The Beginner's Guide to Meal Planning for a Backpacking Trip

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Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read more…
Hiking in the backcountry takes a lot of planning and loads of self-discipline when it comes to packing. Though every packing component of your trip takes careful consideration, preparing nourishing meals is one thing you’ll want to get right.
If you are someone who loves hiking but would like to lengthen your journey and camp out at night, then you’ll love getting into the sport of backpacking. There’s a lot to know before embarking on a long multi-day hike, though, and being prepared is vital.
Running out of food is a scary thought, but having an overload of extra weight isn’t exactly fun either. Here’s how to plan meals for your multi-day hike, a list of gear needed to cook outdoors, and some of our favorite meal ideas to get you started.
The amount of food you’ll need varies and is dependent on several things. Each of the factors below will give you a little more insight before planning.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself before considering how much food to take in on the trail:
Some hikers use formulas that help determine how many calories they’ll need throughout their trip based on length, intensity level, and all other factors we’ve listed.
Once you’ve determined calories per day, you’ll want to start thinking about meal and snack ideas. If you have no idea where to start, we have plenty of recommendations below.
When considering which foods to take in, many factors need special attention. High-calorie foods with optimal nutrition are essential, but you also want foods that don’t weigh a lot or take up much space.
We’ve gone on multi-day hikes where we had an overabundance of food (aka unnecessary weight) and backpacking trips where we didn’t have quite enough. Both situations aren’t ideal, but I’d rather have extra weight than not enough food.
You’ll pack foods that require cooking and some that don’t. We’ve found that having quick on-the-go breakfasts and lunches is favorable to save on time, but additional meals that need cooking are good to have as a backup.
Having one big cooked meal is excellent at night to refuel while enjoying your time under the stars.
And while it’s fair to say anything tastes good while you are out in the wilderness, trust me when I say variety makes all the difference.
Below is an example of one day’s worth of food I’d take on an 8-10 mile hike. For perspective, I’m a 150ish-pound female.
Keep in mind that my weight, need for calories per day, and other factors are likely different from what you’d be working with.
Here are examples of actual meals I’ve brought in the past:
Breakfast
I’ll typically take in a protein bar or two oatmeal packets with a packet of peanut butter for breakfast. Anything quick is excellent, especially when you have a big day ahead of you.
Morning Snack
You’ll want a solid morning snack that you can whip out and eat while you hike or something to munch on if you plan to sit for a bit of break.
Lunch
We usually sit and break for at least 30 minutes mid-day to take in lunch and rest our legs for a bit. Bagel thins are nice because they don’t take up much room, but they are filling, especially when stuffed with a quick tuna salad.
Afternoon Snack
Having one or two mid-day snacks means extra calories, which is essential. Granola bars and protein bars are excellent options. Trail mix and jerky are also popular options.
Dinner
We always have a hot meal planned for dinner. Pasta sides are our favorite because they weigh less than rice, are loaded with flavor, and have many options to choose from. Add in a packet of tuna, salmon, or spam, and you have a gourmet trail meal ahead of you. Don’t forget to pack a sweet dessert, too
The example above is about 2,480 calories for the day, and typically more than enough for me, especially if I am pounding water all day.
Now you know more about how many calories to take in per day you’ll need to get to work.
Check out our meal planning tips:
Aside from all the other backpacking gear needed, we’ve provided a list of cooking gear necessary for the trail too.
$76.95
$22.90
$64.95
$3.99
$9.14
There is no point in buying all of this gear if you don’t know how to use it, so be sure to try out the equipment before your big hike. Try a few meal ideas out, too, to make sure you know you’ll enjoy it outdoors.
Let’s move on to the actual foods we like to pack on a multi-day hike. We’ll even give you some tasty combos we enjoy.
$8.56
$20.99
$26.99
$28.95
$9.30
$31.76
$27.71
$19.99
$11.99
$20.64
$27.95
$13.99
$29.80
Remember, hiking for a few hours then going home is very different from spending multiple days (and nights) in the backcountry. Be prepared and if possible, bring a buddy.
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