So, you’ve decided to finally bite the bullet and start training and planning for a huge multi-day hike. Whether it’s Larapinta, Bibbulman, or The Overland Track – one thing you need to start thinking about is the kind of food you’ll need to fuel your body for the entire journey.
How much weight should I allow for food each day?
You should allow for approximately 700g – 1kg on average of food per day, depending on how much you know your body will need. It’s also a good idea to bring a small surplus in case you’ve underestimated your appetite or wind up spending an extra night on the trial – an extra meal plus snacks should do the trick.
Where can I get lightweight hiking food?
Meal prep for hiking can be as easy as heading down to your local shops. You can buy all your condiments, snacks, breakfast, lunch and dinners from the supermarket. But, for more specialised items like freeze-dried meals and nutritional supplements you’ll probably need to head online to your favourite outdoors store, or health food supplier.
Here’s what approximately a day’s worth of food might look like.
How should I pack my meals?
Don’t leave it until the night before! It’s best to plan ahead of time and do a little food prep in the weeks or days leading up to your trip. Avoid unnecessary weight and using up precious pack space by removing all excess packaging that you don’t need. Ziplock bags are perfect for hiking, as they form a tight seal that won’t leak, they’re super lightweight, and they’ll keep your meals fresh.
Pre-mix your meals e.g. put your muesli, powdered milk, and dried fruit together. Label each bag carefully with the day number, meal, and even the ingredients. That way you’ll know exactly what it is and when you’re going to eat it. You’d be surprised at how similar food can look in low light conditions!
You can also separate your meals into different bags in your pack. So, rather than sorting through lunches and dinners looking for your brekkie, you can go straight to your breakfast bag and pull out the day according to its number.
Ziplock bags are a lightweight, and easy way to pack your meals and keep them fresh.
Depending on your schedule you may want to eat something that involves the least amount of prep time, such as a muesli or power bar. Or, you might want something warm in your belly to start the day – especially on a chilly morning! Instant oatmeal with some honey, fruit or nuts added is a solid choice that’s a good start to a long day of hiking.
If you’ve planned a ‘rest’ day and wish to indulge in a cooked breakfast, you could bring instant pancake mix. It’s a good idea to have this portion out into ziplock bags so you’re not stuck with the larger plastic container they are often packaged in. Then all you have to do is add water and shake before pouring the batter into a lightweight skillet or fry pan.
Add in a cup of tea or coffee and you’ll be ready to get going!
Meal ideas for breakfast
- Instant Oatmeal
- Dried fruit & nuts
- Pre-made pancake mix & powdered milk
- Muesli bars
- Specialised protein or energy bars
- Pre-packaged blends like Back Country Cuisine’s Yoghurt & Muesli, Porridge Supreme or Cooked Breakfast
- High-performance breakfasts from the Radix Nutrition range – Apple, Cinnamon & Turmeric, or Mixed Berry.
For lunch, you’ll want something that’s easy to prepare and doesn’t involve firing up your stove. Some hikers prefer to keep their momentum going and instead of a lunch break, they snack at intervals throughout the day which sustains and stabilises their energy.
Crackers, wrap bread, or dense bread with basic toppings are an excellent staple for lunch. If you’re a vegetarian, you can add sun-dried tomatoes, tahini or nut butter. If you eat meat and dairy – tuns, salami or cheese are full of protein, just add your favourite condiments and you should be all set!
On-the-go meal ideas for lunch
- Crackers, biscuits
- Pita bread
- Rye or other dense bread
- Sun-dried tomatoes
- Dried meats
- Tahini or nut butter
- Honey, jam, chutney or relish
Protein and carbs are just what you need after a long day of trekking.
If you’re more of a gourmet eater, you might prefer preparing your own meals on the trail. Carbs such as instant rice, pasta, couscous or noodles, can be cooked with some protein and/or dried vegetables. Add a sauce or spice blend and you’ll have a pretty tasty meal that will provide the protein, carbohydrates and fats you need after a long day of exertion.
It’s a good idea to include some variety in your menu as the same meal 7 nights in a row will get pretty tiresome. When planning your hike, check the cooking time on specific foods as the longer the cooking time, the more fuel you’ll have to bring.
Food ideas for hiking dinners
- Fast cooking rice
- Tuna, salmon, or sardines in a packet (not a tin)
- Jerky, salami, or other dried meat
- Cheese such as gouda or cheddar
- Dried vegetables – Asian groceries are a great source
- Instant mash potato
Dinner can be as simple as adding a sauce to pasta, or you can get a little more creative.
