10 Ultralight Backpacking Foods

The best ultralight backpacking foods are lightweight, nonperishable, high in calories and easy to prepare. Here are 10 backpacking foods you can find in stores everywhere that provide, on average, more than 100 calories per ounce of weight, making them ideal for ultralight backpacking.

1. G.O.R.P.

130 calories per ounce

GORP (also called trail mix) stands for “Good Ole Raisons And Peanuts”. But the ingredients don’t always have to be that boring.

Nuts, seeds, dried fruit, chocolate, candies, crackers and cereals can be combined to make this staple backpacking snack that packs a whallop of carbohydrates and calories.

One cup of GORP (depending on ingredients) can provide as many as 700 calories.

My personal favorite GORP recipe consists of: Peanuts, almonds, raisons, M&Ms & cheddar Goldfish crackers.

2. Mac & Cheese

105 calories per ounce (with olive oil & summer sausage)

Macaroni & Cheese is a staple food for poor college students and hikers alike. At just 99 cents (or less) per box you can’t beat it for a cheap, filling trail dinner.

The cooking instructions call for a lot of water, butter, milk and simmering. But that’s not necessary. All you need to cook trail mac is 2 cups of boiling water and a pot cozy.

By itself it’s kind of bland, but when you add olive oil, parmesan cheese, summer sausage, SPAM or tuna, plus hot sauce and seasoning, mac and cheese becomes a trail delicacy.

One box of macaroni and cheese, prepared with 1 ounce of olive oil and 2 ounces of summer sausage provides a whopping 1,100 calories, and weighs just 10.5 ounces.

3. Breakfast Pastries

120 calories per ounce

Breakfast Pastries are popular among ultralight backpackers because they can be eaten in your sleeping bag in the morning with no cooking or preparation. And they provide a sugar-filled blast of calories to help rocket you up the trail first thing in the morning.

Some popular choices include: Pop Tarts, Fruit Pies, Honey Buns and other snack cakes. My personal favorites are the large cinnamon rolls and danishes sold in gas stations and convenience stores. They are big enough for a hungry hiker and can pack upward of 600 calories, in just 5 ounces.

4. Peanut Butter

170 calories per ounce

Peanut Butter is a classic backpacking food staple and still one of the best. It has a high calorie to weight ratio and provides a good mix of carbs, protein and especially fat (which is hard to find in many trail foods).

1 tablespoon of peanut butter packs a whopping 190 calories. Peanut butter can be eaten by itself, on bagels, tortillas or crackers, or mixed in with foods like oatmeal and ramen noodles to give them extra flavor and nutrition.

If you plan to pack peanut butter in it’s own container, obviously you will want a brand that comes in a lightweight plastic jar and not glass.

5. Snickers Bar

140 calories per ounce

There are plenty of overpriced, overdesigned “energy bars” on the market. Most of them taste like cardboard and sawdust and do not provide much better nutrition than the good old fashioned Snickers Bar (a hiker favorite).

These bars of nuts, nougat and chocolate are so ubiquitous on long trails like the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail that you would think they were handing them out at the trailheads.

A single King Size Snickers weighs less than 4 ounces and packs 510 calories. In my experience they provide just as much energy as the pricey “healthfood bars”… if not more.

6. Olive Oil

230 calories per ounce

Olive Oil is not a food by itself, but it is a popular food additive among hikers because of it’s high calories and rich taste.

On the long trails backpackers can be seen adding olive oil to everything but their drinking water, in an effort to get more precious calories and stem the weight loss which occurs from burning 6,000+ calories per day.

An ounce of olive oil contains 230 calories and works great as a butter substitute in hiking foods like: Mac & Cheese, Mashed Potatoes, Oatmeal, Rice and Pasta.

7. Liptons (Knorr) Pasta/Rice Sides

110 calories per ounce (with olive oil and tuna)

Liptons Sides are another inexpensive, easy-to-prepare meal that most long distance hikers wouldn’t do without. Originally intended as a side dish, Liptons rice and pasta sides make an excellent main course for a hungry hiker.

Ignore the instructions, which call for too much water, simmering and additional ingredients. All you really need to prepare Lipton’s sides is 1.5 cups of water, a stove and a pot cozy.

Liptons Sides come in a variety of flavors so they already taste great, but can be made more hearty by adding olive oil, tuna, sausage, etc.

8. Foil Pack Tuna (and other meats)

30 calories per ounce

Unlike the other foods in this list, Tuna does not have a high caloric density. 3 ounces of tuna has only 90 calories. But it provides something else that is sometimes in short supply on the trail: Protein.

Protein is not as important as carbohydrates for energy, but it is important for cell rejuvenation and muscle maintenance (and it tastes good).

Other types of meat which are good for backpacking are: foil pack salmon, chicken breast, and SPAM, as well as cured meats like: salami, pepperoni and summer sausage.

9. Wraps (Tortillas)

100 calories per ounce (w/ tuna, mayo, mustard, relish, olive oil)

Regular bread is not very good for backpacking because it is so easily squished. Bagels are a better option, but they take up a lot of volume in your pack. One bread product  that is perfect for ultralight backpacking is the tortilla.

Tortillas are flat, lightweight and easy to pack. By themselves they don’t provide too many calories, but you can fill them with whatever you like (peanut butter, jelly, honey, tuna, cheese, sausage and more) to create a delicious wrap.

The sky is the limit to what you can put in a wrap. The weirdest wrap I’ve seen so far is mashed potatoes, potato chips and M&Ms :|

10. Instant Mashed Potatoes

115 calories per ounce (with olive oil & SPAM)

Instant Mashed Potatoes are great because they are very easy to make. You don’t even have to cook them if you don’t want (just add water to rehydrate).

Some brands offer different flavors which include cheese, spices, sour cream and more. My favorite is Idahoan Loaded Baked Potatoes (shown at left).

A single package of Loaded Baked mashed potatoes prepared with 1 ounce olive oil and 3 ounces of SPAM provides 930 calories, and weighs just 8 ounces.

* Instant Drink Mix Powders

On a backpacking trip you have to drink a lot of water. But after a while the taste of water gets old. Flavored drink mixes solve that problem.

Sports drinks such as Gatorade and Tang provide much-needed electrolytes, salt and sugar. Sugar free drink mixes like Crystal Light provide no nutritional value, but they are a very lightweight way to flavor water (which comes in handy when drinking from natural water sources that are murky and gross tasting).

In the morning and evenings hot drinks such as hot chocolate, hot apple cider and coffee provide warmth and comfort to the weary hiker.

This list is far from comprehensive. These are just a few of the ultralight backpacking “staples” that always find their way into my food bag.

What high calorie ultralight backpacking foods do you recommend? Please post your comments below…

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153 Responses to “10 Ultralight Backpacking Foods”

  1. If you can find taco shells, rather than tortilas, you get the same basic foood groups, but 40% higher calories per oz. because the process or turning a tortilla into a taco shell involved cooking out the water and replacing it (at least partly) with oil. Taco shells are better than chips because they nest together. To make them more compact, break each one in half and re-nest them so that they lay in two flat collections (one for the right side of each taco shell and one for the right side of each shell). Over 140 Cal.oz. See http://www.livestrong.com/thedailyplate/nutrition-calories/food/bearitos/blue-corn-taco-shells/
    and http://www.livestrong.com/thedailyplate/nutrition-calories/food/bearitos/blue-corn-taco-shells/
    I like the blue corn ones but yellow cord in similar and easier to find. I like them with moyonaise packets swiped from fast food chains, with hummus, with cheese, etc/

  2. One of my current favorites (nmeaning I haven’t gotten tired of it yet) is Santa Fe instant refried beans. Not usually available on the trail but worth loading up on an putting in resupplies. Works great for lunches also. Rehydrates in minutes and good cold or hot. Available at Amazon.

  3. Eric, thanks for the info. I really enjoy getting your newsletter and your posts. Always awesome tips! Keep it up man:)

  4. Great list of staples. On the wrap section, I’d like to add that when I did wraps for the Summertime on the AT, I was pleasantly surprised to find that you could get free salad dressing packets at almost any grocery store deli, or perhaps buy very cheap, single-serving ones. Wraps can be fancy – sweet/spicy tuna, garlic croutons, shredded parmesan, and balsamic salad dressing – or they can be loaded with delicious calories – easy cheese and summer sausage, or pre-sliced pepperoni (b/c it came in resealable pouches) being one of my favorite concoctions.

    Other foods that I take a liking to – cous cous, quinoa, and just about any kind of CLIF bar. Snickers are cheaper, but I do find that the energy I get from a CLIF bar lasts longer, and I actually prefer the heartiness of it. It also doesn’t melt.

  5. Ahhh you have listed some of my very favorites, especially Snickers and Idahoan Loaded Baked. For thru-hikes I now also carry flatbread (goes great with Don’s suggestion of Santa Fe instant refired beans and pretty much anything else) and string cheese. Gotta love the calories.

  6. Eric, a valuable post, succinctly summarized.

  7. One of my favorite treats that is high calorie and nutritious is an old fashioned oatmeal/peanut butter/chocolate chip no bake cookie! Absolutely heavenly on the trail! Since I have Colitis and Celiac disease, everything I consume must be gluten free.

