The good thing about food on a hike is that most things taste fantastic after an active day out in the big wide world. The not-so good thing is we have to carry it. Here are a few hints for keeping the load as light as possible, while still having enough food that is, well, edible (find some good recipes here).
There are some great lightweight satisfying foods to take on backcountry trips. Mostly they are dehydrated or freeze dried, but there are also many foods that are light just the way they come. It depends how long your walk is and how minimalist you want to go. Most people on a 3-4 day trip will take a mixture of dry and fresh foods, keeping the lightest stuff to eat last.
Take only what you need, no more
One important trick to keeping your food supplies light is to only take what you’ll need, plus perhaps one or two dehydrated emergency meals.
Also check the packaging you’re taking, as you’ll be carrying it all the way. Leave cardboard boxes behind, and forget anything in tins. Many foods can come in foil sachets, which are far lighter.
If you need to carry all your water on your trip, you may as well carry some of it in food. Take anything that keeps reasonably well, and won’t dehydrate you more. Most crave salty food when active outdoors, and sometimes we need it, but it does lead to more thirst. It’s important to keep well hydrated, so don’t skimp on the water, even if it is heavy.
Lunches, breakfast and snacks
For lunches, dry crackers are the lightest option. Even though it’s heavy, many people take cheese as a little of it goes well with crackers. An even lighter option is some type of spread such as peanut butter, preferably in an easy to carry tube. Hummus is also great– it can be carried dehydrated and rehydrated on the day you want it. Sweet cookies can also be light and hit the spot.
Most people take candy or something sweet backpacking. It’s great to mix them with nuts and dried fruit as a sustaining snack throughout the day. Sadly chocolate can become a messy blob. Although it’s tasty, you don’t want to go there. It’s best to take chocolate in a hard candy shell, for example as M&Ns or similar.
Some people live off energy and protein bars on hikes. Technically they can be sustaining but it’s worth asking, is that what it’s all about? Just about any food tastes fantastic after a day outdoors, but there are limits. Are you doing this for fun or what? If food is something you’re not too fussed about, then go for it, but most of us like a bit of variety when it comes to food. They can make a great start to the dayg, or as a snack during the day, though.
Many take muesli with powdered milk for breakfast. It’s light and a great kick off for the day.
Supper times while backpacking are one of the highlights. It’s a chance to relax and unwind. Eating together helps this, and just eating an energy bar is unlikely to add to the atmosphere.
People who have them swear by food dehydrators. They can suck the water out of just about any meal, making it very light to carry. Generally, the food is delicious once rehydrated. Sometimes it helps to carry the rehydrating food in some water while walking to speed things up at suppertime. Dehydrators are expensive though, and you do need to prepare everything in advance.
Most camping stores have freeze dried or dehydrated foods. Some of them are great, but they can be expensive. It’s worth checking out the supermarket. Their dehydrated foods tend to be highly processed and salty, but they are cheaper and can resolve that those salt cravings on longer trips. Instant soups or teas are perfect for the end of the day while supper is cooking, or later as a warm-me-up.
Mostly people don’t want to cook up a gourmet meal on the trail and aim for a heat and eat approach to cooking, but if you want to cook from scratch, you are spoilt for choice. Pasta dishes with anything light such as sundried tomato, beef jerky or salami and parmesan cheese and herbs are a good start. Dehydrated onions and garlic work well, as do dehydrated peas, carrots and many other vegetables.
Check the cooking times before buying food. Some pasta packet can take an eon to cook and so need a heavy amount of fuel. Couscous is fantastic as it only needs boiling water to cook and instant rice is an option. Normal pasta can be left to soak to conserve fuel.
Everyone has different tastes in coffee. Coffee itself is light so go for it, though most choose instant or at least something that doesn’t take too much effort. Most of us wouldn’t go so far as to take a coffee grinder. If you like milk with your hot beverage, though, it’s powdered or whitener that may or may not have something to do with milk. Many choose to change to black tea or coffee for backcountry beverages, while others don’t mind.
Warning, though, don’t dry these dishes back at home. They only taste good out in the big wild world after a day of fresh air and exercise behind you!