Because everybody loves a good list. And this list tastes really good.
There are a couple of ways to go about trail food. On one side of the spectrum, you've got your ultra-light options where you completely forgo a stove and stick to cold rehydrated meals. On the flip side, you've got folks who would rather carry 80lb backpacks filled with fresh foods than eat a single bite of cold-soaked powdered potatoes. It's really up to you and what aspects of your hike are important. Personally, I'm somewhere in the middle.
I bring a Jet Boil for rehydrating meals and serving up a warm cup o' joe.
Some quick considerations
Think calories! I also like to think about fueling my body with long-lasting energy sources (fats and proteins) at mealtime and using snacks as quick energy boosts with simple carbohydrates and electrolytes (salty foods or replacement drinks).
Cooking options. If you aren't planning on going ultra-lightweight, I recommend a way to boil water. A Jet Boil is a great option and relatively lightweight. I always felt like a skillet or separate cooking pan was a little overboard, but if you're hiking with friends and can divide up gear it's nice to have the option to cook a "real" meal.
WATER— Think about this beforehand. Take into account the availability of water sources along your route. If there are frequent water sources, you may not need to carry as much water with you at all times. There isn't a one-size-fits-all recommendation for water consumption, but a good rule of thumb is to drink between 16-32oz per hour during moderate activity. My rule is that I should never have to ration water; I should drink when I'm thirsty. Be sure to bring a reliable filter with you! I'm a big fan of the Sawyer Squeeze Filter. I filter all water, even if a stream/spring has been deemed potable— you never know what died/pooped upstream!
Snacks and other “must-haves”:
Coffee— Because why would you do anything in life without java? Instant coffee is a great way option, but I'm a snob and use my Jet Boil's French Press attachment with freshly ground beans.
Peanut butter— Same as above, plus this gooey goodness is calorie-packed and highly versatile. You can buy individual PB pouches that are pretty lightweight!
Summer sausage— Salty, non-perishable (for a while), and high in protein. Eat it cold or toss it into your dinner.
Electrolytes— You'll be workin' hard and sweatin' hard, so it's important to replenish your electrolyte stores! I personally love the Liquid I.V. brand.
Nuts— You know the deal, protein and good fats.
Dried fruit— Yum!
Fruit squeeze— Also yum.
Beef jerky— Lightweight, salty and very filling.
Energy bars— Cliff bars are my all-time favorite for quick calories. RX Bars are great for a protein boost.
Oatmeal— Buy instant pouches or create your own by buying instant oats and adding your favorite toppings like condensed milk, cinnamon, nuts, and dried fruit! You can eat this warm or cold. My favorite option is the Kodiak Cake Protein Oats.
Protein Pancakes—You can buy these prepackaged, but I encourage you to make your own! You just need a pancake mix of your choice (find a brand that calls to add just water, not eggs or oil), and a protein mix of your choice. Mix 3 parts pancake mix with 1 part protein powder and voila! (You’ll need a lightweight skillet to cook these.)
Dehydrated meal— Numerous brands offer breakfast-style meals like scrambled eggs or breakfast hash. My husband and I like to split one of these each morning, alongside some oatmeal.
Meat and cheese- This isn’t exactly a lightweight meal, but it is oh-so-worth it! Choose a few imperishable meats, like tuna pouches and summer sausage, and a small block of hard cheese. If you are feeling REALLY decadent, you can even bring a small package of hard crackers 🙂
Meal bar- For a quick refuel, munch on a high-calorie, nutrient-rich meal replacement bar. I really like the ProBar Meal Bar.
Tortilla PB honey wrap- Did you know that honey has TONS of health benefits? In our case, this sweet gold provides antioxidants, helps to maintain glycogen levels, and also improves recovery time must faster than other sweeteners!
Dehydrated meals— To keep your bag ultra-light, this is the only way to go. All you need to do is boil water, pour it into the bag, and wait 10 minutes! I’ve tested out quite a few brands and hands down the winner is Mountain House. The bags say they have 2 servings in them, no they don’t. Expect to eat an entire bag by yourself! My favorite flavors are Chicken and Dumpling, Shepard’s Pie, Beef Stroganoff, and Chili Mac.
Ramen Noodles— You can do a lot with these bad boys. Add PB and soy sauce to give this dish a tasty flare.
Potatoes (powdered)— Super lightweight, versatile and filling. I like to add chicken (from a pouch), dried cranberries, dehydrated green beans, dried onion crisps and a side of powdered gravy for a DIY Thanksgiving-esque meal.
Trail food from angelic humans—This is rare, but holy moly when it happens it is GLORIOUS! Every so often, trails have beautiful people who give or sell you food from the real world. The West Coast Trail in B.C. has both a burger hut and a crab hut. You better pay that $30 for fresh crab…
(You’d be making a HUGE mistake by forgoing the sweet stuff.)
Candy— Snickers bars are a must. I also really like peanut M&M’s and Swedish Fish.
Cookies— Pop-tarts work great. So do fig newtons and Oreos!
This isn’t a complete list of everything you’ll need while on the trail, but it’s a good place to start! Important things to look for when choosing your foods are how calorie dense they are and what maco nutrients they will provide. Don’t skimp on the protein, carbs and fats! Do I sound like a cross-fitter?…
What are your favorite trail foods?