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Backpacking Gear for Beginners: Food

This post is part of the Backpacking Gear for Beginners course.

Why do you need food? 

Well, we need food to survive so I guess we’re taking it. The trick for backpacking is packing light. 

We have to carry all our food so aim to bring food that’s lightweight but has a lot of calories. Hiking all day burns a lot of calories. To keep your strength up, you’ll need more calories than just sitting around the house. If you burn 2000 calories at home, expect to burn 2500 or 3000 out hiking. This means packing enough food.

We’ve got a few options for food.

Regular food

Regular food from home is just fine to bring backpacking. Be careful bringing anything that has a lot of packaging. We have to pack that out too. 

Popular items that might just be in your kitchen now are great for hiking: trail mix, nuts, dried fruits, oatmeal, shelf-safe meats and cheeses, coffee, tea, dried soup and ramen noodles. Try to have some protein and fat at each meal and not just carbohydrates.

Dehydrated/Freeze-dried bag meals

Most outdoor stores have dehydrated meals in a sealed bag that are good sizes for 1 or 2 servings. The bag is waterproof so you just boil water, add it to the bag and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. They won’t be a gourmet restaurant meal but at the end of a long day on the trail, they taste amazing. 

Dehydrate your own

If you have a dehydrator at home, you can make your own dehydrated meals. Experiment with this before you get on the trails. Soups are a great place to start. 

Cold-soaked

To completely leave the stove at home you can just pack cold-soaked jars or bags of food. They soak while you hike and you get a quick, easy meal at camp. I prefer hot meals when I can but it does take more work. 

Check serving sizes on the bag meals

Some serving sizes are for 1 and some for 2. If you find you are really hungry at the end of the day, most 2-serving bag meals are really a 1.5 serving. Adding a bread or bagel to a meal can bump up those calories if you need more. 

Check water requirements

Not all bag meals require the same amount of water. Make sure you know how much they use and you have a water bottle or pot that can measure that amount. Sucks to get on the trail with a 500 ml pot and see that you need 700 ml in one of your meals. Not the end of the world, but inconvenient. 

I like matching the amount of water I need with the amount of coffee or tea I’m having with it. Boil part for the coffee, part for the meal and you’re ready to go. 

Add spice and oil 

Some dehydrated meals aren’t the most flavourful. To spice things up a little you can bring your own spice kit. A dash of this and a pinch of that probably won’t weigh you and down and will bring a lot more joy to your meals. 

I love adding a bit of olive oil to my meals as well. It adds a nice flavour to some recipes and packs a bunch of extra fatty calories that your body will love on a long hike. 

Replace your sodium

You’ll likely lose a lot of salt when hiking and sweating. Make sure your meals or hydration tablets add this back in by the end of the day. Don’t go overboard though. Many bag meals are heavy on the sodium and you won’t need to add any. 

I like to take hydration tablets like Nuun hiking. If I’m dehydrated I feel like garbage but a Nuun every day will replace the electrolytes and hydrate faster. Stay away from garbage like stuff which is mostly sugar. 

Pick your favourites and test at home

The middle of a 7 day trip is not a great place to have stomach issues. If you can test some of your meals at home before you go and see what they do to your stomach. I find some are so full of sodium and preservatives that they wreck my stomach. A lot more bag meals have come on the market recently that are much cleaner and can be gluten free or vegetarian.

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