After countless hikes and climbs on my favourite trails I pretty much have my 3 day backpacking food list dialed in. The key items I pay attention to are lightweight, diverse, flavourful and calorie dense. I have found that the usual length of trip I go on is about 3 days and that works out to what the average hiker is tackling. So lets dig into putting together that perfect list of items for a long weekend in the outdoors.
Selecting a 3 Day Backpacking Food List
The top criteria that I have worked on paying attention to is calorie density. I don’t want a backpack full of items that are very heavy yet don’t provide many calories. That would totally defeat the purpose on the hard work I have put in to get my backpack base weight very light.
This means don’t haul things like tuna in water, fresh fruit, pickles as they add weight that is not benefitting you. Also while tortillas or bagels may taste great and are perfect for day hikes they take up a lot of space for not many calories. The other half of calorie density is the volume an item takes, with trying to keep my weight down I want to keep pack volume down.
Now that we know we want to find items that are lightweight, calorie dense and low volume lets look at options. Through trial and error I have found what things I like to eat on the trail and have learned the hard way that I need diversity. For example on one multi-day trip I packed only one kind of energy bar. By the end of the trip I couldn’t stand that brand of bar anymore and even now the smell or just one bite and I gag.
I will mix up things but will always include these key items. A variety of snack or energy bars and then the highest calorie per gram trail mix I can find. Instant oatmeal for breakfast with coffee that has cream and sugar mixed into it. I will pack some sort of energy electrolyte gummies for my hipbelt. For lunch I enjoy triscuits and some sort of individually packaged cheese like Baybel.
For supper I always select a pre-packaged dehydrated backpacker meal from brands like Alpine Aire or recently I have been trying out Happy Yak (made in Canada, great taste and well priced). With my supper I will have hot chocolate. To round out my snacks I have 3 go to items that can be snacked on during the day and also doubles as my after supper desert. These are cheezies, pop tarts or snickers with all three items having huge calories per gram.
How much food do you need to take? Well this depends a lot on your height, weight and age to determine your baseline caloric intact and then knowing what an average day of hiking burns for calories. There are many calorie calculators out there that you can play around with like this one at Calculator.net. For myself I have found that 3000 calories is the perfect amount where I feel like I am getting enough to eat. While I know I am probably burning more than 3000 on say a 21 km day I am ok with running a bit of a deficit. After targeting 3000 calories I then try to ensure that each day is about 1.5 to 1.9 lbs in weight.
Packing Your 3 Days of Food
Lay out all of your food across each day you will be gone and plan how you will eat each day. Keep in mind that on day 1 you will be leaving the trailhead and have had breakfast there or at home. On Day 3 you will be exiting the trail so you don’t need a supper as I’m sure you will be heading straight to a big treat somewhere like I do.
I will break up things like my lunch triscuits and my trail mix into each day in small ziploc bags. I then also pack each day into individual ziploc bags as I have found that it helps me ensure I only eat that specific days worth of food. It also keeps down smells for wildlife attraction. I then pack all of my individual days of food into one stuff sack. This keeps my food all tightly compressed down and also easy to hang at night for bears and small critters etc. (Be sure to check if tour area requires bear canisters or bear sacks.)
For drinking on my trip as mentioned in the morning I have coffee and at night I have a cup of hot chocolate. Both of these add to my daily calories and break up drinking just water. For my water I treat using aquatabs and to help add some electrolytes as well as mask the chlorine taste I carry some packs of Ener-C drink mix.
With your eating and cooking in the backcountry it is important to remember Leave No Trace principles. Pack out all of your food waste, wrappers and packaging. For me I find that my first day trail mix ziploc can hold all my wrappers and used meal pouches. I then seal it tightly in my day one larger ziploc further keeping smells down. If washing utensils or pots don’t pour your dirty water back into any water sources.
I hope this 3 day backpacking food list has helped you plan your next trip. Remember that these choices and criteria work for me and might not work for you. An idea to help you experiment without committing to a 3 day trip is to make notes of what you like eating on a long day hike as a baseline. Experiment and have fun while you are out enjoying the outdoors. If you are planning a longer trip just simple double up on the day 2 food layout and you are set. The longer the trip the more important it becomes on light calorie dense foods in your kit. Keep notes, track what you like and don’t like and dial in your own list.
On a side note I reuse all my ziploc bags as long as possible to cut down on single use plastic. I am also exploring more bulk options from my local grocery store to limit my pre-packed snack food as well.
If you have any questions or comments let me know below (P.S. I would love to know your favourite food that packs a punch) If you have found it helpful please share with your friends and family.