    However-many of ur suggestions are definitely workable, even for my diet! Thanks Erik! Another great blog as always!!

    • RJ – What other foods do you pack? I’m not Celiac but I do have a severe reaction to gluten and I’m trying to plan my meals for the JMT this summer. Any more suggestions?

  8. Thanks for the great post, Eric, very helpful! Question: what\’s the best method for cooking things like mac & cheese or lipton noodles with an alcohol stove?

    • @Ben The way I cook things like mac & cheese and noodles on the trail is to bring water to a boil, then either add the food to the boiling water (in the pot), or the boiling water to the food (in a ziplock baggy) and place it inside an insulating pot cozy for about 15 minutes. While it’s in the pot cozy it continues to rehydrate and “cook” some more. The pot cozy takes the place of the simmering part of the cooking cycle. For some foods (like rice) that are a little tougher I let the food boil with the water for a few extra minutes before putting it in the cozy.

      • how do you clean the cook pot after you cook rice, or other sticky stuff if water supply is limited?

        • @Tim: Immediately after I finish eating (before the food has had a chance to dry and stick to the pan) I pour a small amount of water in the pan (about 1 oz) and clean it with a small square of a dish scrubby (the kind with brillo on one side and a sponge on the other). First I use the scrubby side to dislodge the food, then dump the food and water out, then use the sponge side to wipe down the inside of the pan, and finally a small section of pack towel to dry the pan. I wash the dish scrubby and my kitchen towel with my laundry when I go into towns, and replace it after a month or so of use, that way it will not accumulate too much food and bacteria and whatnot.

  9. Gookinade is much better.

    • In areas where water is limited (deserts especially) you can use sand to scrub your pots and pans. A small ammount of sand rubbed over the surface will dislodge food then wipe it out with a dampened cloth.

  10. I love most off the foods. I love Land of Lakes hot Coco Classics w/its many flavors, to start the day.

  11. Thanks, Erik! Any good suggestions for vegans?

    • @Karpani I hiked with a girl on the PCT who is a vegan, Dirt Diva. I remember she ate a lot of oatmeal, energy bars, mashed potatoes and (I think) peanut butter. I’m never really certain what qualifies as vegan, but I think nuts, seeds, dried fruit and berries, oatmeal, granola, natural peanut butter, olive oil, rice, cous cous, quinoa, hummus, plain mashed potatoes and vegan bars are a few options. Maybe there are some vegan hikers out there who can weigh in on this one.

  12. Great list! I regularly take bagels with me. I squish them flat as I can (they smash super flat) then add some peanut butter. EZ lunch! I am going to have to try the potatoes and pasta. looks good!

    • My kids won’t eat peanut butter and have always taken pizza bagels for trail lunches. Bagel with pizza sauce from a Lunchable meal, mozarella string cheese to shred and pre-sliced packaged pepperoni. We used to be able to find small packets of pizza sauce, but not lately. They might end up eating most of it “deconstructed”, but they have options. (A Lunchable repacked isn’t enough for them.)

  13. For no stove hiking- firm bread and cheese, dried fruits, chocolate, corn chips (fritos, doritos, etc), jerky, granolas, cold pizza or hamburgers less than 1 day old, crackers, and cookies

  14. PayDay !!!
    salty, peanutty, carmelly goooodness
    plus, they don’t melt

  15. Powdered protein drinks are easy to pack, easy to prepare, taste great, and contain carbs, protein, and fats.

    CtyoSport Cyto Gainer
    Banana Crème
    Chocolate Caramel Swirl
    Cookies ‘N Crème
    Rocky Road
    Vanilla Shake

    18.5 servings = $35 = $1.90/serving
    150g serving = 570 cal (108 cal/oz)
    6g fat, 75g carb, 54g protein

  16. This article on the backpacking food ideas is great…just the kind of information that I am looking for…very helpful!!

  17. At 200 calories per ounce – Macadamia Nuts. If you could live on that alone you could cut your food weight in half. But – alas – variety is the spice of life so cut the peanuts and go with macadamia.

  18. Chris @ TheGearHouse Reply February 9, 2011 at 8:32 am

    Great post Erik. You will always see some of the same items pop up in different peoples lists – the mac n cheese and the lipton pastas. Also two of my favorites.

    Keep up the great work here on your site!

  19. Hey Erik,
    Not always available but for the first day out Egg McMuffins travel well and for me are filling. They don’t drip or get soggy like a Big Mac would. If you can get them early in the morning on the day of the hike, take 3 or 4 along and use them for lunch and snacks. I use them on day hikes all the time.

  20. If I’m taking several days of food, anything with moisture is too heavy, esp if I have to use a bear can. Instead of bread/tortillas, I take dried foods like bagel chips, pita chips, triscuits. Great source of veggies are freeze-dried veggies from Trader Joe’s or several “survivalist” websites. I have freeze-dried asparagus, brocolli, and cauliflower (Alpineaire) and individual packets of Olive Oil (minimus.biz) Great meal is dehydrated split pea soup that I add wheat germ, parmesan cheese, a dash of instant mashed potatoes, brewer’s yeast and package it in a ziplock at home, then add a packet of olive oil, maybe throw in some garlic bagel chips after cooking for croutons. I buy the soup in bulk at the coop in Seattle, but I think it’s widely available. Dehydrated black bean soup with tortilla chips and chipotle chili also good. Chow.

    • Thanks, this is more what I am looking for… when I am in the woods and feeling great, the last thing I want to put in my body is crap so .. thanks for this..

    • This sounds great but its a lot of work it sounds like ;( and it sounds like it can get spend. The soup and tortill chips seems easy enough, I think I will try that :)


  21. Erik, I take the tuna when I backpack. I do have a concern that its strong odor will bring every bear within a 100-mile radius, but no problems so far.

  22. I have to take some issue with this list. Things like poptarts and pastries are not a good breakfast food for backpacking (not good for home either).

    Caloric content compared to weight is NOT the most important aspect when selecting backpacking food. Healthy food choices must come first. If you’re eating crap, you’re body won’t be up to high mileage anyway, so who cares how much your food weighs in that case?

    Your list is completely missing fruits and vegetables, which contain the nutrients that your body needs (as opposed to potatoes, poptarts & snickers bars – all of which are empty calories)

    I don’t need to eat breakfast in my sleeping bag (I wouldn’t strongly advise everyone to keep food out of their tent) because I’m backpacking to be outside. I usually start my day with a breakfast mix with:

    1 oz Oatmeal
    3/4 oz granola
    1.5 oz dried fruit
    Chocolate Bits
    Almond slivers

    I don’t eat “lunch” really, instead I snack throughout the day. My goal is never to be hungry and replenish calories as I expend energy. Plus a lunch break would just slow me down.

    For my day time eating I eat:

    4 oz GORP (always something new so I don’t get bored)
    6 Trader Joe’s Fruit Strip Bars
    2 Bags of energy fruit bites
    1 Protein bar
    2 Granola bars

    3 oz pasta or rice
    1 oz custom seasoning mix
    1 oz dried veggies

    I’m a vegetarian, so I get my protein from a protein bar and the nuts from my trail mix.

    Everyone needs to hike their own hike, but I STRONGLY recommend to the readers that you don’t blindly follow the suggestions in this blog and instead find something HEALTHY that works for you.

    I always keep a food journal so I can plan for exactly what I’m going to eat. The quantities listed above are based on my needs for a 15-20 mile day with a ten pound pack.

    • @Dave: I have to disagree with you that nutrition is more important than calories. If you can find foods that are both nutritious and high in calories (such as peanut butter, nuts, raisons, etc.) those are great. But there are not many foods which fit both of those criteria (that are readily available in grocery stores and can be eaten for months without tiring of them).

      When I am not on the trail I am very health conscious. At home I exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet of lean meat, fish, vegetables and fruits. But, on a long distance backpacking trip the rules are completely flipped. I know hundreds of thru-hikers and long distance backpackers and almost no-one eats what would be considered a “healthy” diet on the trail. There are exceptions I’m sure, but they are the minority.

      Open up the food bags of 9 out of 10 backpackers I know and you will find a grand assortment of junkfood, the likes of which we would never eat in our everyday lives. On a short hike (less than a month) you can eat healthy and get away with it, because you will be living off your body’s fat and protein reserves. But after many months and thousands of miles it gets used up, and the only thing that will keep you going is CALORIES.

      The average male hiker doing 20+ miles per day will burn at least 5,000 calories. In order to maintain body weight and minimize food weight it is imperative to focus on caloric density. Assuming an average caloric density of just 100 calories per ounce, 3.125 pounds of food would be required to provide 5,000 calories. That is simply too much food weight. Five days of food (the average distance between resupply stops on most trails) would weigh almost 16 pounds.

      A more reasonable food weight is around 2 pounds per day. Assuming an average caloric density of 100 calories per ounce that would provide 3,200 calories (not enough for most people). If you increase caloric density to 125 calories per ounce that would provide 4,000 calories, which is still on the low end, but doable. 4,000 calories may be enough for some hikers to maintain body weight indefinitely (depending on age, size and metabolism). But for big guys like me (I’m 6 feet, 200 pounds) I will lose several pounds of body weight per week eating that.

