Hiking Food Ideas - Best Meals & Snacks For A Backpacking Trip
We all know that hiking is a magnificent activity - and for many, many reasons. It encourages you to be more physically active, lets you enjoy stunning, picturesque views, spend more time with your friends and family - and breathe fresh air.
What more could you wish for, right?
Well, some good food may just make it that much more enjoyable. However, it can't just be any food that you'll take with you.
You have to make the right choices that will satisfy your preferences, fuel your body and satiate your hunger - and give you the energy to complete your hike.
So, what food is that? How will you know which foods provide all of the aforementioned? And how much of it will you need, anyway?
We know that this can seem a bit confusing and overwhelming. So, we have decided to come to the rescue. We're offering you a rundown of hiking food ideas to ensure that you have a delicious hiking trip every time you set foot on a trail.
We'll also give you some tips regarding food and backpacking recipes because it's not just about the kind of food you'll bring with you but also how and when you'll eat it.
You can have the best snacks with you - meal bars, dry foods, peanut butter, and all that - but if you consume them too quickly (or not enough), they won't do you much good.
So, without further ado, let's jump right into backpacking food ideas for a day on the trail!
Backpacking Food Ideas For A Day On The Trail
As we said, hiking snacks - and hiking food in general - have to fulfill particular "requirements." They can't just be empty calories, or else they won't serve their purpose - giving you energy for your hike.
Sure, you can have some snacks that are merely there because you like them - but the majority of your foods will have to be nutritious and calorically dense. On top of that, your backpacking meal shouldn't add too much extra weight.
Before we get into it, we need to make a distinction between the foods you'll take with you on a one-day hiking trip and what you'd pack with you on a multi-day backpacking trip.
If you're going on a shorter hike, there's no need to complicate things. Pack light; prepare some snacks, sandwiches, and water, and you'll be good.
However, when it comes to extended backpacking trips, there'll need to be a lot more planning - not only because you'll have to have enough food for the entire trip, but because you'll need to pack and store it properly, too.
You'll need nutritious meals - not just snacks - which means adding more weight and taking up more room in your backpack.
Trail Mix, Nuts, Dried Fruits
When it comes to backpacking foods, these are the holy grails. Why?
Well, the answer is rather simple:
They are packed with useful nutrients.
They often come prepackaged, but you can also pack them yourself and bring just the amount you need. They're practical, won't spill or make a mess in your backpack, and will give you the energy boost you need.
They're rich in protein and healthy fats and packed with roughly 600 calories per serving - so you're guaranteed to feel energized and recharged after eating them.
Here's another plus:
They can also come in the shape of nut butter (peanut butter, anyone?), which will allow you to incorporate them into other foods - such as sandwiches or instant oatmeal.
If nuts had a best friend, dried fruits would certainly be it. They're a certified backpacking food staple.
Dried fruit will provide the necessary carbohydrates for an explosion of energy, especially when combined with the nutrients found in nuts. That is why you will often see this combo in energy bars, for example.
Trail mix is essentially a combination of dried fruits and nuts - but with certain additions. You can buy pre-made trail mixes, but you can also build your own that will be perfectly tailored to your preferences and tastes.
They usually dried fruits, nuts, granola - and sometimes candy. Essentially, it's somewhat of a "deconstructed" granola bar.
When you're making your own trail mix, be mindful of the ratio of the ingredients that you include so that you don't end up with a bunch of raisins and dried cranberries but half as much nuts or granola.
Remember, balance is key.
Nut butter - and, in particular, peanut and almond - is the quintessential trail food, regardless of whether you're on a long hike, a backpacking trip, or a quick trek.
They're packed with all the nutrients you could possibly want - protein, fat, carbs, and sodium, plus calories.
They're versatile, practical, and delicious - which makes them good backpacking food. You can incorporate them into a sandwich and make the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich - and you can also have them with fresh fruits, instant oatmeal, granola bars, etc.
The possibilities are endless.
We're all witnesses to the oatmeal craze that's overtaken the Internet over the past year or so, but is it really that good?
And our answer is - yes!
We've mentioned it before - but here's some in-depth oatmeal info for you.
They're a great source of fiber and complex carbohydrates and an incredible antioxidant - both crucial on and off the trail.
In addition, they're easy to prepare and give you a ton of options so that you never get bored of them.
You can eat them with nuts, nut butter, powdered milk, granola, and fresh or dried fruits. Oh, and there are also instant rolled oats available. You can just add hot water to the packet, and you have the perfect breakfast. You won't even need a bowl!
It goes without saying that fresh fruits have many, many benefits for your health and general wellbeing. They're packed with healthy sugars - primarily fructose, which gives you an energy boost - and they're rich in fiber and vitamins.
