How to Prepare Backpacking Food

Along with shelter and clothes, food is one of the most important items to take into account when preparing for a backpacking trip. Many amateur backpackers make the mistake of overloading their packs with heavy or excessively packaged foods like canned beans or fresh vegetables: this makes for an unpleasant hiking experience and a missed opportunity to exploit your body's nutritional needs. On a backpacking trip, you expend lots of energy; accordingly, you need lots of calories and carbohydrates in the lightest form possible. Experienced hikers aim for foods with more than 100 calories per ounce (or 28 grams). Your personal dietary choices will depend on the difficulty of your trip, your culinary preferences, and your cooking supplies.


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    Pack 1 to 2 lbs. (or 1/2 to 1 kg) of food for each day of your hike. This usually translates to roughly 3000-4000 calories per day.
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    Choose easy-to-prepare, filling foods for breakfast.
    • Instant oatmeal or potatoes are good choices because they cook quickly and are very light. Powdered whole milk is a good way to add more calories. Dried fruit is also an efficient breakfast addition. If you want a hot beverage, pack instant coffee or tea.
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    Pack carbohydrate-heavy foods for lunch.
    • Because of the energy you will expend hiking, you need to eat lots of carbohydrates every day. Loaves of bread tend to get squished in a backpack, so try crackers, tortillas or pita bread instead. It's helpful to eat carbohydrates in the middle of the day when you need the most energy and can burn them off before going to sleep.
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    • Pair your crackers or tortillas with foods rich in protein and fat, like nut butter, salami and cheese, to keep you feeling full longer.
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    Select hearty, calorie-rich food for dinner.
    • Instant noodles, dried meats, and cheese are popular backpacking dinners. Do not pack anything that takes more than 10 minutes to cook so as to save fuel.
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    Pack snacks with sugar and fat content.
    • Snacks should provide extra energy during the day. Typical backpacking snacks include energy bars and trail mix (usually made with nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate).
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    Remove food from its original packaging and repack it more efficiently.
    • Most store-bought food will come in cumbersome packaging that will make your backpack heavier and will be hard to dispose of on the trail. Take foods like oatmeal, noodles, and coffee out of their packaging and repack it in small, easy to seal plastic bags.
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    Avoid water-heavy foods.
    • Fresh fruits and vegetables, while healthy, have a very inefficient calorie-to-weight ratio. Do not plan on packing more than one fruit or vegetable for each day of your trip. Lightweight food that has been dehydrated is best for backpacking.
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    Avoid perishable items.


  • Backpacking food can be bought anywhere. Many outdoor stores offer foods specifically designed for hikers; because of their light weight, high energy content, and ease of preparation, they are good choices. However, cheaper options like instant oatmeal, trail mix, and beef jerky can be easily found at any grocery store.
  • The longer your trip, the more food weight you should carry each day. For a short trip of 1 to 2 days, you can eat lots of calories before and after the trip, thus reducing your need for calories while backpacking. If you are going to be packing food for more than 5 days or so, however, you do not want to deprive your body of calories for any extended period of time.
  • Packing a camp stove is usually a good idea when backpacking because it increases your food options and allows you to get warm on cold nights. If you are very concerned with cutting weight, however, you can pack only pre-cooked food like cured meat--just be sure to plan for a balanced diet.
  • If you hike a lot, you may be able to save money by dehydrating your own backpacking foods. Food dehydrators are easy to use and really expand the possibilities for your menu.[1]


  • Always think ahead to how you will cook your food and clean your utensils.
  • Never sleep with food or used cookware in your tent, as this may attract bears and other predators.
  • If you're not trying to minimize space or weight, keep separate pots for boiling water and cooking food.

Things You'll Need

  • Camp stove
  • 1 to 2 lbs. or 1/2 to 1 kg of food per day

Article Info

Categories: Backpacking and Hiking