5-Day Ultralight Backpacking Meal Plan

backpacking meal plan

Here is a complete 5-day backpacking meal plan similar to what I eat on my hikes. It includes three meals and four snacks, providing 3,500 calories from 2 lbs of food per day.

3,500 calories a day is a good baseline calorie goal for most backpacking trips. I eat this amount on hikes up to 500 miles. After that my metabolism kicks into high gear and I have to eat more (as much as 5,000 calories a day) to keep my energy up and stave off weight loss. The easiest way to add an extra 1,000 calories to this plan is to double up on the snacks.

Packaged, processed foods are a staple of my backpacking diet because they are calorie-dense, non-perishable and available everywhere – but some of them are not very nutritious. To get a more balanced diet it’s a good idea to eat lots of whole foods (meat, fruit, veggies, whole grains, etc.) during your town stops and supplement with vitamins.

I hope this gives you some ideas for designing your own backpacking meal plan.

Day 1 (3,474 calories – 32.9 ounces)

Ultralight Backpacking Meal Plan - Day 1

Ultralight Backpacking Meal Plan – Day 1

Breakfast Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
2 packs Maple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal 3 320 107
1 mini-box Sun Maid Raisins 0.5 45 90
1 100-calorie pack Emerald Walnuts & Almonds 0.6 100 167
1 Little Debbie Honey Bun 1.8 230 128
1 cup Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee 0.1 0 0
Subtotal 6 695 116
Snack #1 Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 pack Emerald Breakfast To Go Trail Mix 1.5 200 133
Snack #2 Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 bag Peanut M&Ms 1.7 250 147
Lunch Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
2 Medium Flour Tortillas 3.4 300 88
2 String Cheese Sticks 2 160 80
2 oz Salami 2 220 110
1 Gatorade G2 Packet 0.5 50 100
Subtotal 7.9 730 92
Snack #3 Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 Snickers Bar 1.8 250 139
Snack #4 Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 Clif Bar 2.4 230 96
Dinner Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 box Kraft Macaroni & Cheese 7.25 780 108
1 pouch Starkist Tuna 2.6 80 31
1 tbsp Olive Oil 0.5 119 238
1 pack Land O’ Lakes Cocoa Mix 1.25 140 112
Subtotal 11.6 1,119 96
Day 1 Summary Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
TOTAL 32.9 3,474 106

Day 2 (3,424 calories – 31.9 ounces)

Ultralight Backpacking Meal Plan - Day 2

Ultralight Backpacking Meal Plan – Day 2

Breakfast Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 cup Bear Naked Granola 4.4 560 127
1/4 cup Peak Whole Powdered Milk 1 160 160
1 Little Debbie Honey Bun 1.8 230 128
1 cup Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee 0.1 0 0
Subtotal 7.3 950 130
Snack #1 Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 Odwalla Bar 2 210 105
Snack #2 Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
2 Nature Valley Granola Bars 1.5 190 127
Lunch Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
12 Triscuit Crackers 2 240 120
2 oz Salami 2 220 110
2 String Cheese Sticks 2 160 80
1 Gatorade G2 Packet 0.5 50 100
Subtotal 6.5 670 103
Snack #3 Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
2 oz Dried Fruit 2 155 78
Snack #4 Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
2 Grandma’s Cookies 2.5 340 136
Dinner Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 box Near East Couscous 5.7 570 100
1 pouch Starkist Tuna 2.6 80 31
1 tbsp Olive Oil 0.5 119 238
1 pack Land O’ Lakes Cocoa Mix 1.25 140 112
Subtotal 10.05 909 90
Day 2 Summary Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
TOTAL 31.85 3,424 108

Day 3 (3,663 calories – 32.9 ounces)

