Food and Nutrition

29.06.2017 |

Episode #3 of the course Beginning Backpacking by Alice Morgan


Today, we’re going to talk about one of the best parts of backpacking: food! We’ll go over nutrition in the backcountry, caloric needs, and how to pack and store your food, and I’ll share a few simple trail recipes to get you started.



Nutrition in the backcountry is different than nutrition at home in your kitchen. While backpacking, you’ll be carrying all your own food and won’t have access to appliances like refrigerators or microwaves. You’ll be limited to energy-dense, lightweight, non-perishable foods.

These foods should fall into one of four categories: dairy, grains, seeds, and legumes. Dairy includes items like powdered milk and cheese. Examples of grains are rice, oatmeal, bread, couscous, and bran. Seeds include sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. Finally, beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, and tofu products are all good choices when looking for legumes. There are other food types that work well for backpacking, so don’t be alarmed that you didn’t see chocolate or fruit on my list. These aren’t as nutrient dense but are great sources of quick energy.

Dairy, grains, seeds, and legumes are important because when you eat them in certain combinations, they act like a complete protein. With all your muscles’ exertions, you’ll need plenty of protein while backpacking. To make a complete protein, combine a dairy and grain (like crackers and cheese), a grain and legume (like a tortilla and nut butter), or a legume and seed (like peanuts and sunflower seeds in trail mix).


Caloric Needs

When you backpack, you’ll be walking long distances with a heavy weight on your back. Your body will need more energy to compensate for the extra effort. During three-season backpacking (which is spring, summer, and fall), you’ll need to eat an average of 2,500 to 3,000 calories. If the weather is cold, you’ll need to consume 3,500 to 4,000 calories. Finally, if you decide to try alpine backpacking, you’ll want to have 4,500 to 6,000 calories.


Food Storage and Packing

Before heading out on the trail, take the time to properly store and pack your food. A little extra effort in your kitchen will result in less frustration after a long day of hiking. Always repack the food you buy from the store. Put foods found in glass, cans, foils, or boxes into zip-top plastic bags. Double bagging is a great idea. You can put liquids, like oil, in small plastic bottles. It’s also a good idea to put all your food in a smaller bag within your backpack. Organizing not only keeps you from losing something but also keeps food smells isolated to prevent attracting animals.



If you’re struggling to think of meal ideas, here are few good options for you. Feel free to mix and match meals to create your ideal backpacking menu.


• Add hot water to instant oatmeal with brown sugar, cinnamon, and chocolate or dried fruit for a sweet start, or add salt, butter, and cheese for a more savory breakfast.

• Pour a little oil in the bottom of your pan, toast your favorite flavor of bagel on both sides for a few minutes. Add toppings or spread if desired.


• Top whole-grain crackers with your favorite hard cheese.

• Smear nut butter on a tortilla, and add jelly, trail mix, granola, chocolate, or dried fruit.


• Add tuna to a box of instant macaroni and cheese.

• Stuff a tortilla with cheese, vegetables, and dehydrated meat. Toast briefly on both sides for wilderness quesadillas.


• Trail mix, protein bars, dried meat, and dehydrated fruit and vegetables all make great snacks.

I hope you enjoyed learning about how to fuel yourself in the backcountry! Tomorrow, we’ll be talking all about water.


Recommended book

Lipsmackin’ Backpackin’: Lightweight Trail-tested Recipes for Backcountry Trips by Tim and Christine Conners


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