Whether you’re planning to spend a full day trekking to a mountaintop or an hour walking along the coast, having the right food can make a huge difference in your day. Avoid hangry hiking by starting your day with the right nutrients and packing energizing hiking snacks. Plus, knowing you have a delicious meal waiting for you after your day on the trail makes that last push so much easier.
Here are our tips for fueling your hiking day from start to finish.
Food for before the hike
We’re not going to lecture you about how breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but for whatever time you’re starting your hike, you’re going to want a healthy meal rich in carbs and proteins for long lasting energy.
If you’re enjoying a slow morning before starting your trek, cook up eggs in your Cabana kitchen. An average egg contains 6-7 grams of protein, and eggs won’t take up too much space in your fridge. Have some extra veggies from a previous meal you’re looking to finish off? Make a breakfast burrito to incorporate leftover avocado, mushrooms, spinach, salsa, etc.
If you’re aiming for sunrise at the summit or otherwise looking for a speedy start to your day, oatmeal is a great option. Oats have healthy carbohydrates, which break down and give you energy throughout the day. Mix in peanut butter for added protein, add nuts or seeds for a crunch, or add berries and honey for something sweet. (Your Cabana comes with an electric kettle so you don’t even need to step outside before fueling up.)
Nut butter and banana
Peanut butter and other nut butters are excellent sources of protein. You can mix nut butter into your oatmeal, or spread it on toast with sliced banana (which is an ideal metabolism boost for exercise). If nut butter isn’t your thing, mix your fruit into yogurt as another protein-packed breakfast option.
If you’re starting a long hike later in the day, a whole grain pasta can be a great pre-hike meal. Choose a light sauce (instead of something creamy or cheesy), and add in chicken, shrimp, or veggies for even more nutrients.
Food for during the hike
No matter your trail difficulty or length, you’ll want a few snacks packed for energy –– or for something to do while you take in the view.
When you’re filling up your backpack for a day on the trail, weight and temperature should be two details top of mind. Since you’ll be carrying every snack you pack, choose items that are fairly lightweight. Stick with mostly non-perishable items, so you won’t need to bring an ice pack. If you’ll be hiking somewhere extra hot, skip anything that will melt (like chocolate in trail mix).
Besides snack selection, think about where you will keep trash. Pack your snacks with as little waste as possible (something like Stasher bags will help) to minimize the amount of small plastics you could end up leaving behind. Consider packing an extra bag for trash, or plan on using one of your snack bags for trash once emptied, because spending the day with a banana peel or apple core loose in your backpack isn’t ideal.
When selecting your snacks, choose items packed with nutrients, easy to carry/eat without a mess, and that you really enjoy eating. Here are our favorites:
It’s a bit obvious, but it’s a tried and true essential! Trail mix is easy to pack and easy to eat on the go. You can make your own to ensure your ideal chocolate-to-raisin ratio, or choose from a wide variety of trail mix options at the grocery store. (Target’s Peanut Butter Monster Trail Mix is a personal favorite.)
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and veggies that can handle a few hours out of the refrigerator and don’t bruise easily are ideal for a refreshing snack on the trail. Apples, oranges, carrots, and celery are all great options. Remember to take any food waste with you. Although “natural,” food scraps like apple cores take a long time to decompose, leaving plenty of time for an animal who shouldn’t eat it to do so. For a more lightweight alternative that will last longer in a backpack, go with dried fruit or fruit leather.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are a great source of healthy fats and proteins. Pack nuts and seeds on their own, choose a natural granola bar, or bring along a nut butter to pair with a fruit or veggie mentioned above.
Jerky is lightweight, doesn’t take up much space, and is an excellent source of protein. There are so many different jerkies on the market, but we recommend Tanka, jerky sustainably grown by Native American producers on the Pine Ridge Reservation (South Dakota).
Cheese is a calorie-dense snack and a good source of protein. A hard cheese like cheddar will fare well in a backpack and will pair nicely with fruit. You can pack a block of cheese (don’t forget a knife), or single servings like Babybel cheese or Tillamook’s snack portions.
Food for after the hike
This might not be scientific, but post-hike food hits different. If your mind instantly goes to your next meal the second you start your return trek, you’re not alone. (If you instantly start craving a post-trail beer, you’re not alone in that either.)
After a long day of exercising, you should go for something rich in carbohydrates and proteins to restore all the energy you spent, like pasta, rice, or potatoes. You probably won’t want to spend much time cooking after a day on your feet, so have something prepared beforehand, or if you aren’t too far from civilization, head into the nearest town for a bite.
If your plan is to head into town, have an idea of where you’ll be eating and what their hours are. Some local restaurants close earlier than expected or don’t open every day. If the town is a bit of a drive, maybe save a snack for while you’re on the road as well. (This could be a nice time to go with something refrigerated, like hummus or yogurt.) The bottom line is that no one wants to end their wonderful hiking day hangry and driving around looking for somewhere open.
You’ll feel best if you stick with something healthy and nutrient rich to refuel –– but you might be happier with an order of fries and a locally brewed beer. It’s all about balance, right? It might not be the time to take on an eating challenge, but it’s a great time to try a cuisine the area is known for, be it seafood in the PNW or tacos in the Southwest. (For example, if you’re hiking in Deception Pass, head to the Shrimp Shack in Anacortes for an early dinner.)
Not sure where to hike next? Here’s Your Guide to a Weekend in the North Cascades.