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Jerky, Granola and Too Much Water: Packing Hiking Meals like a Pro

Picture this: you’ve been trekking up a mountain for the past two hours, leisurely sipping from your water bottle, watching where you step, chatting with your fellow hikers and snapping pictures of the views. You haven’t twisted an ankle or soaked your boot in a puddle, so as far as you can tell, all is going according to plan. But then you finally reach the summit, hungry enough to eat five courses and then some, and you find your loaf of bread smushed into a compact ball, your trail mix bag empty after your last snack break and a handful of meager morsels packed against the bottom seam of your backpack.

It’s certainly not an ideal situation, especially when you have another few hours to go until you’re back at the base, the trailhead, your car or wherever your outdoor excursion began. 

Luckily, thousands of people have braved these trails before you, and we’ve combed through their best advice when it comes to what to pack and how to pack it. So before you make a rookie mistake and pack a gourmet meal, take a minute to review the best foods to pack, the best foods to leave in the pantry and the most effective methods for fitting it all into your backpack. 

What to pack 

When choosing what to pack, make sure you take into consideration the trail on which you’ll be hiking. A bottle of water and a granola bar or two might be enough to get you through a leisurely stroll around a lake, but the same meager rations will leave you high and dry if you’re ascending 4,000 feet. Obviously, you’ll need more sustenance for a longer hike than a shorter one, so take the time to closely estimate how long you’ll be on the trail. You’ll make more informed food choices as a result. 

In general, you’ll want to pack lightweight, compact foods. The less weight you’ve got in that pack, the happier your whole body will be.

  • Granola bars You can pick from protein bars, nutrition bars, breakfast bars, you-name-it-they’ve-made-it bars. These bad boys aren’t only super easy to pack, but they’re full of proteins, carbs, fats and nutrients your body will crave during a strenuous hike. When selecting your granola bars, opt for natural or organic options with low sugar content, to provide your body with the best nutrition possible without allowing artificial ingredients to compromise your stamina.
  • Trail mix This crave-worthy combo of fruits, nuts and chocolate wasn’t named “trail” mix just for the heck of it. Trail mix is actually a great source of energy, covering the sweet and salty bases, for an easy go-to on the trail. Nuts provide optimal protein, fruit gives a little sugar boost to keep you moving and chocolate (especially dark chocolate) can provide you with healthy antioxidants. Plus, small baggies are easy to throw into your pack without worrying about crushing or overcrowding.
  • Dehydrated foods Dehydrated foods are literally just foods without water. Water weight in food is a main contributor to a heavy backpack, and dehydrated meals are a great way to save room and weight. We’d recommend sampling a few options before hitting the road, to make sure you’re not stuck with an unappetizing taste in your mouth at the end of a long trail.
  • Jerky/meat options High in protein and sodium, jerky, tuna and salami are fantastic ways to source a solid dose of protein and satisfy that salty craving. 
  • Sandwiches Meat and cheese offer respectively rich protein sources on the trail. Instead of fluffy bread, consider rolling your meat and cheese in a tortilla, or making a bagel sandwich for a dense option that won’t get crushed. 
  • Water Bring more water than you think you’ll need. A bit of a no-brainer, you’ll want to start drinking before you hike and continue to hydrate all the way through the hike, even when you don’t feel thirsty. Bring enough water to last, or invest in a hydration pack for convenience!

What not to pack 

  • Leave the highly sugared foods at home. Although hard candies will give you a boost of sugary energy for a little while, the crash isn’t worth the fuss.
  • Ditch the cans. Tuna, salmon and even chicken come in compact bags. Opt for these instead of heavy cans.
  • Avoid crushable food items. If you don’t have a container or pocket for them, crackers might become dust. Bread compacts until it’s unrecognizable. Bananas ooze all over everything. Either pack these items at the top of your sack or forget them all together.

Things to keep in mind

Prepare everything ahead of time! If your granola bars came in a box, take them out and recycle the box. You don’t need cardboard taking up space. Parcel out your trail mix or nuts into smaller baggies; the mixture is easier to hold in your hands than in a giant bag. When packing, throw sturdier items to the bottom – bags of tuna, jerky, trail mix, granola bars – and layer the more delicate items – sandwiches, fruits and veggies, crackers – near the top. A little extra work at home can save you a headache on the trail.

Happy hiking!

Of course we all have our food preferences, and being out on the trail is no exception. Trial and error can be your best teacher when exploring what makes you and your stomach happy. Hopefully this list gives you a good idea of where to start as you build your own trail blazing snack guide!
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