Backpacking food: amounts, types, nutrition & storage || SD LIVE (June 10, 2015)

Live recording

SD Live: Eating Right in the Backcountry from Sierra Designs on Vimeo.

Table of contents


  • Not a dietitian
  • Recommendations based on what has worked for me and what I see with and hear from clients
  • Food is really personal. Hopefully you learn a few things, but you’re encouraged to experiment.


  • No refrigeration
  • Must be carried
  • Limited ability to cook and clean
  • Desire minimal field assembly

How much?

  • Amounts
    • 1.5 pounds per day
    • 3,000 calories
    • Adjust based on gender, age, weight, trip intensity, trip length
  • Caloric density
    • Fat = 250 cal/oz
    • Carbs & protein = 100 cal/oz
    • Caloric density of specific foods
  • Meals
    • Smaller, more frequent meals: breakfast, snacks, small lunch, dinner
    • Maintain energy level
    • Avoid food coma and sluggishness


  • Protein
    • 1 gram/kg of body weight per day
    • Up to 1.5 g/kg for high-intensity hiking
  • Carbs & fat
    • Body can be trained to burn fat by feeding it fat
    • Without trying, plenty of carbs
  • Vitamins & minerals
    • Hard to accomodate
    • But does it even matter?
    • Stock up in town
    • Pack fresh fruit or vegetables for the first 1-2 days of a trip

Food types

  • Philosophy
    • Hunger is the best seasoning
    • Mix it up to avoid food fatigue; vary tastes and textures
    • Create portion-ability
  • Breakfast & dinner recipes
    • Refer to recipes on website
    • Convenient, low cost, and hearty
  • Snacks
    • Sweet
    • Salty
    • Protein
  • Lunch
    • Avocado with corn nuts
    • Salami & cheese
  • Regional and seasonal considerations
    • Heat
    • Cold
  • Coffee
    • Via
    • Metal coffee filter
  • Food storage
    • Why?
    • Some animals have lost their fear of humans
    • Some animals have been trained to steal human food
  • Storage methods
    • Nothing
    • Hanging
    • Bear-resistant container


Posted in on October 21, 2015


  1. Roger on October 21, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    Would you consider heating food a necessity, or would trying to go cook-less be a stupid light idea?

    Also curious to know how you clean your pot after cooking,if with water how much typically do you use

    • Andrew Skurka on October 21, 2015 at 10:15 pm

      I hiked stove-less for most of my AT thru-hike in 2002. It made sense for that trip: I was desperate to shed weight, and hot meals in July in the mid-Atlantic are hardly necessary. I don’t think I’ve gone stove-less since that time, however.

      Ideally I can clean my pot with just water. If not, I add some dirt or forest duff, use it as an abrasive, and then wash it out.

  2. Chuck Adams on November 23, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    I’m preparing for the PCT in 2016. I’m 62 years old. My research indicates I need 6000 cal/day.

    Can you point me to a source that says it will be less?

    My concern is that some of my research must be wrong. So far I’ve seen that at 6000 cal/day and 2 lbs/day I’ll consume 4000 cal and burn 6000 cal leaving a 2000 cal / day deficit which will result in hazardous weight loss over five months. Some of my numbers must be wrong because so many people actually survive the PCT and, of course, there are your numbers above.

    I’m a novice hiker but an expert planner. Are my calorie requirements going to be higher because I’m older or less fit?


    • Andrew Skurka on November 23, 2015 at 3:36 pm

      Put 6,000 calories on a table and try to convince yourself that you can eat all of it in a day, every day, for months and months. No f’ing way.

      I don’t have a scientific source that says you need less. I just have thousands of days of personal experience, and the insight from having worked with 400+ clients on my guided trips. For a 62 y/o male, I would recommend 1.5 pounds MAX for the first few weeks of the trip, and I would think it very likely that he would eat 1-1.25 until he finds his appetite. Within 4-6 weeks, he might be able to stomach 1.5+ pounds, but probably never more than 2 pounds per day.

      Daily effort — in terms of mileage and vertical gain — will affect appetite. I’m hungriest on long days with significant vertical gain and loss. Long, flat days do not burn nearly the same calories.

      • Charles Adams on November 24, 2015 at 2:30 pm

        Great info. I will definitely incorporate your info into my hike plan.

