One thing people often overlook when trying to reduce their pack weight is their food. The experts estimate you will need 1.5-2 lbs of food per day, depending on your size and individual needs. Its much less abstract to instead estimate how many calories you will need per day while on the trail. For the average hiker that will be around 2500 calories per day for shorter trips (under a week or so) and closer to 3000 calories per day for longer trips (over a week or so). Of course it also depends on your mileage per day. A hiker doing 20 mile days will no doubt need to up the calories compared to a hiker that’s taking it easy and only doing 7 mile days. Let’s discuss some lightweight backpacking food ideas you can add to your repertoire.
To help keep pack weight down, look for dehydrated or freeze dried foods since the water content has been removed and they will be a lot lighter. Its also important to choose options that offer a lot of calories per ounce. Health food stores have a lot of good options and many also have a bulk section with dried foods. If you find a food you like but its packaged in a box you will need to repackage it. The easiest and most popular way to do this is in a freezer bag because you can then add the boiling water directly to the bag, let it sit for a few minutes, and then chow down. Adding some olive oil, coconut oil, or dried butter to your meals can be helpful to sneak in some extra calories.
- Instant Couscous – Add some freeze dried veggies like peas, peppers, mushrooms, and spices. You can also add some soy curls and olive oil.
- Soy Curls – These are good added to couscous, rice, or quinoa. They rehydrate in about 10 minutes. Butler is an organic Non-GMO brand
- Dried Tofu – I’ve heard dehydrated tofu does taste great and since I like the soy curls I stick with those. You could try adding it to soup or couscous.
- Black bean or refried bean flakes – Try adding some spices and putting it on a tortilla with rice.
- Soups and Chilis – Taste Adventure has lots of organic soups. I like to eat soup for dinner while backpacking but I usually get some sort of thicker soup like chili, black bean, or lentil because they are a lot more filling.
- Instant potato flakes – These are pretty good with powdered butter and some spices. You could add some cheese for some protein and extra calories.
- Sprouted brown rice – Not as fast as instant but cooks in half the time of regular rice and is better for you. BioBud is a good organic brand.
- Jerky or Soy Jerky – If you don’t eat meat, soy jerky is a decent option for some extra protein. The taste can take some getting used to so make sure you try out a few different brands and find your favorite before packing any on your trip.
- Almond or peanut butter mixture (coconut oil, chia seeds, coconut flakes, cocao nibs)- You can eat this mixture on a tortilla, with crackers, or bread. I like to add banana chips and honey to mine and roll it all up on a tortilla.
- Macadamia nut butter and honey on pita or tortilla
- GORP – You can really add anything you’d like to your gorp. I like to add almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, cacao nibs, unsweetened coconut flakes, macadamia nuts.
- Whole food shakes – Left Coast Raw makes raw, whole food shake mixes out of freeze dried ingredients
- Greenbelly Meals – a full nutrition, organic, and delicious bar packed with calories
- Dried hummus with sun dried tomatoes and olive oil in pita or quinoa crackers – Le Pain des Fleurs Organic Quinoa Crispbread is a good option
- Instant Oatmeal – Avoid flavored packets which have lots of added sugars and artificial flavors. Instead, make your own mixture adding in things like walnuts, chia seeds, unsweetened coconut flakes, cinnamon, salt, powdered butter, dried fruit
- Organic Powdered eggs
- Bars – Try Rx Bars which are simple, whole food ingredients or Simple Squares bars which are organic, gluten free, Paleo friendly nut and spice bars
- Greenbelly Meals
- Chia seed smoothie – add chia seeds to powdered coconut milk and let sit overnight for a power packed drink in the morning
Having trouble deciding on a healthy but delicious bar for your trip?
- Dried fruit – I purchase organic at Health Ranger Select. Pineapple, mango, apricots, and dates are great for backpacking
- GORP – You can get creative with this to keep it interesting. Some ingredients you may not have thought of are coconut flakes, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds, and cacao nibs.
- Bars – You want to go with a bar that is minimally processed, tastes good, and has a lot of calories.
- Hard cheese – I don’t usually eat cheese but occasionally will on the trail. World Market has some individually wrapped, vacuum sealed “cheeses” in their gourmet miniatures section.
- Hard boiled eggs – These will keep for several hours so eat them on the first day out.
The Health Ranger Store has a huge selection of foods that are great for taking backpacking. I purchase all my freeze dried fruit from them. They also have products that can be difficult to find such as bee pollen and everything is top of the line quality. They carry protein powders and algae powders which I always take backpacking because its hard to get enough greens on the trail.
Toss these foods in where ever you can because they will add extra boosts of calories, protein, healthy fats, and nutrients.
- hemp hearts
- olive oil
- coconut oil
- chia seeds
- cacao nibs
- powdered butter
- unsweetened coconut flakes
- powdered coconut milk
- protein powder
- Spirulina powder
- Bee Pollen
- Peanut butter
Keeping things simple but nutritious while packing for the trail will reduce a lot of stress, prep time, and money so if its just a week long trip why not eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch each day and then switch up the dinner each night? As long as you vary your snacks throughout each day there should be enough variety to keep you from having trail food boredom where nothing sounds good.
For more tips on foods to take backpacking, check out my post on calorie dense foods.
I would love to hear about some of your lightweight backpacking food ideas. Happy planning!