Backpackers Meals and Snacks Guide For Beginners

Published on:

Planning out your backpackers meals and snacks is a crucial part of preparing of your trip. As an inexperienced hiker, when it came to meal planning, I had no idea where to start. 

To help in planning, I’ve documented my experiences alongside some food ideas below. First, let’s look at some quick best practices at-a-glance.

How much food is enough to bring backpacking?

You’ll want to aim for 2,500 to 4,500 calories of food based on some factors indicated in the guide.

What are the best foods to bring backpacking?

You’ll want to pack foods that are calorie dense and satiate your hunger, but aren’t bulky or heavy. 

How much extra food should I bring when backpacking?

I have learned through my experience that 2 extra meals is a good amount to bring if space permits.

For your ease of reference, I’ve included a table of contents below to help you navigate the article.

Table of Contents

If additional questions come up as you are reading the guide, do not hesitate to contact us. We can get the answers included for future reference!

How Much Food Do I Need For Backpacking?

Before we can get into planning your backpackers meals, we must understand how much food we need to bring. 

There are some variables to consider. Based on my experience, I have listed a few of the main considerations below. Note that this list is non-exhaustive

A reasonable benchmark seems to fall between 2,500 and 4,500 calories per person per day. I found that this equates to roughly 1 ½ to 2 ½ pounds of food per person per day.

Additional factors to consider while planning your backpackers meals may also include:

The length of your trip: Ensure that you plan for the appropriate number of meals based on how many days you will be out. Remember that you will want to pack food for at least 1 meal on either side of your trip.

The size of your group: Meal sharing can either add simplicity or complexity to your planning. Plan ahead to accommodate for allergies or preferences. Be sure to split the weight of extra food, fuel, and cookware required.

The itinerary of the day: High-intensity hikes through complex terrain may need more snacks in your meal planning. Calorie-dense snacks will help to maintain energy levels throughout the day.

What Are The Best Foods For Backpacking?

While “best” is relative, there are qualities that make some foods better than others. 

Stick to foods that are lightweight and portable for your backpackers meals. Buying or making dehydrated meals, and cooking kits ensure you’ll enjoy your meals.

Consider these tips as you are planning your backpackers meals:

  • Bring foods you enjoy eating: At the end of a long hike, you want to ensure you enjoy your meal. By taking foods that you enjoy, you’ll look forward to eating and refueling your body.
  • Bring a variety of foods: A variety of food can keep you motivated while in the backcountry. Stay satiated through a balance of carbs, proteins, and fats. Add in a combination of flavors and textures to please your pallet. 
  • Bring fresh foods: Not all backpackers meals need to be processed, packaged, or even refrigerated. Be sure to include fresh foods like nuts and seeds, hard cheeses, even some produce. Items that don’t perish easily, will give you one to two days inside a pack, weather dependent of course.
  • Find lightweight options: You’ll likely be carrying your food supply, so you’ll want to maintain portability. Boxed macaroni and cheese, canned fish, and instant rice packages work wonders. Nut butters come in small individual serving packages and are easier to pack than jars.
  • Add variety to your hydration regime: While drinks with electrolytes are great, consider packing other flavored drinks and liquids. This can include ingredients like tea, hot chocolate, broths, and soups.
  • Dehydrate your own meals: Buying ready-to-eat meals and processed foods can sometimes be a bit pricey. Consider dehydrating your own foods in advance of your trip to save on costs.

Planning Your Backpackers Meals

When it comes to the planning process, I found that it was easier to create a visualization of my trip on paper.

Creating a rough sketch on loose-leaf paper, I map out a meal plan based on what I want to eat, then pack accordingly. I’ve outlined below each meal of the day, along with snacks. I’ve also included lists of some of my favorite foods to eat on the trail.

Top 10 Backpacking Breakfast Ideas

Breakfast is a key meal to set your day up for success. A calorie dense breakfast ensures you will manage your energy and avoid a pre-lunch crash. 

