread, and cheese.

Nutrition

What you need to eat to sustain you on a backpacking trip differs from one outdoor activity to another. Car campers would not need as much energy as hikers. Alpine climbers and hikers alike do need more energy than thru-hikers. In actual fact, a few days of hiking at a significantly large caloric deficit can make you depressed.

Ultra-light backpacking allows you to move faster and cover long distances, but you also need to pack foods that will provide you with the required calories.

You will realize that it is somehow challenging to come up with an interesting diet after checking the calories per ounce measure in different foods.

Top 10 hiking foods

The most convenient thing to do is plan your meals to work around the number of calories that you think you will need per day. A moderate outdoor expedition in warm weather will require you to ingest around 2,500 to 3,000 calories per day as an individual.

The game changes in cool weather, though. You will certainly need more energy in cool weather, which ranges from 3,500 to 4,000 calories. You will need to increase your energy intake in extreme conditions, approximately 5,000 calories.

The Best Food to Bring Backpacking

Instant Hot Cereals

Instant hot cereals are among the best food choices for backpackers, especially on a chilly morning. Hot cereals help you get up and running like a car engine. This is the kind of meal that keeps you in the mood. You do not have to eat canned foods in the morning. Just make sure you buy the largest serving, and forget about the single serving packages.

One of the best instant hot cereal foods is oatmeal. Oatmeal provides a feeling of fullness, which is helpful for people who are struggling with weight and they still want to be on the trail.

You can improve your satiation by adding other healthy foods, such as nuts and berries. Oatmeal has long-term health benefits. It is the ideal source for soluble fiber and keeps glucose levels stabilized for longer periods. Oatmeal is a reliable source of antioxidants. The high fiber content is known to reduce constipation. This significantly reduces your chances of suffering from colon cancer.

Unlike cold cereals that have extra sugar, instant hot cereals do not have extra sugars. Instant hot cereals are a good choice for ultra-light backpackers.

Dried Fruits

Unlike fresh fruits that are perishable and heavy to backpack, dried fruits are ultra-light, nutritious, and healthy to eat on a hike or when camping. Research indicates that dried fruits comprise of natural fruit sugar, fructose, and numerous vitamins, including Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Vitamin C, magnesium, and iron.

Backpacking requires you to replace the potassium lost from your muscles, and there is no greater way of achieving this than consuming dried fruits.

Dried fruits

There are many dried fruits that you can bring backpacking, but the most important ones are:

  • Dehydrated and Freeze Dried Apples: Apples that will provide you with more nutritional benefits are those dried without peeling since it is the skin that supplies most antioxidants. You need to make sure that your apples are organic and not conventional. A 1.5 ounce serving of dehydrated apples supplies 100 calories; while a 1 ounce serving of frozen dried apples supply 100 calories.
  • Dates: Dates are among the best ultra-light fruits for backpacking. They are categorized as dry, semi-soft, and soft dates. The best options for most backpackers are the dry dates, which are highly durable and convenient for preppers, as well. Dried dates are consideredthe best potassium source. You can choose to eat a few, but they are agood addition to other foods. A 3.5 ounce serving of dates should supply you with about 282 calories.
  • Raisins: These refer to dried grapes, which are chewy and sweet. They are convenient for packing because of their size as well as weight. Even though it may be hard for you to distinguish between local and imported grapes; you are advised to buy local grapes because they are free of chemicals. Expect to gain at least 130 calories from a 1.5 ounce serving of dried grapes.
  • Other Dried Fruits to Consider: Include bananas, pineapple, mango, and berries.
  • Trail Snacks

Most people view snacking as a recipe for weight gain, but snacking is crucial for backpacking. You will not want to be stopping and preparing meals every now and then. It is highly recommended to snack on energy bars and other high energy food during a hike.

Dried apples and citrus fruits

The most popular trail snacks that you can try include but are not limited to:

  • Energy bars: An ideal bars are those that supply enough nutrition and calories, and are also compact. These are the kind of bars that are easy to backpack, unwrapped, and ingest. Energy bars are usually made up of healthy sugars. Some of the ideal selections are Kind Bars and Pro Bars.
  • Protein bars: These are convenient for low carb diets. Even though protein bars are not as convenient as a well-balanced diet, they are certainly a healthier choice as far as fast food for backpacking are concerned. You do not have to skip a meal when you do not have time to stop and prepare one. You can simply consume a protein bar as you continue with the hike. Be careful with the protein bars. There are some that are not as healthy as advertised, but more of a candy bar.
  • Other trail snacks include: GORP, honey sesame sticks, un-mixed GORP fixings, peanut, nut butter, dried meat, cheese, chocolate, juice, granola bars, and fig bars.
  • Canned Foods.

It is beyond doubt that most canned foods have longer shelf life. However, their excessive water weight along with the heavy trash, make canned foods heavy for backpacking.

Yet canned foods play a big role in most meals, including lunches and dinners, such as canned fish and meats. They can be a life saver on short trips, but you have to think hard before packing them for longer trips.

