Wilderness Backpacking: What Food to Bring

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Wilderness backpacking is invigorating and gives you the opportunity to explore undiscovered or little-visited areas. To keep the experience enjoyable, lightweight packing for food that meets your dietary caloric needs is crucial, as the activity is strenuous. The food should also be easy to store and cook safely, as backpacking trips often last several days with few available cooking and food storage facilities other than your pack.

How Much Food

Backpacking is strenuous, no doubt about it, especially on days when you need to hike in rough conditions. The amount of food required depends on your daily activities. “Backpacker Magazine” recommends deciding on your required caloric intake based on the type of activity you are doing, as well as the duration of that activity. The calorie difference ranges from 13.5 to 15 calories per pound on rest days, to 25 to 30 calories per pound if you are hiking with a pack for more than 120 minutes. Backpacking is not a time to drastically change your regular diet or start a diet.

Keep It Light and Nutritious

Keeping things small is key to minimizing the amount of weight you need to lug around, as well as the available space in your pack. Rely on complex carbohydrates and proteins you can eat quickly, such as dried nuts, fruits and granola, to keep your energy up during a hike. Ready-to-eat cereals, tortillas instead of bread, vegetable purees and canned chicken or tuna in pouches are also lightweight and provide essential protein. Other easy to carry foods include dried vegetables, which you can easily make into healthy soups or stews.

Keep It Tasty

Bringing along individual condiment packets of mayo, mustard and ketchup can add instant flavor to packaged chicken and tuna, making for an easy tuna or chicken salad wrap. Small packets of your favorite dried spices, including salt, are also lightweight and can boost the flavor of pasta or rice dishes. Dried vegetables can also include dehydrated garlic and onion, which increase the flavor while keeping the food healthy.

Stay Hydrated

Staying well-hydrated is vital for a safe and healthy backpacking excursion. You can lose between 1/2 and 2 quarts of fluids per hour when hiking, depending on exposure to sunlight and temperature. Sweating is especially important to be aware of when in dry, hot conditions as the sweat evaporates rapidly, so you may not even notice fluid loss. When you start feeling thirsty, you are already dehydrated. The National Park Service recommends you drink 1/2 to 1 quart of fluids every hour, drinking both water and an electrolyte booster, such as a sports drink. Whenever you eat, you need to drink fluids as well to reduce the risk of becoming severely ill.

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