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Hiking Food: Best Nutrition Practices

When hiking, it’s incredibly important to bring food along with you. However, not all hiking food’s created equal. Food needs to be nutrient dense because your body expends hundreds of calories carrying you across trails and through the backcountry. With that in mind, here are a few guidelines when it comes to planning the menu for your next hiking excursion, as well as tips for choosing what to pack.

Hiking Food: Best Nutrition Practices

Determining How Much Hiking Food to Bring

When it comes to hiking food, it’s always better to bring a little more than you might need but not so much that it slows you down on the trail.

Backroads Pro Tip

A good rule of thumb is to bring one pound of food per person, per day.

For short hiking trips (think just a few hours), you can bring a lot less food. A bag of trail mix, for example, and a protein bar should suffice for a quick hike.

Types of Food to Bring

Your body expends a lot of calories while hiking, especially over multi-day trips. To optimize the amount of calories you’re bringing without filling your backpack with heavy food, opt for healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds or nut butters. Protein’s also important. Try packing protein bars (while being mindful of sugar content) and dried meat. Carbs are essential as well, so make sure to bring options like dry cereal or dried fruits.

Hiking Food: Factors to Consider

When it comes to choosing your hiking food, some factors are incredibly important to consider. For example, think about whether an item’s perishable. If so, it’s best to leave it out of your pack.

Other things to keep in mind include the following:

  1. How easy is it to prepare and eat while on the trail?
  2. How bulky or heavy is it?
  3. What is its nutritional content and price?

You should also consider whether you’re hiking in a cold or warm climate. If hiking in the cold, you’ll need to bring more food because you’ll be burning more calories as your body works to keep itself warm.

For Backpacking and Multi-day Trips

The rules for backpacking and multi-day hiking trips are vastly different from day hikes.  This is when the one pound of food per person, per day, rule kicks in. No perishable foods should be brought along unless eaten on the first day. Common options for multi-day trips include whole-fat powdered milk, packaged cereal, dehydrated foods and whole-grain pasta. These are all cheap, filling and light foods that pack a powerful caloric punch.  

Remember Food Safety

Possibly the most important thing of all when preparing and eating hiking food is practicing common food safety. This includes separating raw foods from prepared foods, cooking food thoroughly and keeping perishable food out of hot or warm temperatures. Washing your hands is also imperative.

Backroads Pro Tip

While antibacterial hand sanitizers are better than nothing, it’s best to bring along a small packet of antibacterial hand wipes. They do a much better job of scrubbing your hands (and other camp gear) clean.

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