      One pound of fat has approximately 3,500 calories. If I burn 6,000 calories a day while hiking, and only eat 4,000 calories, I will be running a caloric deficit of 2,000 calories per day (14,000 calories per week). At that rate I would lose 4 pounds of body weight per week. Over the course of a 5 month hike that would be 80 pounds. Now obviously I could not stand to lose 80 pounds. I would keel over and die before that happened (or at least have to get off the trail for several weeks to recuperate).

      In order to counteract this extreme deficit I do what most hikers do, which is pack the highest calorie foods I can find, and pig out in town once a week to supplement my trail diet. On an average “zero day” I will try to eat at least 10,000 calories. Since I’m not doing as much physical activity on those days I don’t burn as many calories (about 3,000 calories). I also use town stops as an opportunity to eat healthy foods which are not practical to carry on the trail (like meats, vegetables, fruit, dairy, etc.)

      Here is how a typical week on a long hike (consisting of 6 days of hiking and 1 day of resting and eating) would break down:

      Intake: 34,000 calories (6 days @ 4,000 calories per day, 1 day @ 10,000 calories per day)
      Output: 39,000 calories (6 days @ 6,000 calories per day, 1 day @ 3,000 calories per day)
      Deficit: 5,000 calories per week

      In this scenario I would only lose 28 pounds over the course of a 5 month hike (which is pretty typical). When I thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail I started at 205 pounds, and finished weighing 175 pounds. If I lost any more weight than that I would probably become too weak to continue.

      Everyone’s metabolism, nutritional requirements and tastes are different. But for me (and the majority of lightweight backpackers I know) this is what works. I admit that my advice is skewed towards the needs of long distance backpackers, because that is what I do myself. But, even if I am only going out for a weekend hike, I still pack the same kinds of foods because they are lightweight and provide lots of energy for hiking.

      • Eric,
        Nicely put, great suggestions. Hiking the AT many years ago. I found the small town grocery was the fastest way to gear back up. Eat a lot of canned tuna and chicken with the mac and cheese. Like the olive oil suggestion. Thanks

    • Here on the east coast, it rains!! Having an indulgent pastry before packing up and heading out in the rain might be just what you need to get you going both physically & mentally!

      Also, if you hike with TEENS, remember that in their rapid growth years they are always “starving”. Pack more than enough for them. My 20 year old son took my 14 year old son on the AT for 4 days (in some driving rain on “balds”) and the number one complaint was not enough food for the 14 year old!

      A recipe my guys have always liked is tortilla soup. A mixture of ramen without all the noodles, foil pack chicken & taco seasoning topped with fritos and string cheese strips or shredded baby bell. You could easily add dehydrated vegetables. Practice at home to get the seasoning right. Who wouldn’t like fritos for dinner, right?

  23. Erik, thanks for the great list! In one of the comments, you refer to a \"cozy\" used to replace the simmer step for cooking. What exactly is a cozy? Is this something you make for yourself out of an insulating material?

    • @Lisa: A pot cozy is an insulating cover for your cook pot. Instead of simmering on a flame (which uses up fuel) you can add boiling water to your food and put it inside a pot cozy for about 15 minutes. The cozy keeps the heat in and “cooks” the food as it rehydrates. I make my own pot cozys out of Reflectix (the metallic material that car sunshades are made from) and duct tape. I will make a video showing how to make one soon.

  24. I dare you to not enjoy a wrap with peanut butter, tuna and tabasco. So good I eat them off the trail.

  25. Great Ideas..But I think you find a peanut butter serving of two Tbsp (32 g)is 190 calories, not one Tbsp.

  26. Re-reading this because I enjoy your posts so much, Erik! Notably absent from everyone’s list is any form of coconut…? I have heard of a powdered “coconut cream” but have not used it. Also coconut oil. I wonder if it’s due to the controversy over whether it’s a healthy oil or not? And, granted, you have to like the taste! I think coconut is GREAT with macadamias as a granola ;)

  27. Heather, I use powdered coconut milk all the time on hikes. It’s great added to oatmeal or granola in the morning. It has a lot of calories and tastes wonderful. You can often find it in ethnic food aisles with Thai ingredients, or sometimes with Caribbean or Latin American foods. Another fun item is powdered whole milk, which you can find as the “Nido” brand at Walmart and just about anywhere that has a lot of Hispanic clientele.

  28. I like peanut butter playdough, it’s high calorie and delicious. You can also add raisins, coconut, chocolate etc. A basic recipe is 1 c. peanut butter, 2 Tbl. honey, and 2/3 to 1 c. dried milk depending on the consistency you like.

  29. Dominic glazebrook Reply May 31, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    I have always found porridge good in the morning before I start to walk; it does not give a temporary energy rush and sticks to the stomach all morning, I appreciate it’s a hassle to make but it is cheap and easy to carry. I have no idea of the calorific value. I am surprised no one has mentioned it on this blog. I am from England, maybe porridge is not big in USA?

  30. Heather Darnell Reply June 6, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Dominic – Yes, porridge is a definite staple, though most people here probably only think of oats / oatmeal. MY personal favorite is a combination of ground seeds, like 1-2 tablespoons of each – sesame, sunflower and pumpkin – as the base, with added coconut, almonds, macadamias, raisins for sweetness, dried apples or anything else that seems tasty. When I first started training I ate this every morning. I actually gained weight until I could hike long enough distances to burn it off!
    As an alternative, though much lower in calories, I also enjoy corn mush. To make it, though, you have to add the corn meal to COLD water, then boil.

  31. Karpani, Eric,

    I’m vegan, which means a vegetarian that eats no dairy or honey in addition to no meat or fish flesh or products. So my suggestions to get adequate protein is to learn about some of the better quality sports drink mixes for endurance athletes that contain soy protein or just get some powdered soy protein to take and mix in drinks. Sports drinks can provide high quaility carbs, protein and fats in the right proportion and formulas for quick and efficient absorption by the body.

    Any running,triathlete or cyclist shops carry these drinks and soy powder can be found in nay health food store. Sports drinks also provide essential electrolytes like potassium and magnesium in addition to quality sodium.

    Definitely take a good multi-vitamin or Emergency-C type products with you.

    Total calories counts, but even more important IMO is to take in less total calories, but ensuring the calories consumed have higher nutritional quality instead of just alot of junk like white flour, white sugar or highly-saturated fats found in typical backpacker food.

    Most people over consume calories becasue the food they are eating is generally of poor quallty. For example, eating tons of mac and cheese or sugary candy bars will actually be counter-productive especially on long thru-hikes or other multi-month endeavors. Your body actually needs quality nutrition, not just alot of calories. People eating a lot of “junk” calories will still feel hungary no matter how much they eat, again because they are not giving their bodies proper nutrients, which means they can become fatigued, sick or injured more easily.

    peanut butter is awesome! Also, items like hummus mix, of course nuts and legumes like bean dip mix are easy to carry and prepare. There are also vacumm-sealed packages of tofu that do not need to be refigerated and if you live near any asian markets, you can get various prepared tofu products in sealed packages that also don’t require refrigeration and come in great flavors, like curry, chili-garlic or szchuen.

    You can also get vacuum-sealed tempeh (fermented soy bean curd) or seitan (wheat gluten) products as well that are packed with vegetarina protein. Also take a look at the hemp, rice or pea protein products in your local health food store as well.

    And best of all, if you focus on carrying quality nutritional items, you actually carry less, so your food weight in your pack is less as well!

    Hope this helps!

    • @Susan: Thanks for the info. I may have to give healthy food another try, or at least increasing the amount of healthy food vs. junkfood in my trail diet. Your point about getting higher quality calories versus volume of calories makes sense.

    • I have been unable to find tempeh that doesn’t need to be kept cold. It’s one of my favorite at home foods. How do you take it on long backpacking trips with you?

  32. I have found that Harmony house’s dehydrated vegies and legumes are fantastic for lightweight backpacking. They retain most of the nutritional value of fresh veggies and don’t contain all the excessive sodium found in prepared foods like hummus and blackbean mixes (most individuals do not need as much salt as they think). Of course you can make meals exactly how you want them. http://www.harmonyhousefoods.com/Backpacking-Kit-18-ZIP-Pouches_p_1866.html

    • Thank you for this suggestion. I keep my sodium intake down, particularly in the processed pre-prepared foods. I am going to look into Harmony House Foods. Sodium content is important to me. Most of the pre-processed dehydrated foods are too high in sodium for me, even given how much salt I sweat out during a trip.

  33. Erik,

    This post was interesting to me because I never considered something like Pop Tarts to be good trail food. I, like Dave (who you replied in length to), thought that a lot of the junk food you listed didn’t seem quite appropriate for hiking. Whenever I think about backpacking and hiking, I think of eating healthy and wholesome along the way–not stuffing my backpack with Easy Mac and Snickers. I found your post, and reply to Dave, a bit surprising but helpful.

    My only concern is: if you’re eating a bunch of junk food for the calories, do you ever feel a bit sick? If I eat junk normally–like a whole Snickers bar–my stomach doesn’t quite agree with it. I’m afraid that if I ate a bunch of this stuff on top of hiking strenuously it would make me feel a little sick. Energetic, sure, but sick.

