Hiking is an activity that can range from a leisurely forest stroll to an intense high-altitude workout, so bringing the right food can make a huge difference in your energy levels.
The best energy food for hiking is anything lightweight and nutrient dense. Foods like trail mix, beef jerky, and granola bars are extremely popular for a reason. Various energy gels and chews are also a great option.
There are a lot of factors to consider when planning food to bring on a hike but minimizing your weight to-nutrient ratio should always be the first thing to consider.
How Can I Get More Energy for Hiking?
One of the best ways to maximize energy levels while hiking starts the day before the hike itself. By avoiding certain foods and prioritizing others the night before, you can ensure that your body can tackle any summit the trail may throw at you and avoid the common feelings of fatigue and sluggishness that plague hikers.
Many of the rules that apply to getting more energy out of food on the trail are useful the day before you hit the trail. Although most people know to avoid things like greasy, fatty foods, not everyone knows what you should be eating instead.
The main thing is to prioritize complex carbs and protein to keep you full and energized throughout the hike, this could be something like salmon and rice or pasta with grilled vegetables and lean chicken.
Since most people will be hiking fairly early in the morning, breakfast is likely the only meal that you will be eating right before a hike. Although there may be a temptation to fill up on pancakes and bacon, choosing something like oatmeal with fresh fruit will likely keep you full for much longer and won’t sit heavy in your stomach during the hike.
How Do You Fuel Your Body for a Long Hike?
Fueling your body for a long hike comes down to simple tips as far as food is concerned. The first is to drink plenty of water starting the day before and the second is to load up on complex carbohydrates and lean protein.
Although plain pasta and chicken breast may not sound like the most exciting meal, there is a reason the world’s most elite athletes will be eating something similar before almost every competition.
When it comes to hiking or any extremely strenuous activity, your body will be consuming massive amounts of energy and likely shedding tons of water. The better you can counteract these two things, the better your body will be able to function.
Eating the right snacks while you’re on the trail is important as well, but ensuring you are fueling your body correctly beforehand will likely have a greater impact.
On the trail, most people are not going to have time to eat a full meal and rest for at least an hour to let their body begin digesting it. Instead, opt for lightweight and calorie-dense foods such as granola, nuts, or energy gels and chews which are designed for use during exercise.
How Often Should You Eat While Hiking?
On extremely long hikes, many people will run into the issue of not knowing how often they should be loading up on calories.
Although everyone’s body is different and there is no specific number of times you should eat on the trail, there are a few basic things to ask yourself to get a good idea if you are eating too much or too little.
The first may seem obvious but is quite important: How hungry are you? It can be easy to get caught up in calorie counting and timing your meals, but it is always important to listen to your body. When hiking at a decent pace on a steady incline, your body is going to be burning a ton of calories so eating every couple of hours is normal.
As discussed, what you eat will also play a major role here as filling up with sugary and fatty foods will provide a quick burst of energy but will usually deplete energy and leave you feeling hungrier than you were before.
Although it may seem smart to fill your day pack up with energy gels, stopping and having a full meal is just as important. Not only will this give you time to rest, something hikers often forget to do, but it will also allow for any food you’ve been eating to digest properly before you start exerting yourself again.
What Should I Eat While Hiking?
Even on shorter hikes, bringing the right food along is extremely important. You will not only want to bring foods that will provide lasting energy but also want to avoid especially heavy foods that create excess waste or spoil easily.
Arguably the best food to bring on a hike is the ones that are made specifically to be brought on strenuous activities. This will include energy gels, energy chews, and other similar products.
Although they can be expensive, many of these foods will be packed with carbohydrates, electrolytes, and healthy fats. These are great not only because they are so lightweight but are created to be eaten on the go and provide a lasting and gradual rise of energy, rather than the sharp spike and subsequent crash of sugar-rich foods that many people bring on hikes.
These specially formulated bars will likely provide the best energy-to-weight ratio as well. Since they are so small they can be eaten on the go and the trash will not become too cumbersome, even if they begin to add up over time.
