A Guide to Backpacking Food

In the olden golden days, backpacking food was something that took away from the experience, rather than added to it. These days, we're lucky to have an abundance of options, and easier ways to carry our choice of foods too. Walking all day with 40 pounds on your back takes a lot of energy, and that energy requires a huge caloric intake. Like anything else that goes into your pack, you want to get the most bang (read: calories) for your buck (read: load weight).

There are other considerations, of course. Here's a quick breakdown to help you come up with your own backpacking food ideas:

Calories, and Lots of Them

It's really a numbers game. Your body is going to blast through "x" calories each day; you'll want to replace every one of them with the food you take along on your trip. You can break it further down, worrying about protein, fat, carbohydrates, etc… but a good place to start is with the number of calories. Aim for at least 4000 per day.


You guessed it: the name of the game is packing as many calories as possible into the lightest load you can finagle. This should be your primary concern, after nutrition. After all, the heavier the load, the more food you'll need to pack. On any hike longer than two days, food will be the biggest weight on your back.


Weight isn't everything. Volume matters too. You have a limited amount of space allotted to backpacking food inside your bag, and however important your calories are, they can't take up the whole thing.

Shelf Life

Unless you're hiking during wintertime, you need to think about spoiling. Food lasts much longer inside a refrigerator (or even a cool cupboard) than a sweltering backpack. Make sure the stuff you pack will last through the end of your trip. If you're just going out for the night Bring the fresh fruits and veggies you crave. But, if you're backpacking for an extended period, you'll need to get creative and really plan your backpacking meals.

Cooking Time

As you might imagine, the less time something takes to cook, the better. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. While calories serve as the fuel for your body, your stove relies on something entirely different. Whether it's white gas, propane, or butane, cooking systems need energy. If you're boiling rice for an hour each night, you'll be carrying a gas station on your back.
  2. You don't want to wait all night for dinner, especially after a long day's hike. Something quick and easy is always preferable.

And Last But Not Least... Taste!

We saved the best for last. After a long, hard day on the trail, you need a meal that will put a smile on your face. We're not talking survival food here; we'll save the MRE's for the soldiers.

There is plenty of food that fits all of the parameters above, while remaining good to the last drop. And you have something else going for you, too: everything tastes FAR better when you're miles from the nearest refrigerator.

So what's the best backpacking food? That question has been debated across campsites across the country and around the world. Experiment with different combinations to find that perfect mix of taste, volume, weight, and nutrition. Here are some more pages to get your ideas flowing:

Here are some more pages on backpacking foods:

Backpacking Food Ideas
Backpacking Menus

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