An exciting part of any backpacking trip is planning for the food. Depending on your weight, age, size, sex, activity/exertion level, and climate conditions you’ll have to systematically plan what type of food your body will require.
Whatever your physical condition may be, make sure you take in not less than at least 3000 to 3500 calories per day. However, if you’re going for a thru-hike, you may gradually require more calories.
The food that you plan to take should be nutritious, delicious, lightweight, and easy to prepare.
NUTRITION: For your nutritional needs, you should focus on food that contains high levels of calories, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, electrolytes, and fiber. Also, you should consider the nutritional density.
For instance, the general recommendation is that you take 2 pounds of food per day. From these 2 pounds, you should aim for food that cumulatively gives you the most number of calories.
On average, your 2-pound food should provide not less than 3000 calories. If it provides, say, 1500 calories you are compromising on the nutritional density.
TASTE: As far as taste is concerned, it is advisable not to take new foods that you haven’t tried before. Since you’ll also want to keep your taste buds excited in your trail, it’s good to mix and match your breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Spices and condiments are also a great way to add some variety to your food.
WEIGHT: It is extremely crucial to keep your food lightweight. However, your food must come with high nutritional density. For this, you will need to do some calorie calculation. Also, repackaging foods by using zip-lock bags should be an option wherever possible.
MODE OF PREPARATION: One hot meal to end your day is ideal. But a meal that requires elaborate preparation is a strict no-no. Besides, an elaborate meal means you’ll have to clean the dishes. These things are not convenient or ideal. Opt for meals that only require hot water to prepare.
You will also have to take into account the possibility of your stove malfunctioning. Having more food that doesn’t need cooking is a better plan.
Now that you know the general aspects of food planning for your backpacking trip let us consider some of the other finer details that you should not miss out on.
Choosing food with high calorific value without knowing how to organize them can turn out to be a disaster when you’re on the trail. One of the best ways to pack your food is to separately store them in zip-loc bags for each day after calculating their calories. You can also label them according to the number of days you’ll be out in the backcountry.
If you want to be more organized, you can further pack and separate your meals into breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. After that, you can put them all in a bigger bag. This way, you won’t have to go through the hassle of finding your food every time you eat.
Whether you’re backpacking or camping in a bear country or not, a bear canister is a safe way to keep your food free from bears, raccoons, and other rodents.
Without well-planned organizing, you’ll find it difficult to know how much food and calorie you’re having.
HOW MUCH FOOD?
This is entirely subjective and depends on many factors. If you are planning to track 20-30 miles per day, you may want to pack 5000-6000 calories per day. If the climate is cold, then again you’ll need more calories than average.
On the flip side, taking more food than required will also be a blunder. The extra weight will unnecessarily tire you out. If you don’t have much experience, you should conduct a proper research on how much food you’ll need, including reading this article.
If you’re still concerned about the quantity of food you’re packing, go for extra snacks. Snacking frequently on food with a high calorific value such as nuts, energy bars, dried fruit, granola, etc. is a great way to feed your body’s calorie needs.
COOKING AND FUEL REQUIREMENT
It is not necessary that you should invariably cook while backpacking. If you’re not cooking, that saves you a lot of weight too. However, nothing beats a warm coffee or tea in the morning to start your day and a warm meal to end your day.
For cooking outdoors, canister stoves are an ideal choice nowadays. They are lightweight, easy to use, and compact. You can also set them up very easily and it requires very little maintenance. If you’re considering cooking during your trails, check out these popular canister stoves.
For these types of canister stoves, you can find compatible isobutene fuel canisters from Amazon. As far as fuel requirement is concerned, it will vary according to the usage, the stove model, elevation of the trail, pot size, and temperature.
For instance, if two persons are going on a 5-day backpacking trip using the stove twice a day, i.e., morning and evening, then a 100gm fuel canister should by and large do the trick.
Canister stoves, however, require compatible fuel canister to operate which can be a tad expensive and are not as good as liquid fuel stoves in freezing weather. Hence, you may want to take into account these factors.
You can’t naturally survive without this element. All of your food planning will have to revolve around the availability or accessibility of water.
To plan your backpacking trip according to the availability of a source of water is the first and foremost thing that you need to do. That way you know how much water to carry before you can restock.
The next thing that you’ll have to think about is treating the water. Here are some great water treatment products.
You may also want to check for these factors before dipping your bottle –
A flowing source of water is much better than a stagnant source since the latter can be an ideal breeding ground for parasites and bacteria.
If the water is coming from an upstream source, go as far upstream as you can to collect it.
The source has to be clean. If you see an oily film at the edges, bugs, bad color, haziness, or algae growth, better avoid it.
