Food has the potential to be one of the heaviest collective items in your pack, especially on longer hikes, so it should be a priority to find the right food while minimising weight.
The length of the hike is a large determinant as to what food is best to take:
Short Hikes (2-4 days)
Short hikes have three distinct advantages over longer hikes:
- Weight. A shorter hike can allow the carrying of heavier food items or more food overall. This may allow for a more gourmet menu or the carrying of fruit.
- Volume. Less food means more space for larger items, such as whole fruit or bread.
- Time. Some non-dried foods can survive out of the refrigerator for a handful of days before they spoil. These include fresh bread, pre-packed sandwiches and pre-cooked dinners.
Long Hikes (more than 4 days)
- Minimising weight is the most important philosophy when walking for an extended period. Unless using food drops, the goal is to keep food as light as possible while maintaining a level of nutrition. Dried or shelf stable foods become more important on a longer hike. Shelf stable foods are treated foods such as certain salamis and cheeses that are found on the shelf in the supermarket and not in the chiller section. Minimising waste materials should also be a high priority as carrying an empty can of tuna is almost as heavy as carrying a full can.
When you’re on a ten-day hike, eating the same meals day after day is a recipe for boredom. While breakfast and snack foods aren’t such an issue, having at least two different types of lunches and at least three different dinner options can make the daily consumption of dried food more bearable.
Try to avoid packing more than needed. Measure out spoonfuls of coffee/sugar/milk powder etc into zip-lock bags and take only as much as required plus a touch more.
Dehydrating food prior to hiking is not only cheaper but provides a greater variety of food options. Properly dehydrating food takes a Food Dehydrator and forward planning. For dehydrated foods, special care needs to be taken with packing, especially with meat, to ensure it is free of moisture, as this can cause mould. More information on Dehydrating food should be available from your Food Dehydrator manufacturer or from resources on the internet such as: http://www.drystore.com/page/page/1346972.htm
It’s recommended to carry at least one extra full day’s supply of food in case of emergencies. The amount is dependant on the distance from civilisation the hike is. If there’s a busy road or township not far from the trail, less emergency food is required. But if the hike is remote, then it’s suggested to take more.
Breakfast is an important meal when hiking as it provides the body with a supply of energy to get it up and going. As oats are slow release energy, Porridge or Oatmeal is a standard choice on the trail. Alternatively, a lightweight high energy cereal can do the same although it can take up more space in your pack.
For coffee drinkers, walking with a caffeine headache isn’t pleasant, so working that morning cup into breakfast is important, and it will give an early energy boost.
A lunch break on the trek is more about breaking up the day than having a hearty midday meal. In fact, having a larger lunch is counterproductive to hiking as it uses extra energy for digestion, making the body feel more tired. While a cold lunch is quick and easy, in cooler areas having a hot lunch might be preferable.
Snacks should be lightweight and have a good mix of slow release energy, fibre and sugar. They are often more useful towards the end of the day when energy reserves are low, but are useful to give added push to get over that tough ridge. Nuts, chocolate and dried fruit are best.
Dinner is an important meal for hiking as it’s the primary means of refilling the body after a hard day on the trail. In many countries, there are specially made meal packs for hiking or camping known as the camping/trail meal. These are lightweight dried meals that contain a high nutritional value with a minimum of preparation – usually by adding only boiling water. They can even taste good too! The servings are small, so adding extra noodles may fill it out enough without adding too much weight to your pack. Alternatives are quick cook rice, flavoured noodles, pasta packets or flavoured couscous. Conservation of cooking gas is important, so foods with small cooking times are better.
Carrying Cup of Soup sachets, juice sachets or teabags can provide something other than plain water to drink with dinner. After all, you’ve been drinking water all day.
Next time, Hiking food lists.
Better to have too much food and a heavy pack, than a light pack and an empty stomach.
The Lone Trail Wanderer