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by Emily Wheeler

Nutrition for Hiking

Happy Tuesday everyone! After taking a brief hiatus last week for study purposes, I’m back to writing about unique dietary niches in the world. Having grown up in Western North Carolina, I love hiking and outdoor adventures, but I’ve always done day hikes where a backpack and a couple of sandwiches, apples, and water bottles are all you need for a single day of mountain adventures.

However, many people are hiking junkies and prefer to go on extended backpacking trips out on their favorite trails. In these cases, backpackers are carrying up to 35 pounds or more on their backs for days on end and attention to lightweight supplies is key!

So what do you eat when you’re planning to be out on the trail for weeks on end and you have to carry all of your food on your back from the start? This question takes planning and preparation from hikers to make sure they won’t be hiking hungry.

Although it sounds like a lot, hikers need to plan to pack about 1.5 to 2.5 pounds of food per day to achieve their caloric needs. As you may already imagine, this can get really heavy, really quickly! One way hikers save weight is by packing freeze dried and dehydrated foods and then refilling their water supply at different checkpoints along the trail so that they’re not always carrying heavy hydrated food or massive supplies of water.

When planning meals, hikers want to take taste, calories, weight, ease of preparation, cost, and required cooking fuel into consideration (1). One of the most popular hiking food brands, Mountain House, is known for making super light weight, freeze dried meals from ice cream to scrambled eggs to fiesta steak fajitas that can be rehydrated with boiling water in minutes! (Sounds similar to astronaut food, actually!) Freeze-dried food is also much faster to prepare than simply dehydrated food.

However, these freeze dried meals often cost $6 to $10 each, and when you’re in need of three meals a day, it can cost more than $200 a week to eat only pre-packaged freeze dried meals! For this reason, some hikers buy freeze dried ingredients and other foods to assemble their own meals at a lower cost. While fresh foods aren’t usually a great option while hiking, some non-perishable items are great sources of fat and carbohydrates to eat in addition to freeze dried meals.

In fact, many hikers plan meals high in fat and carbohydrates with less emphasis on protein because carbs are more easily digestible, and fat is the most energy dense macronutrient. When you’re hiking all day and constantly expending energy, protein in the diet is simply converted to products that undergo the same cycle as carbohydrates to produce energy and is not stored in the muscles.

Here are some of the snack and meal choices that other nutrition-conscious hikers have shared online that might be typical of a long backpacking trip!


-Instant oatmeal with dried fruit (2)

-Granola/nut bars

-Some people don’t even bother with breakfast food and just stick with quick energy from regular freeze dried lunch and dinner meals

Mountain House has several breakfast options!


Since lunch is in the middle of the day, many hikers don’t want to stop to prepare a meal, even if it just requires boiling water. Here are several energy-dense snack options that are good on the go throughout the day (3):

-Trail mix or granola bars with nuts, raisins, and seeds

-Peanut butter (which you can buy in single-serving squeezable pouches because you are not going to want to carry a bulky jar)

-Snickers bars (apparently some hikers in cooler weather like them for a yummy treat and quick energy)

-StarKist tuna pouches

-Tortillas (good vehicle for your peanut butter)

-Instant drink mix pouches (like Gatorade and Propel)

-Summer sausage (a preserved sausage that doesn’t require refrigeration)

-Whole grain crackers

-Some wax-wrapped cheese wedges also don’t require refrigeration as long as they are eaten quickly after they are opened


Finally some time to set up camp, make some food, and replenish all of that expended energy from the day! Here are some easy dehydrated and freeze-dried options:

-Lipton (Knoor) instant pasta and rice sides

-Instant mashed potatoes


-Mountain House Meals

-Homemade freeze dried meals

-One lady even shared several recipes she developed for her husband to take when he goes on long hikes. She assembles them herself in separate plastic bags for each day and all they require is boiling water! Her recipes include chicken veggie couscous, creamy alfredo noodles, curry chicken rice, chicken corn fiesta rice, apricot macadamia coucous, and Thai peanut noodles. You can check out her recipes here!

While snacks are important to a successful hike, it’s also important to eat real, balanced meals (even if they are freeze-dried) while on a long hike to make sure you’re still getting essential vitamins and minerals in addition to your major macronutrients.

With careful attention to detail and meal planning, you can pack weeks worth of lightweight meals to stay nourished and energized out on the trial and fuel your most exciting adventures!