Humans love food. It’s the truth. We base holidays, celebrations, and get-togethers around food. Food can be the center of some of our most precious memories. It’s a good thing we like it so much, because we need it to survive!

But sometimes, figuring out what to eat when out on the trail can be a real hassle. Depending on how long your trip is, food can make up the majority of the weight in your backpack. So, how do you know what to pack to keep your belly full and your pack light? Well, let me fill you in.

Photo by: Flickr user Paxson Woelber

When you’re packing food, the main thing to look for are items with the most calories per ounce. You burn a lot of calories on a backpacking trip, and you need to make sure that you replace most of what you’re burning off. Generally, you’ll be looking for about 125 calories per ounce. This will eliminate high-water content food such as fresh fruits and pre-made soups. Although high-caloric foods such as candy are always a nice treat on the trail, you’ll also want to pursue a well-balanced diet to ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs.

When packing, you should aim for about 1-2 pounds of food per day. This amount of food should meet your caloric needs for the day and keep your body happy on the trail. It is very important that you have a high-calorie diet on the trail. If you run into a calorie deficit, your body won’t be able to perform, and you could be left in a dangerous situation. Un-train the calorie counter in your head–the trail isn’t really a good place for a diet. But don’t worry, backpacking is a great workout, so you’ll probably end up losing weight anyway.

Photo by: Flickr user Steve Cyr

You’re going to want enough food for your entire trip, plus a a cold meal or two just in case. Plan your meals so you get the majority of your carbs during the day and the protein at night. Your body can break down carbs more easily, and therefore it can use them more quickly. Protein is broken down at a slower pace, so it’s better for your last meal of the day. Remember to drink plenty of water to help your digestion–it will help quicken the process, which will leave you with more energy.

When you plan your meals for breakfast and dinner, try to keep preparation time down to 10 minutes or less. Shorter prep time will eliminate hassle, and it will cut down on the amount of fuel you’re using. The less you have to do, the happier you’ll be on the trail.

But what about the actual items you should bring? What food is best suited for the trail, in terms of calories and weight? Here are some suggestiosn


Photo by: Flickr user Connor Turner

  • trail mix–portion it out so it’s easily accessible and you aren’t tempted to eat all of your rations.
  • beef jerky
  • dehydrated fruit
  • granola
  • energy bars–Cliff Bars, Larabars, etc.
  • peanut butter–do not carry the entire jar; put it into a baggie.
  • hard sausages and cheeses
  • powdered sports drinks
  • chocolate–because really, chocolate is the perfect food for the trail. Put it in a baggie just in case it melts.


  • whole fat powdered milk–perfect for cereal, coffee, tea, or just adding some good calories to your diet.
  • whole grain cereals
  • oatmeal–portion it out beforehand and add your favorite dried fruits and spices
  • instant coffee, cider, hot chocolate, or tea bags


Photo by: Flickr user theimpulsivebuy

  • powdered soup–portion it into a baggie.
  • tuna fish–in foil packets, not cans.
  • tortillas–instead of bread.
  • instant noodles–Ramen
  • instant potatoes
  • couscous
  • freeze-dried and powdered meals
  • mac and cheese–portion it into a baggie.


  • condiment packets–honey, ketchup, mustard, jelly.
  • spices–garlic, onion, hot mustard, dried salsa. Put in small plastic containers.

Remember: when you’re packing your food, avoid original containers that are heavy and bulky. Transfer the contents to a plastic baggie, and you’ll have portioned it out and lost the extra weight. It’s also a good idea to write meal directions on your baggie. For example, how much water should you put in your portion of oatmeal? Write it on the baggie so that when you’re on the trail you don’t even have to think about it!

Your turn: What’s your favorite trail food?

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