When you’re backpacking, every ounce counts because each tiny bit of weight is magnified by the thousands and thousands of steps you’ll be taking! And if there is any elevation gain in the hike then every ounce is magnified doubly!
You’ll be burning a lot of energy and you’ll want to have good food to fuel your trek, but you can’t just lug cans of beans along with you or you’ll make yourself miserable!
A decent rule of thumb is that you want foods that have more than 100 calories per ounce, and which are balanced with healthy amounts of carbohydrate, healthy fat, and fiber.
Since you’ll be expending lots of energy, you’ll probably need at least 3000 calories per day, and at 100 cal per ounce that adds up to about 1.5 to 2 pounds of food per day (not including water).
And of course, you’ll want to consider foods that are easy to prepare and which are safe without refrigeration.
So, what sorts of food fit that description?
- GORP (good old raisins&peanuts), also known as trail mix, generally has greater than 100 calories per ounce. Some folks like to add chocolate chips to GORP but keep in mind, this replaces some of the fats with simple carbs, which can leave you feeling flat.
- Even better than GORP from a calorie density standpoint is peanut butter, which generally has greater than 150 calories per ounce and is well balanced between fat, protein, and carb.
- Cheese is available in shelf-stable individual servings, or you can take powdered Parmesan cheese to add into recipes.
- Beef jerky or summer sausage can be eaten as-is or chipped up into other foods (grits, soups, etc.)
- Of course, the ultimate in calorie dense backpacking food is olive oil (or any other oil that you can stand the taste of), at nearly 250 calories per ounce. If you have a less caloric food item (rice, pasta, oatmeal) that you just have to have, you can boost the caloric content greatly with a spoon or two of oil. Or, with a pinch of flour or cornstarch and salt, you can turn it into gravy to boost the calorie density of whatever you are cooking,
And, you know, that’s one of the real pleasures of backpacking – especially in colder areas and times of the year, is you are exerting so much that you can afford to splurge on really hearty food! It just takes a little bit of experience to be able to balance demands of caloric density, nutrition, and taste.