First time I did a multi-day hike I actually spent a lot of time thinking about how to carry my food. I wanted to make sure I brought enough, so I undertook some research. I came up with lots of information, and I thought, why not put them together, so you benefit from them as well. Turned out, packing food on a multi-day hike is a little more challenging than putting it into a fridge, especially in warmer climates or in summer.
How to Carry Food on a Multi Day Hike? On a multi-day hike, carry food in individual pouches. Repack it into Ziploc bags, soft foods on top of harder food. You want to get some fresh food and some food that stores well. On the first day, you will be able to have some nice perishable foods like fresh meat and cheese that needs a fridge, like cut vegetables. Store it in individual bags to minimize bacterial growth. Other vegetables like cucumber, tomato, and zucchini actually and preserved meats like salted meat and ham as well as salami are fine for 2-3 days without cooler unless you mash them up in your backpack with heavy items, so pack them on top. After 2-3 days it’s all about mapping out your meals with shelf-stable and easy-to-carry food and having some long term vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and squash if you want fresh veggies.
But it’s not just how to carry food on a multi-day hike; it’s also about how much food and what kind of food. The obvious problem is that food stored in a backpack spoils faster than in a fridge. Not only because there is no cooling, but also because the food is usually stuffed between clothes, cooking gear, and your camping utilities. Ever found a handful of grapes on the bottom of your backpack after a 3-day hike or an old banana that is liquified? Then you know what I mean.
What Are Good Kinds of Food to Bring?
Let’s talk about what kind of foods are best suited for a multi-day hike. In general, it’s all about the shelve life of the type of food. Now you might be quick to answer that a type of survival food like Meal-Ready-To-Eat should be good then. But if you are like me, hiking is a hobby, and I usually try to eat healthy and conscious if I have a choice. That’s why survival food like MREs or other types of emergency calory supplies like an expedition and freeze-dried meals are not the focus of this post.
Also, this article would not make sense as packing MREs is not a big deal; you can just stuff them somewhere and be good. In that sense, they are perfect, as they keep for years and are easily packed anywhere – that’s what they are designed for. But MRE causes terrible constipation for some and are filled with preservatives. Even the healthier brands for freeze-dried food are usually not very filled with vitamins, nor are they fresh.
So let’s try to find food that is “normally” available but can still be packed into a backpack and keeps for some days. A no-brainer is ready-to-eat granola and cereal. You can always have a snack with some granola, it’s a great dense energy source and tastes good. If you want some fruit, squeezable pouches with fruit and vegetable puree are great, although not completely fresh you still get some vitamins. Individual packets of condiments like ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, and soy sauce are a great way to save weight and still have great tasting food as you can sprinkle them over otherwise bland foods. Bring some pasta, couscous, instant rice, or pancake mix. If you combine it with hot cereal and dried soups, you have a great way of preparing tasteful carb-loaded meals – perfect when you spend the whole day outside. I usually always bring a bag of marshmallows, as it is a nice way to end the day with a campfire.
Bread can be easily transported, just make sure to keep it in a paper bag while hiking to prevent it from molding. Butter can actually be transported without cooling it easily, and it holds fresh for a week without issues. Even when the upper surface of the butter which is exposed to the air tastes a little funny, you can still eat the butter beneath it without a problem. Butter doesn’t spoil like meat, or some cheese does – the worst thing that happens to butter is that the fat goes rancid. In this case, you shouldn’t eat the rancid layer, but you can easily scrape it off with a knife and the butter beneath is most likely still good. Rancid butter is not like mold where you need to get rid of the whole bread!
How to Carry Meat?
Meat is by far the most problematic food to bring on a hike for several days. If you want fresh meat, the best way to bring it is to pack it in your backpack in individual plastic bags that you wrap inside a towel with a freeze pack next to them. You should prepare and possibly consume it on the very first day. I have an easy rule for fresh meat: If I unwrap it from the towel and the meat inside the pack feels still cool to the touch and doesn’t smell it’s alright. So far, I never had any problems with this method, especially if you thoroughly cook the meat. You can get away with warmer meat, but I try to stay away.
So this gives you one day of meat. What if you want more? Cooked Poultry, meat or fish pouches, as well as canned fish, poultry or meat in individual or regular servings is a good way to bring some. You can also bring extra meat to prepare for dinner on the first day and store the leftovers if the night temperatures are not too hot, cooked meat usually keeps for a day if you wrap it in some paper towel or paper. Another way is to get some cured meats like beef jerky, smoked ham and salami, they taste great and are good hearty alternatives for snacking. Examples for long keeping canned fish and meat are salmon, tuna, sardines or anchovies.
Vegetables, Fruit, and Cheese
Number two on the “easy-spoiling” list are vegetables, fruit, and cheese. They keep a bit longer than meat, but they still need to be consumed within the first 2-3 days of your trip. In terms of vegetables, anything that doesn’t need your fridge is your friend.
Examples are Tomatoes, potatoes, and sweet potatoes, apples, pears, peaches, and plums. These can all be stored in a backpack, and while you should put peaches, tomatoes, and plums on top, apples can actually be on the bottom, as well as potatoes and sweet potatoes. Oranges, lemons, and limes can also be a great fruit to take on a hike. Bananas, onions, and garlic are actually better when not stored in the fridge, and onion and garlic are a great way to put some flavor to otherwise boring dishes.
Carrots, avocados, and cucumbers are also easily stored without a fridge for 3-5 days. For avocados I have a simple but great trick: I buy them when they are hard and green, one day before I leave on a trip. By the 2nd or 3rd day, there is spot on and perfectly ripe.
You can also bring peppers and squash, although squash is probably a bit too heavy to transport with a backpack. From a shelve life perspective, squash is great though.
When to eat which food?
This is my usual approach; I eat food that spoils quickly early when I begin the hike.
|Day||Food to bring||Where to pack in the backpack|
|1||Fresh meat, soft vegetables, fresh cheese||At the very top, in individual packs.|
|2-3||Vegetables like tomato, zucchini, cucumber. Fruits like Apple and peas.|
Preserved meat like salami and air-dried ham
|Beneath the top but not on the bottom.|
|3+||Shelf-stable items like rice, granola, pasta. Vegetables that store well like potatoes, squash, and carrots. Canned meat and candy for short term energy.||Can be lower in your backpack.|
How much food should I take on a hike? How much food do you need for 3, 5, and 10 days of hiking?
How much food do you need for X days of hiking? How much food to bring on a five day hiking trip? All these questions can easily be answered by doing some math. Let’s say an average human being consumes 2200 calories a day (male a bit more, female less), now if you go hiking for 6 hours, you’ll more likely need around 3500 calories on that day. One gram of carbohydrates and protein have 4 calories, one gram of fat 9 calories. Since you won’t just carry pure olive oil for food, and some food has a lot of water (like fruit and vegetables), lets assume that one gram of food on average has 4 calories (low-fat diet with some fruit and veggies), now divide 3500 by 4, you get 875 grams or roughly 2 lbs. If you bring 4 lbs of food, you will be good for a day. Caveat: If you bring ONLY vegetable and fruit, the 875 grams of food will have LESS than 3500 calories, and if you bring 875 of butter you will have MORE than 3500 calories. But 2 lbs puts you in the right ballpark. If you want to be sure, round up to 1 kg, which is a little more than 2 lbs. 1 kg of food per day, and now multiply it with the number of days.
|Days||How much food to bring||Why|
|3||1kg x 3 = 3 kg|
|5||1 kg x 5 = 5 kg||Beneath the top but not on the bottom.|
|10||1 kg x 10 = 10 kg||Can be lower in your backpack.|