    • @Kayla: If I eat junk foods normally I do feel sick just like you. I rarely eat junk food when I’m not hiking. But on a long-distance hike you burn so much energy and you get into such great shape physically that your metabolism changes. It feels like your entire digestive system starts to work at maximum capacity and is capable of efficiently utilizing every calorie you throw at it, even if the calories aren’t very high quality.

      The problem with healthy foods (on a long hike) is they contain lots of protein, water and/or fiber. This adds to their weight (and makes them slow to digest). For example: A chicken breast weighs 6 ounces and provides only 280 calories. (That’s 46 calories per ounce). A large apple weighs 8 ounces and provides only 115 calories (That is only 14 calories per ounce). It would take 3 pounds of chicken and 3 1/2 pounds of apples (6 1/2 pounds of food) to provide 3,000 calories (and many hikers eat more than that in one day). So, although they are probably superior to a Snickers Bar for nutrition, they just don’t provide enough calories to justify their weight.

      Of course you need both (energy and nutrition), so my solution is to eat junk food on the trail, and then on my days off eat a bunch of healthy foods in town to try and make up for any deficiencies. (Plus take vitamins and supplements)

      Admittedly this advice is geared more towards thru-hikers and long distance backpackers who have to deal with major fat loss and sustained high energy output for weeks or months of hiking. If you’re only hiking for a few days or a week, you can eat whatever you like. Any shortcomings from your food will be deducted from your stored body fat.

      Personally, I still prefer to eat junk food even on shorter hikes, just because it weighs less.

  34. fun read. The main reason i’m a backpacker is so i can eat all the junk i can’t eat at home.

  35. My favorite trail lunch so far , or dinner for that matter, is the Near East brand Parmesan or Roasted Garlic and Olive Oil mixed with one of the Starkist Tuna Creation Pouches. Tasty and filling.

  36. In the context of long walks, I can add a few thoughts from the European/African end of the puddle. These are not exhaustive, but rather complementary to what has already been said.

    To my mind, food planning for long-distance treks is not primarily about high calorie/weight or water reconstitution ratios, but about protecting your body from malnourishment, which can take many forms. This is an extremely complex area, with many unknowns and “unexpecteds”.

    I invariably begin to lose a lot of weight after around a month’s walking. This I regard as normal (alone the easing off of compulsions -biscuits with coffee, beer and crisps with a film, ice-cream when hot, hot chocolate when not- can make a huge difference).

    However, given the body’s dramatically increased efficiency -and hence reduced food needs- during a long walk, the wrong diet can easily drive the it into so-to-say cannibalistic behaviour: muscle rather than fat loss, calcium loss from teeth, or vulnerability to ulcers.

    Furthermore, with many vitamin preparations not properly absorbed by the body, all-too exact planning with weight, vitamin or calorie charts is perhaps of little avail.

    Forgetting factory foods -for which I feel there is no real need- I have only a few basic tenets: sufficient protien, as far as possible water-reconstitutable foods, wide variety, dramatically(!) increased fuel economy through slow cooking in a thermos, and en-route replenishment with whatever comes to hand.

    Lentils, beans, rice, bulgar and the like can, as a base, cover a lot of your protein and carbohydrate needs, but are far, far easier on your stomach than endless factory processed foods. Mixed with wild herbs, local cheese, olives, dried tomatoes and vegetables, you can end up with a meal to do justice to -say- a fine italian restaurant.

    Other good sources of protein are soya flakes and nuts, which can be added to any muesli.

    A tip from nomads of north Africa: couscous (in principle just tiny wheat pellets) can be “cold-prepared” (no cooking) by letting it soak up the moisture of edible water-bearing plants found en route. These might be as simple as -say- dandilion leaves or wild cress. If short on donor plants, just sprinkle on a little additional water. Again, I often add broken-up goat- or sheep-cheese (which shepherds are invariably glad to sell), olives, and wild herbs such as oregano or thyme.

    Often, seed, fruit or nuts (such as chestnut) can be pulverised to make flour, which can in turn be used to make stick bread over a fire, or baked in an earth oven.

    The oils so essential to the body’s distribution systems can be had from locally-bought cheeses, or from nuts, pesto, fish/tomato/onion puree or mayonnaise.

    Well-known to dancers, magnesium sachets (very light, and available in most stores in Europe) bind the acids that form in your muscles during long, hard climbs, quickly relieving cramps and restoring much of your strength. As with any vitamin supplement, though, use with restraint: magnesium can also manifest itself as a toxin..

    One last but impassioned word: CARE! The junkfoods that some contributers are stuffing into themselves on day-tours would, on a longer trek, make them very, very sick indeed. Don’t believe me? Try eating nothing but chocolate for a day..

  37. Also try SAVI SEED product from Sequel. Can buy on Amazon, fully Vegan, 170 cals/oz. The Cocoa Kissed ones are great and, ounce for ounce, have 13 times more Omega 3 than wild salmon, are a complete protein and fully organic.

  38. Another favorite of mine are the PRO BARS. Available at Amazon, Whole Food etc, they typically run 370 calories for a 3 oz bar, 100% organic and 100% Vegan. They don’t perform very well when cold so keep them in your pocket for a while before to warm em up a bit.


  39. Yes, Patrick!! I have been buying Pro Bars for my very slender 13-year old son to help him put on weight – they are THE highest calorie “meal bar” I have been able to find for his late-night snack attacks! ;)
    Also, since Lindsay posted the recipe for Peanut Butter play dough, I have made that as after-school snack sometimes for the younger kids and they love it! Like Erik says, I don’t eat stuff like this as a daily habit – it’s just for highly aerobic activities.

  40. Hi Erik, Here’s another lightweight healthy alternative. They are called Dale’s Raw Protein Bars. They come in a 3″ x 3 1/2″ pouch and weigh @ 60 grams or just over 2 oz. They range from 240-280 calories, 22 g protein, 12-28g carb, 12-16g fat depending on which flavor you choose. They are like cookie dough consistency. I have tried the blueberry macadamia and the cafe mocha ones, both really good. They are vegan, gluten free, dairy free, no artificial preservatives or sweeteners. He uses all fresh ingredients and actually makes them after you place your order. This guy started this biz less than a year ago and it has exploded. He owns a gym in Florida and started making these protein bars for himself. Once a few people tried them they convinced him to make them to sell. You can’t buy them at any store just at his website (link below). A little pricey but worth it. Rather than bash some of the other products I have carried in my pack I suggest you take whatever you currently like and compare ingredients. These have found a permanent spot on my backpack checklist. Kevin

    Dale’s Raw Protein Bars – Best on the Planet!

  41. Most articles here are great for those interested in UL hiking, but this one is a bit dodgy. I don’t think eating a lot of junk food is a good idea. Week or two will probably not kill you but I still wouldn’t do it.

    I don’t have that much experience regarding long-distance trekking or health science so caveat emptor.

    Hefty oatmeal is great start for day. You can add cinnamon and dried apple too to flavor it a bit.

    I’d recommend Olive Oil too. It is known to be healthy addition to food (although don’t roast it). Raisins are good too. Honey has also very high energy percentage but it only really works as a flavour.

    I think home-dehydrated food is better than anything on store. Cheap dehydrator costs like $40. You can dehydrate so many things and it’ll be healthier than factory food.

    One real thing you can drink actually is blueberry-rapsberry drink we used to have in army. It tastes really good and has something like 110kcal per 100g. Boil with water and ready. Ref. http://bit.ly/AEppWB

    Then for the extreme efficients:

    Goji berries and hemp seeds also have high concentration of energy per weight unit, around 110kCal per oz for goji and 140kCal for hemp seeds. I’d only use them as a supplement though.

    You can also add spirulina as a highly efficient protein complement (70%).

    Then if you really want an extreme food, eat *high quality* phytoplankton (low quality marine ingredients can be hazardous). It won’t taste good but it’ll be about 1040kCal per ounce. This is what whales eat. I don’t know how healthy it is actually but all of it is usable by human digestion, and I think it contains about all the nutrients human body needs.

    All these are nature’s food, and likely a lot better than any processed factory food.

    A good idea might be to investigate which foods different armies use because they tend like efficient stuff meant and tested for real situations.

    • I notice a lot of people talking about healthy foods to try but at least in the US, eating anything dried that has good health value means shelling out alot of money and since backpacking is how we enjoy our vacations now(mainly because of savings) I would say the suggestions are fair for us. In all reality I think the foods listed are for those of us who are backpacking for a week or less. I’ve tried in a hundred ways to enjoy heartier grains like couscous and bulgur but unless it’s stuffed in a pepper with lots of delicious sausage and vegies it taste like dog food to me, and my taste buds aren’t acclimating! Its cultural I suppose. I really like the idea of powdered protein shakes, drinks and bars but again they can be really spendy  I also looked into getting powdered cheese and eggs they are very expensive (at least triple the price of fresh eggs and cheese), at least around here they are  Therefor I think these are great suggestions for the money conscious week or less hiker. As an idea I think its good to pack some high calorie and nutritional food just in case.