  • Dried fruits like mango, cranberries, prunes, and raisins
  • Granola cereals
  • Energy bars
  • Fresh fruits
  • Instant oatmeal packets
  • Pancakes
  • Pop-Tarts
  • Powdered eggs
  • Ancient grain bread and peanut butter
  • Freeze-dried breakfasts 

Top 10 Backpacking Snack Ideas

It is important to maintain caloric intake throughout your day of activity. By doing so, you are providing your body a stable energy source to draw on to keep you moving. 

Don’t burn out eating the same thing over and over. Having a variety of snacks to choose from throughout the day will help. While this list could have been much longer, here are 10 of my go-to backpacking snacks.

  • Jerky
  • Nut butters
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Energy bars
  • Dark chocolate bars
  • Trail mix
  • Granola 
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Dried fruit
  • Hard cheese if weather is not too hot

Top 10 Backpacking Lunch Ideas

While it has it’s own section, I often think of lunch as no more than a big midday snack. It’s easier to not have to worry about cooking anything, as you may want to consume quickly and continue your hike.

Make your lunch times easy by packing some of the following items for lunch on the trail.

  • Jerky 
  • Trail mix
  • Energy bars
  • Bagels
  • Tortillas
  • Nut butters
  • Tuna or other canned or pouched fish
  • Cheese
  • Chicken pouches
  • Ancient grain bread

Top 10 Backpacking Dinner Ideas

I always find myself looking forward to dinner throughout the day. This anticipation is great when the hikes include more gruelling trails. As much as possible, I try to ensure that dinners are well thought out and will satisfy my high expectations. 

The most crucial thing to keep in mind is that you want your dinner to be appetizing, so pick accordingly. 

Dinner can incorporate a lot more variety and choice than other meals in the day. This freedom of selection expands as dehydrated backpackers meals flood the market. 

On the trail is not the time to become adventurous with your taste buds. If you do not like a particular food in your day to day life, chances are you won’t find it satisfying after a day of hiking.

I’ve included some of my favorites below, and I like to emphasize portability as you consider what you pack

  • Spaghetti or other pasta, normally one made from chickpeas
  • Instant mashed potatoes
  • Instant rice
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Ramen noodle packages
  • Mixed bean salad
  • Dehydrated or freeze dried meals
  • Chicken pouches
  • Canned tuna
  • Hummus and pita

The above lists are non-exhaustive, and are only a top 10 of my favorite backpackers meals. My first few backpacking trips, I either over or under packed. Thankfully, I had some people to help me out along the way. 

With experience, you will get into a groove with meal planning and how much you need for your trips.

Should I Label My Backpackers Meals and Ingredients?

I love food, and often need to exercise a reasonable amount of discipline to not eat more than what is allocated. By labeling each item according to the meal plan, I ensure that I have enough food to last the duration of the trip. 

While this is my preference, it is not representative of everyone’s. Experienced hikers will be fine to throw their backpackers meals in their bags and eat as they go. 

Other Planning Considerations

If fresh foods are part of your meal plan, be sure to eat those earlier in the trip. Doing so will ensure that they do not spoil, and will help to lighten the load as they tend to be a bit heavier.

For days that include long distances, plan for simple dinners. Dehydrated or freeze-dried dinners are great options when you may be too tired to cook.

Do some research in advance to understand your access to water on your hike. Access to water can greatly influence what foods you will bring on your trip.

The Bottom Line

Planning out your backpackers meals and snacks is a unique experience.

Using the ideas and the best practices from the guide above, we hope that you have a foundation to work with.

As you become a more experienced backpacker, you will begin to identify foods you enjoy more on the trail. Enjoyment is key to planning your backpackers meals.

As I have done above, document your first few meal plans. That way you can reference meal ideas that worked, and those that didn’t work. 

If you are getting started with backpacking, head to the How To Get Into Hiking Guide for some more tips and tricks!

Photo of author


Whether travelling with the family in his RV, exploring the backcountry, or a day by the beach with the family, Mike has a passion for all things outdoors. In summer you will find him exploring the wilds near the camp, and in winter, Mike loves getting on his freestyle snowboard and hitting the slopes.