Information on this page comes to us from the Backcountry Beacon website.
most important point to take away from on-trail nutrition is this: eat! Calories fuel everything your body does, including
heat production. Packing an energy bar on a day hike could make the difference between being cold and developing hypothermia
if you’re caught in the dark. Here are some basic guidelines to staying energized on the trail.
Principle # 1: Super-Size your caloric intake.
|Total Weight (Body + Pack)||Calories Used in 8 hours|
If you’re just out for a mellow walk in the woods, your calorie needs won’t be much
more than normal. However, hikers, climbers, and others traveling with packs over difficult terrain will need at least 500-1,000
more calories than they normally would. A 150-pound person carrying a 50-pound pack for eight hours burns around 5,100 calories
(see chart at right). Of course, this depends on body type, how long you’ve been backpacking, the temperature, and how
fast you’re hiking, but you get the idea. Eat! Under-eating for a few days won’t kill you, but it robs you of
energy twice. Not only does your body not have enough fuel, but it breaks down your muscle tissue, which makes you feel even
Principle # 2: Fat = Good.
Strive for around a 50% carbohydrate, 35% fat, and 15% protein diet. This is the
ratio recommended by nutritionist and backpacker Brenda L. Braaten. Despite what Dr. Atkins or Jenny Craig might claim, the woods are no place for a high-protein-and-low-carb or high-carb-and-low-fat
diet. During endurance activities, your main sources of fuel are fat and carbohydrates. Fat consumption spares your stores
of glycogen (see below). It also takes longer for your body to metabolize, so you feel fuller and more satisfied.
Fats provide about 9
calories per gram, compared to around 4 calories per gram for carbs and protein. That’s twice the energy for the same
weight! If you’re going ultralight, you’ll want to bump the ratio up to 45% carbohydrate, 40% fat, and 15% protein.
Here’s your opportunity to eat peanut butter straight from the squeeze tube and load everything down with cheese and
A quick note on protein: it’s important, but not as important as fats and carbohydrates. If you’re a meat eater,
you’ll probably be eating less protein than you normally would on the trail, and that’s OK. For vegetarians and
vegans, getting 15% might be a little harder. Try incorporating lots of seeds, nuts, beans, or dairy into your meals.
Principle # 3: Snack to avoid the bonk
Ever been hiking, climbing, or skiing and hit the wall? Your
legs feel like lead, and your pack feels 15 pounds heavier. It’s because your muscles ran out of glycogen (the preferred
fuel for muscles). To preserve your glycogen stores, eat enough carbohydrates at meals, avoid sugary snacks before exercise,
and try to eat a small carbohydrate-rich snack every time you stop. The bottom line–snack often.
For snacks or breakfast,
try Probars. These little bars pack a caloric and nutritional punch, and they’re totally vegan. The Super Food Slam is loaded with 350 calories, 46g of carbohydrates, 17g of fat, and 9g of protein a 64/23/13 ratio. Seventy percent of
the ingredients are raw, which provides plenty of fiber (key in the backcountry). In an informal Backcountry.com taste test,
the Super Food Slam was the favorite, followed closely by Whole Berry Blend (which has real chunks of berry in it), and Cran-Lemon Twister.
Principle # 4: Dehydrate your food.
Unless you’re a masochist who likes to carry a needlessly heavy
pack, carry mostly dehydrated food. If there is a water source available each day, there’s no reason to pack around
the weight of the water contained in your food. Pack between 1.5 to 2 pounds of dry food per day per person for an average
backpacking trip and 2 to 3 pounds for a more strenuous backpacking or climbing trip.
One of the best tools for any backpacker
is a food dehydrator. Check out Lipsmackin’ Vegetarian Backpackin’ for tons of vegetarian recipes you can make, dehydrate, and package yourself. If you’re not feeling up to the
challenge of making and drying your own backpacking food, there’s pre-packaged commercial camp food. My favorite meals
are from Mary Janes Farm. The food is all vegetarian, organic, and comes in a recyclable, burnable package that you can cook most of the meals in.
For dinner, check out the northwest garden couscous and garlic pesto frybread. Together, this meal would contain 470 calories of 77% carbohydrates (high), 16% protein (right on) and 7.6% fat (too low).
You’d want to finish off the meal with a spoonful of peanut butter, some nuts, or another high-fat food to bump up the
|Food||Calories per ounce||Carbs %||Fat %||Protein %|
|Nonfat dry milk||98||53||3||44|
|Notice how high-fat foods are the
most caloric dense. Foods with a high moisture content (cheese, fruit, bagels) have a poor cal/oz ratio. Data from http://www.nutritiondata.com.|
Principle # 5: Supplement your vitamin intake.
Nutrients are lost in the process of dehydrating or freeze-drying.
This is bad news for backpackers. The vitamins you really want in your diet are C and E. They are potent antioxidants and
will help combat cell damage that’s incurred from food oxidation and strenuous activity. Most long-distance hikers take
a daily multivitamin to supplement their diets. Alternatively, you can also buy a powdered supplement like Greens Plus at your local supermarket or health food store. Add a pinch to your dehydrated meals. Don’t worry; the stuff isn’t
as gross as it looks.
Pack raw food. Again, Probars offer a convenient solution. They’re packed with antioxidants and omega-3 fatty
acids to provide some of the nutrition not commonly found in other trail cuisine. Dried fruit is a good option, yet the nutritional
and psychological value of packing some whole fruit is worth the weight penalty (a crisp apple after a couple days of eating
rehydrated food is a real treat). Go for tougher fruits like apples over softer fruits like bananas, or you’ll have
a nice banana puree at the bottom of your pack when you stop in camp.
Want to learn more about trail nutrition? Looking for recipes?
If you remember nothing else, remember
this–eat! Even during a day hike when you think nothing can possibly happen, take extra food. If you want some more
tips on nutrition or a few recipes, check out these resources for more information:
Thru-Hiker: Nutrition section and the Pack Light, Eat Right articles
The NetWoods Virtual Campsite Outdoor Cooking and Recipes Page
GORP Trail Side Cookbook
Backpacker Magazine website