Ultralight Backpacking Meal Plan - Day 3

Ultralight Backpacking Meal Plan – Day 3

Breakfast Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 Mountain House Breakfast Skillet 4.7 680 145
2 Medium Flour Tortillas 3.4 300 88
1 cup Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee 0.1 0 0
Subtotal 8.2 980 120
Snack #1 Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 pack Emerald Breakfast To Go Trail Mix 1.5 200 133
Snack #2 Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
2 oz Beef Jerkey 2 160 80
Lunch Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
12 Triscuit Crackers 2 240 120
1 pouch Starkist Tuna 2.6 80 31
2 Mayonnaise Packets 0.8 165 206
2 Pickle Relish Packets 0.6 24 40
1 Gatorade G2 Packet 0.5 50 100
Subtotal 6.5 559 86
Snack #3 Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 mini-pack Fig Newtons 2 200 100
Snack #4 Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 Odwalla Bar 2 210 105
Dinner Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 bag Idahoan Mashed Potatoes 4 440 110
1 Slim Jim 1 150 150
1 tbsp Olive Oil 0.5 119 238
1 pack Land O’ Lakes Cocoa Mix 1.25 140 112
1 Hostess Fruit Pie 4.5 480 107
Subtotal 11.25 1,329 118
Day 3 Summary Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
TOTAL 32.95 3,663 111

Day 4 (3,254 calories – 31.6 ounces)

Ultralight Backpacking Meal Plan - Day 4

Ultralight Backpacking Meal Plan – Day 4

Breakfast Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 Cinnamon & Raisin Bagel 3.3 250 76
1 Jif To Go Peanut Butter Cup 1.5 250 167
1 Little Debbie Honey Bun 1.8 230 128
1 cup Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee 0.1 0 0
Subtotal 6.7 730 109
Snack #1 Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 bag Peanut M&Ms 1.7 250 147
Snack #2 Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 Odwalla Bar 2 210 105
Lunch Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
12 Triscuit Crackers 2 240 120
1 Jif To Go Peanut Butter Cup 1.5 250 167
1 Gatorade G2 Packet 0.5 50 100
Subtotal 4 540 135
Snack #3 Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
2 Grandma’s Cookies 2.5 340 136
Snack #4 Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 pack Emerald Breakfast To Go Trail Mix 1.5 200 133
Dinner Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 bag Knorr Pasta Alfredo 4.4 480 109
1 pouch Valley Fresh Chicken 7 245 35
1 tbsp Olive Oil 0.5 119 238
1 pack Land O’ Lakes Cocoa Mix 1.25 140 112
Subtotal 13.15 984 75
Day 4 Summary Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
TOTAL 31.55 3,254 103

Day 5 (3,785 calories – 31.7 ounces)

Ultralight Backpacking Meal Plan - Day 5

Ultralight Backpacking Meal Plan – Day 5

Breakfast Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 cup Bear Naked Granola 4.4 560 127
1/4 cup Peak Whole Powdered Milk 1 160 160
1 mini-pack Fig Newtons 2 200 100
1 cup Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee 0.1 0 0
Subtotal 7.5 920 123
Snack #1 Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 Clif Bar 2.4 230 96
Snack #2 Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
2 Grandma’s Cookies 2.5 340 136
Lunch Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
2 Medium Flour Tortillas 3.4 300 88
1 Jif To Go Peanut Butter Cup 1.5 250 167
1 Gatorade G2 Packet 0.5 50 100
Subtotal 5.4< 600 111
Snack #3 Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 pack Honey Roasted Cashews 1.5 225 150
Snack #4 Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 Snickers Bar 1.8 250 139
Dinner Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
1 Mountain House Lasagna w/ Meat Sauce 4.8 600 125
1 Hostess Fruit Pie 4.5 480 107
1 pack Land O’ Lakes Cocoa Mix 1.25 140 112
Subtotal 10.55 1,220 116
Day 5 Summary Ounces Calories Cals/oz.
TOTAL 31.65 3,785 120

Have any questions or comments about ultralight backpacking food? Please post below…

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51 Responses to “5-Day Ultralight Backpacking Meal Plan”

  1. Hi Eric, I’ve enjoyed receiving all of your information over the last couple of years. The food list are very useful. I’ve saved all of the info and updates that you’ve sent me and plan on using them as soon as I can. A couple of years ago I came down with osteoarthritis of my hip and need a hip replacement. My hiking days came to an abrupt end very quickly. I’m 62 years young and would love to get back to my old life. Do you know of any one that has had a successful hip replacement and is back on the trail hiking? I’d like to connect with them to find out how to do this in a way that is safe.

