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What is the most efficient food to take a for a 12-15 day hiking trip?

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Last summer I spent 15 days hiking with my boyfriend, in Sarek National Park, where there are no places to restock with more food.

The food issue was a major part of the pre-planning, as weight was also of high importance. Looking back, I can already identify a few mistakes I made, but I'd like to hear from other people who are more experienced at taking long trips so that I can be even more efficient next time.

"Efficient" means being not-too-hungry at the end of the day whilst expending the lowest amount of weight. It's important that the food is going to last the full two weeks.

Assume I have no taste at all and don't care about eating the same tasteless thing every day if necessary.

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As a runner, it is very common to eat 'heavy' food the days before doing a marathon for example. Typically is pasta fo …

3y ago

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I have only hiked Hawaii on long multi day trips but I can add: GORP granola, oreos, raisins, peanuts. Can substitute …

8y ago

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Good Ol' Reliable Peanuts (GORP), or Trail mix: Trail mix is a combination of dried fruit, grains, nuts, and sometim …

11y ago

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I go with a couple of Mountain House dehydrated meals per day, and check the calories per ounce of snacks and other food …

11y ago

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I like to eat Knorr Spaghetteria. I don't know if it's the most efficient energy-wise, but it's vastly more efficient t …

6y ago

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The most efficient "food" you can carry is the body fat you can afford to lose. In our younger days, we went on 12 to 1 …

7y ago

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Recently, nutritional drinks that fulfil the complete nutritional requirements of adults (optimum proportion of carbohyd …

8y ago

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For me, it's all about dehydration. Ok, 12-15 days without resupply? I highly suggest you research the surroundings of …

8y ago

+0
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Fat, fat and fat. If you are hardcore, you can get products like: Naturlig energi til heste This one is a Danish produc …

8y ago

+0
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Historically, many coureurs de bois survived on pemmican, a mixture of rendered fat, dried meat, and dried fruits rich i …

8y ago

+0
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Ben's answer above is good. I wish I could give him more than just one upclick. Rules of thumb: Carbs and proteins run …

10y ago

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Lots of people have posted answers saying what they like to eat. However, the OP asked a very specific question, which w …

10y ago

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Dates are the best. Delicious, healthy and durable. When combined with milk I can easily keep going for a week with noth …

10y ago

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I made a 272-mile hike through the Sawtooth Mountains and this was my diet (which worked well for me): 2-3 oatmeal pack …

10y ago

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Rice. If you have fresh (or purified) water, an amazingly small amount of rice would suffice for 14 days. I've trekked …

11y ago

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Dehydrated food is key. Water weighs a LOT. Breakfast -- Any variation on oatmeal. You can make your own or buy prep …

11y ago

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I can offer my favorite hiking food routine, but I usually just had it for 4-5 days max, between resupplies. Quaker Oa …

11y ago

This post was sourced from https://outdoors.stackexchange.com/q/45. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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17 answers

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As a runner, it is very common to eat 'heavy' food the days before doing a marathon for example.

Typically is pasta food but I'm sure rice will do too (it has been mentioned also above).

The benefits of pasta are

  • Cheap
  • Reasonably compact (if you take spaghetti there are less empty spaces, although in principle you can compress any pasta)
  • Lots of calories
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I have only hiked Hawaii on long multi day trips but I can add:

  1. GORP granola, oreos, raisins, peanuts. Can substitute m+m's for the oreos
  2. dehydrated meals by Mountain House, or BP Pantry etc. bring spices to taste.
  3. any dried fruits to choice.
  4. energy bars.
  5. find local food in the hiking area you can enjoy, fish, harvest, scavenge
  6. have the other people carry more of the weight.
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I go with a couple of Mountain House dehydrated meals per day, and check the calories per ounce of snacks and other food that I buy. Everybody does this differently. I have carried a watermelon before. I found this to be somewhat inefficient.

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Good Ol' Reliable Peanuts (GORP), or Trail mix:

Trail mix is a combination of dried fruit, grains, nuts, and sometimes chocolate, developed as a snack food to be taken along on outdoor hikes.

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Dehydrated food is key. Water weighs a LOT.

Breakfast -- Any variation on oatmeal. You can make your own or buy prepackaged meals.
Lunch -- Peanut butter on hard tack. (did i mention water?)
Dinner -- Any dehydrated meal will do. I've used both Mountain House and Backpackers pantry.
Snacks -- I prefer Clif bars and Justin Nut Butter for a good weight/calorie/taste compromise. Luna bars are more calories per ounce but (IMO) taste horrid.