Plus, they're beyond tasty and refreshing.
Everything you need is right there!
On the other hand, fruits are somewhat fragile; they get bruised and go bad easily, which makes them not the most practical backpacking food out there - especially when we're talking about a multi-day hiking trip.
Sure, you can chop them up beforehand and put them in backpacking-friendly containers - but some still think it's impractical.
Thankfully, there are other options, such as dried fruit and freeze-dried fruit, that will make the whole process much easier and hassle-free.
Okay, this might not be the most conventional of backpacking food ideas - but it sure will add nutrition to your backpacking foods.
If you don't already know, hummus is jam-packed with protein, fiber, and healthy fats. It can also be used in a plethora of ways - from tortilla wraps and sandwiches to salads or even as a dip.
You can prepare powdered hummus by simply adding hot water to it, and voila - you have your hummus. And to make it even more delicious, you can add some olive oil - and eat it with dried veggies.
While we're on the topic, why not go over tortillas? They are the perfect base for any breakfast or lunch idea.
Tortillas can handle lots of jumbling around in your backpack and not get ruined, which makes them so much more practical than bread - not to mention that they take up less space, too.
You can get a sweet or savory meal/snack out of them, depending on what you have with you. For example, you can make wraps with fish or chicken packets for a perfect backpacking dinner - or a carb bomb dessert with peanut butter or Nutella.
Although they're not the first food you would think of in this context, cheeses can be quite the addition to your backpacking meals.
Yes, cheeses have the tendency to go bad quickly - but don't forget that there are varieties that have a stable shelf life and won't go bad in the slightest whiff of heat.
They're a great source of fat, calcium, and protein. So, if you want to diversify your hiking food, consider adding cheeses to your meal plan.
Cream cheese can be a fantastic addition to wraps and sandwiches - and they can come in small packets that don't require much room in your backpack.
Another quintessential backpacking food here - dried meat. You can opt for hard, dried salami, summer sausage, or beef jerky to provide you with a quick protein boost on the trail trail.
They're great for sandwiches or as a quick snack on their own - because who doesn't like jerky, right?
Chicken, Salmon & Tuna Packets
All three are excellent protein sources and are calorie-dense foods, making them perfect for any backpacking trip. What we love the most about these foods is the fact that they are so versatile and different that you can never get bored switching them around.
You can also opt for different varieties - such as smoked salmon or tuna, differently spiced or cooked chicken, and so on. In short, you can get creative.
We all know that meats are the most consumed sources of protein - and most widely available, too. We want to make something clear, though:
There are other options for vegans and vegetarians, as well.
Don't we all love some eggs cooked on a Sunday morning? Or a bright yellow sunny-side-up egg on your plate on a gloomy Monday morning?
Well, you might not get to have a gourmet poached egg or Eggs Benedict on your hike - but you can still reap the benefits eggs have, only in a slightly different form.
Much like most other hiking foods, eggs come in powdered form. Their cooking time is basically none; all you have to do is add boiling water to them, and you've got a protein-packed breakfast!
Oh, and another plus:
These are much more shelf-stable than "regular eggs," meaning you won't have to worry about them going bad in your backpack - or, God forbid, breaking.
Dehydrated ingredients should generally have a spot in every backpacker's pantry - but when it comes to breakfast options, powdered eggs are a fan favorite, for sure.
If you were to talk to any experienced hiker, they'd tell you how important dehydrated meals are while you're on the trail.
While snacks and other instant foods are extremely practical, you'll need a hot meal here and there to keep you going on longer backpacking trips.
Luckily, there are plenty of options for you to choose from here, catering to all types of dietary restrictions and regimens, including gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, and keto diets. So, figure out what works for you - and your backpacking meal plan.
We were all taught as kids that veggies must have a spot on our plates if we wanted to grow up to be big, strong, and healthy.
And that's true.
Vegetables are an essential part of everyone's diet, no matter what. And the same should go for hiking and backpacking. But is that really how things are in practice?
The survival community loves its dried vegetables - but the hiking community is yet to include them in the "essentials" lists. That, however, doesn't mean that you shouldn't.
Veggies, fresh or dry, contain high levels of fiber, as well as vitamins and minerals that you will undoubtedly need on the trail.
We agree that fresh vegetables aren't as practical to carry around, though - especially in a jam-packed backpack. They'll likely bruise or go bad, and then you'll have no use for them.
So, may we suggest dehydrated vegetables that are much less space-consuming, much lighter, and much more durable but just as nutritious as fresh ones?
Freeze-dried vegetables are made when frozen raw produce is placed in a refrigerated vacuum system and dehydrated without previous defrosting. The ice in the product is sublimated into water vapor.
