Backpacker’s Diet

As I prepare for my first long-distance hike, I am trying to wrap my head around eating upward of 2,500 calories per day. I definitely do not consume that much food on a regular basis, and I know that some hikers will argue that this isn’t enough, but I personally do not see it feasible to carry more food than that in my ultralight pack for 6-8 days at a time.

Pack Snacks

I plan on taking around five weeks to complete the Colorado Trail, and I know that I’ll want to eat a bunch of different foods along the way, I chose a wide variety of meal items and snacks for this hike. As a trained (former) chef and culinary arts graduate, it makes me cringe a bit to tell you about what I plan on eating while on trail. It’s honestly nothing too gross, but as a person who eats mostly whole foods, I am a bit worried to see how my body is going to react to the extreme diet change. I will say that although I try my hardest to eat a healthy and balanced diet, I definitely still enjoy yummy potato chips, random salty snacks, doughnuts, cheese, and BREAD!

Brekkie

I am keeping it pretty standard and simple for this meal. I plan on bringing protein powder, a variety of low sugar Quaker oatmeal packets, various flavors of instant grits, and meat sticks. I also plan on having green tea because ya gurl needs a little caffeine to get going in the morning.

Depending on the flavor, oatmeal is anywhere from 220-240 calories for two packets. If I am eating oats, I plan to accompany them with a scoop of protein powder that will add another 140 calories. Two packets of grits equals 200 calories, and since I won’t be doing protein powder with these, I will substitute this meal with two, 110 calorie meat sticks.

Brekkie Breakdown
  • Oats and protein = 360 – 380 calories
  • Grits and meat sticks = 420 calories

Lunch

For lunch, I am also keeping it simple. Tuna packets have been a forever favorite for backpacking. Plain, variety, ALL OF EM. I will eat two of these wrapped in one tortilla each. That or peanut butter on a bagel. Tuna packets range from 70-110 calories depending on the flavor, and two tortillas ring in at 260. One, 1.5 ounce peanut butter cup equals 250, and one cinnamon bagel is also 250. I occasionally plan on accompanying lunch with a 70 calorie squeezable apple sauce.

Lunch Breakdown
  • Tuna x 2 = 140 – 220 calories
    • tortillas = 260
    • apple sauce = 70
    • Total = 470 – 550 calories
  • Peanut butter bagel = 500
    • w/ apple sauce = 570 calories

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinna

Dinner is probably my most complex meal, and I usually tend to eat the most during the evening. I am bringing a mix of dehydrated and ready to eat foods. Mostly carbs, but also a lil Spam.

Dinner Breakdown
  • Instant mashed taters = 960
  • Chicken pasta sides = 610
  • Ready rice = 310 – 340
    • w/ Spam = 670 – 700
  • Easy mac x2  = 500
    • w/ Spam = 860
  • Spam x 2 = 360
  • Veggie flakes = 100 (adding to everything except ready rice)
  • Dinner total = 710 – 1060 calories

Munchies

What am I going to eat for snacks each day? I plan on consuming one type of “granola” bar, one meat/cheese stick, a trail mix packet, AND a candy bar. Each week during resupply, I plan on picking up fresh fruit and vegetables to last for the first few days. I know these items are heavy, but they will be an occasional much-needed luxury. I feel like this is known in the backpacking community, but tend I go by the “eat heavy foods first” motto. Although I don’t have any gummy candies or chip-like snacks listed, I already know these items will probably end up in my bag too!

  • Kashi bars = 130
  • Lara bar protein = 210
  • Candy bar = 240 – 250
  • Meat/cheese stick = 140
  • Trail mix = 210
  • Total = 730 – 800

Math Sucks

Math is hard, but I am going to break this down for ya so we can see an estimate of where I am going to be on total calories eaten in one day.

  • Breakfast = 360 – 420
  • Lunch = 470 – 570
  • Dinner = 710 – 1060
  • Snacks = 730 – 800 (not including random craving items)
  • Rough total = 2,270 – 2,850 calories

The small number (2,270) reflects foods in my pack with the lowest amount of calories, and the larger number (2,850) reflects foods with the highest amount of calories. In reality, I will be eating somewhere between these amounts each day.

Food is so important, and I’m excited to see how I am going to do after the first week on trail. I am open to adjusting and adding or subtracting as needed.

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Comments 7

  • Avatar
    Brian : Jul 17th

    That amount of tuna, every day, might be a lot of mercury. You might want to check out guidelines on tuna consumption. Consumer Reports recommends (for a 140-pound woman (in their example) no more than 13.5 ounces per week of light tuna, or less than 4.5 oz albacore/white tuna. Those are exclusive, so 4.5 oz albacore and you are at max fish for the week. Any other seafood reduces that too. Sardines are lower on the food chain, and so lower in mercury (bioaccumulation increases as you go up the food chain, and tuna are apex predators), so you can eat as much as you want, but not sure if you can find them in pouches. Maybe crab or shrimp? There’s always chicken pouches, too.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Maria : Jul 18th

      I’m glad someone posted about the tuna — I might have 1-2 cans (5ounce) a week in salad form — but that feeds 2 people in my household. I never checked what the recommendation is for total consumption. We have been trying to focus on veg based meals. I think we have only been eating 1 can a week. Have you considered beans as an option — hummus or diy your own bean spread — I haven’t looked at the calories or serving size — have you also thought of avocados — if you have the time and a vacuum sealer — you could mash these and create your own sealed snack packs

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Alicia : Jul 18th

        Maria, awesome ideas!! I just ordered some reusable/sealable pouches so I’ll definitely try some avocado in there. Also, I LOVE the Frito bean spread on backpacking trips. Eating warm hummus kinda weirds me out though.

        Reply
    • Avatar
      Alicia : Jul 18th

      I appreciate all of the information and concern. I’m going to substitute peanut butter sandwiches for tuna some days so I should only be eating it two to three times a week. Buuuut that’s definitely a lot of tuna. Like 12 (ish) ounces each week. Each package is around 2 ounces.

      It’s really funny that you commented on the mercury poisoning because I used to live in a van, and would bring tuna to work lunch frequently… my coworkers have expressed concern in the past.

      I’ll look into getting some crab that doesn’t need refrigeration. Thanks for the tip.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Maria : Jul 18th

    Also — honey

    Reply
  • Avatar
    thetentman : Jul 19th

    Look up Citadel Spread. It was made famous by Ed Garvey on his AT hikes and subsequent books. It is a peanut butter concoction that tastes great and is sure to give a caloric boost. You can modify the recipe to suit your tastes. Check it out.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    thetentman : Jul 19th

    Don’t forget good old PB&J. Sqeeze peanut butter and squeeze jelly are a boon to mankind.

    Reply

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