  42. Don’t forget one of the most important thing about eating ‘junk food’ like m&m or Snicker bar on the trail : that stuff tastes good! You can say anything you want about the empty calories of a candy bar, but the ‘mental’ calories you get when you eat your favorite chocolate cookie on the top of the mountain could get you to reach new heights!! And if it doesn’t… Well at least you’ll be smiling on the way up! (and that’s what hiking is all about right?)
    I mean come on…I never leave without a little 7oz of rhum, for rainy nights!

    Hey Eric…what about beef jerky? Lightweight, full of protein and calories, + you can bring them with you for weeks!

  43. Hi Erik, and everyone else reading this blog:)
    Disclaimer: My adventures, thus far haven’t exceeded a week. None the less, here’s what I bring.

    For my basic food trip for a week in the wilds I aim for 150 cal.s per oz.

    Breakfast: Hemp granola w/ powdered soy milk and FD berries, and a tea bag.

    Snacks: Gorp heavy on papitas, dark chocolate (won’t melt as fast as milk c.), Keen Bars, Odwalla Superfood bars, Odwalla nut bars, dried appricots/ pears/ apples.

    Lunch: Instant tabuleh, instant hummus, olive oil, tortillas (2)

    Dinner: Instant Potatoes; Couscous; meals I dry on my food dryer*. Tea bag.

    I picked up a Nesco Snack Master 750 for 50 bucks at Wallyworld- best 50 bucks I ever spent!

    I haven’t had much success with Angel hair in 2 cups of water in a cozy- unless you like glue for dinner. For me, I cook pasta al dente at home, mix it with the sauce, chop it all up and dry it on the food dryer. Portion into 5/ 6 oz portions in freezer bags. In camp add water, olive oil, and parm, adding another coupl’a hundred calories. For a cozy, I use a bubble wrap envelope.

    This applies for grains also. Millet I cook with nuts, dried fruits, and Cinnamon. When it’s cooled I spread it on the food dryer fruit roll trays and in a couple of hours I have instant millet breakfast. BTW the amount of money one saves considering commercial Freeze Dried dinners are about 6 bucks a pop, plus one rarely has any control over the sodium, and other “additives” in those dinners.

    A note for vegans: Protein combonations. Hello? Red Beans and rice, black beans and corn chips, hummus on a tortilla, get it?
    A nut or a legume + a Grain= a whole protein.

    Good reads on the subject:

    Lipsmackin’ Backpackin’, and Vegeterian Lipsmackin’ Backpackin’, by Tim & Christine Conners; Ultralight Camping and backpacking by Allen Jordan and Ryan Dixon. Great stuff!

    Happy trails!

  44. Any supermarket has precooked bacon that needs no refridgeration until opened but will last a couple of days never the less. Rum 151 is half the weight,mix with Gatorade or even nutrasweet and if available a little clean snow.To heat water and save fuel ,bring heavy duty alluminum foil that is big enough to cover the pot on the stove to trap all the heat rising from stove to quickly boil water.

  45. I see no mention of grains other than rice and quinoa (which are both great, but tiresome after a while). What about Bulgar wheat, which is good hot or cold, but does not require cooking (just add water and let it sit for 30 mins). Not that high in cals (relative to, say, quinoa), but full of protein and delicious with just about anything (I like it with a little oil and spicy paprika). Also, is slow to digest, so won’t cause a spike and crash like poptarts. Also buckwheat groats (higher in cals than bulgar). A little more trouble to prepare (mix with rehydrated egg to coat, dry fry until grains are separated, steam with water until soft and water is used up, then cook until it really dries back out and is slightly crispy — total of 20 mins cooking, but you could do the steaming off the stove with a pot cozy). Delicious even without additives like cheese, dried peas, etc. Also, add nutritional yeast to the water these are cooked with to raise protein content and provide a ton of B vitamins. Quinoa — steamed, but can be done mostly off heat. All of these are good with pecans (which are higher cal than many nuts), pine nuts (for a change) and any seasonings or dried veggies you care to add.

  46. Most of my food for long distance is classic romen,mac and cheese,stuffing,oatmeal ,beef jerkey, GORP ,cliff bars(not power bars,they are not organic and not good for you)etc…
    but for overnight i might eat a freeze dried food or a MRE
    Drinks are powdered gatorade,crystal light,or Mio

  47. I am always in two minds when it comes to backpacking foods. Make and dehydrate at home or just buy from the supermarket. I make trail bars etc as they are easy but when it comes to dehydrating Im always worried I am going to do it wrong and have spoiled food.

  48. It’s relatively easy to dry chopped veggies at home … so don’t sweat that part. Additionally, it is possible to dry a wide variety of soups and stews (etc) to reconstitute on the trail. These are a whole lot cheaper than store bought and, because you have full control of the process, can have their calories bumped up fairly easily.

    Good list … and thanks for doing the calorie research.

  49. I just got a much larger dehydrator and have dehydrated spaghetti, yam leather, fruits and vegetables … all vacuum packed and good to go in a backpack or bug-in box. Backpacking is about taking control of your own self. To me, food prep is a part of this.

  50. Ramen is something i like and versatile.I used your idea for oil as like a butter to add it to them for taste.Note that there is little nutrition but i also take a vitamin every couple of days also to get those misplaced nutrionts.sorry for the mispelling.

  51. Hi, Once you open one of those foil packets of chicken and close it up tight how long do you think the remainder of chicken will last?

  52. Thanks, Eric

  53. Hey Erik!

    I just completed the AT, and have now set my sights on the PCT. A friend recommended you as the best source for the trail, and so far I’ve been impressed.

    I too am concerned with eating healthy, but have also found when long-distancing hiking, it for the most part gets thrown to the wind.

    I never did live on Ramen and Poptarts like most hikers I met, but I did stock up on pastries and chocolate goods.

    My favorite dinners ended being ones I’d dehydrated at home. You can make gourmet foods, and season them specifically to your liking. For protein I used a lot of turkey burger. Some of the dishes I made were Sweet Potato Casserole, Clam Chowder, Turkey Chili, and Portebello Curry. I sometimes added beans to up the calorie count. For the most part my meals were 900+ calories, and the envy of all my fellow hikers. Another favorite was 3 Cheese Tortellini (found dried at a store called WINCO), dried tomatoes, olive oil, and herbs. Food is a highlight for me when I’m hiking, and worth the work.

    I also find I’m not as hungry (perhaps a bit nauseous) when it comes to eating during the first few days of my trip. My appetite soon picks up, and within a couple of weeks I’m eating whatever, whenever I want.

    Thanks again for the great info!

    • @Desert Locks: Thanks for all the great food suggestions and good luck on your PCT hike. Makes me want to consider getting a dehydrator and learning how to use it. Most of my food choices in the past have been dictated by not wanting to prepare anything in advance and having to make do with what is available in stores along the way. It sounds nice to have that kind of variety instead of the usual macaroni, rice and potatoes every night.

  54. Wow, I plan on taking a week-long trip on the trail this fall and can think of little else. This has been quite an extensive discussion; I’ve enjoyed it and learned much — there is soooo much to learn. I’m thinking I’m going to use a combination of the many opinions; I’m going to dehydrate my own meals, try to eat healthy calories when I can, and will include supplemental junk. Though my first trip to the trail will be a short one in comparison to others; I’m looking at it as a trial walk for the thru hike one day.

  55. Have you ever used Ghee instead of olive oil. I prefer a buttery taste to an olive oil taste in my food.

    • @Tiffany: I have not tried Ghee before but I imagine it would work just as well.

    • Instant refried beans are available in the bulk food at WinCo. Really get the job done. Ghee is exceptional as it is straight fat. It packs a whopping 248 calories per ounce. It tastes so good. It does not require refrigeration. You can usually purchase it in a plastic tub. You just can’t contaminate it with water. Did I mention it has a high smoke point like peanut oil?

  56. nobody mentioned hard boiled eggs in the shell, they last a few days, & are good protein

  57. peanut butter and dry salami on a tortilla.

    2T pb, 190 cals., 1oz dry salami 110 cals. 1 10″ flour tortilla 200 cals…x2 1000cals.

    also, Coconut Oil. great fat hit in your oatmeal or in your tea before bed.

  58. I like Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice, available in the rice and pasta section of most grocery stores, in a variety of flavors and seasonings – premade rice you only have to add a tablespoon of water to. I carry a lightweight skillet, and first put in a pouch of pre-cooked chicken (good with the Uncle Ben’s Spanish Rice, with a packet of ground red pepper I saved from the pizza place; you can also add a half a green onion/scallion you can chop up and add to the chicken as it heats.) You really don’t even need to add water, the juices from the chicken packet work well. The Uncle Ben’s Wild Rice goes really well with a packet of salmon. You can eat both of these out of the skillet or bring some tortillas to fill with the rice and meat to make burritos. Either of these is great for a filling dinner meal, or for two people if neither are heavy eaters. Also much, much cheaper than freeze-dried meals, and it tastes more like “real” food.

    I usually make up my own oatmeal blend with oats, dried cranberries, shredded almonds, raisins, a dash of brown sugar, cinnamon, and a half a scoop of vanilla protein powder. (Pretty much what I eat for breakfast at home). Use a heavy duty freezer zip-loc bag, pour boiling water into it and let it sit for a few minutes while you make coffee (Starbuck’s Via is about the best of the instant coffee lot, unless you carry a jet boil and have the coffee press. I use my beanie as a cozy for the zip-loc bag (which converts into my garbage bag, and have a long-handled titanium spoon.