    • @Ron: When I has hiking the Pacific Crest Trail I met a man a few miles outside of Cascade Locks who had recently had both hips replaced. He was on his last day of hiking the entire Oregon section of the trail. He hiked at a slow pace (about 1.5 miles an hour) and relied on his two hiking poles a lot to take some weight off his legs, but he was still in good spirits at the end of a 400+ mile hike. When we reached the trailhead he even gave us a ride into Portland. Unfortunately I did not get his contact info so I don’t know how to get a hold of him. But I do know it is possible. Good luck!

    • Ron-
      My Father in law had both of his hips replaced and is a new man. He is about the same age as you and can now ride horseback and gets around much easier with very little pain. You will be back on the trail happy again in no time. Good luck!
      J

    • Ron, I backpack with a group of guys that are retired, range in age from late 50s to 74. One of our more dedicated guys, 73, has an artificial hip. He holds his own with all comers on the trail. I will try to get him to check in with you. If not, just be encouraged that there is nothing to stop you !

    • Hello Ron…I wanted to respond to your message as I have had a hip replacement 6 years ago. I waited and waited to have it done as I didn’t want to go under the knife. I was limping badly and hiking was completely out of the question. After the surgery and rehap, I couldn’t believe how good I felt! I wished I had done it sooner. 6 months after the surgery I hiked up to the top of Freel Peak (Tahoe area) at age 55. If your in reasonably good shape, you should bounce back quickly. All the doctors that I’ve talked to encouraged me to keep on hiking…Trust me, if you find a good orthopedic surgeon, you will not regret it. If you need a recommendation, I can do that as well…Just email me…Good luck

      • Thanks to all that have responded as it has given me encouragement to go through with my hip replacement knowing that I should be able to hike again.

        • Ron verify your options before proceeding ie typical small diameter low friction vs large ball designs. Also the folks at http://www.surfacehippy.info have tons of info and encouraging stories. May not apply if you arent a good candidate for a resurfacing but worth a look before deciding on a thr. If you do have to go full thr, there are many many athletes back to running marathons, trail running, rock climbing etc on full replacements. Not a guarantee but the potential is certainly there. Prehab hard, rehab harder and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it earlier. Also check out the ebook by Alistair McAlpine here http://hiprunner.com/?author=12
          Ex ultra runner who had to have a thr and is back to trail running. Hope this helps. Good luck.

    • Ron I had a hip replacement 8 weeks ago. Last week I rode 21 miles on my bike (a 10 and an 11 mile ride) I have walked many 4 mile walks an a 5 mile walk. I readying myself to get back to backpacking but I see no hindrances or have no reservations.

  2. Nice mix. I now have more ideas on how to
    even pack the food I will take. Just starting out in hiking and trying to keep the weight down. Thanks for all your lists, has given me many ideas.
    Doug

  3. Hi Eric, love your blog. My question is do the pictures show the food “as packed” or do you repackage beyond what is shown? I have wondered about the value of repackaging and the possibility of ziplock failure versus original sealed packaging.

    • @Tom: This stuff is the way I would pack it. If something comes in a big bulky package (like macaroni and cheese in a cardboard box) I like to repackage it into ziploc baggies, but if something already comes in a lightweight flexible package I’ll leave it.

  4. This is a little heavier than what I carry because it’s less dense. But it offers a much wider variety and wayyyyy better nutrition than I’m used to. Thanks for posting. This is full of good ideas.

