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Backpacking Nutrition 101: The Essentials

Backpacking Nutrition 101: The Essentials

By Elyssa Duncan, Contributing blogger

Backpacking is an exciting and immersive way to explore the world around you. However, if you’re new to the sport, leaving for a multi-day excursion with just what you can fit in your backpack can be a daunting and challenging task, especially when it comes to meal planning. How much food do I need to bring? What are the best lightweight, nutritious foods to pack? How can I prevent an overly heavy pack? We’re here to address all of these questions and more so that you feel confident and excited for your next backpacking adventure!

How much food should I bring on my backpacking trip?

The first question many people ask when it comes to meal prepping for a backpacking trip is, “how much food should I take?” The general rule of thumb is to pack about 1.5 - 2.5 pounds of food per person per day. This equals out to be approximately 2,500 - 4,500 calories per person. However, this will depends on many factors, including the length of your trip, the intensity of your activity, your size and weight, and so on. If you are planning days of 10-mile strenuous hiking, you will need to pack more than someone who is planning a few miles of relatively flat trails with frequent campsite stops.

When deciding how much to bring, it’s best to err on the side of more, but you don’t want to overdo it—packing too much food results in luging around unwanted weight and bulk. It may be a little bit of trial and error for your first few trips.

What kinds of foods should I be eating on a backpacking trip?

Maintaining good nutrition throughout your adventure is essential for your health, performance, and overall enjoyment! When choosing your foods to bring along, you will want not only to consider the weight of the food but the nutritional value it offers as well.

Food is fuel to the body, and if you aren’t your body what it needs to function correctly, muscles will begin to break down, causing fatigue and weakness. Your daily meals must include a balance of the macronutrients: fats, carbohydrates, and protein. Each of these food types is metabolized (broken down into an energy source) differently within the body and serves different purposes in keeping the body running at its best.

Fats

Healthy fats are a crucial part of a balanced, nutritious diet. Our brains need fat to function properly, our organs need it to operate smoothly, and our body needs it to help with temperature regulation.

Examples of excellent healthy fat choices to pack:

  • Nut butter
  • Olive oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Hard cheeses
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Coconut chips
  • Powdered milk
  • Freeze-dried meals

Carbohydrates

I don’t understand why carbs get such a bad rep! They’re the body’s main source of energy and are the brain’s preferred fuel source. There are “simple carbohydrates” that are easily broken down into glucose (sugar) and provide a quick burst of energy. These are foods such as candy, white bread, baked goods, and some energy bars. These options are great if you need a quick pick-me-up but should be consumed in moderation because they can cause blood sugar to spike if consumed frequently. “Complex carbohydrates” take longer to be broken down in the body, so they have a less immediate impact on your blood sugar. Complex carbs offer a more sustained energy source and include whole grains, beans, lentils, sweet potatoes, and brown rice.

Examples of excellent carb choices to pack:

  • Oatmeal
  • Rice chips
  • Instant brown rice
  • Pea soup mix
  • Hummus
  • Dried beans
  • Popcorn
  • Pretzels
  • Dark chocolate

Proteins

Protein is going to be your best friend when out on the trails! When we consume protein, our body releases “glucagon,” a chemical that triggers the feelings of satiety and fullness. When preparing your pack, you will want to load up on lean protein options. While you may leave the filets at home (bummer, I know), there are a lot of delicious alternatives to snack on.

Examples of excellent protein choices to pack:

  • Beef jerky
  • Protein bars
  • Cheese
  • Powdered eggs
  • Tuna fish or chicken pouches
  • Protein powder
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Spam 

 

What are some other backpacking meal tips?

Now that you have the basics on choosing foods for your backpacking trip, here are some other helpful tips to make packing a breeze!

  • Do not wait until the day of your trip to plan out your meals. Give yourself time to sit down and write out how many meals you will need. Don’t forget your meal at the trailhead before and after your trip!
  • Leave the bulky Tupperware at home. When it comes to multi-day packing, the lighter, the better. Containers can take up a lot of space and weight. Ziplock bags and lightweight dry bags are a great way to package and ration food. Grabbing an airtight food bag is helpful, too!

  • Don’t forget about freeze-dried meals. There are many companies such as Moutain House, Backpacker’s Pantry, and Peak Refuel that offer delicious freeze-dried meal options. These meals are nutrient-dense and super simple to prepare. Just add some boiling water right into the package, wait a few minutes, and voila! You’ve got a steaming hot bowl of Thai curry, chicken alfredo, black bean soup, or a Tex-Mex burger.

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