The first actual multi day hike I've done was the O-Circuit in the Torres del Paine National Park. It lasted 9 days and my hiking companion and I packed some very luxurious food. When we'd cook our dinners at the camps in the evenings, every now and then some of the other hikers would watch in wonder about what meal we would have that particular night. Most of them had just packed essentials to keep the weight of their backpacks low. Most of them were also way more experienced (and maybe a bit smarter) than us. Our backpacks were heavy as heck. Lots of the weight coming from the kind of food we had packed.

But before we start diving into the topic of food on hikes, some important notes in advance. I live by a plant based diet. Consequently, all my food ideas are also plant based. While I personally recommend this for a whole list of reasons, I also want to make very clear that I'm not a specialist.

If you have any medical conditions, especially digestive conditions, consult a doctor and/or dietitian/nutritionist before introducing any new or unknown foods or food groups to your diet.

Generally when using the word diet I mean a long term habitual food intake rather than a temporary one.

I very much agree with Simon Hill's, author of The Proof is in the Plants, statement with regard to diet:

But this modern definition is actually far removed from its ancient Greek origins, when díaita was used to describe 'a manner of living'. Rather than being a short-term change to food intake in order to lose fat or 'detoxify' the body, it described the habitual foods that people from certain regions ate - for example, the Mediterranean diet or the vegetarian diet. (Simon Hill, The Proof is in the Plants, 2021, p. 14)

So, once again: I'm not a doctor, not a dietitian, not a nutritionist. Following I will share recommendations solely based on personal or anecdotal experiences and knowledge I acquired through reading several different resources.

Pre Hike Preps

If you're new to the game and some of the reasons you want to get into it are adventure, freedom, spontaneity, the wild, yada yada, the following lines may slow you down a bit. As with the gear packing I recommend taking a "few minutes" before each hike to actually think about and organise what and how much food you very likely will need. In addition to this, I also encourage you to keep something like a journal, maybe no more than some quick notes, for hikes (you can read more on this here). It'll help you to remember and figure out what went well and what didn't. Especially in the beginning and before certain things become somewhat a routine.

That being said, for extended multi day tracks I usually write a food list prior and create a packing list from there. This helps to get the groceries that need to be bought sorted. It also helps to avoid running out of food during the hike and overpacking.

But I always pack for at least an extra day. Reasons for that are:

  • The estimated time for the track may be extended by unintended circumstances. You could be stuck in a hut/tent to sit out weather conditions. You or your hiking buddies may get injured.
  • If I'm hiking with someone I haven't hiked with before or if I'm aware of a certain level of inexperience of someone I'm hiking with, I definitely pack extra food and water. Lots of people underestimate how much energy may be burned, how much they may drink, especially when hiking for days in a row.

Generally, I always make sure I have one good breakfast, a filling dinner and enough snacks for each day with me. Accompanied by some fresh fruits and veggies depending on what’s available in the current region and what makes sense.

This suits my personal, so far pretty consistent, hiking habits:

Get up → Breakfast → Hike → Snack → Hike → Snack → … → Arrive + Set up camp → Dinner → zzzZZZ (maybe some stargazing)

So, as an example, a 5 full day hike would require 5 breakfasts, 5 dinners and 5 day snack portions.

There are also things on my personal list by default:

  • tea or coffee (not a whole pack, just an estimated amount sealed in a bag)
  • salt, pepper, some other preferred spices (also estimated amounts sealed in bag)
  • Yerba for matécito

As much as possible I always do, and also recommend doing, the shopping for a hike at local food markets or shops, rather than big supermarkets. You will not only give your money to the local community rather than a big cooperation. Your shopping will also get a whole lot more personal. This may also include learning a foreign language. Additionally, you will be able to get an idea of what locals are eating. Try to keep an open mind for new introductions to your hiking menu.

 

Enjoying some mate at the summit of Avalanche Peak in Arthur's Pass (New Zealand)

 

Let's take a closer look at these 3 food categories (breakfast, snacks, dinner)...

Breakfast

Try to keep your breakfasts light but nutritious and carb focused. Anything that gets you started and keeps you running for a bit without being heavy on your stomach.

I usually start the day with a cup of coffee or any other hot beverage. Given that temperatures may be slightly or significantly cooler in the mornings. Some ideas for breakfast:

  • Homemade granola with a bit of plant based milk powder and water
  • Homemade snack bars
  • Plain oats and water. Doesn't get any simpler than that. Add spices such as cinnamon and dried fruits to give it a bit of pep.
  • Banana bread / nut bread / rice crackers with peanut butter or some other healthy and nutritious bread spread
  • Couscous / quinoa / polenta / rice with peanuts (→ replace with other preferred nut/seed) and cucumber (→ replace with other preferred veggie). That’s a more savory and extravagant breakfast.
  • Leftovers from dinner the night before. Again, for the ones who prefer savory breakfasts.

