Backpacking food is not exactly the easiest thing to wrap your mind around. Sure you can take whatever food you want with you and probably make it work, but it's going to weigh you down and cause you more trouble than it's worth.
Like most, I went from car camping to backpacking and it took a long time to figure out that the set of gear is completely different, especially when it comes to food items. For some reason I thought I'd actually want to be cooking food in the backcountry so I'd bring a big pot to boil water in, close to raw foods, and even seasonings. When I finally figured out that there was backpacking friendly food that only required reheating and not cooking, my life changed, but I still kept getting it wrong.
Each time I'd go out on a trip, I'd somehow end up with too much food or food I didn't want to eat once I was up there. Supermarkets are littered with all kinds of energy bars that on the surface seem like the right and obvious choice. I've tried these and found they're not exactly the right way to go. So what is? Well, I'm glad you asked.
I'm going to make this super simple. Instead of giving you a list of a bunch of backpacking foods you could eat, I'll just tell you what worked for me when hiking 25-30 miles per day through Washington State on the PCT. By no means am I saying this is the right way to do things, but rather, I just want to show you what I figured out to work for me when covering that kind of mileage.
- Starbucks instant coffee
- Packaged donut or some sort of pastry that had a bunch of calories in it
- My hiking partner used to eat oatmeal in the morning with some granola and it seemed to work well for him
Mid Morning Snack
- Tortilla wrap with salami and Easy Cheese
- Electrolyte of my choice
- Double Stuffed Oreos
- Freeze dried meal, Top Raman, or instant mash potatoes
- Sour Gummy Worms
I know what you're thinking. All you see is junk food and I'd agree with you. Here's the deal though, it worked for me and I feel great when I'm feeding my body calories like the above. When you're hiking all day long, you're burning through fuel and you need to keep your tank as full as it can get. I ate like this the entire way through Washington State and still lost 20 lbs.
When to eat what
Not everyone is hiking all day long because sometimes we just hike for a few miles and camp. If that's the case the you probably don't actually need all the junk food I mentioned above. So what do you do? You incorporate other foods into your diet. If you're not having to burn so many calories, then you can afford to eat those protein bars and complex fats that take longer to digest because you need energy over a longer period of time and not right away. The reason my diet worked is because I was a calorie burning machine that was moving all day long so it needed quick energy it could burn off. When I got hungry, I'd refuel. When I'm hunting, however, I don't eat like this. I'll bring slower digesting foods that, again, give me energy over a longer period of time while I'm not moving so much.
Diets are a funny topic because everyone has their own specific needs. What works for me, might not work for you so my advice would be to try different things out. Don't get hung up on getting it right the first time out, because it's a process. If you feel great during your trip, then you probably got it right. If, on the other hand, you felt tired or lethargic, then you might need to adjust some things.
Whatever you do, don't try to turn a backpacking trip into a car camping trip with the type of food you take with you. Bring food that doesn't require much preparation, is easy to eat, and doesn't create a lot of trash. Streamlining your food in the backcountry can make your life a whole lot easier and actually increase your enjoyment.