Hiking Food – Let the Battle Begin

Posted: September 27, 2011 in General Hiking

Ok you experienced hikers…. You may want to pass on reading most of this as this section is really geared toward noobs.

Wait… why you still reading? Oh you’re a noob, well welcome to the ever changing madness of choosing your food for hiking.

I’m going to start by writing I do NOT have all this food business dialed in. And to be honest I don’t think I ever will because I’m always trying new things. BUT I believe I have this figured out enough to provide you with some solid guidance on how to choose your meals.

Now to choose your meals lets break this down into 3 categories:

1) Weight of food
2) Calorie In-take/Nutrition
3) Variety


Now if you have ventured into the business of light weight and Ultra-light weight hiking in general your food and water will be the heaviest things in your pack. Seriously! Right now I have a base weight for 3 season of approximately 8.5 lbs and my food for a 5 day hike weighs in at about 10 lbs. Yes that’s about 2lbs of food per day. Now this is based on my preferred meals and portions. Some will be lighter others may be a bit heavier. This is where messing and trying new things comes into play.

When I first started out I thought the greatest thing in the world was MRE’s (Meals Ready To Eat) aka military rations. These meals require no cooking at all. Just open the pouch and chow down. Now to be honest the MRE’s out in the market today are mainly geared toward civilians and actually taste not bad. Some of the items are actually really good. Here’s the problem… they weigh a ton and have a lot of unnecessary packaging to discard in the field. And they don’t compact down that well either. The reason they weigh a lot is because of the water contained within the meal. So, the Water Monkey really wants to save you the trial and error on this one… SKIP THE MRE’s FOR HIKING. If you are in a survival bug out/bug in situation… sure. But if you are out there pounding out miles in the mountains… Hells to the no.

So Water Monkey, what do I get then??? Well thug-a-little you really want to gear at least your dinners towards freeze-dried or dehydrated meals. Basically these meals have the water flash frozen or dried right out of them. If you compare the weight of one MRE dinner to these meals you are looking at probably at least 3 dehydrated dinners to one MRE dinner. It’s really is that big of a difference.

This leads me into the next part which is how do you re-hydrate your meals. Well you do what’s called Freezer Bag cooking. By this all you have to do is bring water to a boil, pour in the boiled water into the meal. Wait about 15-20 minutes and BAM awesomeness food. Now don’t get discourage about using a freezer bag.. you can also use a Ziploc container which is what I use…. I’m not into the freezer bags this primate needs a bowl.

Now notice I said dinners earlier for dehydrated food. To cook all the time to eat gets both bothersome and costly as you will need to bring more fuel. There are other options out there as well for the other areas (breakfast, lunch, and snacks). This is where you need to actually take a good look around in your grocer’s store. Many food manufacturers have made single serving meals in compact light weight pouches. For example – Tuna Fish, chicken, peanut butter and Spam to name a few. Take a look around you can come up with some pretty good combinations based on your personal taste buds. I’ll give some examples of what I eat at the end of this bloggy-blog-blog.


This is what I struggled with the first 2 years I began backpacking. I really wasn’t paying attention to the calories I was taking in and also the nutrition of the items I was eating.

Wait, just wait a minute before you start asking why this is so important. Well my nutty friend when you backpack you will tend to burn between 2,000 to 5,000 calories per day. This depends on a few factors (weight of backpack, temperature of the environment, and elevation changes during your hike). But roughly you are burning some serious calorie bank. And as such you really need to find a way to replenish some of that lost fuel to keep you going day in and day out.

When you begin choosing your meals and snacks take a look at the calories. Your goal is to have around 500 – 1,000 calories per meal intake. Right now I average about 3,000 to 3,500 calories per day in my meals. And it seems to be the right amount of calories for me to keep me going good and strong. This can get a bit challenging at first. It’s not like there’s a Micky D’s out in the woods where you can slam 2,000 calories in one happy meal. But little things like adding pre-packaged meals like spam, tuna, or chicken to your meals can add calories not to mention adding a little olive oil.

Now don’t get silly on me and bring a ton of junk food either. You are going to need some good food with some good nutritional value. Bringing snickers, cheetos, and ramen noodles may taste good. But they don’t provide all the vitamins and minerals you push out through sweating and working up those mountains either. Strike for a happy balance of good stuff like dried fruits, nuts, beef jerkey and the really crappy foods like twix and peanut M&Ms. And I’m totally serious on this. I did the crap food last year and day 3 I’m a bit on the wishy washy side. This year I went for more nutritional food and King Kong had nothin on ME!


