How To Pack Meals Depending On The Length Of The Hike

It’s all fun and games until realizing that you’ve been staring at a shelf full of protein bars for an hour. Here’s how to pick the best hiking foods.

Hiking is a thrilling way to experience the Great Outdoors and the best part is that it’s (mostly) completely stress-free. A hiking pack, some good footwear, weather-appropriate clothing, and a snack are really all one needs to enjoy a day out in nature. Speaking of which, the latter is one thing that seems simple but ends up being the most frequently asked question when it comes to hiking essentials.

So, why do so many hikers get hung up on the food they bring? It could be due to the sheer number of options out there, or the fact that hiking equates to burning serious calories (energy) which require high-protein, high-cal foods. Or, quite simply, it could just be the fact that first-time hikers are genuinely curious about the best foods for a hiking trip. Whatever the case might be, here’s a good guide to start with, depending on the length of the hike.

Related: These Are The Best Hiking Apps You Can Have For The Trails In 2021

Day Hikes: Fast Fuel & Quick Snacks

The first place to start when it comes to planning any type of hiking meal is with the terrain. Is the destination hot or cold (this will influence perishable food options)? Will there be altitude climbs that require more energy in order to ascend, or is the trail relatively flat? The level of effort involved in navigating certain trails will help to guide the meal plan for the day. This will also dictate whether or not a full meal or a few snacks will be sufficient, depending on the length of time it takes to complete the hike. A good rule of thumb is this:

  • >3 hours = a snack
  • >6 hours = two hefty snacks or a lunch
  • >9 hours = two snacks + breakfast or lunch

Of course, this will all be influenced by the type of terrain, as well. If it’s a moderate to difficult hike but one that’s short in length, add another snack. If it’s a hike that’s rated as very easy, hikers can probably get away with planning a pit stop for lunch or a big snack. It falls mostly on common sense to determine how much fuel a hiker will need, combined with how they plan their meals daily when they’re not hiking.

For example, someone who’s conditioned to eat a large breakfast may find that eating breakfast and packing a snack for later on is the best bet, while someone who usually skips breakfast might find that packing a light snack for the morning with a heavy lunch is best. Some great options ranging from quick snacks to full meals include:

  • Trail mix (try to avoid those with too much candy, sugar rushes lead to sugar crashes)
  • Any nut or seed-based mixture
  • Fruits that are easy to eat on the go, such as apples, bananas, tangerines, etc.
  • Dried fruits (again, try to avoid too much added sugar)
  • All-natural granola bars
  • All-natural energy and protein bars
  • Lunch fixings such as pre-packed tuna + bread or tortillas, or nut butter and banana or another fruit
  • Meat jerky

Multi-Day Hikes: Slow Burn & Hefty Proteins

When it comes to hikes that span over the course of multiple days, packing food takes a bit more effort. Part of the problem with packing for multiple days is the issue of whether or not food is perishable, and there is a way to navigate this. On the first day, hikers should plan to carry some sort of travel cooler (something lightweight – not a full-on plastic boat cooler). This way, an ice pack (or several) will do the job of keeping food cool enough so that it doesn’t spoil, and it can be eaten throughout the day or that night. After that, all food must be non-perishable.

Hiking food is not always glamorous and rarely will it be akin to a five-star meal, but there are plenty of options out there that will do the job. Along with the foods above, these include:

  • Cereal that’s ready to eat
  • Canned foods such as tuna, chili, soup, or anything else that can be heated over a campfire
  • Pasta and grains + drinkable water, which can be packed ahead of time
  • One-serving-size packages of sauces to add to bland foods
  • Pre-packed fruit, such as applesauce
  • Crackers, hard cheeses that will last a day in a cooler, and dried meat
  • Biscuit pancake batter for the morning after + drinkable water (tip: pre-mix this ahead of time or buy the pre-mixed version!)

Staying Hydrated And What To Avoid

One very important thing to remember – more so than the type of food hikers pack- is to account for water. Remaining hydrated is the most important thing on the trail, and it’s very easy to grab a bottle of water and assume that’s enough. The amount of exertion, combined with the hard work of nearly every muscle in one’s body can lead to dehydration very quickly. Humans can last several days without food but only one day without water.

Next: Never Leave For A Hiking Trip Without These In Your Safety Kit (Even If It’s Only For A Day Hike)

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