Overnight-or-longer wilderness walks require a certain amount of equipment to ensure safety and comfort. According to Backpacking Light, the average backpacker carries 40-50 pounds of weight for a weeklong trip. Carrying a pack this heavy could result in a slow, tedious, or even painful hike. For this reason, inexperienced, or even some experienced, backpackers might be tempted to decrease the amount of food in their backpacks to lessen the weight. Having enough food for the hike is vital to your overall safety. With deliberate food planning, you can reduce the amount of weight and keep the calories.

Calories fuel our bodies. Not getting enough calories during your backpacking trip will cause you to feel tired, hungry, and less alert. An adult body needs at least 1,000 to 1,400 calories per day to have enough energy to fuel major organs such as the brain, heart, and lungs. This minimum number of calories is known as the resting metabolic rate (RMR) and varies greatly depending on age, weight, gender, and muscle mass. In order to have enough energy to live your day and be active, you need more energy than what’s required from your RMR. According to Backpacking Trip Planner, the National Outdoor Leadership School has estimated a backpacker will burn between 2,500 and 4,500 calories in a twenty-four-hour period. To ensure your backpacking trip is not weighted down with hunger and exhaustion, your goal should be to maximize calories per pound when packing food.

Backpacking enthusiasts agree that a good general estimate for food quantities is 1-1/2 to 2 pounds per person per day. For that reason, dehydrated or freeze-dried foods are a wise choice for the trail because they are lighter and less bulky. Dehydrated meals are usually single items that are packaged without seasoning or other ingredients added. Freeze dried foods, on the other hand, are usually fully seasoned meals. Retailers like Back Country Cuisine offer a vast assortment of easy-to-prepare and great tasting meals, desserts, meal compliments, and ration packs. While dehydrated foods are usually cheaper than freeze-dried foods, freeze dried foods offer greater variety and better taste. Whichever you prefer, both foods are optimum choices in terms of storage.

Raising four kids has made me resourceful and thrifty. If I wanted to go backpacking, but didn’t have time to dehydrate food and/or didn’t have the money to buy dehydrated or freeze-dried foods, I would make do with whatever I had on hand. I would choose high-calorie foods that were easy to prepare and did not require refrigeration. Chances are good that you have some or all of these in your kitchen pantry: peanut butter, nuts, cheese, crackers, packaged macaroni and cheese, instant potatoes, instant oatmeal, granola bars, chocolate (preferably dark), tortillas, pasta, pasta sauce, bagels and packaged tuna. All of these make excellent choices for the trail. Simply repackage the boxed, canned, and bottled foods into plastic bags, double-bagging as necessary, add a variety of spices, and organize the food in such a way so that the amount of food necessary to sustain you during your hike and the weight are balanced.

There is no magic equation to answer exactly how much or what food you should carry. The more you hike, the better you will be able to determine how much and what types of food are best for you. The bottom line is to pack high-calorie, low density foods that fuel your body without breaking your back.

Images by Tami McDaniels

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  • Roy

    Great article, thank you for sharing this information. How did you like the Back country cuisine?

  • Tyler Williams

    When your carrying you food on your back, it really does matter how much weight it adds, I always try to keep my food to around two to two and a half pounds a day per person. This is a really great article I would like to see more stories like this, I will be following you from now on. Thank you.

    • TamiandAndy

      Thanks, Tyler. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  • Stuart

    Loved it, keep them coming. I like the camping and backpacking articles on the Outdoor Hub.

    • TamiandAndy

      Thanks for the comment, Stuart.

  • Julian

    The photo looks great, is that the Back Packers Cuisine? Which of their meals is that in the photo, it looks good.

    • TamiandAndy

      It is Back Country Cuisine. The photo shows Cuban Blakc Beans & Rice, Creme Brulee, and Cous Cous Salad. I haven’t tried the Cous Cous yet, but the other two were very good.

  • Peter Seltzer

    I always pack packaged Salmon, Peanut Butter, and dark chocolate those are great choices, with a good amount of calories. Flat bread is really good as well.

    • TamiandAndy

      Thanks for the comment Peter.

  • Matthew Johansen

    You guys must spend a lot of time in the outdoors, I like your story’s they are very informative and fun to read. Are you going to write more product reviews? I have enjoyed reading them.

    • TamiandAndy

      Thanks for the comments. Yes, we will be writing more reviews.

  • Jessica

    You two make such a cute couple, thank you for sharing. This is all very good information.

    • TamiandAndy

      That’s sweet of you to say so. Thank you.

  • Art

    Can you recommend a good food dehydrator?

  • Bill Slater

    I carry jerky in my backpack, and almost always rice. You can get freeze dried veggies to add to the rice at almost any whole foods store. Power Bars are also good and they are light and don’t take up much space in your pack.Great story.

    • TamiandAndy

      We also always have jerky. My husband and son make the best!

  • Jack

    Try canned bacon, we pack it in for elk hunts, you will love it.it makes a good seasoning for other things you pack in with you.

    • TamiandAndy

      Hmmm…canned bacon. I will check into that.

  • Dan Xu

    This article made me hungry.

  • Dntheos

    Great article! My recent refresher hunter safety class agreed with you 100%. Keep those articles coming.

  • cheryl

    great idea for all trips saves alot of money for all kinds of family on trips or hike or camping love it

    • TamiandAndy

      It really saves a lot for sure, Thanks Cheryl.