But here's the thing:
During the freeze-drying process, cell structure remains intact.
This process is fantastic because it ensures that the cell structure remains the same so that the quality doesn't deteriorate and is preserved through time.
Don't be fooled by the name, though:
These veggies won't melt in your backpack. They aren't actually frozen, so there's no reason for you to worry about it.
Freeze-dried backpacking meals are actually an umbrella term that covers a variety of different foods. As you've seen, vegetables can be one of them - but aren't the only ones.
There is a variety to choose from, such as different meats, fish, pasta dishes, desserts, burritos - even freeze-dried fruits - and so much more.
What's great about freeze-dried meals is the fact that they are super lightweight, so they won't weigh you down. You see, the process of freeze-drying removes up to 80% of the water weight - while maintaining calorie-dense nutrition.
Now, you may be wondering if these freeze-dried foods are actually as nutritious as fresh ones. Well, the good news is that freeze-dried meals maintain 90% of their nutrients - while losing a ton of weight.
There's a huge "however" here:
As with most pre-packaged meals, freeze-dried meals often contain higher sodium levels and additives, which isn't ideal.
You must weigh the pros and cons - and make your choice. Backpacking trips are a great activity with many benefits for your health, but they may require certain changes to your diet.
Having ready-to-eat meals that don't require cooking on the trail will make everything so much easier, so the practicality outweighs the drawbacks here.
Besides, you won't start eating freeze-dried meals every day for the rest of your life. These are reserved for the trail - and the trail only. Once you get back home, prepare yourself a nice plate of fresh foods that will satiate all of your body's needs.
Maybe it's not the most obvious of choices - but having some instant pancakes with you as a warm breakfast is a great idea.
There are plenty of pancake mixes for you to choose from and find your favorite, but be sure to check the instructions before packing. Some pancake mixes require additional ingredients - like oil, for example - that you might not have on the trail.
In addition to instant oats, nuts, and nut butter, seeds are another great addition to any diet - whether you're a backpacker or not.
They're an excellent source of vegetarian protein, healthy fats, and minerals - and they have this amazing ability to keep you full and fueled for longer.
What makes them even more wonderful is how versatile they are:
Chuck them into your oatmeal, make chia pudding to take with you - or have them as a snack that gives you a quick boost of energy. The choice is yours.
Instant rice is a great basis for any and all backpacking meals, regardless of whether it's a freeze-dried meal, an instant one, or whatever else you like.
Either way, rice will serve you right.
It's generally a great source of carbohydrates but is low in fat and sugar, which makes it perfect for creating quick meals during any strenuous hiking expedition.
The fact that it's instant means that you don't have to spend time by the stove or wash the rice like you normally would at home. Preparing it will be quick and easy, and you'll have a delicious meal ready in no time.
Potatoes are a source of complex carbohydrates - everyone knows that - which puts them into the category of backpacking-friendly foods.
However, making potatoes isn't really a process that can easily be done on the trail. That's why instant mashed potatoes are the solution here:
You get all the benefits - without having to put an ounce of effort into prep. And they're pretty delicious, if we may add.
Every backpacker knows that on any hiking trip, there comes a time when you are in desperate need of a nice cup of coffee - or anything that will wake you up a bit.
Multi-day trips also mean waking up in the morning and getting an early start - and most of us need some coffee to do the trick.
Some crave tea more than coffee; that's a matter of preference. Here's something you might not even realize:
Green tea is actually a great source of caffeine and can serve as a substitute for coffee for those who aren't fans of the taste or find it too strong.
Others just like the comforting feeling they get from drinking a nice, warm cup of herbal tea on a chilly morning.
Luckily, you can do that - and get your caffeine boost on the trail in no time - with instant tea.
And now, onto what most consider the hiking staple - nutrition bars.
Whether you're going on a multi-day hike, a longer backpacking trip, or just a day hike, you'll need these little guys to keep you going.
They will give you a quick boost and nourish your body - but won't take up much space in your backpack, as they're lightweight and compact. That's why they're the favorite backpacking food for so many hikers and backpackers.
There are different types of bars you can take with you on your trip; it all depends on what you prefer.
Meal Replacement Bars
Having to stop mid-trail to have full-on hearty meals is sometimes too complicated - and could even affect your hiking plans.
That's where these bars come in handy.
Meal replacement bars were essentially created as substitutes for meals on the go. They should have enough calories per bar as an average meal, as well as the nutrients normally found in one.
However, be careful when choosing your bars. Many are marketed as meal replacement options but don't actually have enough calories to substitute a meal.
So, turn that bar, check the nutritional value and save your money for the ones that actually do what they're supposed to - keep you full.
