The purpose of a hiking trip is to recharge our body and mind. We want to get lost in the wilderness for a few days (or maybe weeks) to refresh our souls. However, if things don’t go as planned we just come back with a tired body. Bad menu planning is one of the main things that can ruin a beautiful hiking trip.
“We’re constantly shown the “real world” on our screens but we come face to face with the real world out on the trail.”
For many camping and hiking beginners, backpack meal planning is something like a last-minute consideration. Well, the more you hike the more you realize that it's a whole lot different than how it seems at first. It’s not like grabbing some essentials such as protein bars, oatmeal, mac and cheese, peanut butter, chocolate bars and stuffing it all in your backpack for a few days trip.
It doesn’t matter how many days you’re planning for. What matters is that you’re aware of your daily food intake as per your physique and activity on the hike. So that you can plan accordingly.
Let’s learn the art of backpack meal planning so that we can enjoy our long hiking trips to the fullest.
“I go on hikes expecting to see the great outdoors but spend most of the time lost in my own head.”
How much food will you need?
On hiking trips with an unplanned menu, usually it’s the 3rd or 4th day when we start feeling either annoyed by the heavy backpack (because of unnecessary food we packed) or regret (fearing that the supplies will run out earlier than expected).
First of all, we need to calculate how many calories we will be needing per day on hike. Usually, an adult consumes 2500 to 3000 Cal per day (depending on the physique and the activity level). But there is no general rule that applies to all.
We need to consider things like our daily mileage on the hike, the nature of terrain, our physique, etc. I came across this calorie estimator and it’s really helpful to get a good idea of our daily caloric intake based on the nature of our activities.
Once we come across a general figure for daily Calorie intake, we can then choose our menu accordingly.
So, what to pack???
It’s not just about the calories intake. Believe me, you don’t want to keep eating only the protein bars and peanut butter throughout your trip. What makes a meal a good meal is that it fulfills your nutritional needs as well as you enjoy eating it.
When it comes to camping and hiking, a good backpacking meal must have the following qualities. Whatever meal we select, it should be checked against these 3 things.
You must be wondering why the “deliciousness” of the food matters on a hiking trip. Well, when it’s been a few days in the wilderness and we’re already tired of having the same breakfasts and cold lunches everyday, we need something to look forward to for dinner after a tiresome day.
Your backpack menu should have a variety of different meals that can meet your requirements of macronutrients such as proteins, carbs, fats and micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Eating the same food everyday (no matter how nutrient-rich it is) is not recommended.
What You Need VS What You Want
Well, we don’t recommend choosing a food that is very dense in nutrition but you actually don’t like it. Enjoying a beautiful hiking trip shouldn’t come at the cost of forcing yourself to eat what you don’t like. It’s all about finding a balance between what you need and what you like. And there are plenty of food options that you choose from.
Cooking Your Meal vs Ready Made Dehydrated Meal
If you’re on a camping trip, there’s nothing better than cooking your own food at a campsite and enjoying it sitting beside the fire. But things are a little different on a long long hiking trip. It’s not very convenient to carry the raw food stuff in your backpack. Also, you probably will not have enough energy to cook your dinner every evening.
An alternative is to get the readymade dehydrated meal packs that only require us to add the bowling water. These are delicious, have high nutritional value, but not very economical. These meal packs cost $8 - $10 per day. So, for long hiking trips, this can be a noticeable expense.
Dehydrate Your Own Meal!
Dehydrating your own meal comes with a lot of benefits. The best thing is, you control what to throw in your meal. You’re in control of the nutritional value of your meal packs. It’s healthy and also it’s cost effective. If you own a food dehydrator, perfect. If you don’t, you may need to get one as it’s worth it. There are plenty of options on Amazon.
Pack Your Food Smartly
By packing smartly I mean organizing your backpack in a way that you don’t have to pull everything out just to find snacks on your first day break. We recommend using a good quality food bag that can protect your meal if there’s slight mishandling. Also, the food bag should be stored at the top of the backpack so that you can access it easily every time you need. Getting a bear canister is also recommended if you’re planning for a trip in a bear country. Even if there are no bears, take some extra precautions to protect your food from small rodents and raccoons.
We also recommend packing each day’s food in individual ziplock bags. This will save you from worrying about running out of food before the trip ends.
You can put some chocolate bars, protein bars, and dry fruits in your waist pack for easy accessibility. We often need these during the hike.
Label food packs and always mention the necessary info. It will save you from confusing a powdered milk pack with powdered potatoes and the likes of that.
A Resupply Bag
It majorly depends on your route but if you can, we recommend sending yourself a resupply bag. This is the best approach to start your trip with a lightweight backpack. But, make sure to check the limitations of sending a resupply box. See if you can send via USPS. Pack your bag nicely to protect the contents from the shipment mishandlings, warehouse damages, rain etc.
Is MRE a Good Choice for a Hiking Trip
Meal-ready-to-eat are usually considered as military meals but these are available for civilians as well. Despite the general mindset, we don’t recommend relying just on MRE packs on a long hiking trip.
Why? Because the main purpose of an MRE pack is to keep the soldier going on by providing the necessary calorie intake. Our body needs a balanced diet consisting of both macronutrients and micronutrients but MREs usually don’t contain what a balanced diet contains.
“You can visit the same trail twice but you’ll never take the same hike.”
What to Eat for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner?
Meals on a hiking trip don’t follow the norms of daily meals. The aim is to get a healthy meal ready in no time and without a pile of trash. Let’s briefly discuss what to take in breakfast, lunch and dinner during a long hiking trip.
During the hiking, we want our breakfast to be nutritious and fast. We recommend packaging your breakfast in individual servings before you start the trip. Go for protein shakes, pastries, instant grits, oatmeal with sugar, freeze dried fruits, cinnamon rolls etc along with instant espresso.
Well, on a hiking trip, lunch includes everything that you take between 10PM to 3PM. This includes all of the following:
- Flavored almonds and other dry fruits
- Chips and candies
- Peanut butter
Dried fruits, etc.
Dinner is the major meal during the hike that provides you a balanced diet. Some hikers recommend eating dinner as early as 4PM to avoid dangers associated with late night campsite dinners.
Pack your dinner meals in vacuum sealer or oxygen absorbing packets for long hiking tours. You can add some flavors to your prepacked dinner meals with olive oil, tuna, etc.
Backpacking menu preparation for long hiking trips should be done considering the nutritional value of the food, ease of preparation and its packing and carry convenience. Put some thoughts on the pros and cons of each meal and choose accordingly. So that you can enjoy your trip to the fullest.
Also, we all love nature and it’s our responsibility to protect it. Make sure to pack the leftovers and other trash after your stay before continuing your hike.