  3. mad on November 26, 2015 at 8:48 am

    Hi Andrew. I was wondering what your opinion was on dried meals (ex: mountain house). They’re pricey but is that the only downfall? Thanks Mad

    • Andrew Skurka on November 26, 2015 at 11:15 pm

      My main issue with commercial meals is the cost. The Chili Mac with Beef from Mountain House retails for $8 and contains 4.8 oz of food. That’s $26 per pound! While it claims 2.5 servings, most hungry backpackers will easily finish an entire meal, and many will feel unsatisfied.

      I’ve also heard some complain about the saltiness of freeze-dried meals. It’s been years since I’ve had one, so I can’t validate this criticism or not.

      • Mad on November 27, 2015 at 5:40 am

        Thanks for the response Andrew. I’ll have to try some of your more economic recipes. Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. Conjou on November 27, 2015 at 11:31 am

    Thanks for your great site, Andrew. Do you have any experience with Ursacks for storage of food? Also, do you pack out the coffee grounds from your filter? Finally, any thoughts on steripen vs. sawyer filters? Thanks!

    • Andrew Skurka on November 27, 2015 at 3:43 pm

      Until the Ursack is approved by NPS, I see it as complete protection against mini-bears (mice, squirrels, etc) and as voluntary precaution against real bears where canisters are not required.

      I normally disperse coffee grounds, so long as it’s not a high-use area where decomposition happens very slowly, e.g. on the east side of Mt. Whitney.

      The Sawyer Mini is more reliable than the Steripen, and does not require wide-mouth bottles.

  5. Lio on December 31, 2015 at 7:37 am

    Hey, Any reason for not taking multivitamin tablets or vitamin supplements, especially for long distances? What about whey protein to supplement meals?
    Great video by the way!

    • Andrew Skurka on January 1, 2016 at 9:17 am

      I don’t take vitamins or supplements normally, and on long trips I’ve yet to feel that I was missing something nutrition-wise.

      Yes, I do bring whey protein, since it’s generally difficult to get enough protein out there. My favorite use is as a milk substitute in cold cereal.

  6. Antony on January 18, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    Just my humble contribution after several multi-months trips to the US with tens of 4-5 days backpacking trips broken by hitchhiking trips to civilization and back to the woods.
    What I found the best solution was to have an easy to remember eating schedule and, hence, an easy shopping list too.
    So, this is how I do: breakfast is crispbread with jam (in squeeze plastic bottle), plus some biscuits, count 3 crispbread and 3 biscuits. Then, during the day I eat plain oats straight from the pack and drink water, sometimes a Cliffbar for variety and I never pause for more than 5 minutes, that’s for about 17 miles a day. You can really go a long way with a pound of oats, that’s amazing. Finally, every evening, I have about 150g of spaghettis with triple tomato concentrate that I cook on my JetBoil.
    I never felt hungry but generally lose some decent weight, which I want.
    Surprisingly, I never got bored either, but if you do, it’s also part of the fun, because every time you hit civilisation again, it’s really cool to go for a large mixed salad and some tasty main course you’ve been dreaming of for days.
    To me, the biggest advantage of this approach is that I can literally rush through a supermarket without even thinking of what I need. If you want some extras, go for apples or more Cliffbars and if you really want to save weight, couscous can’t be beat, both in terms of food and gas, but it’s less rewarding than pasta.
    I’ve recently done the GR20 in Corsica for 12 days with this diet and never felt bored or missing anything.
    Plus, I always carry all my gear with me, which includes a laptop, 2-person tent and all the rest of my stuff for a total of about 30lb and I’m still generally among the lightest backpackers.
    By the way, I always hike with a pair of cottons and a pair of basic canvas Vans, which are light in their way, because you can use them in any situation: trail, downtown, restaurant, club,…

  7. Charlie Nuttelman on March 22, 2017 at 11:23 am

    Finally getting more scientific about calories per day and trying to plan WAY ahead with bags labeled for each day, etc., so this is great information! I’ve heard you talk before at Neptunes and you mention 1.5 lbs/day. I’ve been very meticulous about dehydrating food and purchased a few Mountain House meals and planning ~3500-4000 calories per day (too much?) on an upcoming 6-day trip in the GC, yet I’m at about 2.4 lbs/day!! Clearly, I have some work to do! Thanks for the information here!

    • Andrew Skurka on March 23, 2017 at 2:28 pm

      Sounds like you are carrying about a pound of extra food per day.

Leave a Comment