The Best Backpacking Foods for a Long Journey

Updated 05/05/19
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A backpacking trip requires a great deal of planning and preparation, as anything can happen in the wilderness. In addition to equipping yourself with first-aid essentials, warm clothing, and plenty of bug repellent, you'll need to put a lot of thought into the amount and types of food you're bringing along. After all, no one wants to be stranded 20 miles into a hiking trail with a stick of jerky and an empty water bottle.

First, consider how many days you need to pack for. REI recommends that you pack 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 pounds of food per day. That said, choosing the right backpacking foods is all about nutritional density. Be sure to carry your food in a backpack that is big enough to store many items yet accessible enough to carry around all day. Since backpacks are limited in space, it's important to find foods that go a long way but are still lightweight. Ahead, check out some of the best backpacking foods to carry you through any journey.

Bring Plenty of Protein

On a backpacking trip, it's important to choose foods that provide fuel for an extended amount of time. Protein and complex carbohydrates should make up the bulk of food items present.

Empty calories—like those that come in the form of cookies and candy—should be included in very small quantities (if at all), as they take up valuable space without actually providing any nutritional benefits.

For protein, salami and tuna are excellent choices. They take up little space, can be kept at room temperature, and provide a ton of protein. Beef jerky is another suitable choice—just try to find minimally processed jerky.

For vegetarians and vegans, some of the best protein sources include nuts, seeds, peanut butter, and protein shake mix—particularly soy or hemp protein. Before your journey, divide individual servings of protein powder into sandwich bags. This will minimize the amount of space used in the backpack and eliminate the need for measuring servings while on the go.

Don't Forget the Carbs

Carbs are essential for energy on long backpacking trips. As with protein, you need carbs that can hold up for long periods without refrigeration.

Bring plenty of dried fruit, granola, and energy bars. Canned foods—like canned fruits and veggies—should be a kept to a minimum, as they take up a lot of room and can weigh you down. If you do need cans, pack only those that are essential and try to find the smallest cans possible.

For breakfast, oatmeal packets should be on your list. Just add a bit of hot water, and you have a delicious instant breakfast. Be sure to bring along a portable kettle or another heating device. With this tool on hand, you can also bring dense, carb-rich foods like ramen noodles, instant rice, and pasta.

If you can't live without bread, consider packing whole wheat tortillas. The slow-digesting whole wheat is an excellent carb source, and tortillas hardly take up any room.

Freeze-dried foods are also worth considering. While they can be a bit costly, they are worth their weight. They last a very long time, provide a wealth of nutrients, and weigh next to nothing.

Stay Hydrated

Of course, hydration is absolutely essential, so make sure to bring water, water, and more water. Pack no less than two liters per day for leisurely trips and as much as one liter per hour for long, arduous hikes. Powdered drinks can break up the monotony of drinking water all day. Consider bringing powdered milk and powdered electrolyte drinks.

Can't decide on the best place to go hiking? See our list of the best destinations for solo travelers.

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