Menu planning for a multi-day hike can be a challenge. The goal is to take enough calories without adding too much weight to your pack, while trying to make meals taste good. Not so easy sometimes!
When I am out hiking in the back country with friends, we often comment to each other when we are enjoying a piece of salami or a re-hydrated pasta dish just how good it tastes when camping, but how we would never eat this stuff at home because it would taste terrible.
Such are the joys of getting lots of exercise–it builds up an appetite and makes otherwise unappealing food edible!
In this post, I outline a number of meal and snack ideas for a multi-day hike that are lightweight and have enough calories to fill you up. By starting with a few basics, you can add what you like depending on your taste preferences.
I have no allergies or food limitations, but if you do, you may have to adjust your meal plan based on your specific dietary needs.
Remember that you are using a lot more calories when hiking as compared to sitting at your desk at work. To consume enough calories during a hike, I plan for 3 meals plus 2 snack packs per day. And avoid fat-reduced or low-salt products—go for the full amounts of both!
Several of my friends love to prepare all of their food. They’ll cook up batches of pasta and sauce or chicken stew, and they will dehydrate fruit for days on end and vacuum-pack each meal or snack into one- or two-person servings. If you have time for this, it is a great way to ensure that you have tasty food in the exact portions you want.
But if you’re like me and find that is just too time intensive, then you can find everything you need at the grocery store. A number of basic items will form the foundation for planning a variety of tasty meals. Mix and match items to make up meals according to your tastes. Get creative!
Now, the next debate; cooked food versus uncooked food, what to do? I usually plan to have cooked dinners and hot breakfasts and a hot drink each morning and evening. My lunches and snacks are made up of food that doesn’t need cooking.
- Pita bread, bagels and wraps keep well and are robust enough for a backpack. As a bonus, they slide easily down the sides of your pack. Bread tends to get smooshed and is bulky.
- Pumpernickel Rye Bread. The 500 g pack made by Van Der Meulen is small and very dense and will fill you up with just one or two slices.
- Chicken noodle soup, Japanese ramen or Thai soup packets. These are great for replacing salts you’ve lost while hiking, hence I start each dinner with a hot soup.
- Small pasta shapes such as shells or orzo, instant rice, cous cous, quinoa or vermicelli noodles are good at filling you up and they cook quickly, hence use a minimum of fuel. As a guide, I take 100 grams per person, but you should adjust this amount according to your appetite.
- Freeze-dried foods such as peas, carrots, mushrooms, potato flakes and sun-dried tomatoes are lightweight. I personally cannot stand rehydrated carrots, but to each their own!
- Look at the selection of dried, ready-to-cook meal ideas in the pasta & rice aisle and in the Asian section of your local grocery store.
- Salt and pepper packets left over from your last venture into Maccas or Hungry Jacks are handy to have along.
- A bulb of garlic (or garlic salt) is easy to pack, as are a few small onions.
- A small travel-sized plastic bottle is good for carrying olive oil for cooking.
- Ready-made spice and sauce packets are small and easy to pack.
- Make your own curry or Mexican spice mixes.
- Tuna or salmon. Buy the no-drain foil packages. Great for adding to pasta or for lunches.
- Shelf-stable salami, if unopened, can be kept at room temperature for ages. Good for adding to the dinner pot or for lunches.
- Protein powders.
- Instant coffee, teabags and drink crystals.
- Powdered milk (full fat) for tea, coffee, oatmeal or desserts. To make sure you use the right amount each day, divide it up into small ziplocks. I make up one for using with hot drinks and others for meals and desserts as needed.
Instant oats with sultanas and/or cranberries and almond slivers or pepitas and a bit of brown sugar, cinnamon and powdered milk is a high calorie, tasty start to the day. Weigh out and package together for each day to ensure equal portions.
Some people like to make pancakes, but you really need to have a non-stick pan and a camp stove that will simmer for this, or you tend to get burnt, stuck-on pancakes that are raw in the middle, plus a pan that isn’t easy to clean up.
- Hard-boiled eggs. Eat these on the first day for lunch with some salt.
- Pumpernickel rye bread, pitas or bagels.
- Hard cheeses such as parmesan or romano are good choices as they don’t need to be refrigerated. Another option is the individually wrapped Laughing Cow cheese that does not need refrigeration.
- Peanut butter, jam, honey, crackers.
- Vegemite in individual-portions.
- Salami and jerky.
- Biscuits that won’t melt.
- Dried fruit.
- Muesli bars.
The most important food of all is Trail Mix! I recommend splurging on your trail mix selection. For me, there’s nothing less satisfying than a mix full of plain old peanuts and sultanas. I suggest a combination of sweet and salty. I like M & Ms, almonds, macadamia nuts, cranberries, jelly babies, jelly snakes, cashews and dried fruit (mangoes, blueberries, cherries).
Your fellow hikers will be coveting your mix, and who knows, you may be able to gain a few favours in exchange—such as having your dishes cleaned that night!
- Instant pudding or custard powder, plus powdered milk for both as needed.
- Muesli bars, biscuits, candies/lollies, etc.
More Random Ideas
Do not carry cans or glass containers. They are heavy and continue to take up an annoying amount of space in your pack when they are empty.
On the first day, I will often carry a frozen steak or chicken breast wrapped in newspaper and sealed in a ziplock bag, along with some Thai curry paste, vermicelli noodles or instant rice, a fresh capsicum, onion and powdered coconut milk. The meat will thaw by the time you have dinner. At least your first meal is more like being at home!
Packing food: The best strategy is to put each meal into its own bag and to label it and lay it all out so you can see each day’s food. This makes it super easy on the trail and also ensures that you haven’t miscalculated and missed a meal or two.
Food storage tip: There may be a few small, nocturnal critters out there that will love your food. So bring a few nylon stuff sacks along and a bit of thin rope to tie your food up off the ground on a tree branch. It won’t guarantee that mice won’t find your food, but if it’s out of your pack, then at least your pack won’t have a hole chewed in it in the morning.
If you’ve parked a car at the end of your hike, then throw in some food that is completely different to what you have packed on your hike. It will fill the gap until you can get to a proper restaurant or home to your fridge.
I refer you to a great article on calculating the amount of fuel you will need, along with ways to conserve fuel. https://thesummitregister.com/stoves-101-how-much-fuel-should-i-carry/