This is where most noobs really kind of drop the ball. I know I dropped the ball my first multi-day hike. If you eat the same foods day in and day out you will most likely get what’s called “appetite fatigue”. This is where you get so damn tired of the food that you’d rather starve than eat it anymore. I actually had this on my first trip. I brought oatmeal for breakfast, nuts and beef jerky for lunch, and a different dehydrated meal for dinner. On day 4 I couldn’t stomach the oatmeal I was forcing it down , and the nuts… well lets say I had a ton left over.

Make each day you are out different. As each hike presents new and exciting challenges and scenery let your food reflect that as well. Trust me you’ll thank me later.


OK enough already you want to see what I’m bringing on a multi-day hike don’t you? Well here are some sample menus I’ve done to give you some ideas on your personal food quest:

2 packages of instant oatmeal – 260 calories
Cup of instant coffee – 100 calories
Cup of green tea – 0 calories (I just like the taste)
Pop tarts & breakfast bars – 580 calories
Instant grits w/dehydrated eggs – 600 calories
Justin’s Chocolate Hazlenut spread, 1 banana, 1 flat bread – 600 calories
Granola and powdered milk with dried berries or nuts – 260 calories

Pre-packaged crackers with cheese or peanut butter – 280 calories
Protein bar – 500 calories
Snickers, Twix, Peanut M&Ms – 250 calories
Dried fruits and nuts – 300 calories
Cliff Bars (they suck but some people like them) – 280 calories

Prepackaged tuna fish or chicken salad on a wrap/flat bread – 300 calories
Ramen noodles and spam – 360 calories
Peanut butter, honey or jelly on a flat bread – 350 calories
GORP (Good Old Raisins & Peanuts) – usually unsalted nuts with some dried fruit (cranberries, banana chips, pears, pinapple) – 300 caloreis
Beef Jerky – 200 calories
Stick of salami and cheese – 300 calories
Gator aid packet – 50 calories

Mountain House Beef Stroganoff – 520 calories
Mountain House Lasagna – 510 calories
Hawkvittles Bison Stew – 430 calories
Hawkvittles Cowboy Pasta – 535 calories
Mountain House Chicken Teriyaki – 480 calories
Hawkvittles Spicy Chicken – 530 calories
Homemade Dehydrated spaghetti with meat – 500 calories
Wraps/Flat Bread – 200 calories
Hot coa coa – 150 calories

To put some faces to the names here’s a video of what I brought on my 2011 Charity Hike for 5 days (Warning PG-13 Language):

And here’s a listing of some vendors with some really good selection of meals or meal supplements:

Packit Gourmet
Hawkvittles (personal favorite)
Mountain House
Enertia Trail Foods
Babelfish5 dehydrated meals (He teaches you how to make your own awesome meals!!)
Justin’s Nut Butter
Outdoor Herbivore (Vegetarian Meals)
Bear Valley Bars

That should get you started on the right foot…

Stay gangsta,

Water Monkey

  1. Hey WM,

    The few meals from hawkvittles you listed are on the low-end of calories for what he offers. He has a number of meals that are 1,000+ calories. Additionally, my two favorites “linquni w/mushroom sauce” and “sierra spaghetti” are very awesome for non-cook-meals!!

    I would also mention that you should include “outdoorherbivore” in your list of providers. They cater to those who are vegan and have some very excellent non-cook-meals for folks like myself who go no-cook.

    And while a bit more expensive the “Tanka Bar” is one of the best out there. As is the “bear valley pemmican” bar – which is not real pemmican… but very high in calories.

    Great blog – even for an “experienced hiker” :-p

    John B. Abela

    • Hey John,

      Some great additional vendors. I’ll update the list tomorrow. My Monkey Butt is tired lol

      Oh the Hawkvittles calories were based on single serving sizes. I pulled them off the website today as I wrote the blog. Double servings are the 1,000 + calories…. unless I read it wrong. Who knows 😉 Plus those meals are my personal favorite

      Glad you liked the blog!

      Tired Monkey

      • Hey Sleepy Monkey,

        I was over looking at the calories for those packitgourmet and was amazed at how pitiful they are in that regards to calories. I they look freaking awesome in regards to flavor and such, but the calorie levels were probably the worst I have seen from any FBC’s on the market. It is neat that they sell hamburger – never seen any other company sell plain hamburger. Freaking brilliant idea!

    • I havent check out packit gourmet but the few backpackers that I follow say they are very tasty. I’m starting to go more on the DIY dehydrating meals… Babelfish5 has ignited my interest in dehydrating. I have a machine and made jerky in the past. I just need to man up on this and get to cookin.

    • I was just checking out Packit Gourmet just now. It seems you need to supplement many of the meals with tortilla wraps. Being that the average wrap is between 150-200 calories you need to factor that into the equation it seems. Seems like a lot of tasty meals. Enertia foods also has some great breakfasts with high calories.

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