How To

Pack Light, Eat Well: Food for the Trail

Overnight-or-longer wilderness walks require a certain amount of equipment to ensure safety and comfort. According to Backpacking Light, the average backpacker carries 40-50 pounds of weight for a weeklong trip. Carrying a pack this heavy could result in a slow, tedious, or even painful hike. For this reason, inexperienced, or even some experienced, backpackers might be tempted to decrease the amount of food in their backpacks to lessen the weight. Having enough food for the hike is vital to your overall safety. With deliberate food planning, you can reduce the amount of weight and keep the calories.

Calories fuel our bodies. Not getting enough calories during your backpacking trip will cause you to feel tired, hungry, and less alert. An adult body needs at least 1,000 to 1,400 calories per day to have enough energy to fuel major organs such as the brain, heart, and lungs. This minimum number of calories is known as the resting metabolic rate (RMR) and varies greatly depending on age, weight, gender, and muscle mass. In order to have enough energy to live your day and be active, you need more energy than what’s required from your RMR. According to Backpacking Trip Planner, the National Outdoor Leadership School has estimated a backpacker will burn between 2,500 and 4,500 calories in a twenty-four-hour period. To ensure your backpacking trip is not weighted down with hunger and exhaustion, your goal should be to maximize calories per pound when packing food.

Backpacking enthusiasts agree that a good general estimate for food quantities is 1-1/2 to 2 pounds per person per day. For that reason, dehydrated or freeze-dried foods are a wise choice for the trail because they are lighter and less bulky. Dehydrated meals are usually single items that are packaged without seasoning or other ingredients added. Freeze dried foods, on the other hand, are usually fully seasoned meals. Retailers like Back Country Cuisine offer a vast assortment of easy-to-prepare and great tasting meals, desserts, meal compliments, and ration packs. While dehydrated foods are usually cheaper than freeze-dried foods, freeze dried foods offer greater variety and better taste. Whichever you prefer, both foods are optimum choices in terms of storage.

Raising four kids has made me resourceful and thrifty. If I wanted to go backpacking, but didn’t have time to dehydrate food and/or didn’t have the money to buy dehydrated or freeze-dried foods, I would make do with whatever I had on hand. I would choose high-calorie foods that were easy to prepare and did not require refrigeration. Chances are good that you have some or all of these in your kitchen pantry: peanut butter, nuts, cheese, crackers, packaged macaroni and cheese, instant potatoes, instant oatmeal, granola bars, chocolate (preferably dark), tortillas, pasta, pasta sauce, bagels and packaged tuna. All of these make excellent choices for the trail. Simply repackage the boxed, canned, and bottled foods into plastic bags, double-bagging as necessary, add a variety of spices, and organize the food in such a way so that the amount of food necessary to sustain you during your hike and the weight are balanced.

There is no magic equation to answer exactly how much or what food you should carry. The more you hike, the better you will be able to determine how much and what types of food are best for you. The bottom line is to pack high-calorie, low density foods that fuel your body without breaking your back.

Images by Tami McDaniels

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