Ahh, nature, the wide open possibilities of wide open spaces. Is there any better way to escape your day-to-day routine and connect with family, friends or even yourself? Every foray into the wilderness is a new opportunity for joy. But nothing will turn a happy camper or backpacker blue faster than hunger.
Just as every trip requires good gear and a good plan, it also requires bringing your own food, which can be a nutritional disaster or a delight. Here are some things to consider when deciding what you’ll eat on your next outing, as well as a few tips on what to pack so you can eat well while out in the wild.
Are you bringing your best buddies or your kids?
We all know kids can be picky eaters, so if they will be your hiking companions, make sure you pack tastes they won’t turn up their noses at when it’s time for lunch or dinner. Dried fish might be high-protein fuel, but it’s a far cry from fish sticks.
Instead, consider some freeze-dried options of some home-cooked favorites like lasagna or fettuccini alfredo. If you’re kids are a little more adventurous, maybe some beef stroganoff with wild mushrooms or chicken cashew curry.
If you want to sweeten the deal, you can serve up to dessert, too. Hot apple cobbler anyone?
And as tempting as it might be to turn the kids on to new tastes while they’re enjoying a new nature experience, resist the urge to do so. Allow them to be adventurous eaters when you don’t have to pack backup choices.
The length of your trip will dictate how much food you need to carry. A good rule of thumb is to pack 1.5 to 2.5 pounds of food per person per day. Make sure what you do pack is nutrient dense and meets your caloric requirements for an exertion-filled day or two. Aim for 2,500 to 4,500 calories to keep up your energy and to fight off exhaustion and headaches. Complex carbohydrates and proteins are the best choices.
If you’re going in cold weather or going on a particularly strenuous trek, it’s a good idea to pack a little extra food to keep you going.
If you’re going overnight or multiple days, make sure you think about breakfast and snacks as well as lunch and/or dinner. Instant or dry cereals are a tried-and-true choice for the most important meal of the day, but if you want to mix it up a bit, freeze-dried is a good bet. Instead of oatmeal, dig into some mango sticky rice or Indian rice pudding.
At snack time, jerky, granola, nuts, dried fruit and energy bars are all perfectly fine. Other options for a protein-packed nosh include freeze-dried whole milk or some all-natural peanut butter packets. Make sure to skip the candy bars, though, since they won’t provide sustained energy.
Fresh foods, such as carrots or snap peas, also can work if they won’t be in your pack for longer than a day.
Just as you weigh who is traveling with you and what their tastes are, you also should weigh how much your food weighs and how long it will take to prepare.
Make sure any food you take is lightweight and minimally bulky. Dried pasta, noodles, instant rice, soup mixes, and drink mixes are light and don’t take up much room in your pack. If you need to, repackage foods into resealable plastic bags (which also can double as a way to pack out your trash).
Cans are an option, but they add weight, so make sure to consider that.
Similarly, make sure your meals are easy to prepare. No one wants to arrive at camp exhausted and have to go through a lengthy process to fix a meal. You want to eat and crash so you can wake up renewed and ready for more. Backpacking meals are great for ease of prep as long as you have enough water or have access to it.
Freeze-dried foods such as the mango sticky rice, lasagna and others mentioned above are super easy and quick. Prep time is limited to how long it takes to boil water.
No matter what meal choices you opt for, make sure you give yourself plenty of variety and pack spices and condiment packages to perk up your flavors. And then get out there and explore.