  5. Excellent list..

  6. Any pictures of all this packed up? How big is your food bag for this 5 day food list?

  7. Hi Erik. Do you repackage any of the food that you buy in the stores in Ziploc bags? Especially those freeze dried dinners. A lot of times I have to use a bear canister and always have to deal with trying to fit everything inside.

    P.S. I used your JMT Atlas in 2011. It served me well, especially over some of the passes because of all the snow the previous winter it was hard to stay on track. Keep up the great work!

    • @Matt: I do re-pack most of my dinners in ziplocs to save space. Something else you can try with the freeze dried dinners is to open them up first and squeeze out all the air inside (which accounts for a lot of their bulk).

    • You can also use a needle to poke a hole in the prepackaged meal to remove the air, then cover the hole with a piece of tape to keep the moisture out.

  8. Erik,
    Thanks for all the info. I literally just came back from food shopping for my JMT trip and got your post notification! Where do you buy your Valley Fresh chicken packs? I’ve been keeping an eye out for those but haven’t seen any at my local stores.

  9. Hi Eric,
    I really like your meal plan for both convenience and taste. It is almost exactly what I would enjoy except that I would eat the fruit pies at the earliest chance! I love ‘em. I have to figure how to save them for a reward towards the end of the day. I appreciate all of your experience and hope to meet you on the trail some day. Thanks, Joe

  10. are the mountain house dinners the usual 2 man dinners?

    • @William: I believe the Mountain House Dinners do include “2 servings” per bag, but I treat it like one serving.

      • Have you tried the Mt. House ProPak ? They are portions much larger than a “single” portion (but not quite as much as a 2-serving package), and better, they are vacuum packed so that there is not nearly the bulk of unaltered factory packaging ! Can’t find these everywhere but my local outdoor activity store has included some of these in their order when they know what I want. Try it !

  11. Erik,
    Great food ideas. I recently completed the Colorado Trail. I did the oatmeal thing everyday. I also have used Seasoned Rye Krisps for crackers for many years of trips. They are good fiber, and very resistant to breakage. I package 6 of the individual crackers in a zip lock for lunches. For dinners I did the Couscous and chicken pouches most of time. I can get chicken in a pouch at my local Super Target, which has groceries. I dessert idea for consideration. I put 1/2 box of instant pudding in a zip lock bag, then add powdered milk that will reconstitute to 1 cup milk. Mix the two powders together in the same bag, and then add 1 cup water, mix in the bag, let stand for about 5 minutes and pudding magic! The bag is the bowl. You can find powdered whole milk at many Hispanic groceries (unlike the fat free at our gringo stores!). Last comment; I had your map atlas for the CT; outstanding resource. Everyone who saw it and didn’t have it, wanted my copy!

    • @Bill K: Thanks for the pudding idea. That sounds delicious. I used to have much more luck finding Nestle NIDO at stores but it really seems to have dried up in the last few years, so now I just buy the Peak whole milk online from Amazon. I can’t stand non-fat powdered milk. We don’t have any Hispanic grocery stores in the small town where I live, but that’s a good tip for people in bigger cities.

  12. Erik,

    I use the Granite Gear sack to carry my food but have a super hard time fitting all that food into my bear canister. I find myself taking chances by hanging what won’t fit in the canister. What bear canister do you use? I’m doing the TRT in a few weeks…

    • @Patrick: I have the same problem with bear canisters. I never carry one except when it is mandatory. I have a Bearvault 500. It’s too small for a normal resupply, but if I pick foods specifically because they are low-volume and flexible, re-pack it in ziplocs and squeeze it in there (so that very little air space is left between items) it can fit barely.

