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Staying Fueled While Backpacking

Author: be well™ with Big Y® Registered Dietitian Team

When you’re hitting the trail, whether you’re putting on the backpack for a day trip or overnighting it at camp, you’ll want to focus on what matters most- staying fueled for the climbs ahead.

There are a few specifications your food and hydration must meet: safe, light in weight and nutritious. Here are tips for getting the most out of your pack—for seasoned, novice and newbie hikers-alike

Staying Hydrated While Hiking

Raincoat Boots

Slight dips in your hydration status can do a lot to zap your energy—especially during warm and humid days while exerting yourself. Do your part to stay hydrated and pack enough water to get you through your entire hike.

For longer day-hikes, consider a bladder type pack to carry on your back. For short stints, a reusable water bottle (or two) could do the trick in your back pack.

A good rule of thumb is to consume at least 1 to 3 cups water 2 to 4 hours before your hike. When on the move, plan to consume between 1 ½ to 3 cups per hour of hiking.2  Pack accordingly—higher elevation and warmer weather may push your hydration needs even further, to at least 4 cups per hour.

If you’ll be by a natural water source, like a running stream or mountain lake, lucky you! This means you can pack less water (read: carry less water) as long as you come prepared. Choose from either bringing your own water filtration system, built right into a water bottle or a pocket-size pump, or water purification tablets.

Staying Nourished While Hiking


After water, the food you eat will have the biggest impact on your energy for hikes of all distances and intensity. Keeping in mind that carbohydrate-rich foods provide the quickest source of energy for your muscles (and brain), you’ll want to make them the primary food of choice when eating.

Combining carbohydrate foods with those providing protein and a little bit of fat is the best way to get and stay fueled. Protein-rich and fat-rich foods help slow down the digestion of carbohydrate foods—an excellent trait for sustaining energy over time.

Here’s what this winning combination looks like for snacks in real life:

Trail Mix

Hike-Worthy Snacks

  • Sweet GORP- Good ‘ol raisins and peanuts, otherwise known as a trail mix, dried fruit of any kind (not just good ‘ol raisins!) mixed with nuts and seeds is an excellent snack. Not only will you obtain carbohydrates, protein and fat, you’ll be able to replenish any sodium lost through salt, if you opt for a lightly-salted nuts and/or seeds.
  • Snack Bars with Protein- With so many snack and granola bars available, how do you know which to choose? Go with one you think is tasty but also gives you a snack-portion of carbohydrates at 15 to 30 grams per bar, while also offering about 10-20 grams protein.
  • Veggie & Fruit Pouch Pairings- Pouches of vegetable and fruit blends aren’t just for kids lunch boxes (or toddlers!). Grab a combination you enjoy like carrot apple, spinach pear or apple banana and pair it up with a protein source such as jerky, nuts, seeds and roasted legumes like roasted chickpeas.

Meals on the Mountain: Hiking Overnight

Rice Cooking Methods

Following the guidelines of being lightweight, safe and nourishing, packing foods for meals while backpacking can become quite intentional. For example, nut butter and dried fruit sandwiches get a triple check for all the categories, but turkey and cheese wraps stuffed in your bag for the end of a long day? Not so much.

Here are a few ideas to get your backpacking menu mojo started:

Trail Mix

Nourishing Backpacking Meals

  • GORP Sandwiches- Good ‘ol raisins and peanuts in a different form is just as wonderful at meeting both your nutrition and hunger needs—while needing zero ice packs or heating. Never had a peanut butter and raisin sandwich on whole grain bread? It may be life changing, especially after a long hiking day. Enjoy with an easy vegetable side that requires no ice packs like tomatoes or single-portion corn or green bean cups.
  • Camping Charcuterie- If you know you’ll get to your destination and eat within 2 to 4 hours, you can liven things up with your own spread of cured meat, cheese and crackers. Choose smaller portioned items like hard salami snack sticks, paraffin wax covered cheese and whole grain crackers. Rule of thumb: This kind of cheese should not be out of refrigeration or ice packs longer than 2 to 4 hours.1  Add in nuts and dried fruit, and you’ll feel like glamping took on a whole new meaning!
  • Yes You Can…or Pouch- Eyeing the canned meat and vegetable sections in our stores, in conjunction with the rice and pasta aisle, can bring you far for filling your pack. Protein powerhouses like light weight tuna and salmon pouches, or cans of sardines, make for a great change up of flavors. Pair premixed tuna salad with bread or crackers or salmon and pre-seasoned rice cups (they don’t need reheating!) for something new.

Dehydrated Meals for Backpacking

Freeze Dried Food

When the trail ahead will take days, not hours, to cover, you’ll want to consider a combination of food and meal options. Plan ahead to learn if supplementing what you packed, with provisions from towns you’ll pass along your journey, is an option.

The sweet spot to staying safely nourished with minimal weight may be learning as much as you can about dehydrated meals. Whether these are pre-fab meals offered by manufacturers or those you learn to create yourself with an investment of time, money and trial-and-error, shoot for options providing the same carbohydrate, protein and fat combination mentioned above.


Learning what set up makes the most sense for you—cooking on a campfire or packing a canister stove system with a lightweight, aluminum cook set—will dictate what food you pack. Experiment your heat source of choice on shorter hikes, so you are seasoned trail-side well before you first long-trail adventure.

1 Babybel. Frequently asked questions. https://babybel.com/frequently-asked-questions/.  Accessed 6/21/23.
2 Thomas DT, Erdman KA, Burke LM. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Mar;116(3):501-528. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2015.12.006. Erratum in: J Acad Nutr Diet. 2017 Jan;117(1):146. PMID: 26920240.

Published 7/10/2023