How to Create a Backpacking Meal Plan like a Pro!

How to Create a Backpacking Meal Plan like a Pro!

It’s a liberating feeling to have everything you need to survive for a few days in a pack on your back. Life feels simpler and achievable because you are 100% prepared and ready for the journey ahead. The planning and packing process to have that freeing feeling, however, can be stressful and frustrating for beginners. The number one struggle for new backpackers is deciding how much food to pack. Bring too little and you will struggle to have a good time. Pack too much and you literally just carried pounds of food into the wild and back home for no reason! After reading this guide, you will be able to successfully create a backpacking meal plan that will fuel your body through your entire trip.

Daily Nutrition in the Backcountry

There is a lot of information about food out there and what our bodies need for everyday life. Although food science is still the same, meal planning for backcountry trips is not the same as meal planning in everyday life as you will be burning a lot more calories each day that need to be replenished to keep up your energy.

Count Calories

No one enjoys counting calories, but when it comes to creating a backpacking meal plan that will sustain your energy level it is an absolute must. There are many variables when it comes to how many calories you will burn on the trail including weight of your pack, incline grade, and duration of hiking. On any normal day, the average active person will burn 2,000 calories. In the backcountry you can assume that you will burn anywhere from 2,500 to 4,500 calories depending on how much extra exercise you will be doing. There are backpacking calorie burning calculators out there that can help you get a bit more accurate with your calculation, but a simple rule of thumb to start with is assuming that for each hour of hiking you will burn an extra 200 calories. If your hike will take you five hours, it is safe to say you need to add at least 1,000 extra calories of food to your 2,000 calorie start.

Understand the Importance of Macronutrients

Macronutrients include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. You will want to pack foods that contain good sources of all of these macronutrients to keep your body in performance shape for the duration of your trip.

Carbohydrates are quickly transformed into energy by your body. They are important to endurance and work best when paired with proteins that help prevent muscle breakdown that occurs when working out.

As mentioned, protein helps prevent muscle breakdown and is an absolute must for backpacking food. Since it takes much longer to break down than carbohydrates and fats, proteins are what will help sustain your energy after your carbohydrates and fats are used up.

Fats break down slower than carbohydrates, but provide twice the amount of calories. Packing food that contains fat will give you double the calories with half the weight. It is also important to have fats in your diet when backpacking to replenish any fat stores you burn while hiking.

To have well rounded meals while hiking, you should make sure your daily intake includes plenty of all three macronutrients.

Add Micronutrients

Micronutrients refer to the vitamins and minerals our bodies need, but in much smaller quantities than macros. The main one we want to focus on for hikers and backpackers is salt. Not having enough sodium can lead to dehydration and muscle cramps while on the trail. Make sure that every meal has some level of sodium to keep your body balanced.

How to Choose Food

Energy-to-Weight Ratio

After choosing meal options that provide you with a good source of macronutrients and sodium, the most important consideration for choosing food is the ratio of calories (or energy) to weight. Look for lightweight food that provides a lot of calories.

The main reason freeze-dried foods are so popular within the backpacking and hiking community is because they are one of the best options when it comes to energy-to-weight ratio that provide great nutrition. Freeze-dried meals allow us to bring things like fruits, vegetables, and meats without the waterweight they normally contain so we can have a veritable feast without feeling like we carried one!

Preparation method

The next thing to consider when choosing which foods to pack is how long it will take to prepare the meal. Is it ready to eat, quick cook to eat (15 minutes or less), or long cook to eat (anything over 15 minutes)? If you have never gone into the backcountry before, you may not think 15 minutes is a long time to prepare, but waiting for your food to be ready after hiking up a huge hill can feel like an eternity. Most freeze-dried meals involve adding boiling water to the foil bag they are packed in, stirring, and waiting about ten minutes before you dig in. If you have not yet purchased cookware, we have a great article about selecting outdoor cookware as well as going stoveless in the backcountry. Meal selection impacts the amount of stove fuel you will need to bring on your trip which adds weight to your pack. Avoid any food that requires simmering in a pot to cook.

Planning each meal

Breakfast

Many people skip breakfast in their daily lives and wait to eat until lunch. This is a totally normal and fine thing to do most days, but not when you are backpacking. When backpacking, it really is one of the most important meals of the day as your body performs better when you provide it with easy to burn fuel in the morning. You will be able to go longer and with greater ease when you eat food before taking off for the day.

You may notice our breakfast line is mostly made of oatmeals. This is because whole oats provide you with longer lasting energy while the fruit will provide the quick energy you need to get moving in the morning. Of course, don’t forget to pair your oatmeal with a caffeinated morning drink of instant coffee or tea from Cusa.

Lunch

Lunch, or as many backpackers call it, during-hiking meals keep you going throughout the day. If you are someone who likes to stop and take longer mid-day breaks, our line of ramens is perfect for you as they provide the sodium your body needs. If you are one of those who only stops to eat lunch because it’s necessary, ready to eat food will be your best lunch option. We love to make PB&Js or a pita/naan pouch packed with Tuna or Chicken on longer hike days.

Dinner

Dinner is the meal where you’ll want to pack in those calories, proteins, carbs, and fat stores that you have depleted throughout the entire day of hiking. You’ll want to make sure it is something you actually like and want to eat because you will need to consume a lot of it. This is the exact reason we created so many different tasty dinner options.

Dessert

Dessert is not the first thing you think of when packing food for a backpacking trip, but we believe desserts on the trail are an absolute must! Backpacking desserts help you reach the calorie goal needed as well as add a little sugar for a nice burst of energy to enjoy evenings.

Snacks

After packing breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert, snacks might seem overboard, but they will help you stay energized between meals. We like to use snacks as little bursts of energy to get us through a hike. When packing snacks, think salty and sugary with no preparation. Trailmix earned its name long ago, and dried fruit and jerky also make great trail snacks.

Final Thoughts on Creating a Backpacking Meal Plan

Many backpackers love meal time in the backcountry just as much as any other part. Although food is your fuel, eating on the trail should be enjoyable. All our meals are made with premium ingredients, are designed to keep you exploring longer, and are crafted to delicious satisfaction.


Now that you understand the importance of nutrition in the backcountry, how to choose your food, and how to plan each meal it’s time to embark on your next adventure with confidence and delicious meals in tow! Use our Food Planner to plan each day of food in the backcountry and don’t forget to visit the Trailtopia website to order all the food you’ll need for your next adventure.

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