    For lunch or snacks on the road, I like whole-wheat bagels. I save packets of peanut butter and jams/jellies and smear them on for extra protein and carbs, or small packets of hummus. http://www.minimus.biz carries hundreds of single-size servings of food.

    As a hint, if you are backpacking with children (or anyone else) who hasn’t hiked before, they may not find dehydrated food too appetizing (I don’t – it’s far too salty and mushy) – try out any dehydrated meals at home at least once with them, and try to keep meals similar to what they normally eat.

  59. Jello, all flavors, sugared. Add to hot water, and drink the liquid (dont let it set). Very tasty after a long slog.

  60. Here is one of my new favorites:

    Trail Burritos

    1/2 c. dehydrated beef
    1/4 c. dehydrated fat free refried beans
    1 tbsp dehydrated diced green chili peppers
    Powered burrito seasoning (found in most grocery stores) to taste
    1 string cheese or cheddar cheese pack (I take snack size cheese packs)

    I rehydrate the beef, beans, and chili peppers together in a freezer bag and cozy. Easy to do if you dehydrate the beef, etc. at home.

  61. I just came off the TRT where my 13yr old son and I did 90 miles in 6 days. He loved all these recipes and I am pretty sure I never would have gotten that kind of mileage out of him without these. We did 44 of the miles in 2 successive days. He really liked alfredo pasta with tuna, which I noticed seemed to provide a huge amount of what our bodies needed, carbs, protein, electrolytes… He also liked hickory smoked SPAM with Mac n Cheese, but I did not. It tasted fineat dinner but I felt like I was gonna barf the SPAM for the next 24 hours. Too much fat I think.

    Thanks for putting this website together! It made a huge difference in our hike.

  62. A trick I have used forever is to rehydrate dried foods during the last hour or half hour of the days trek.

    Just add your rice, for example, to some water in a sealable container (nalgene, zip lock, whatever) and pack it away for the remainder of the hike. Then the cooking time is greatly reduced and I find the texture is preferable.

    I’ve even rehydrated dry beans, though I package them in the morning for use at the end of the day.

  63. Say, does anyone know if kalamata olives need to be refrigerated? I’d love to bring just a few to chop into a pasta on the trail, but I don’t want to dehydrate them … is that bad?? :)

  64. Nice info. Erik!

    One comment; Reflectix is good for reducing radiant heat flow, and may provide a small (air) barrier to convective heat flow in windy conditions. However a wool, fleece or closed cell foam cosy will be more effective at reducing conductive heat loss. What you care about here is the R-value, a measure of heat resistivity (bigger numbers are better insulation).

  65. Dry salami is a favourite of mine. The ‘Gallo’ brand seems to be readily available in a lot of places and I prefer it to others I’ve tried. It seems dryer. It still ‘sweats’ in hot weather but it doesn’t seem to suffer for it. Slicing off a bit for a snack is nice, and adding tiny chunks of it to those grocery-store dirty-rice or red-beans-and-rice mixes improves them considerable. Good in mac and cheese, too, especially the ‘Annie’s’ brand spicy kind.

  66. I love Baby Bell Cheese minis. Toss one in the pot with almost anything and it tastes better. I have also fallen in love with bacon jerky.

    I don’t do commercial backpacking food. And although many of the components are good backpacking food, I find MREs as a whole to be inefficient weightwise. Too many components I don’t like.

    My PB supply usually consists of Reese’s Pieces.

    If you are hiking in an area where there is no water, wet food like applesauce or pudding become a viable alternative. Not much point in carrying dehydrated anything if you are also going to have to carry the water to rehydrate it.

  67. I’m new to this and looking for tips. This was a great list. For the mac n cheese, when do you add the “cheese?”

    • @Jeff: I use about 2 cups of water for mac and cheese, which is less than recommended on the box. This leaves a small amount of water in the pan once the noodles are cooked. I add olive oil, powdered milk and the cheese powder after the noodles are cooked and the water provides just enough moisture to reconstitute the cheese.

  68. Moose Goo!

    2 parts honey
    2 parts corn flour2 parts honey
    1 part peanut butter

    Google it – dense, tasty, packable

    Eric – bought your guides, planning to start the PCT April 2014

  69. Hi Erik,

    It was good to see tortillas on the list. I find that they are very easy to pack, take up litle space, and povide enough energy if you put sufficient ingredients into it. M and Ms might not be that disgusting :)

    Some kind of powder is good to put in drinks so that it will have sugar in it, but I also use fizzy drinks with a high sugar content. Powders are beter though because you don’t have to take water separately.

    Great piece, as always!

  70. Another Awesome meal I have grown up on hiking is Frito-pie! Hormel now makes plastic packages of chili that are lighter than a can. Just add some squeeze cheese (I bring it for a snack with crackers anyways) and fritos!! The frito pie isn’t as light as some things obviously, I eat for taste because I tend to take shorter hikes. Even in this case, I pack my meals so that I eat the heaviest meals first (by heavy I mean in weight). I also found that Wal-Mart, of all places, has ground taco meat in plastic packages–pre cooked and pre-seasoned on the taco shell isle.

  71. Thanks Eric, I love this site. I eventually worked out the gear planner. Could you adapt the gear planner and make a food one as well? It would be great to add calories and weight and plan meals.
    I recently discovered dried Salsa at Walmart called “Mrs Wages Create Salsa” in the canning dept. A little added to a meal goes a long way.
    Dried Hummus from Whole Foods put in small sandwich bag and water added to the bag when you want to eat it makes an easy lunch with Tortillas.

  72. Hello,

    My doctor has given me the okay for hiking while pregnant. My husband and I hike every weekend and always plan a longer hike in the summer/fall. This year we are doing the hike at the end of May up in the Adriondacks. My pack has to be reduced in weight to only 15 to 20 pounds. My husband will be picking up the slack. Any suggestions on how to keep our pack weights down especially with food since I will be needing to eat more often?

    • @Meghan: If you pack foods that provide an average of 125 calories per ounce, you can get 4,000 calories from 2 lbs of food. I’m not sure what your caloric needs will be when pregnant, but that is usually the baseline I try to eat for one day of hiking. Some of the best lightweight foods are things like trail mix, energy bars, hot cereals (with powdered milk, butter and dried fruit), pasta and other dry foods that contain very little moisture. You can look on the labels (or on the internet) of various foods to see how many calories each item provides per serving. Divide the calories by the net weight of a serving to figure out how many calories per ounce a food will give you. (You may need to convert grams to ounces – there are calculators for that on the internet.)

      Here is another post with examples of lightweight backpacking foods:
      5-Day Ultralight Backpacking Meal Plan

  73. I know and like the whole Snicker’s Bar idea but it may get a bit messy in warmer weather. I would suggest Tootsie Rolls in it’s place. It holds up well in all temperature ranges and is very high energy.

  74. Nice list and great website. Just wanted to comment that you can find tuna packed in oil instead of water. You need to search for it but great for calories.

  75. Thanks for all the info. My wife and i , are planning a 7 day trip on the AT, starting in GA . Dehydration , seems to be the way to go. Big bang for the buck , and you get so many choices .I have Crohn’s disease , so my choices of foods can at times be very limited.Everyones comments helped alot. Thanks to all , and espically Erik.

  76. LUNCH:I use peanut butter but since I only do 2-3 day hikes I just go to the local grocery deli or motel and get the little peanut butter cups. I get them when I stay in a motel that has continental breakfasts.They are free and you only have to take what you need and can burn the cup if that is your thing. No jar for weight or space.Remember a jar stays the same size when you take out the peanut butter. I also get the little jelly packs/honey (free!) from KFC, motels etc and have that along with blueberry bagel/peanut butter sandwich.I buy the store packaged bagels as they stay softer longer on the trail and easier to chew. Simple carbs, sweet, fats and protein that gives a lot of energy.
    SUPPER: I also am a big fan of Ramen noodles and some come with with different spices/olive oil pack.they are super-light and I mix it with foil tuna/chicken.
    BREAKFAST: I prepackeage each mornings breakfast in ziplock bags consisting of oatmeal, brown sugar, walnuts, cinnamon, powdered milk and raisins or cranberries. Mixed with water its quick to cook and gives you a little sugar. Soak your pot immediately to aid in cleaning. My buddy brings a processed bacon that packs flat and doesnt require refridgeration. Smelling that will get you out of your tent!
    DESSERT: I am a carb junkie so sometimes I pack an orange for each of use, cut off the top, hollow it out and eat the fruit as we are getting ready for supper. The orange gives you instant energy. I then take a portion of muffin mix that I also packed in a ziplock, and add water to bag, mix it up and fill orange 2/3 full. Put lid on and double wrap with foil. place in coals for 20 plus minutes. My they are good. My buddy eats all over the world in fancy restaurants, but after a long day on the trail he says “damn, they’re good”.
    All this stuff packs flat, can be discarded, offers flavor and most important a weight to calorie ratio that is quite favorable. Remember I do 2-3 nights but I think some of this can be incorporated into longer treks. ALL of it is better than freeze dried crap and also 1/4 the price.