  13. Another post full of great ideas!! Since I have a tendency to lose my appetite at the beginning of any hike, it also lightens up my load. It’s taken about a year, but I have finally put together a decent diet for the trail that won’t annoy my colitis issues. packs well, and gives me variety throughout the week.
    NIDO can still be found in Walmart in the Hispanic food section in most of the stores I have been in. We keep a large can of it on hand for emergency use, period. My food system usually consists of my rodent proof bag made by Ursack and an OP bag inside to contain odors. I don’t carry a bear can either unless it’s mandatory. Since I am smaller and female, it works for me.

  14. Erik,

    Thanks for the plan/ideas. I’m pretty sure this tasty 5 day play would easily fit into a BV500. Please keep up the great work.

  15. I found you through Pinterest.Thank you so much for your light backpacking meals. I love how you’ve laid everything out. I am going on my first trip in three weeks and this will help a lottt! Thanks again!

  16. If you like coffee but not instant, you can also take beans with you and crush them up with a rock or pummel with the butt of your knife inside a piece of cheesecloth tied with a thin string and dip it in.

    Also, I recently found Pack It Gourmet meals and they taste great and easy to prep.

    I like your plan. But it appears to have a bit too many sugars and carbs for my diet. I am trying to sway towards more fats and less sugars.

  17. Have to say I’m not a fan of this list. It’s very high in carbs, saturated fat, and sugar and not very light. I guess it would be okay on a 5 day trip, but on a thru-hike, it seems like you’d be more sluggish than necessary and have more issues with muscle and joint inflammation.

    • @WA: Carbs, fat and sugar are the best foods for long distance backpacking. Most thru-hikers eat a diet similar to mine. A small minority attempt to maintain a health-food diet on the trail, and some actually do it. But most fail because they can’t get enough calories to keep pace with the massive energy needs of a long hike (backpacking burns more than 600 calories per hour) and the food becomes so monotonous and bland that it kills their morale and the will to continue. I have seen many a hiker transform from Health-food Evangelist to Junk-food Junkie mid-hike (myself included), once the reality of rapid weight loss and energy deficits begin to sink in.

      Your assessment that my diet would be good for a five day trip, but not good for a long hike is backwards. On a five day trip it doesn’t matter what you eat. Your body will burn stored body fat to make up for any deficits. Once the fat is all gone, and you are burning 6,000+ calories a day for months on end, then you need to crank up the calories to avoid starvation. And there is no better way to do that than by eating carbs, fats and sugar. We are biologically programmed to enjoy rich, fatty, starchy, sugary foods because our body knows that they provide the most energy. In the context of a sedentary lifestyle this leads to obesity and disease. In a highly active lifestyle it provides much needed energy that few other foods can match.

      Unfortunately many of the packaged foods I eat on the trail also contain chemical additives and non-foods, like: artificial flavors, colorings, sweeteners, trans fats, msg, preservatives, etc. This is a compromise I’m willing to make because it is what’s available in grocery stores and markets near the trails. I prefer not to buy bulk food in advance and prepare, dehydrate it and ship it to myself because it is too inconvenient. You can make your meals healthier by using whole ingredients instead, and eliminating the artificial additives. But the diet should still be based around carbs, fats and sugar. These are the three pillars of a long distance hiking diet.

  18. Thanks for all these ideas. It is much more than I would eat on a trek, but it is a good idea for more variation in the food-plan. But you are right: The breakfast (made out of muesli) changed after some days to cereal bars.

  19. I always love your ideas! I’m just curious as to what condition those fruit pies are in by the time you eat them? I love those, but never packed them because I assumed they’d get squished into goo after being packed…

  20. I was just wondering how much this food would cost?

  21. Cheesticks? I’m sure you have answered this somewhere on your blog but I just found you through pinterest.
    What brand of cheesesticks do you buy? How long do they last? I will be hiking/backpacking for around 5 days on the AT in March. I have never done it before (my hubby is making me do it Ha!). Just getting some ideas. We’ve been preparing since September.

