A Complete Guide: How to Meal Plan for Backpacking Trips

Amy Hatch

Backpacking Meal Plan Tips & How To

Have you ever found yourself laying in your sleeping bag at the end of a grueling day, overjoyed about the sights you were able to see, wishing your stomach would stop growling?

Hiker hunger is no joke! Plenty of thru-hikers will recall stories of falling asleep hungry, rationing their last Snickers bar, and even weekenders have experienced at least one trip where the trail mix ran dry too soon.

Figuring out exactly what and how much food to pack for the backcountry is just as important as packing propper rain gear and water filtration supplies. In this post, we’ll take a look at one systematic approach to backcountry meal planning that will ensure you’re satiated and nourished when you finally zip the rain fly and start counting sheep.

What to Consider Before Creating Your Meal Plan

  • Calories: Most backpackers try to consume as many calories as possible in the backcountry. We recommend attempting to consume nearly twice the amount of calories you would consume during a normal day in the front country. 

  • Weight: Consider how much weight you’re willing to carry. 1-2 pounds of food per day is average.

  • Macronutrients: Backpackers need to be mindful of consuming a substantial amount of protein and fat on a daily basis to prevent muscle waste and maintain athletic endurance. Make sure your backcountry diet isn’t predominantly carbohydrates. Learn more here! 
Backpacking Meal Plan Tips & How To

Step One: Plan Your Meals

  • Breakfast: Consider eating something dense in calories first thing in the morning to fuel up for the physical challenges that await you. Heather’s Choice Buckwheat Breakfasts offer 500 calories, 15 grams of protein, and 26 grams of slow burning fat in a pouch weighing only 4 ounces. These just-add-water breakfasts are an easy solution for backpackers who are willing to bust out their stove in the morning.

  • Lunch: Backcountry nutritionist actually advise against eating a meal at lunch time. Why? Because you’re body will naturally slow down as you digest a dense, mid-day meal, which doesn’t make it any easier to make that final push into camp. Instead, try eating snacks more frequently throughout the day, rather than stopping for a single, large “lunch” meal.

  • Dinner: The best meal of the day, right? There’s nothing like digging your spork into a hot dinner after a long day on the trail. Refuel your body with something rich in protein and calories like the Heather’s Choice Smoked Sockeye Salmon Chowder.

  • Backpacking Meal Plan Tips & How To

    Step Two: Plan Your Snacks

    Once you’ve planned your main course meals, it’s time for the fun part; planning snacks! Use something like this backcountry meal planning document to help you count your calories and satisfy your nutritional goals.

    Not sure where to start? Go to the grocery store and browse all of the protein bars, jerky options, dried fruits, trail mixes, etc. and see what really gets your taste buds going! Take a variety of things home to try, and if you like them, add their nutritional breakdowns to your meal plan.

    Backpacking Meal Plan Tips & How To

  • Go beyond bars: A lot of backpackers get stuck eating endless protein bars in the backcountry. Try to incorporate other types of snacks into your meal plan like dehydrated fruit, jerky, or cookies!

  • Meat and more meat: Trying to consume an adequate amount of protein in the backcountry is a challenge. Don’t be shy loading up on jerky and meat-based snack bars to help keep yourself feel satiated!

  • GORPs got your back: Good old trail mix has your back, delivering an astonishing amount of calories per ounce. Spoil yourself by adding some of your favorite chocolate candies and get even more delicious, slow burning fat calories!

  • Treat yourself: If there is ever a time and place to spoil yourself, it’s the backcountry. Incorporate plenty of sweet and salty snacks you truly enjoy into your meal plan!


    Step Three: Add it All Up!

    Backpacking Meal Plan Tips & How To

    Add up the total number of calories you’ll be consuming each day. Does this correspond with your goal? (Heather's Choice provides a free meal planning worksheet). 

    You may need to add more nutrient dense meals or snacks to your meal plan to consume an adequate number of calories in the backcountry. (1.5-2X what you would normally consume!)

    How about weight? Are you going to be comfortable carrying all of this food? Last, but certainly not least, check those macronutrients to make sure you’re consuming an adequate amount of protein and fat.

    Mix up the Menu for Multi-Day Trips

    Experiment with creating different menus for every day you’re in the backcountry. You’ll thank yourself for incorporating some variety into your routine, especially if you’re out for longer than 5 days. Write down your feedback for each menu when you get home so you can reuse that meal plan in the future or make adjustments.

    Pack for Easy Rationing

    Lastly, pack all of your food so it’s easily managed throughout your trip. Pack each daily allotment into its own gallon-sized ziplock bag or any other plastic bag you can recycle from around the kitchen. Each day you’ll open your requisite bag and enjoy snacks and meals only from this bag. This way you ensure you aren’t eating into your snacks for later in the trip!

    This article was provided by Heather's Choice, a woman-owned company out of Anchorage, Alaska that  makes healthy, delicious, dehydrated food for adventurers worldwide.

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    1 comment



    Makes sense. Worth a try.

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