Hikers love to talk about food almost as much as they like to talk about gear and bowel movements. When it comes to trail food, there’s often a lot of uncertainty about how much and what types of food to take. In this post, we’ll address each of those topics as well as share 58 of our favorite snack and lunch ideas, along with the nutritional breakdown of each.
Desirable characteristics of trail food
Generally speaking, ideal trail food is calorically-dense, compact, appetizing, and comes in minimal, lightweight packaging.
Favoring foods that are calorically-dense helps keep pack weight low. The most calorically-dense foods are those which are high in fat, such as seeds, nuts, and oils. Most hikers aim for greater than 100 calories per ounce for most of their trail food.
That said, it’s nice to pack out a few fresh items, such as an avocado, carrots, or a sandwich to consume in the first day or two of a trip. The nutritional and satisfaction benefits of these items make up for what they lack in caloric density.
How much food?
If you’re uncertain exactly how much food to pack, follow the time-tested guideline that we give to our guided trip clients: 2,250 to 2,750 calories per full day, which weighs 18 to 22 ounces assuming an average caloric density of 125 calories per ounce.
If you are young, muscular, larger in size, and/or on an intense trip, aim for the high end of this range. If you are the opposite of any of those aim for the low end of this range.
Experiment before you commit
Ultimately, food tends to be very personal, in terms of how much your specific body needs, which foods make you feel best, and of course, flavor and texture preferences.
To find what works for you, try out new trail foods in low-risk situations, such as on a day hike, before purchasing items in bulk for your next multi-night trip. Experiment with different flavors (e.g. sweet, salty, sour) and textures (e.g. crunchy, smooth, chewy) to see what agrees most with your body and taste preferences.
A good snack is easy to consume and digest. It’s generally less than 300 calories and contains a mix of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Ideally, it can fit in your hip belt pocket, doesn’t require preparation or a utensil to consume, and can be eaten on the go or during a quick pitstop.
Lunches are a little more involved. They generally involve more preparation and multiple ingredients and are easiest to consume while sitting. Like snacks, they should include a mix of macronutrients. Lunches should contain enough calories to provide you with plenty of energy until your next meal or snack, but not be so big that you feel too bogged down to hike. Note that some of the lunch ideas below may need combined with additional ingredients to make a nutritionally complete meal, such as eating avocado and sweet potato chips alongside a protein, such as jerky.