Protein bars in hand

Backpacking Meal Suggestions

The ideal food to bring backpacking is one that is easy to integrate into a meal. Apart from snacking, the major meals that you have to come up with from the food you have backpacked are breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Breakfast

Breakfasts are usually easy to select as compared to lunches. You should know that any additional carbs are necessary for hiking. Ideal breakfasts should include the following:

  • Instant hot oatmeal
  • Bacon bars
  • Bread with peanut butter (short backpacking)
  • Cold cereal w/ powdered milk
  • Pancakes (consider dry mix along with powdered milk and water)
  • Granola with powdered milk
  • Toaster pastries
  • Bagels with cream cheese (short backpacking)
  • Instant hash browns
  • GORP with powdered milk.

The aforementioned breakfasts are but suggestions; you can still come up with something better depending on what is in your backpack.

Bread with peanut butter

Lunches

You have to admit that lunches are hard to get right when on the trail. Most outdoorsmen will intentionally replace lunches with snacks to avoid preparing a nutritious meal.

There are so many factors that will determine whether or not you can prepare lunch, and the weather conditions are on top of the list. In winter, most hikers will just skip lunch and snack all through, but the same cannot be said in summer. Ideal lunches include the following:

  • Fruitcake
  • GORP – a combination of sunflower seeds, nuts, dried fruits, and M&Ms
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Beef jerky
  • Crackers and tuna
  • Lipton pasta / noodles and sauce
  • English muffins and peanut butter
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Cheese sandwiches
  • Graham crackers
  • Complex protein bars – pemmican
  • Sardines, cheese, and nuts
  • Spam or corned beef
  • Vienna sausages

The above mentioned lunches are some of the best you can come up with. Nevertheless, you can prepare other lunches depending on what you have backpacked.

Sausages on a grill

Dinners

Dinners are usually not so difficult for most people on the trail because everyone would want to stop and make camp for a rest. It is in the evening when you can prepare what you have been missing from your previous dinners. You do not necessarily have to snack, not unless you choose to avoid cooking altogether. Best dinners include:

  • Sardines and fish stakes
  • Sausages, dried beef, and pepperoni
  • Tuna along with other canned meats
  • Instant rice meals
  • Instant potatoes and potato dishes
  • Macaroni and cheese

These are just a handful of what you can prepare for dinner, but you can certainly come up with other dinner meals.

Fish on fire

How Do You Backpack Food

Knowing what to backpack is not enough, you must be able to pack the food in your backpack and be able to retrieve it when needed. Packing is usually a problem for novice backpackers.

Remember, you are not only backpacking food, but other items, as well. To begin with, you must avoid heavy, rigid containers, unless you have enough room to accommodate them.

The most important principle of backpacking is ensuring that the pack is sturdy and balanced to survive the weight you are about to expose it to.

Food for camping

In the interest of maintaining minimal weight for ultra-backpacking and factors such as water-resistance, you will want to consider lighter foods and repackage them in plastic bags. Well, as you can see fresh foods will certainly perish in such conditions. Also consider vacuum sealed bags, squeezable food tubes, and reusable plastics.

To backpack food, you have to categorize into meals, such as in plastic bags.

You do not essentially have to do this with foods that come already packed in waterproof materials, such as foil. Specific foods are known to perform exceptionally when packed in plastic bags with twist ties.

You have to follow the following steps to successfully backpack your food.

Step 1: Pack approximately one to two pounds (3,000 to 4,000 calories)for each day you will be on the trail.

Step 2: Go for foods that are easy to prepare and repackage. Instant hot cereals are a good example of easy to prepare foods.

Step 3: Pack carbs for lunch, especially if you will be doing a lot of hiking or alpine climbing. Just make sure you maintain minimal weights.

Step 4: Pack calorie-rich foods for dinners, and they should be easy to prepare. Remember, you are too tired from the day’s hike.

Step 5: Backpack snacks that are rich in fat and sugar content to supply you with the extra energy you need when on the trail.

Step 6: Always repack food to improve efficiency, and avoid packing or repacking food that has high water content.

Step 7: Do not under any circumstances pack or repack perishable foods, especially when preparing for long distance backpacking.

In Conclusion

There are set food backpacking objectives, but every backpacker has his or her own perception when it comes to backpacking. You can avoid making mistakes if you have more than enough food backpacking knowledge.

Food prepared for camping

This post has provided you with crucial info, including important considerations that you have to make when shopping for backpacking foods; the recommended foods to backpack, and suggested meals.

You also have to know how to backpack, and the seven aforementioned steps should prove helpful. The biggest mistake you can make is pack perishable foods.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rita Warfield
Rita Warfield

Fully passionate about the outdoors and totally committed to a life of exploration and learning, Rita is the perfect guide when it comes to choosing the right gear for your adventures. She gathered years of practical experience in testing her survival skills and knowledge in a wide range of difficult situations but she is also a passionate mountain climber. Even more, Rita loves hunting, she knows her way around a weapon, and she doesn’t back off in a difficult situation.

  • Steve Fulton

    My food packing for a two day trip is usually oats that I let cold water soak with a scoop of coffee and dried fruit while I hike so it can be day 2’s breakfast, 2 sausages for lunches, a sandwich baggy full of trail mix with a lot of nuts and sesame sticks, 2-4 fruits (oranges or apples), and 4 cliff bars. This keeps my food light, nutritious, and easy to walk and eat. I sometimes take a special dinner item if I can spare the weight and water needed to cook it.

    • Rita Warfield

      These are great food to pack for a trip! They can keep you quite full and are lightweight. Thank you for sharing this Steve!

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