  77. Bill good for you. I was thought to have IBD/Crohns but wound up have carcinoid so i know how much dietary concerns can be. Filter your water well to keep out the bugs (bacteria, giardia) and stay away from SPICES. Thats why I like the ramen noodle. They are dehydrated, lightweight, absorb water regularly and have no spices. So many freeze dried camping meals have pepper, oinion and garlic which can cause havoc. Chocolate, caffeine can be a problem as well. If you use an anti-diarrheal such as Lomotil or anything with atropine, be very careful of muscle weakness and inability to sweat which can lead to hyperthermia. Brand name Immodium (white caplets) works best for me. I compliment you for doing the trip.

  78. I’ve seen a few people mention dehydrated beans. I recently ordered the Ready Beans (www.readybeans.com) brand from Colorado and thought they were great. I got the no salt black and it was very tasty! They had from just the bean flakes without anything added, all the way to a jalapeno and chili option.
    Love the beans with tortillas for a quick and easy meal on the trail.

  79. Great ideas. I am about to start the Larapinta Trail in The Northern Territory Australia. It is dry and harsh with several dry days with no water. It will take about 3 weeks to complete. Packing the right food and gear is very important, so thanks for all the good impute.I have dehydrated all my dinners but find planning light weight, high energy lunches the most difficult.

  80. My eight year old daughter and I did a 6 day hike on the Ouachita Mountain trail over spring break. Cost is a HUGE factor for us as well as ease of prep and cleanup. All of our meals were “add boiling water and let sit”. We used freezer bags and a plastic coffee tub for insulation, structure while eating, and storage for our alcohol camp stove in the pack. The only dishes we dirtied was a single spoon (we didn’t mind sharing), and our cups.

    For breakfast we took BetterOats blueberry muffin oatmeal with flax seeds. You’re supposed to boil it in the water, but through experimentation before heading out, we discovered that using half the water and letting sit, it came out perfect. I even cook it that way at home. (I hate “mushy” oatmeal)

    For lunch we tried two different things. We tried chicken and ham wraps (tortillas) with ranch dressing packets, and shelf stable cheese. My daughter didn’t like them so next time we’re sticking with peanut butter, and honey or jelly. We stocked up on honey and jelly packets when we went to places that had them.

    For supper the first night (our heaviest meal and it required no cooking, which was good since we got several inches of rain) we did soft tacos with tortillas. A package of chicken mixed with 1/2 of a taco seasoning packet in a ziplock, a small roma tomato, a few mini sweet chili peppers (very small, few seeds, and very tasty), and individual cups of tostitos nacho cheese dip.

    The rest of the time we ate, Stove Top stuffing and beef jerky (second favorite meal), instant loaded mashed potatoes and beef jerky (but would work with chicken or spam) and instant sweet potatoes made with butter buds and powdered milk and a premade oat, pecan, and honey strudel topping. (didn’t really like the flavor of the sweet potatoes so probably won’t do those next time)

    For snacks, we had a trail mix with banana chips, toasted coconut, freeze dried edemame?, cinnamon sugar dried apples, honey nut cheerios, dried kale, and dried bell pepper. Weird but very good.

    We also at my dads “power bars” that he made up for backpacking. 1 c peanut butter, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup corn syrup or honey/agave. Cook in a large pot until well mixed and sugar is dissolved. The longer it is cooked, the harder the finished product will be. when finished, add 6 – 7 cups of “cereal products” and add ins. We use the stale, last few bites of cereal from the bottom of the bags. Any will do, kix, cheerios, life cereal, etc,. Just stay away from “fruit flavors” like trix or fruit loops. They taste ok, but take on a really funky look with the peanut butter. Add-ins include nuts, dried fruits like raisins, toasted oatmeal, toasted coconut. It doesn’t matter as long as it all equals 6 cups.

    Pack into a greased Jelly roll pan and slice to desired size while still hot (VERY IMPORTANT). Cool in the fridge then store in baggies. High calorie content and they lasted an entire week.

    For drinks, we did gatorade packets, and I had some with caffeine since I’m a caffeine junky, and instead of making coffee in the mornings I carried coffee shots that I buy for 10 cents each at the quick stop. Each one is a cup of coffee and they are fractions of an ounce. For my daughter, I added powdered nesquick to the left over powdered milk for her breakfast drink.

    Worked well for us and was fairly lightweight.

  81. I don’t usually carry bacon for long trips since it is too heavy, but there is a way to preserve it. I had read about 30 years ago that if you paint the bacon with vinegar and wrap it in tin foil it will keep for up to three weeks. I have done this on trips where I was out for 7-10 days, and had no problems, but have never tried 3 weeks. The vinegar burns off and does not leave an after taste. I am doing the JMT this Summer, but will bring the jerked bacon since it is lighter.

  82. dont know if you have it in America but malt loaf is a good alround carb, protein meal, scrummy with butter or alternative spread. good for breakfast or lunch with hot drink or just as mid meal snack item

  83. I have to admit that I actually like the flavor of only the following backpacker meals (kind of an ultralight no no):

    Mountain House Beef Stew
    Mountain House Chili Mac w/Beef
    Mountain House Beef Stroganoff (the best!)

    They are pricey but super easy, I don’t find the shrunk wrapped versions too bulky, so I don’t repackage, when I eat them, I supplement with Tapatio or Cholula packets and a tbs. of olive oil.

    -Breakie -Instant oatmeal with Trader Joes freeze dried bananas and blueberries (repackaged)
    this really gets me going in the morning with an English breakfast tea neat.
    -Snacks – Cliff bars really keep me going, I’ve shied away from GORP on recent trips but bring some Almonds and Chocolate…
    -Lunch- Crackers or Tortillas with packaged chicken or tuna or salami and cheese, hot sauce helps here too.
    -Happy Hour, a little salami and cheese, a tiny nip of wine (I carry about 3 oz. of wine, just a sip or two with cheese at ‘magic hour’ is too nice to resist.
    -Dinner, love the fully loaded Idahoan with beef jerky, I add the jerky to the water as it boils, works with salmon or turkey jerky as well.
    -Desert – Ritter Chocolate/Bourbon – I’ll carry 6 ozs of something nice, like Heaven Hills or Angel’s Envy.

    One really good thing I discovered is that green dried seaweeds are loaded with vitamins/minerals and are cooked by the time your water boils, then dump it in the dinner, healthy and balanced…I usually also consume half an emergen C a day in my water bottle.

    Trout Trout Trout!!!! Omega oils a plenty and a protein boost…have an UL rod/fly set up and carry a test tube of oil mixed with chopped garlic and wasabi packets…the best!

    • Prepare Bear Creek soup mix at home. Dehydrate. Put serving size in freezer bag to reconstitute on the trail. I use an Igloo insulated lunch bag size bag as a cozy.

      I use my cheap dehydrator to start my backpack pantry in the month of May.

      I don’t like store bought beef jerky so I make my own. My choice of beef is London Broil. Low in fat and thick.

      Dehydrate cooked shrimp meat (the little white ones).

      Dehydrate frozen mixed vegetables (blanched) corn, peas, carrots. My pantry includes dehydrated pickled ginger and kimchee.

      One of my favorites is ramen noodles (discard flavoring packet) with dehydrated vegetables, ginger, kimchee, shrimp with soy sauce and Kikkoman Thai sauce from minimus.biz.

      Dehydrate natural apple sauce from a jar or blend berry medley from the grocery store freezer for fruit “leathers”.

      I’m not a through hiker. I wander around in the Olympic National Park. Backpackers are required to have a bear proof food container. It is a challenge to get the calories, nutrition and taste in the food container, but that is half of the fun.

  84. So good to see peanut butter playdough make list. I have’nt made that for years. So good.
    Get granulated milk, not powdered. Gives it a really nice crunchy texture and the milk doesn’t get lost in the dough.

  85. Thanks Erik – and everyone else who has contributed! I am the “meal planner” for our youth group treks (usually less than 4 days, but with young kids who can’t carry a lot of weight and are often picky eaters!) and am always hungry – haha- for meal ideas. I’ve gotten some great information from reading this site! Happy Hiking!

  86. I Don’t know if I’m overstepping my bounds, (let me know if i am Eric) but the very helpful backpack planner Eric so graciously provides for free can be slightly modified to plan meals. I just changed all the categories to my Days/meals. and in the last column for price, i changed some of the formatting to accommodate calories. Theres a couple bugs to work out pertaining to the Base weight vs skin out and such, but again the graphs are invaluable in finding where the weight (and now the calorie density) are proportioned. Helps with getting the heavier/less dense foods out of the pack first and finishing with the lightest/most nutritious before the “in town feast”.

    • @Beast of Burden: That’s a good idea. I hadn’t thought of that. Feel free to modify the spreadsheet to fit your own needs. If you are able to get the bugs worked out I’ll be happy to host the food version here for other hikers to download if you want to send it to me.