Freeze-dried meals are a great option as they’re lightweight, satisfying, and are quick and easy to prepare at the end of a long day. These meals are developed to be nutritionally balanced so they cover your needs with carbs, sugar, protein and fats.
All you have to do is boil water, add it to the pack, let it stand for 10 minutes, and the meal is ready to eat. They do end up costing a little more than something prepared from scratch, but many consider the convenience worth the extra expense.
It can be difficult to guess how much water to add to your freeze-dried foods, so a good tip is to take a drink bottle with measurements on the side and follow the directions on the meal packet. Some people prefer to use a little less water initially and add more if they want a thinner consistency. If you’re eating straight from the packet, it’s also useful to take a longer spoon or fork to stir with so your hands won’t get grubby digging to the bottom of the packet.
Serving wise, if you normally have a big appetite, then definitely go for a regular size – you’ll be starving after hours of trekking and you don’t want to go to bed hungry.
Freeze-dried meals are a convenient and lightweight choice that makes food planning a little easier.
Dehydrate your own food
Some people prefer to dehydrate their own homemade alternative to pre-packaged freeze-dried meals.
Dehydrating food is cheaper than buying freeze-dried meals and it’s a great option for when you want to add more texture and flavour to starchy meals. However, if taking this route, you need to plan and get organised well in advance.
Dehydrating reduces the volume and weight of your food, but it requires a little extra water and time to rehydrate. Plus it has the tendency to be a little more on the chewy side once rehydrated – so that’s something to keep in mind.
Keeping your body nourished as you hike is very important for sustaining your energy. It’s best to keep snacks in an accessible area, like the hip belt or side pockets of your pack so you don’t have to sort through your gear to find them.
Snacks to bring on the trail
- Dried fruit, fruit bar or fruit leather
- Nuts and seeds
- Nut butter
- Muesli bars
- Specialised protein or energy bars
- Energy gels
- Smoothies – Banana, Berry, or Iced Mocha
- Instant pudding or custard
Grazing throughout the hike is important to maintain your energy levels.
Condiments and spices
Whilst almost anything will taste great when you’re that tired after a long day, you’ll be patting yourself on the back later for bringing along various condiments and spices to make your evening meal as delicious as possible.
Bring along a selection of your favourites, so you don’t get too tired of the same basic meal each day. If you’re pre-packaging each meal into a ziplock bag, you can add it ahead of time, or carry it separately if you’d prefer to flavour your meal while eating.
Condiments and spices to pack
- Curry powder
- Tomato paste
- Garlic and onion flakes
- Sun-dried tomatoes
- Parmesan cheese
- Chilli flakes
- Honey, rice or malt syrup
- Packet sauces – tomato, sriracha, soy or tamari
- Powdered sauces
- Salt and pepper
If you’re a serious caffeine fiend, then you’re probably rather attached to your coffee machine at home. If the thought of granulated coffee touching your lips sends involuntary shivers up your spine, then perhaps a portable coffee maker may be worth an extra 200-300g in your pack.
Not everyone is fussed about taste, so if this is you – then just pack plenty of teabags and granulated coffee or coffee bags for your early morning caffeine kick.
During the day, a smoothie or hydration drink is nice to break up the monotony of plain water now and again, and in the evenings a sachet of hot chocolate or Milo can go down a treat on a chilly evening before bed.
Beverages to take
- Instant coffee
- Powdered milk
- Electrolyte powder sachets or tablets
- Freeze-dried or powdered smoothies
- Hot chocolate sachets / Milo
Take along several different drinks to vary your fluid intake.
If all that sends your head spinning or you just want to make things easy, then Back Country Cuisine has a choice of five all-inclusive packs. These include meals, snacks, treats, condiments, and beverages. Available in Classic, Adventure, Vegetarian, Outback, and to help cater for those with specific dietary requirements, there’s also the No Worries Ration Pack.
Top 5 meal planning tips for multi-day hikes
- Make sure you give some of the meals you’re planning a test run before you go so you know you’ll enjoy that well-earned feed at the end of the day!
- Variety is important for longer trips. This helps to keep you motivated and fuel your body for the entire trek.
- If you want to be super organised, use a spreadsheet to record your food (and gear). This way you can weigh and add up the total weight and also how much energy you’ll get per day.
- If you’re a big eater, try to find ways to cut down on weight in other areas of your pack so that you can take more food with you.
- Include options that don’t have to be cooked, just in case your stove breaks or you run out of fuel.
Do you have any excellent tips for packing your food like a pro? Let us know in the comments below.