The 5 Golden Rules of Backpacking Food - Greenbelly Meals

The 5 Golden Rules of Backpacking Food

1. Nutrition - get a lot of it.

In one day, you might burn 2,500 calories with a leisure 5 mile stroll or up to 5,500 calories on an intense 20 mile backpacking trip.

Consuming proper levels of Calories, Sodium, Fat, Fiber, Sugar, Carbohydrates and Protein is crucial to staying healthy and energized... especially if you're on the trail for more than a day or two.

The FDA recommends the following amounts. Assuming you don't have any specific dietary needs, we recommend consuming at least these levels on the trail. At times, much more.

Calories (2,000) - Sodium (2,400 mg) - Fat (65g) - Fiber (25g) - Sugar (NA) - Carbohydrates (300g) - Protein (50g)


2. Weight - as light as possible.

To a certain degree, density is the ultimate goal (ie high calorie-to-oz ratio). I typically only carry food that is at least 100 calories per oz. Your back and knees will appreciate every extra ounce you can shave off.

You want "waterless" backpacking food. 

Example 1: YES: Dehydrated Meal (just add hot water). NO: Can of soup.

Example 2: YES: Dried Apricots. NO: Fresh Apricot. 


3. Ease - no cooking (ideally) and no cleanup.

You want to be able to drop your bag, unzip a pocket and eat. Two questions:

    • Do I need to cook this with a stove and dishes?
    • Do I need a rag, soap and/ or water to clean it up? 

Cooking is a pain. Setting up the pots and stove... and then cleaning up (no one likes to do dishes in the woods). Takes up valuable time and energy. Many ultra-light distance hikers opt to leave the stove behind entirely and go for a "non-cook meal plan".

I recommend bringing a stove and only cooking one meal a day - dinner. It's the end of the day so you have time to chill out and it can be a savory reward after a long day.


4. Packable - compact and durable.

Keep in mind that you will toss around, unload and repack all of your food... a lot. This is where puffy bread, brittle crackers and squishy fruits become impractical.

Keep it compact and durable.


5. Taste - don't torture yourself out there.

Everyone is different. I tend to prioritize flavor and variety more than most though. Tuna just ain't gonna cut it for every meal for me. 

I crave sugar and salt on the trail. Makes sense, considering the high level of physical exertion. Be sure to give yourself at least one thing you will look forward to everyday.

chris cage greenbelly

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.

Ready-to-Eat Backpacking Meals.

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