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Backpacking Meal Planning Tips For Beginners

Backpacking is an amazingly fun pursuit, giving individuals the chance to get closer to nature as they test their endurance and resolve on some of America’s finest trails. However, in order to backpack actively, safely and keep one’s energy, you will need to bring along some well-planned meals and snacks—food that will give you the fuel you need to complete your backpacking adventure successfully.

To help ensure you have the energy and endurance you’ll need to engage in your next backpacking excursion, below we have compiled some very instructive backpacking meal planning tips—tips that will ensure you have the right type of food in the proper amounts to give you the required fuel for your backpacking expedition.

Why Should You Meal Plan When Backpacking?

backpacking meal

If you have ever taken a hike before, chances are you brought along some snacks to enjoy as you walked along the trail, perhaps some trail mix, a piece of fruit or other items you enjoy. Well, a backpacking trip is a little different.

When backpacking you can expect to walk miles and miles over several days, in places where finding food can be severely limited. There are no supermarkets in the wilderness, so you will need to plan ahead—for every day of your journey—to ensure you have all the food you need to both survive and enjoy your journey.

Just like your vehicle needs fuel every so often on a long trip, so too does your body. Moreover, you will need to make sure to bring along the “right kind” of food to make sure your body gets all its required nutrients.

Lastly, you will need to meal plan to make sure that your food does not weigh you down too much as you walk. Thus, you will need the right foods in the right amounts and in the proper type of packaging.

So what is the “right” amount of food to take along on an extended backpacking trip? Keep reading in the next section to find out.

What Is the Right Amount of Food When Backpacking?

How much food should you bring along when backpacking? Actually, that depends on a lot of things. And while you may assume that low-calories foods would be your friend when backpacking, that is not always the case.

You will be burning more calories on a multi-day trip than you would in your normal, day-to-day life, so you will need to replace those calories every day to keep up your strength.

But how do you determine what is the right amount of food to bring? Actually, there are several factors that come into play with regard to this equation. Some of these factors include:

  • Length of Your Backpacking Trip. Of course, your food demands will depend on the length of your trip. More days = more food.
  • People in your party. If you are backpacking with a partner or a group, which is always highly recommended, you will need to plan for the food needs of every participant.
  • Body weight. You will need to account for the body weight of every backpacker in your group. Larger people, for example, have different caloric needs than the smaller backpackers.
  • Intensity level of the trek. Not all backpacking trips are equal. For example, backpacking on relatively flat trails does not take as much energy as, say, very mountainous backpacking adventures. The higher the intensity, the more fuel your body will need.
  • Season. Believe it or not, backpacking in the colder winter months will require you to expend more calories than when walking on warmer days. So if you plan to backpack during the winter, you will need to bring more food to replace what you lose.

After considering all of these factors, you will realize that a backpacker will need about 3200-5800 calories for each day of the excursion. When that breaks down to in pounds is about 1 and a half to 2 pounds of food for every day of the excursion.

Keep in mind though, any backpacking trips that are exceedingly cold, long and high in intensity will require more food/calories for each individual.

When purchasing the food for your trip, you will need to break those calories down by meal each day of the trip. It is recommended that you always eat your more substantial meals at the beginning and end of each day, and then mix in smaller meals and snacks throughout the day.

If you’re not exactly sure how many calories you will need on your trip, you should always err on the side of caution and bring a little more—the last thing you want is to run out of food, even if it means putting a little more weight into your pack.

backpacking frypan breakfast

What Types of Food Should You Bring Along on Your Backpacking Trip?

When picking out the right types of food for your trip there are several things you will want to consider. First, foods that are very calorie dense are always your friend.

What does calorie dense mean? It means smaller and more lightweight packages of food that are loaded with calories.

These types of choices do two things: First, they supply you with the calories you will need—calories needed to replace the ones you are losing; and second, they are small and lightweight, so they can fit easily into your backpack and will not be very heavy.

So what are some good examples of calorie dense foods? According to experienced backpackers, some of the best choices are things like:

  • Olive oil. Olive oil is loaded with healthy fats and it will also supply you with a good number of calories.
  • Nuts. Whatever types of nuts you prefer are perfect for this category. Peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews and more are all good calorie-dense choices that are lightweight and easy to pack.
  • Peanut butter. Peanut butter is a great source of calories and healthy fats. However, when purchasing peanut butter, stay away from the heavier “jars” of peanut butter and opt instead for those servings that are wrapped in plastic tubing.
  • Candy. Just because you are engaging in a healthy activity it does not mean you have to forgo a nice treat every so often. Candy, especially things like snickers, both types of M&Ms, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are very calorie dense, extremely filling, and very, very lightweight. Just don’t make candy too much of your diet, as it isn’t very nutrient rich.
  • Energy Bars. Great to eat while walking, protein bars and energy bars are a good source of calories while also being quite nutritious.
  • Rice. Rice is a great staple and an even better source of calories and energy. On top of that, rice is very light and compact when dry. Choose brown rice over white rice for the nutritional benefits the former offers.
  • Pasta. Just like rice, pasta is a very lightweight option to carry in your pack—one that also is loaded with good carbohydrates. Wheat and whole grain pasta is definitely a better choice than some of the processed pastas.

Besides food that are calorie dense, you will also need to think about proper nutrition while you are out on the trail. Eating foods that have a lot of nutritional value will help you perform much better when backpacking.

These foods will sustain you and also keep you full. According to nutritional experts, a good backpacking breakdown in terms of nutrients, especially for a multi-day trip, would look something like this:

Complex carbohydrates

When backpacking, complex carbohydrates should make up about 50 percent of your overall diet. These nutrients will be your primary source of energy—and you will need a lot of energy on a backpacking excursion.

Some examples of complex carbohydrates include brown rice, whole-grain or wheat pasta, oatmeal, etc.

Unsaturated Fats

Unsaturated fats, also known as the good fats, are a very important staple when backpacking, as they serve as a long-term form of energy.

Some examples of good fats are nuts, olive oil, trail mix and more. These nutrients should make up about 30 percent of your overall diet.


Finally, protein is also important in a backpacker’s diet. Protein will help your muscles recover after a long day of hiking, and they will get you ready for backpacking the following day.

Nuts are also a good source of protein, as is peanut butter, dried meats like beef jerky, and protein bars, all of which are very lightweight and easy to carry. Protein should make up the final 20 percent of your overall diet.

You can also have a minimum amount of simple sugars in your backpacking diet, which will give you energy, and you should also have some antioxidants like Vitamin C and E to ensure your immune system is functioning at its peak performance—the last thing you want is to get sick when you are far away in the wilderness, with no medical facilities in sight.

Last Word

Calorie-dense foods that are nutrient rich, lightweight and easy to pack, are always your best bet when backpacking.

Once you calculate your individual caloric needs, and the needs of everyone in your group, you should have no problem finding foods with a long shelf life that fit into these categories.

And again, if you ever have any doubts regarding the “amount of food” you need, always err on the safe side and bring more.

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