Updated: August 28th, 2020
Here is a high calorie meal plan without the weight - 3,300 calories crammed into 1.75 lbs of food per day. This is a list of what I ate in the back country on an 8 month adventure thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and cycle-touring New Zealand. Your 5 day backpacking meal plan needs to be high in nutrition, lightweight and easy to prepare.
Nowhere is fuel efficiency more important than long distance backpacking. Burning high levels of energy day after day requires high levels of nutritional intake - an average of 500 calories per hour. Calories, fat, sodium and sugar can be taboo in the real world. However, backpacking is not the time to minimize your intake. You must ensure you are consuming adequate levels of nutrition in order to stay healthy and properly fueled.
You want to consider how heavy that nutrition is. This is where the importance of nutritional density really matters. ie - you want a lot of nutrition for little weight. After all, you will feel every ounce on your back and your knees up those long climbs at the end of the day.
Backpacking can be physically exhausting. Cooking and meal prep can add unnecessary time and stress (not to mention weight!) to your day. You want to be taking in the scenery and soaring over mountains, not fiddling with the stove and waiting on your food to cook. Therefore, ease and minimal preparation is a top priority with your backpacking food.
Lets dig into our suggested ultralight backpacking meal plan. Nutritional breakdown included.
Get a big nutritional (and caffeine!) jump start without cooking. Carnation Instant Breakfast Mix, Brownie Mix, Oats and Instant Coffee Powder. Mix it all up into one, secure bag at home before leaving. Eyeball your 1/5 portion each morning into a cup and add some water. Mix it and sluuuurp it up.
A hiking staple. A nut variety (peanuts, pecans, cashews, sunflower seeds, almonds, pistachio, etc.) plus dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, blueberries, mango, pineapple, strawberry, banana, etc). Trail Mix provide dense calories, carbs, sugar and healthy fat.
Just tear open and eat. Loaded with a whopping 33% of your daily nutrition using only natural ingredients: Calories, Carbs, Protein, Fats, Sodium and Fiber. Sure to be a filling mid-day meal without any mess or cleanup.
Again, dense and easy nutrition - protein, calories, fat. Peanut butter is a backpacking food essential. Can be lathered on and tastes good on almost anything.
The day is over - bust out that stove for a hot meal. Mashed potatoes and creamy pastas leave your pot a sticky mess. Instant noodles, however, are easy to wipe out or even lick clean. Fresh vegetables don't pack very well so drop in some dried veggies. A packet of tuna provides dense protein. Olive oil is a nice boost of fat and calories, not to mention it tastes great.
Since the stove is already out, heat some tea and sit by the fire with something sweet (candy, whatever) or savory before bed. On a cold night, the hot tea can be a nice luxury. Chamomile can help ensure a nice rest after the long day as well.
Here is the full nutritional and weight breakdown. 3,300 calories per day. Feel free to mix and match line items and increase/ decrease serving size depending on your taste buds and performance needs.
By Chris Cage
Chris launched Greenbelly Meals in 2014 after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail for 6 months. Since then, Greenbelly has been written up by everyone from Backpacker Magazine to Fast Company. He wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail and currently works from his laptop all over the globe. Instagram: @chrisrcage.
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