  87. Now that Ive dwelled on it all morning I’m just going to have to second the motion by the previous commenter to request an “official” “Eric the Black meal Planner”. Although modifying the Backpack planner 2.0 Is leaps and bounds ahead of pen and paper, my mind reals with the possibilities of an actual purpose built planner specifically engineered around UL packing. Calories per oz averages, or oz per meal. The possibilities for examination are endless. I suspect breaking down carbs, proteins and fat would be be a little obsessive but on the same note invaluable for the aforementioned “well balanced hiking meal” (more of a unicorn in my circles) :-)

  88. I found home dried bread to be avoid snack.

    Just cut it into packable chunks, baked it at 170°C with oil, salt and pepper, though you could use any herbs/spices you like for variety’s sake, for 15 minutes or so.

    Packed in sandwich bags, it kept just fine for 5 days. I also ate with chunks of cheese/salami. Not exactly a ‘ready snack’ but good for those elongated pauses.

  89. Thanks Eric for the great advice. Though there was some backlash regarding the “junk food” options, I think you are right (and many experienced mountaineers). HIGH CALORIE foods are extremely important to avoid the body from losing calories and consuming its own fat. Just google what people who climb Mt. Everest pack! And that’s the most extreme condition I can imagine. So if people are so concerned with “junk food” just remember to keep a balance between healthy foods and high calorie foods. Simple, it’s all about balance.

    Check it out:


  90. Not something I ordinarily go for, but recently bought 3 boxes of cosmic brownies, why you ask? They’re warren doyle’s goto junk food, and if Mr. 18+ A.T. through hikes likes em, they’re verifiable manna of the gods.

    Figured I might as well add them since after a total calorie/weightloss recount I clocked my cals/hr @1200 and pound back more poptarts and protein bars than a fat kid. BTW snickers are more valuable than gold on the A.T. incase you make your way out east ;)


  91. For me, cheese satisfies a lot of cravings on the trail. Besides parmesan, there are lots of aged, firm cheeses that should make it a couple weeks without refrigeration if they’re wrapped correctly. (Wrap in butcher/waxed/parchment paper, then in a ziplock. This lets the cheese breathe.)

    Some of my favorite firm cheeses for backpacking: Vella Dry Monterey Jack, Cypress Grove Midnight Moon, Manchego.

    Pair with dried pears, dates, or prunes. Milder, sweet cured meats like dry chorizo or bastirma and Triscuits.

    I know, kinda fancy for backpacking, but I hate getting bored out there.

    Also love:
    pretzel rods and dip
    hostess fruit pies
    canned sardines (i try to do this just before a trash dump stop)
    belvita biscuits and justin’s pb packets

  92. Hi Eric,

    The cheese sticks, don’t they need to be refrigerated?
    and the tortilias don’t they turn moldy in the summer sun?

    I’m with you in bringing pasta (i.e. Elbow, tubettini) it cooks fast
    and better than ramen. Don’t forget Knorr ” Pesto sauce mix” not many calories but a refreshing taste that will bring other hikers running to ask you what yopu are eating. If it’s Italian, it’s better.


    • @Onegreywork: Cheese sticks and tortillas hold up well unrefrigerated for up to 5-7 days in my experience. If it is really hot out (more than 100 degrees) a little less. But in cooler weather they do fine.

  93. I’ll just put in a word for miso soup packets. Super lightweight, super salty and delicious. They actually are about 100cal/oz but each packet is only 0.3 oz. really restorative at the end of the day.

  94. Eric,
    I have a problem. ANY LIQUID, will seep out of any container, whether its food,oils , fuel. WHY !!!!!! damn it. Yes i burp the bottle going up, and the partial ,UN-used , is the culprit.

    Any help on this from people who hike above 9000′ feet.


    • @Bill: I’m not sure why that is, but I have noticed the same thing. I usually put bottles of liquid inside a ziploc baggy just in case.

      • You’d do well to remove as much of the air as you can from any container containing liquid, or use only collapsible containers, and again remove the air. Air expands and contracts with changes in altitude but not so with liquids. They do not change in volume with change in air pressure. So, less pressure on the lid. But I agree – carry it all in a ziplock bag.

  95. Serious backpackers looking for easy and lightweight backpacking food solutions should check out Heather’s Choice! We’re a startup company based out of Birdsong, Alaska dedicated to changing the way backpackers eat. We’re creating gluten-free, dairy-free, dehydrated backpacking meals from organic and sustainably sourced ingredients. Our founder, Heather Kelly, uses her background as a certified nutritionist to create recipes designed to keep your satisfied and strong throughout your adventure! We have breakfasts, dinners, and snacks all dehydrated and ready to join you! Check us out at: http://www.heatherschoice.com

  96. Hi Éric. Thanks for the great info.
    I see there are lots of folks looking around for vegetarian options. I’m not a vegetarian but often est meatless meals. One thing I saw which could be a good Backpacking meal is powdered falafel mix. One ounce is 140 calories. You do have to moisten and let the falafels stand for about an hour before you fry them but it’s a good option if you’re not in a hurry to eat. Add them to a tortilla with mayonnaise for a great wrap. Another option is flavoured soya protein made by a company called HotHuck’s Veggie Food. It’s only about 90 calories per ounce but it’s packed with vitamins and minerals. I tried the TexMex flavour which basically is a kind of chili and it’s really good when added to rice. I don’t know if it’s available in the United-States, but you can order it and have it delivered from Mountain Equipment Coop (which is basically a Canadian version of REI) :

  97. I usually mix peanut butter,honey and GORP for the trail. I also pack an apple. This is for a day hike.
    Can i eat this on a multiday hike (minus the apple) of lets say 3 days and nothing else?

    • @Prsnhiker: I imagine you could, as long as you packed enough of it to give you enough calories and you don’t get sick of eating the same thing every day.

      • Erik The Black: You are right. I’ll add some dried fruits and beef jerky to that. I’m planning on skipping the stove (just some fire starters for boiling water or making fire just in case). This should do.

  98. Regarding tuna foil packs: I just noticed that Star-Kist offers tuna -in-oil single-serve packets, which give you nearly 100 calories more than the usual packed-in-water packets for the same weight. I haven’t tried them, but a recent price was a buck apiece at Wal-mart. Maybe it will even give enough oil to not need to pack olive oil separately. Another item not to be overlooked is foil-pack Spam, which provides even more calories, although somewhat less protein than the tuna does. So mac and Spam is not just for car campers anymore.

  99. Sorry but I think only things on your list that are somewhat healthy are the gorp, the olive oil and maybe the tuna if it is wild caught. Now days you can get sausages that don’t have nitrites. How about some hard boiled eggs? Oz for Oz I think they are up there in nutrition as tuna and you do not have to refrigerate if your not in a really hot place and only out for 4-5 days. Instead of the mac and cheese, how about rice noodles or instant brown rice. I’m okay with the instant potatoes. Another choice for fat is Ghee and you can put it in a leak proof contain. It works better that olive oil if you are frying dried eggs and it add nice flavor to oatmeal or any other dinner dish. The fat also keeps you warm at night and is a longer acting energy source that oil. Smokes wild caught salmon is a good alternative to tuna.

    • @Judy: This topic of this post is not health food. It is ultralight backpacking food. Although a boiled egg is nutritious, it doesn’t provide very many calories for the weight. A large boiled egg weighs approximately 2 ounces and provides 80 calories (only 40 cals/oz.) Boiled eggs are also bulky, fragile and difficult to transport. Rice noodles or instant brown rice by themselves are pretty bland. Most hikers I know cannot stand to choke down plain carbs for very long no matter how nutritious that may be. After a long day of hiking it’s not just about refueling the gas tank. It’s also about eating something that tastes good. And what tastes the best after a long day of hiking are calorie-dense foods that are loaded with fat, sugar and salt.

  100. My husband and I hiked a small portion of the AT last summer. I have a great technique for dehydrating hamburger, and sausage. Mix 1 pound ground beef with 5 cups water; shred it with your fingers until its as small as possible. Boil it. Strain off the liquid and refrigerate the liquid until the fat solidifies. Remove the fat and discard. This is what will turn rancid on the trail. Add the liquid back to the ground beef, and cook it down until almost dry. Throw it in your dehydrator for a few hours, and you have dried beef bits to add to hamburger helper, or ramen. The sausage is good in dirty rice. One lb of ground meat reduced down to 5-6 ounces, and 1 and 3/4 cups in size.

  101. Eric,
    I have not found cheese sticks that do not require refrigeration. I see hikers post pictures of their food and cheese sticks are part of the mess. I am concerned that I will get sick from them if not kept cold. Suggestions?

  102. Erik,

    I noticed on your gear list the Snow Peak minimax stove and 1 L Evernew pot. Can the stove (not the fuel bottle) be stored in the recommended Evernew pot? Thanks for your very helpful ideas and suggestions!

  103. This one takes some prep but worth the effort. Lentil pate! Make a large pot of lentils with every spice onion garlic that you enjoy. cook till tender and tasty. put on plastic backed(for liquids)dehydrator trays. dry till crunchy. I carry a bag of these to munch. Take the rest to your blender and turn into fine powder. You will have to fiqure out how much you need to carry for a lunch. using bowl or coffee cup re-hydrate to make a thick tasty paste. Use on crackers chips tortillas Beats the heck out of peanut butter all the time.


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