FRESH FRUITS: While not necessary because of their poor calorific value, fresh fruits can be a great treat while backpacking. Apples, avocados, and oranges are an excellent option to take with you as they can last longer than most other fruits. It is up to you whether to take fruits or not.
FREEZE-DRIED FOODS: While looking for this type of food, look for backpacking meals instead of survival meals. Backpacking meals will be lightweight, fast cook, calorie-dense, and great to taste. Freeze-dried foods also contain good calorific value.
The downside to freeze-dried food is their cost. If you’re planning for months of thru-hiking this may not be the best option for you. However, for a casual backpacking trip, freeze-dried meals are a great option.
CANNED FOOD: For most backpacking trails, canned foods are not advisable because of the weight and bulkiness it adds to your backpack. Moreover, they do not contain many calories that can replenish what you’ve lost. The only conceivable scenario to have canned foods would be if you’re on a short trip and you just can’t do away with them even for a single night.
SPICES AND CONDIMENTS: They are a great way to add variety to your foods which can become a bit dull sometimes when you’re out in the wilderness relying on the same cycle of food. Some great additions are cumin, crushed red pepper, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, basil, garlic powder, lemon pepper, black pepper or any other spices and condiments that you find appealing in taste.
If you want to order in your packing, you can get the GSI Outdoors Spice Missile. This is a small, compact, and watertight spice chamber that allows you to pack up to six spices.
HOT AND COLD BEVERAGES: Instead of spending days drinking plain water, you can also pack in some good hot and cold drinks that are rich in calories. Some favorites are soy milk powder, apple cider, horchata, mocha coffee, herbal tea, hot chocolate, and citrus mix.
ALCOHOL: Although there is no fixed rule about having alcohol while backpacking, it generally isn’t a good idea. If you must, you can always take whiskey or wine to relax without going overboard wholly. Also, depending on the space that you have in your backpack, you can pack beer or margarita as they contain higher calories.
Since it isn’t practical to carry them on bottles, we suggest you purchase containers like Platypus Wine Bag or the foldable Flask2Go. These containers are extremely lightweight and easily storable.
NO-COOK MEALS: There may be situations and circumstances when your stove might malfunction, or you couldn’t find a source of water, and it’s too dark to continue your trail, or you’re just too tired even to cook. Whether it is hot water or cold water prep meal, it is always advisable to pack no-cook meals to serve you during those contingency moments.
While they may not be an exhaustive list, the suggestions mentioned below are an ideal combination for any backpackers’ breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack packages.
BREAKFAST: Hot coffee or tea is always a preferable choice. But as for your breakfast, it can either be hot or cold. If you have the time, fuel and energy for cleaning up, you can have the luxury of a warm breakfast. This can include instant oatmeal, porridge or pancake.
Some of the popular choices of breakfast include breakfast bars, granola, dry cereal, powdered milk, fresh fruit, dried fruits, dehydrated eggs, powder meals, nuts, and powdered eggs.
LUNCH: Instead of stopping for one large meal that requires unpacking, preparation, cleaning, and repacking, it’s best to snack throughout the day. So your target for lunch has to be a high-calorie intake.
Beef jerky, salami, tuna, and salmon are some of the most popular choices amongst thru-hikers. They are all high in protein and packs in high calorific value. Tortillas or bagels also hold up well and provide dense calories.
Cheese is also a great choice as it provides lots of fats and calories. It can also enhance the flavor of the meat. While choosing cheese, go for hard cheese as they are more shelf stable.
DINNER: For dinner, brands like Mountain House, MaryJanesFarm, Good-To-Go, PackIt Gourmet produce a great variety of freeze-dried meal pouches rich in calorie and taste. You can get some of these best freeze-dried meals from Amazon –
MOUNTAIN HOUSE: Chicken and Dumplings, Chili Mac with Beef, Biscuits, and Gravy, Beef Stroganoff with Noodle, Lasagna with Meat Sauce.
PACKIT GOURMET: Dottie’s Chicken and Dumplings, Santa Fe Corn Pudding, Banana Pudding, Cajun Ranch Chicken Salad, Big Easy Gumbo.
GOOD TO-GO: Thai Curry, Herb, and Mushroom Risotto, Indian Vegetable Korma, Pad Thai.
Besides the freeze-dried meals, you can also go for instant rice, instant ramen, instant soups and sauces, instant stuffing, instant potatoes, and tuna. You can spice up your dinner with the spices and condiments.
SNACKS: Snacks will be the best companion of your stomach during the daytime. Store them where you can quickly get access without having to stop and unpack.
Other options include energy chews, energy gels, fruit leather, pork rinds, seaweed, peanut or almond butter, honey, hummus, and a granola bar.
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Price last updated on 2019-08-19. Links & images are from Amazon Product Advertising API. Our editors independently research, test and recommend the best products and services. We may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article at no additional cost to you.