Planning Your Backpaking Meals

About six years back, I discovered Backpacking. I already knew how to prepare for a hike, but backpacking was a completely new league. In a previous post, I already discussed how to cook in the wilderness, the equipment to take, and what kind of ingredients you should carry. Today I intend to go deeper and show a way to strategize planning your meals.

First, let’s rehash the basics of how your body utilizes energy to move you around. Then, if you want to go deeper, I linked several resources in this post. However, essentially we measure the energy that our body uses in calories. On a given day, our energy will go toward sustaining our body functioning, and the rest toward movement and brainpower. The first piece of the education is called “Basal Metabolic Rate” – BMR for short. The second piece of the equation depends on what we do during the day. When performing intense physical activities, it’s a good idea to replenish all that we burn or risk triggering the mechanisms that make us gain weight later on. Therefore, for backpacking, some knowledge of our bodies and how challenging the hike will be is extremely useful.

This is all the food I got for a 4-day long trip. Before repackaging.

If you have time before your backpacking trip, I recommend you go on a similar trek and measure how many calories you burn with a fitness tracker. Otherwise, no biggie, we can proceed with some rough numbers.

Let’s imagine that your BMR is 1500 calories. And that you will burn about 2000 calories every five miles of your trip. Those numbers are examples, but close mine on a moderate trip. With this information, let’s think about options:

  • How many meals do you like to have? – I tend to cook breakfast and dinner.
  • What will be your emergency meal?
  • How many people are in your group?
  • What snacks can you carry?

And then, I find it helpful to build a schedule:

MealItemsCalsWeight

Breakfast

  • Peanut Butter and Chocolate overnight oats.Instant coffee with powdered milk.

500 cal.

150g

Dinner

  • Udon soup with miso soup.½ chocolate bar.

600 cal.350 cal.

250g

Snacks

  • 5 x Larabar2 Servings of Trail Mix.½ bag of Jelly Beans

1000 cal.350 cal.350 cal.

425g

3150 cal.

825g ~ 2lb

A sample table to visualize if you’re bringing enough to your trip.

It adds up to 3150 calories, and I believe it’s close to what I should be eating. Also, note that every day adds about 2lbs worth of food to your backpack. Weighing your items and minimizing the packaging will make a substantial difference in the final weight. Finally, it’s worth checking if your trip requires a bear-proof container and checking if everything fits in it.

One common mistake most beginners, including myself, make is overpacking as if they were to get lost for a week. It’s normal to feel this anxiety, though, but I’d resist the urge to add more weight than necessary in your backpack.

Let’s now consider the kinds of foods you could carry. Simply, you could group it in fats, proteins, or carbohydrates. First, protein-rich foods will not help here, so no more than 20% of what you carry should be proteins. Your body needs carbohydrates to fuel your workouts, and ideally, you would bring mostly carbs; however, fats pack more than twice the calories per weight; this makes them attractive to help reduce the burden. Since hiking is not as intense as trail-running or cycling, I’d consider bringing 30% to 40% of my nutrition as fat-rich items.

I conclude my post with this, and I hope you find it helpful. Backpacking is a great activity that can be enjoyed greatly if appropriately fueled. Please leave any questions or comments in the section below, and enjoy the wilderness!

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