It's also become a habit of mine to boil a thermos full of water to take with me for the day's hike. This will be used for breaks having mate. Needless to say, this only happens if weather and weight of backpack allow. If the weather looks to be horrendous all day, there's a high chance it'll be a day of just pushing through to the next camp.

Always keep a snack at hand

Some ideas for snacks are:

  • Apples, bananas, pears, carrots, cucumber or any kind of fruit/veggie that is available in the region and gives you a short energy boost. Take firm ones, so they don’t get crushed in the bag.
  • Bag(s) of nut and dried fruit mixes. This is also an opportunity to check out some local markets or shops.
  • Quantities of any kind of snack/energy bar. Also check out local markets for these. There may be some nice options, especially when you’re around a hiking area.
  • (Homemade) cookies, bliss balls,...

I usually make batches of homemade snacks whenever I have a minute and keep them in the freezer. That way they'll be ready to grab for whatever hike comes up. If you're not into making snacks or food yourself or prefer buying them ready made, do yourself a favor and try to stay away from overly processed products.

So, what’s for dinner?

 

Prepping dinner in Hawdon Valley, New Zealand

 

When it comes to dinner I usually take something like noodles, rice, couscous, quinoa, polenta or similar and structure the rest of the ingredients around these. With each dinner I try to include some kind of vegetable and maybe a bit of extra protein. But usually I don't worry too much about that since it is taken care of naturally by the combination of foods.

I also recommend split lentils that cook quickly. Standard veggies I try to include are carrots,  peppers, zucchini, onions, green beans, so many more to choose from. Again, check out what is locally available and make sure the vegetable is somewhat firm. A little tip is to pack garlic. It gives a lot of taste to any kind of meal, especially if you’re short on spices. Since you are out hiking, smells shouldn’t be an issue anyways, should they?

These are dinner options I usually go for:

  • Couscous with veggies
  • Noodles with tomato sauce
  • Noodles with pesto (self-made and packaged in light container)
  • Noodles just fried with garlic, onion and some seeds/nuts
  • Lentils/peas soup with veggies
  • Rice with beans
  • Rice with veggies
  • In Peru and Bolivia, I would go for quinoa/noodles with avocado, tomatoes and onions (packing the avocado super safe). I love this dish, especially after a whole day of hiking.
  • In both of these countries you will also find a kind of potato, called Chuño. That may well be one of the most effective trekking foods I’ve come across so far. It’s a freeze-dried potato from Quechua regions. The process makes it ridiculously light. That is why really small amounts are enough for whole meals. But you also have to soak it in water for a while, so it takes a bit more time than usual. I was told by locals to best eat it first boiled and then fried with butter and salt. I replaced butter with oil, added onion and garlic.
  • Homemade, what I call, food mixes of readily available dehydrated ingredients. These can be: dehydrated onion, split lentils, coconut milk powder, dehydrated garlic, spices (tumeric, curry powder, smoked paprika, etc.), nutritional yeast, polenta, quinoa, thin rice noodles, dried mushrooms, hemp seeds, sliced almonds, peanuts, sesame seeds, etc. I prep them in advance to either be a single or two person meal. They usually require a bit of soaking in pre boiled water which is done while the campsite is set up. 5 to 10 minutes of cooking serves as a final step before they're ready to eat.

Freeze Dried Alternatives

Last but not least...

If you want to make food packing for your hikes as effortless as possible you can use ready made freeze dried food bags.

They're lightweight, usually just require boiled water and some soaking time. They're quite often also the more expensive alternative. But if you don't care about that, give it a go.

For a long time I was opposing these kind of alternatives, simply due to their highly processed and animal based ingredients. Then I came across Local Dehy and Radix. Both of them offer a wide range of plant based meals, Local Dehy being completely vegan. Both of them are New Zealand based and are now my go to when I don't want to bother with food packing or cooking at all. A combination of both some packs of freeze dried meals and own food packing also helps to reduce weight when doing extended hikes.

 

My first ever test of a freeze dried meal

 

My absolute favorites are Kumara Chickpea Curry from Local Dehy and plant based Turkish Style Falafel from Radix.

But as mentioned above, these are New Zealand based. So, if you're anywhere beyond Australasia, there's a high chance there are closer and more local options for you.

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