58 recommended snacks and lunches for backpacking

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.

My ideal way to enjoy lunch.

Snacks

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.


Sea Salt and Vinegar chips + almond butter. Tasty and not entirely unhealthy!

Lunches

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.


Tasty, simple lunch combinations don’t require a stove

What would you add to our list? Share your favorite trail snack and lunch ideas below. 

Posted in on March 7, 2022
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10 Comments

  1. LowellOlson on March 7, 2022 at 1:48 pm

    Nature’s Bakery fig/raspberry/blueberry/whatever bars. They’re not spreadsheet queens but they’ve got a nice mix of slow and fast carbs, are gentle on the stomach, and are available at Costco. Been chowing them on trips to the point of what should be exhaustion for the last two years and haven’t hit food fatigue yet. Energy off of them is predictable and balanced. Still easy to eat when dehydrated (not ideal but also a reality we encounter).

    2 or 3 of these and a mix of dried mango/banana/your preferred fruit is doing a lot of heavy lifting for me outside of Nido/tea breaks and a fat/protein heavy dinner at night.

    To reiterate – they’re really nice on the stomach.

  2. Hunter Hall on March 7, 2022 at 11:19 pm

    Great suggestions! I need to try some new stuff this year…

  3. KSYoungberg on March 9, 2022 at 6:58 pm

    I like to bring some Ziyad Halva with Pistachio along.

  4. Fred on March 10, 2022 at 10:29 am

    How do you keep the deli ham cold?

    • jc on March 11, 2022 at 2:15 pm

      IDK how Mr. Skurka does it, but I bury stuff like that as deep in my pack as possible and wrap my quilt and jacket around them. Not perfect, but it helps.

      If you’re driving to the hike and want to be real slick, I’ve frozen water bottles and put them in my pack with the perishable stuff. Works great as long as I ignore the fact that I spent more on my backpacking crap than I did on my motorcycle to keep it light, all of which goes out the window when I put a few more water bottles in there.

    • Michael on March 11, 2022 at 8:51 pm

      That’s the neat part, you don’t.

  5. Todd on March 17, 2022 at 10:10 am

    When it comes to chip choices, I go for Pringles or other canned brands. They’ll survive a tightly-packed pack much better than a bag that will demolish chips into crumbs.

    • matthew on March 24, 2022 at 5:46 pm

      Heh I have found that one can pack approximately 60% extra Pringles into a Pringle can by shaking the can vigorously. There’s no need to pulverize to tiny pieces… Once you get it down to maybe nickel size pieces they are quite space efficient. The can sits nicely in the side pocket of a pack and you can just grab, open and pour some in your mouth. Good stuff.

  6. Colin on March 31, 2022 at 7:49 am

    Instant hummus with sun dried tomatoes and crushed chips.

    Tuna salad- tuna packets + those little mayo packets you get at sandwich shops + cranberries, on tortilla

    Just plain butter smeared on stuff can be really delicious.

  7. [email protected] on April 11, 2022 at 6:07 pm

    Lunches – I like dried fruit, instant hummus with an olive oil packet and crushed blue tortilla chips. I change that up with powdered PB2 Peanut Butter and protein pretzels and maybe a little chunk of hard cheese. I like to make my peanut butter a little soupy.

    Salty snacks might be a few raw almonds mixed with bbq or ranch flavored corn nuts. I do like an assortment of bars so I don’t get bored. Fruit leather is a nice snack too. I like to pop a snack every couple of hours for a quick pick me up if I remember. Late afternoon or just after tackling a difficult pass, I love a hot cup of coffee or tea when the temps are low. If I’m sweating, a cup of cold brew late in the afternoon or when I’m low on energy really get me going!

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