How to Plan Meal For a Multi-day Hiking Trip? An In-Depth Guide
Getting a meal plan ready for a multi-day backpacking trip can be quite daunting. As you pack your bag, you maintain the mindset that less is more. That's why packing enough food to stay healthy and energized for your hike can seem like a big trade-off.
However, packing enough food to keep you feeling fresh on the trail should be one of the most essential parts of the whole process. It can make or break the way you feel about your entire trip.
Instead, go at meal planning systematically. The first time that you do it, it might seem a bit overwhelming. However, it's much better this way than throwing random hiking food into your bag and hoping for the best.
Meet Your Calorie Count
When most of us think of calorie counting, we think of dieters committed to a strict eating regime. In this case, you are one of these, but looking to max out on your necessary calories, not cut back.
Your goal should be to consume the perfect amount of food so that your body feels like it can keep pressing on at the speed you want it to go. Essentially, in the backpacking world, the estimated amount of calories you burn during the day should be equal to the number of calories you pack for that day.
You also want to time it right. Our digestive systems often feel prime when instead of eating three meals a day, we eat six smaller meals. Where this might not be as applicable during our daily lives, it can be helpful on the trail.
You should plan to consume between 2,500 and 4,500 calories a day. The variation here is due to several outstanding factors that change from person to person and even trip to trip. Some of these include:
- Your weight
- The amount of time you will hike
- The grade of the trail
- The distance you plan to hike
- How much your backpack weighs
You can estimate the amount of calories you need to consume based on experience or you might even work out an equation for it. However, it is often easiest to go online and find a hiking calculator. That way you can put in your weight, your backpack’s average weight and all of those other variables to figure it out.
Also, don’t be afraid to tweak this number. You know yourself better than the calculator does. If you have eaten much more or less in the past and still felt healthy and energized, then adjust. After this trip, consider the number of calories again and adjust accordingly for future multi-day hikes.
Prioritize Convenience and Variety
Backpacking is often all about minimalism and keeping things simple. As a result, you are going to feel exhausted by the time that you are done. Rarely will you feel excited at the end of the hiking portion of the day to cook a fancy meal.
Instead, keep your food selection as simple as you can. Choose food that requires very little to no preparation. Often, hikers will choose one meal a day to cook, and the rest of their food is waiting for them in the bag, all prepped and ready.
Even cooking should be easy. Nowadays, we have backpacking food similar to military food, practically boil-in-a-bag with the required nutrients for your day.
We recommend getting something like one of these for each day to end your day on a high note and have it all digested by morning so you can keep moving on without feeling weighed down by too much food.
The rest of your calories should be easy. Get things like:
- Energy bars
Notice the range of foods on that list. That is because it isn’t only essential to bring plenty of convenient food, but also to bring a variety. You will have done both your taste buds and your body a favor by doing this.
Having options also helps you play a bit of a mind game with yourself. For example, if you only have a banana and a granola bar to eat for your snacks every day, you are more likely to get sick of them. If you don’t feel like eating them, you might decide to just skip them. That is not a good idea in the long run.
Assemble Your “Kitchen”
The food itself isn’t the only important part of this whole equation. There are plenty of other things you need to keep in your hiking backpack to be prepared for your trip. That includes a mini, backpacking-friendly kitchen. What is food without a way to prepare it? Cold food.
For some highly minimalistic packers, you might not need a kitchen to come along with your food.
Only pack what you need since adding gear is often where people end up with too heavy backpacks. Instead, consider your food choices and only pack the utensils you need.
For many people, you can get away with only having the supplies to boil water. Since all of these are now manufactured by outdoor companies to be extremely lightweight, you can get something like a lighter, pot, stove, and fuel canister that weighs less than a pound put together.
Others decide to go for a “no-cook” trip. While this is entirely your prerogative so that you don’t have to add that extra weight, it also means no hot meals for all the days you spend on the trail.
Principles of Camp Food
Food safety while on the trail is also essential, both for yourself and for the wildlife around you. So if you pack plenty of food, you will also want to keep these food camping principles in mind.
You need to odor-proof your food, particularly if you are hiking in bear country. However, even if it is just to keep the raccoons out of it, it is better than the wild animals eating it.
The best way to odor-proof your food is to keep anything not sealed tightly in a food canister or a bear bag. That way, anything you have won’t attract unwanted guests overnight.
Keep It Protected
Sometimes odor proofing isn’t enough. For example, if you are hiking where there have been plenty of bear robberies or even attacks, you might need to keep your food or backpack slung over a branch where they can’t get to it. Do research thoroughly on the area before heading out.
Leave No Trace
One of the most important parts of being a good backpacker is abiding by LNT principles. You should pack out exactly what you pack in and never leave any evidence you were there. You should never, ever leave any litter behind. The damage that can do to the surrounding environment is simply too much of a risk.
Hit The Trails
Now that you are ready with meals for days, it’s time to hit the trails! If you have always packed your food a bit haphazardly before and felt all the hungrier for it, get ready for a new kind of trip. You are bound to feel healthier and energized when you are prepared.