Best Energy Drink for Hiking
There are plenty of great energy drinks that will help tremendously on a hike as well as plenty of bad ones that will cause you to crash and leave you feeling miserable during that final ascent.
Avoid anything with excessive amounts of sugar in it. Although some sugar is fine and can help your body to better absorb some of the drink’s nutrients, too much will have the opposite effect and make you tired and sluggish.
Look for drinks that are full of electrolytes and vitamins to help replenish any fluids you may have lost. A great option that is popular amongst many hikers is the powdered drinks that can be mixed with water to avoid having to bring an extra bottle of energy drink in addition to your water supply.
Best Food to Eat the Night Before a Hike
The food you eat the night before a big hike is probably even more important than what you eat during the hike. Having a healthy foundation of carbohydrates and lean proteins to work with will allow your body to have plenty of energy from the start.
Some good food to eat the night and morning before a hike includes:
- Grilled Fish (Salmon, Tuna, etc.) with Quinoa and grilled vegetables
- Pasta – any kind will work, just be sure to avoid adding buttery and fatty sauces. Instead, opt for something like fresh tomatoes and olive oil.
- Scrambled eggs and whole grain toast with avocado.
- Water- no matter what you eat, not drinking enough water is a sure way to be exhausted during your hike.
Day Hike Lunch Ideas
On longer day hikes it may be necessary to bring lunch in addition to the snacks you will be eating on the trail. It’s always important to bring a balanced lunch to avoid a slow return to the trail.
Before planning an extravagant feast remember that not only will this food be bouncing around in your pack next to gear that could smash it, but that foods that tend to spoil quickly will also be a bad idea.
Soft bread, fruit that bruises easily, or food that has a heavy container such as canned tuna should all be avoided.
Some healthy and highly packable day hike lunches include:
- Wraps – although a sandwich may be your first instinct, soft bread doesn’t always fare too well next to a bunch of heavy gear. Instead, throw your favorite sandwich toppings into a tortilla and roll it up tightly.
- Tuna – Bringing a packet of tuna is a cheap, healthy, and simple way to bring a hit of protein for lunch. The tuna packets are lightweight, won’t spoil without refrigeration, and leave extremely lightweight trash.
- Meal Bars – Many companies now create granola bars with the calories and nutritional value of a balanced meal. These are great if weight is a major concern as few foods can pack this many nutrients into such a lightweight food.
- Freeze-Dried meals – Although most people associate them with backpacking, for long day-hikes, these can also be a great idea. The ability to boil water on the trail will be required for these which will likely add some weight but they will likely make up for it in sheer satisfaction.
- Hard-boiled eggs – hard-boiled eggs are a fantastic source of protein and are fairly versatile in how they can be enjoyed.
Best Backpacking Food
The best backpacking food will have a ton of similarities with the best foods for hiking.
Not only is it essential that the foods are lightweight and nutrient dense but any fresh foods are likely going to be out of the question. Unless you plan on lugging around a cooler for 3 days, everything you plan on consuming is going to need to be shelf stable, however, the weight issue makes bringing cans of soup, beans, or other common shelf-stable foods out of the question.
This is where meal bars and freeze-dried food shine. Not only are they nutrient dense and lightweight, but they are also often more satisfying than getting all your calories through crackers and dried fruit.
However, freeze-dried meals have their own issues; they are expensive and require hot water, something that may not be available if your stove broke or you ran out of fuel. Since freeze-dried meals are inedible without hot water, it’s a good idea to diversify your food and prepare for the worst-case scenario.
Something like the classic tuna and crackers can be a great meal or peanut butter wrapped in a tortilla, remains a backpacker favorite to this day due to it being shelf-stable and requiring no cooking of any kind.
For many individuals, creating their own dehydrated foods is the perfect balance of cost, weight, and satisfaction. There are tons of guides on how to dehydrate food but the process is fairly simple: dehydrate your favorite meal using a dehydrator, pack individual meals into storage or freezer bags, add hot water and enjoy! No matter what you choose just be sure to bring a good mix of food to ensure you are not missing out on any important nutrients.