Whether you’re trekking the Larapinta Trail or heading for a quick overnighter in the Snowies, planning your food for a hiking trip takes preparation. Food is not only your fuel source on the trail, but having nutritionally balanced yet tasty meals to look forward to can actually make your hike more enjoyable. If you’re a new hiker, it can be overwhelming to decide what type of food to pack. Should I dehydrate my own food? Should I stock up on ready-to-eat freeze-dried meals? Should I pack an abundance of instant noodles and hope for the best? Though we wouldn’t recommend the latter option, the answer is that it depends on the length of hike, your gear and pack size, and your own preferences. Keep reading to find out things to consider when preparing hiking meals, how to prepare hiking food, and our top hiking food ideas.

What Makes A Good Hiking Meal?

There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to hiking food, especially if you are embarking on a multi-day hike. When planning and preparing your hiking meals, you’ll want to limit weight whilst maximising caloric density to ensure that you have enough energy to tackle the trail. It’s also important to be mindful of both packaging and preparation time, and reduce both as much as necessary for your specific trip. For longer trips, it’s also important to consider perishability.

Lightweight

It’s important to keep your hiking food lightweight to help minimise your overall pack weight, although how carefully you consider the weight of your food will usually depend on the length of your trip. 

If you’re heading out on a day hike, you can go wild and take essentially as much food as you like (we’ve definitely taken 2 sandwiches and 3 bags of lollies on a day hike before with zero regrets). 

Overnight hikes take a little more planning as you have a lot more gear to carry (tent, sleeping bag, stove, etc.). Keeping food weight to a minimum is usually best practice, however preparing a make-ahead meal can be a great way to bring a little comfort into the backcountry.

For longer multi-day trips, food can often be the heaviest singular element of your pack weight, which is why backpackers will often calculate the exact weight of their food in order to keep it to a minimum. This has to be balanced with nutritional content, to provide enough energy to keep you going on the trail. The general recommendation is 700g-1kg of food per person per day, however this will vary depending on your personal requirements and experience. Luckily, this weight will reduce each day as you eat. It can also be useful to pack an extra day’s worth of food as a backup in case you end up on the trail for longer than expected. 

The best lightweight hiking foods are usually those that are dehydrated (or dried). Water makes up a large percentage of the overall weight of many foods, and removing it reduces weight whilst still maintaining nutritional value. You can buy many different types of pre-made dehydrated meals, or do it yourself at home using a dehydrator.

High Caloric Density

You’re going to burn A LOT more energy during a day of hiking than you will on a regular day – typically 2-4x more depending on your distance and output. In other words – you need to eat! Pack snacks that will help you replenish your energy easily on the trail, whilst also minimising weight as much as possible. Both of these factors mean that caloric density is key. Foods like dried fruits, nuts/nut butters, hard cheeses/meats, and energy bars, are all relatively small items that pack a punch in terms of energy and nutritional value.

Woman sitting on a rock eating hiking meal

Perishability

If you’re heading out for a day hike, pack all of the fresh fruit, yoghurt, and cheese that your heart desires. But for multi-day hikes, perishability is a particular consideration. As a general rule, you don’t want to consume anything fresh past the first day to avoid any nasty bacteria growing. Some alternatives for common perishables include:

  • Powdered milk
  • Dried fruits
  • Packet fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel)
  • Peanut butter/jam/Nutella for spreads
  • Hard cheeses (e.g. parmesan) or processed cheeses (cheese sticks etc.) – not to be eaten past the first few days
  • Cured meats (e.g. salami) – not to be eaten past the first few days
  • Fast food sachets of sauce

Limited Packaging

Minimising packaging as much as possible is important for two reasons. First, you want to minimise weight and reduce the space that your food takes up in your pack. Second, rubbish and waste should take up as little space as possible once you have eaten it. To this end, replace tins and jars with sachets (e.g. fish and nut butters), and take food out of any unnecessary packaging like boxes. Use ziploc bags to pre-portion meals (e.g. porridge) and also keep things fresher for longer (e.g. cheese/meat). This practice of limiting packaging will also help you follow leave no trace principles on the trail.

Bonus tip: It can be useful to separate your meals into different bags for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This will help you find the food you’re looking for more easily (i.e. not pulling out a chicken curry when you need to grab some porridge for brekkie).

Easy To Prepare

After a long day on the trail, you will be hungry! The last thing you want to do is rock up to camp, set up your tent, and then spend half an hour cooking before you can actually relax and eat. It’s a good idea to pack meals that are satisfying, yet quick and easy to prepare when you’re tired and hungry. Just-add-water style dehydrated meals are probably the best option for a quick hot meal, and can make a really tasty dinner in under 5 minutes.

It’s worth noting that your choice of camping stove and cooking equipment will largely influence the type of food you will be able to prepare at camp. Check out our camping stove guide, or shop our full range of camping stoves and kitchenware.

Hiking stove with hiking meal bags

Hiking Food Ideas

To give you some inspiration for your next trip, we’ve compiled our favourite hiking food staples for each meal time.

Hiking Breakfast Ideas

Some hikers enjoy a slow morning with a cup of coffee and a hearty bowl of porridge to set them up for the day. Others like to hit the trail as soon as possible and enjoy the peaceful mornings with a grab-and-go brekkie. The most important thing is that your breakfast will provide you with enough energy to see you through the morning. In addition to your favourite hot beverage, some great lightweight yet energy-filled hiking breakfasts are:

  • Porridge
  • Pancakes (using a pancake shaker or pre-made mix) with jam, honey or Nutella
  • Muesli bars (make sure you eat a few to get enough calories in)
  • Dried fruit and nut mix
  • Croissants with jam
  • Cereal with powdered milk
  • Ready-made breakfast meals (from brands like Radix and Back Country Cuisine)

Hiking Lunch Ideas

Finding a great lunch spot is often the highlight of any hike. Nothing beats settling in with a nice view and something tasty to munch on. Nobody wants to go firing up the stove at lunchtime, so prioritise foods that you can grab and eat easily. Pick a carb vessel like wraps, bagels, pittas, or crackers. Then, add your favourite condiment, like hard cheese, cured meat, tinned fish, nut butter, jam, or chutney.

Flatbread hiking lunch idea

Hiking Dinner Ideas

Hiking dinners can be as simple or gourmet as you like. Some people enjoy the ease of a pre-made dehydrated meal, whilst others like to bring a bit of home comfort to the backcountry by dehydrating their own favourite foods. Above all, aim for a well-balanced meal with a combination of carbs, protein, and fat. Some ingredients that you can find in most supermarkets are:

  • Instant noodles/soups
  • Couscous
  • Instant/fast cooking rice
  • Pasta (packets with sauce in them are a great option)
  • Tinned/packet fish e.g. tuna
  • Packet chicken
  • Dehydrated vegetables
  • Instant mashed potatoes
Hiking bars

Hiking Snacks

Eating little and often on the trail is key to making sure that we keep our energy levels up. Keep snacks readily accessible in your side pockets or waist pack so that you can munch as you move. Our favourite hiking snacks are:

Inspired to cook up a storm on the trail? Check out our selection of hiking and camping food here, and share your latest masterpiece over on Instagram @paddypallin.

About The Author

Darcy Smith

Darcy is an outdoor lover from the east coast of Scotland who is trying out life in Australia. Having travelled through much of Europe and Asia, her favourite place in the world remains the Scottish Highlands. Darcy loves hiking, camping, bulldogs, brunch and sunsets.

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