    • @Yolanda: I buy the individually wrapped cheese sticks from the grocery store (no particular brand – whatever is available.) Most stores have mozzarella, cheddar, monterey jack and colby varieties. The mozzarella (string cheese) packs best due to it’s low moisture content. The other cheeses tend to get a bit oily in warm weather, but they are still fine to eat. They will last 3-5 days.

  22. Any suggestions on the best way to prepare the boxed Kraft Mac and Cheese that calls for butter and milk? or is there a mix that only requires water?

    • @Bradley: I like to use powdered milk and olive oil, but it’s not necessary. You can make macaroni cheese using only water and the cheese powder.

      Here is how I make it:

      1) Boil 2 cups water (less than what is recommended on the box directions)
      2) Add the entire box of noodles
      3) Let boil for 2-3 minutes
      4) Remove from heat and drain excess water (so there is just a few tablespoons remaining – enough to reconstitute cheese)
      5) Add cheese packet and optional ingredients (1 tbsp powdered milk, 1 tbsp olive oil, salt & pepper, hot sauce, tuna, etc.) and stir
      6) Transfer to pot cozy and let sit 10 mins

      • Thanks Erik, I figured it was something along those lines, I’ll give it a trial run here at home before I hit the trails.

        Love your site, lots of great info here! Keep up the good work!!

  23. Hi Eric,
    1.Do you have a detail shopping list for this 5 day meal plan? I am planning no mail drop on AT thru hike.
    2. I am from Asia,58, 140lb,5’5″,do you think 3500-4000 calory per day will be enough for me to do thru hike? I try to control My bag weight to 25lb including base,food and water. Can you suggest some oriental food also light weight and have high calories?

    • @MJ: A real-world shop-as-you-go shopping list would be slightly different than shown here. For this article I tried to show a wide variety of different foods you can eat on a long hike in order to get the calories you need. But if you are not planning any mail drops your menu may be a bit more repetitive. Some of the items you will buy will come in packages of several servings (for example oatmeal comes in boxes of 10-12 packets). So if you buy a box of oatmeal, you are probably going to eat oatmeal every morning for breakfast for the next five days. But then you can do something different for the next stretch. As far as Asian foods go, Instant Ramen Noodles are a popular lightweight staple for thru-hikers. It’s cheap, high calorie and can even be eaten uncooked if you run out of fuel.

  24. This is fantastic! Thank you so much for providing not only a list, but a very intricate one at that. I’m very excited to develop my own from your guidelines! Thanks again!!

  25. Thanks for the great info! I’m trying to put together meals for my Boy Scouts for backpacking. Do you have a cost/oz or cost/calorie per day? I’m looking at what is least expensive for backpacking comparing what you have done vs. MRE’s, Mountainhouse (too expensive to use exclusively), and dehydrated meals in food storage canisters. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    • @Steve: I don’t track my food costs that closely, but when I go to the grocery store to buy food for a five-day resupply it usually comes out to around $50 – $60. I think on a calorie vs. cost basis the most expensive items would be the snacks. You can put together a 1,000 calorie dinner for a couple bucks pretty easily, but snacks like energy bars, granola bars, beef jerky and pre-packaged trail mixes may cost several dollars for just a couple hundred calories. If you buy in bulk and make things like trail mix yourself you can bring the cost down substantially over buying the pre-packaged, single-serving stuff. I make a simple trail mix from mixed nuts, M&Ms and Goldfish Crackers that costs just a buck a serving and each serving is 400 calories.

  26. G2 packets vs. Emergen-C

    All great ideas! At the very beginning, you mention supplementing these meals with vitamins. To expand on that, I might swap out the Gatorade (G2) packets with Emergen-C. Compared to G2, Emergen-c has approx. equal amounts of carbs and calories + way more potassium and vitamins. Emergen-C has less sodium than G2, but given all the processed/packaged foods built into these meals (i.e., lots of salt!), this shouldn’t be a problem.

    All that said, maybe I’m missing something else valuable about G2 packets…?

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