When hitting the trail, nutrition is important, but so is the weight of your pack. You need to use as little energy as possible hauling your backpack around, but also need to have the tasty treats within to restore that energy. Even if you are not into that ultralight hiking trend, if you want to keep your pack weight down, give these lightweight, nutrition-packed foods a try.
Trail Mix (GORP+)
Trail mix is a classic, and it is a classic for a reason.
Whether you like to stick to the “Good Ol’ Raisins and Peanuts” recipe (GORP) that you mix yourself or buy in bulk from Whole Foods, trail mix is packed with nutrition and fits easily in a small space.
The old GORP recipe is packed full of healthy fat and protein, but you may want to consider mixing in other dried fruit, chocolate, and nuts for an added punch.
Water is important for hiking hydration, but don’t let it be the only thing you drink on multi-day hikes.
Milk is a great source of protein, zinc, vitamin B, and calcium that can go a long way toward reloading your bones after a tough day. Leave the gallon in your fridge, though.
Instead, opt toward powdered milk option. Same great vitamins, and not as horrible as some people imagine it.
Salmon / Tuna
Fish are a great source of protein and are packed with omega-3 fatty acids which are traditionally lauded for improving your brainpower.
More importantly for hikers, those same fatty acids help reduce inflammation in your body. This is something that you might have a bit of after some time spent scaling switchbacks!
Tins of tuna are pretty small and light compared to their nutritional value.
While carrying around a whole smoked salmon might make a great meal, stick instead to the vacuum-sealed packs of smoked/cured fish. They are lightweight, no water to drain, and thin so you can wedge them in the smaller spots.
A lot of hikers avoid pasta because you have to cook it. If you are day hiking, then skip it for something you don’t need to prepare.
However, for the multi-day hiker, while fats and proteins are good for certain nutritional needs, if you want to restore your energy stores, you need to replace carbohydrates and let them digest.
Pasta makes an excellent end-of-day meal because the energy will be waiting for you in the morning. Consider packing some angel hair (it cooks the fastest, even faster than ramen) and loading it with olive oil and parmesan when cooked. You can also flake some of that aforementioned salmon or tuna in there.
Beans and Rice
Beans and rice provides the complete package of protein and carbohydrates. However, because it is such a heavy meal, it is best used as a belly filler before going to bed so you don’t have to try to hike after eating it!
While rice is easy to pack, beans are another story. Dried beans require soaking and long cook times and canned beans are heavy once you get a few cans in there.
It is better to pick up bean and rice sides by Knorr or Zatarains. They are lightweight and all you need to do is add some water, plus they come in some pretty good flavors.
Peanut butter and crackers is the snack of champions!
Particularly adored by hikers, many choose it because one jar goes a long way and it is high in protein and low in saturated fat.
With very little needed to enjoy it (you can stick a finger in if you need to), a jar should be a staple in every hiking pack.
You might have heard the word before, but what exactly is muesli and why should you be eating it? Quite simply, Muesli is a medley of rolled oats, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.
Essentially, it is like a different recipe of trail mix, but you can also eat it like cereal or oatmeal.
Unlike trail mix, muesli fulfills that need for good carbohydrates on the trail and serves as an energy-packed breakfast option.
However, if you are looking for high calories to keep you going, this is surprisingly low calorie.
Powdered Drink Mix
While technically not a “food”, powder drinks can give you a good calorie and sugar boost when you need it. Powdered isotonic drinkscan even help replace some salts if you are sweating profusely.
However, the best use of powdered drink mix is that you can use it to mask the horrible iodine flavor if you are treating water with tablets.
Even if tablets are the back up to your back up when it comes to water filtration, it is best to keep some drink mix on hand.
Like trail mix, jerky is a hiker’s foodie friend. There is just something so right about enjoying some dried meat and water while overlooking a view that was well earned.
However, there is a lot of stuff inside store-bought jerky than just meat and marinade. You might want to consider making your own jerk. It is cheaper (by far), you can make it in bulk, and you can make it taste just the way you want it.
Biltong is very similar to jerky, but its origins are in southern Africa. So if you fancy something slightly different to jerky, then check out biltong.
I have known South Africans that seem to survive on a diet that is 95% biltong!
Aside from jerky and fish, most hikers turn to sources other than meat for a source of protein that doesn’t need to be refrigerated. However, not all meat needs to be kept cold.
Cured meats, like sausages, are an excellent meat option and last for a long time as long as they are kept wrapped up.
You really have three options – summer sausage, chorizo, and pepperoni.
Providing it is not 100+ degrees every day, summer sausages will last three days unrefrigerated due to the cure used. However, harder sausages like chorizo or pepperoni will last much longer.
Providing you don’t let them dry out, those sausages could last you an entire trip.
Matt Green, is an avid hiker and lover of the great outdoors. He is always planning his next big trip or hitting the trails for a solo hike.
He’s traveled extensively to many remote regions and has plenty of experience exploring various terrains, and stories to tell.