We must emphasize that none of these bars should regularly replace your meals - but rather help you out when you don't have the time to prepare one.
While we're on the topic, let's quickly mention the so-called "energy bars." They are filled with carbs and sugar to give you an instant energy boost on the trail.
They are a great snack to keep on hand since they're practical and useful when you're on the go.
Now, to set the record straight:
Energy bars and protein bars aren't the same.
Protein bars consist of proteins and are sometimes used as meal replacements, whereas energy bars fall more within the realm of snacks.
If you're looking for backpacking breakfast ideas but hope to avoid spending too much of your time preparing and eating a proper meal, ready-to-eat breakfast bars can do the trick.
They contain everything you'd want in breakfast - but they are compact and easy to consume.
You won't have to come up with backpacking meal ideas when you have one of these on hand.
If you wish to satisfy your sugar cravings, then sure, candy bars will do the trick. But that's as much as they will do.
Allow yourself to indulge in one of these if you want to; not everything you eat has to serve an actual nutritional purpose. If you enjoy them, treat yourself!
Instant noodles are a popular food choice because they are easy to make, delicious, and versatile - and all of these characteristics combined make them the perfect food for any backpacking trip.
Just add some boiling water to your instant rice noodles of choice, and you'll have a warm meal in no time.
If you want to keep your sweet tooth at bay, dark chocolate is probably the way to go. Sure, you can go for a candy bar, but if you want something that will both satisfy your cravings and offer actual nutrition, dark chocolate is the way to go.
You can also opt for fruit desserts in combination with nuts, peanut butter, or, again, a piece of dark chocolate.
Backpacking Meals: A Few Extra Tips
Now you know what your options are and have some snack ideas - but the topic of backpacking food doesn't end there.
There are loads of backpacking meals with added nutrients and extra calories you can take with you - but what about the amount you should take?
That's where meal planning comes in:
Meal Planning 101
If you want to know how much food you should take with you on your backpacking trip, you'll have to plan ahead.
Obviously, the amount will depend on how long your trip will be:
Multi-day hiking trips require more food, more planning, and more thought, while shorter ones don't require as much.
Putting together your backpacking meal plan can seem overwhelming and like it's too much of a hassle, but trust us, with the right information, you'll be thankful that you did it because the trip itself will be so much more worry-free.
It's important to have the right food with you that requires little to zero prep, which will make the whole experience easier. And, of course, you don't want anything too heavy; we're sure that ultralight backpackers would agree with us on that.
How Much Food Should You Take On Backpacking Trips?
Hiker hunger is real. And it can become a real problem.
Hiking takes up so much of your energy, resulting in you literally obsessing over mealtime. You need to have enough food to carry you through your trip - and provide enough fuel to complete your hike.
Depending on how demanding the hike is in general, how tricky the terrain is, or how high the incline is, the hike will require more or less energy. And that's why you should get familiar with the trail ahead of time, to know what to expect and how to prepare.
We can't give you the exact amount here; everyone's pace, physical condition, and body weight differ. However, there are specialized calculators that can help you determine the amount according to these characteristics.
In general, experts recommend eating extra protein and carbs on the trail. As always, remember to stay hydrated!
Plan Each Meal
You can't just pack whatever you feel like at the moment. Instead, make a thorough plan of the meals you'll have - and then pack accordingly.
Calculate the number of days that you'll be on the trip and how many breakfasts, lunches, and dinners you'll have - and then make a list of the food ideas for each meal.
Oh, and always bring a bit more food than calculated. You never know when the circumstances may change - and how they may affect you.
Backpacking Food Ideas: Conclusion
We've reached the end of this article - and we hope we've answered the questions that you had about backpacking food and meal planning you had at the beginning.
We tried to make things easier by providing a rundown of the most popular backpacking food - so that you can successfully plan and pack for your next backpacking trip.
When it comes to snacks, your options are wide and varied - including nuts, trail mixes, dried fruits, and energy bars.
As for "real meals," freeze-dried backpacking meals are the way to go. They are the best way to get all the right nutrients without much hassle.
There are many breakfast options, from powdered eggs and instant oats to breakfast bars and so much more. You are bound to find foods that work for you and provide much-needed calorie boosts on a long hike.
And with so many instant options, you can have a zero-prep meal that will energize you on the trail.
Always plan your meals ahead and ensure that you have enough on hand, but at the same time, try not to overpack. You can figure out the approximate amount of food you'll need using online calculators so that you don't have to waste more time trying to determine how much fuel you'll need.
It's time to wrap it up. We've covered the basics - and then some - and hopefully prepared you for your next backpacking trip. Now, just follow the advice and enjoy your trip.
Have fun - and be safe!
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