Chow, nosh, grub, scran, whatever you call like to call it, food is a big one for hikers. No matter whether you’re a rambler, a bush-crafter, a nature-lover, an ultra-lighter or a thru-hiker, all of us have to eat, most of us LOVE to eat, and many of us love to talk about eating.
From the peanut butter obsessed (Elina Osborne I’m looking at you) to the trail mix traditionalists and cold-soak kings, every type of hiker has their ‘go-to’ foods or favourite snacks, some go stove-less, whilst others go gourmet.
Resupplying your specific favourites or brands isn’t always an option, but you can generally find these hiker-friendly foods in most supermarkets, from small village shops in the UK to huge Grocery Stores in the USA.
So, we’re diving into the wonderful world of trail food to get you hungry for your next hike or maybe you’re new to hiking or long-distance trails and you’re looking for some inspiration – look no further!
Bars for life – From Nature Valley crunchy bars, Eat Natural bars and Kind bars, to Clif bars and Lara bars – some form of bar will be found in most hikers’ bags as an easy go-to snack.
Trail mix – Whether you choose to DIY or buy pre-mixed, trail mix is an ultimate snack food packed with protein and carbohydrates, it’s not too heavy and provides energy to keep you hiking all day long.
Fruit – Fresh or dry, fruit is a beautiful change to a bar or nuts. But fresh fruit is heavy so you have to be dedicated whereas dried fruit lasts longer and can be rehydrated if you’re tiring of the dried foods.
Dried meats – From Peperami to Beef jerky, a salty savoury alternative when nuts are just not doing it for you. Plus, they can be added to wraps at lunch or instant mash to add some extra flavour to what could be a fairly bland meal.
Sweets, candy, lollies – Whatever you call it, snickers bars, mars bars, M&Ms, dark chocolate, wine gums or jelly babies, we’re talking confectionary. A firm hiker favourite that satisfies trail hunger cravings and provides that all-essential sugary boost that is sometimes required for the hard slog.
Gels – Instant carbohydrate energy, probably one of the less popular snacks but an option nonetheless.
Peanut butter – yes, you can just eat peanut butter on its own as a snack and it’s awesome. Grab a spoon or try a squeezy sachet of goodness – nature’s answer to energy gels.
Oats & trail mix – a classic trail breakfast, porridge oats and trail mix (with a dash of peanut butter if you fancy) is the ultimate way to start the day on trail. Cook it up to make porridge if a hot meal is your thing or eat with cold with water or powdered milk to save on gas.
Granola bar – there are those bars again. If waking up and heading straight out is more your style grab a bar and hit the road.
Fruit – A great breakfast food, if you want to carry it in. Bananas it seem bruise the instant they come in contact with a backpack and apples are weighty, but they are a delightful fresh pick-me-up and alternative to oats. Or opt for dried fruit with the option to soak it and rehydrate it if you’re feeling bold.
Pop Tarts – A sweet treat and a go-to for some, but usually on long-distance trails or thru-hikes when energy is depleted and that sugary hit is essential.
Backpacking meals / expedition food – If money is no object, then you can opt for freeze-dried or dehydrated meals, including the amazing sounding Coconut Porridge or a the rather exotic Power Red Smoothie from LYO Expedition. Now that does sound fancy!
Tortillas & bagels – The king and queen of trail lunches, tortilla wraps and bagels can withstand the test of time and getting shoved in a food bag. The perfect edible plate to hold anything you can get your hands on… Peanut butter, tuna, spam, cheese, jerky… (Top tip: carry a little sriracha sauce to add to your cheese wraps if you’re feeling adventurous!
Cheese – Hard cheese fairs pretty well on trail. The tasty salty protein fat-rich filler provides long-lasting sustenance when you’re going the miles. On the Appalachian Trail we ate kilos of cheese every week for lunch, snacks and dinner, adding some to our instant noodles or mash potato to mix things up a little.
Tuna – It comes in packets or sachets now, so there are no lugging tins around. A great alternative to cheese for your lunch wraps or add to your quick pasta dinner for some added protein, but mostly flavour!
Oats – You can repeat breakfast, some hikers do. And it might be a cheaper way to eat on trail if budget is an issue. But if you enjoy variety maybe read the above lunch ideas again.
Fruit cake – certainly if you’re Tough Soles, this calorie dense option is unique but definitely an option for ease, value for money and calories.
Quick cook carbs – Anything instant or quick cook is a goer. Instant mash potato, ramen noodles, quick-cook pasta, instant rice or couscous. These are favourites because calorie to weight they make the most sense if you’re trying to keep your pack as light as possible. But they can become pretty boring pretty quickly so mix things up; add cheese, chilli, herbs, tuna to enhance the flavour. Often on trail we’d make it ‘Thai Food Night’, adding chilli sauce or flakes and you guessed it, peanut butter, to our ramen noodles which gave us something that vaguely resembled pad thai noodles.
Backpacking meals/expedition food – There really are options for every meal from breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert so if you can eat them for every meal great because they’ve been designed for the trails, nutritious, calorie dense and delicious, but if this sounds a little costly, break up the instant mash and ramen noodle meals with a few hot dinners from Backpacker’s Pantry that you can find in REI or tasty dishes like Beef Stew with Pearl Barley from Firepot found at Ultralightgear.co.uk or Summit to Eat’s Vegetable Chipotle Chilli with Rice from the food-focused basecampfood.com.
Powdered meals – Lightweight and fast, some hikers swear by the quick and easy option of a powdered meal replacement drink for one of their daily meals, like Huel’s Powder v3.0, which could be a more pricey option for longer hikes but it is one way to add extra nutrients to a long-distance hike that would otherwise involve far too much ramen and snickers bars.
Cold-soaking in a leak-proof container or zip lock bag makes it possible to leave the stove behind, save on weight but also enjoy a filling carb-loaded meal at the end of the day. Most quick cook carbs can be cold-soaked, or you can go for overnight oats for breakfast. Include some dried fruit and the soaking with rehydrate it for a fruity, juicy alternative to oatmeal and trail mix.
If you haven’t heard of the infamous “Ramen Bomb” then you’re in for a treat. @EasyDexter told us about this trail specialty whilst on his thru-hike of the End to End Trail. Around mid-afternoon add instant noodles and instant mash with your favourite spice mix to some water in your water-tight container of choice and let it soak until dinner. Et voila a Ramen Bomb special! To take it even further, add some spicy chorizo or cheese to taste.
If for you forgoing flavour and variety is not an option then you may be one of the hikers seen to be carrying some of these cheeky extras:
- Powdered milk
- Olive oil
- Salt & pepper
- Spices & herbs
- Chilli powder, flakes or sauce
- Vegetables! Peppers fair quite well, even seen an avocado on trail!
- Powdered / dehydrated hummus! You can find this online, the perfect
- Specialty coffee sachets
- Hot chocolate powder
- Crisps / Chips – eat them quickly before they get crushed in your pack!
Next time you’re on trail why not try a delightful “backcountry mocha” recommended by hiking legend Cam “Swami” Honan – no boiling necessary, just shake it to mix it in a water bottle and enjoy on the go.