By far the biggest weight factor in food is going to be water. If you know your route will have water, carry minimal. I have went so far as to carry only one liter (emergency) and drink from a .5 liter bottle that I sterilize with a steripen or other purifier. Needless to say, you have to be pretty darned sure, because not having water is a huge issue.

Secondly, repack all your food. Even with dehydrated meals you can cut ounces by repacking them all into ziplocs.

Use a very lightweight stove & fuel. A lot of hikers swear by the beer can method here, but I find my msr pocket rocket to be fine. But if you really want to cut ounces, go with the can.

I use a snow peak .7L titanium cup for all of my cooking.

Get a titanium spork. Great weight ratio.

I went a little beyond just food into the whole eating plan, but I hope it helps.

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I can offer my favorite hiking food routine, but I usually just had it for 4-5 days max, between resupplies.

  • Quaker Oatmeal for breakfast (usually two packets with the powdered milk, add cold water to each packet).
  • 3-4 snacks during the day (2 Snickers, 2 M&Ms, sometimes other variants like Cliff bars or Oatmeal snacks).
  • A big tortilla with yellow cheese and pepperoni slices for lunch.
  • 1 Lipton meal (Made by Knorr) of pasta with sauce, or rice, powdered mashed potatoes in the mix, and tuna in bags (more efficient than cans in terms of weight) for dinner, also in a tortilla.

That mix kept me going for a long while, but as I said, I never carried more than 5 days of food on me.

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Dates are the best. Delicious, healthy and durable. When combined with milk I can easily keep going for a week with nothing else. No wonder this combination is the desert nomads's favourite.

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Ben's answer above is good. I wish I could give him more than just one upclick.

Rules of thumb: Carbs and proteins run 3.5 to 4 calories per gram. Fats run aobut 9 calories per gram.

Working hard, especially in cold weather, you can tolerate a lot of fat in your diet.

When planning food for teenagers, I figured on 4000 calories per day. This is sufficient for days with 8-9 working hours per day. (Pretty hard core compared to most recreational use.)

With a 40% fat content diet, each hundred grams of food with provide 40 * 9 + 60 * 4 = 360 + 240 = 600 calories. So it would take 700 grams of food per day -- about a pound and a half. Our meals tended to be lower fat than that, and a rough rule of thumb was 2 lbs dry weight per person per day. This allowed for things like cheese and peanut butter which have moderate water content, but also have fats.

Two pounds per day means that the groceries for a 15 day trip are 30 lbs. With the high fat option (LOTS of nuts, lots of cooking oil) There really isn't getting around that.

So, as others have pointed out, you need to make the rest of your gear light, and minimize the parasitic weight (packageing) of your food.

If you do trips frequently, set up your food in a spread sheet. I had one in which I figured on the weight/volume per serving, had a constant for the number of people in the trip, another constant for the class of trip, and the spread sheet would figure out the packing weight/volume for everything. This makes things a BUNCH easier when packing for an expedition of 30 people for 3 weeks in the wild waters of northern Saskatchewan.

One aside: An external frame pack is considerably easier when handling lots of weight. They tend to be wider and flatter, so keep the load closer to your own centre of mass. They are however a true PITA in brushy country, as the extra width and exposed corners catch.


In response to a request, here is the link to my planning spreadsheet:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1zruHUUSo3DKYsPLbBe6PKTI35PIXRgKIrsEZsjJ7TU4/edit?usp=sharing

GREEN cells are filled in by formula.

The sheet has 4 tabs:

  • Route
  • Gear (I can provide, is stuff I have extra of that I was able to rustle up for my nephew)
  • Menu
  • Ingredients.

You MUST be consistent in the names used on the Menu and Ingrediants tabs, or the VLOOKUPs don't work.

If you want to change the quanties, use the Ingrediants tab and change the serving size.

You can copy and modify.

Scenario: My nephew was flying out from the east to do a trip with me. He was 19, fit and about 140 pounds. I am on the wrong size of 65, not as fit, and was 175 pounds. Our packs were 40 pounds each.

Willmore wilderness is variable in terrain and climate. Snow can happen any month of the year. Trails are mostly horse trails. No bridges. Lots of stream crossings below timberline, and bogs in passes. You just live with wet feet. Our route was about 1/3 half century old logging roads, a third horse trail, and a third bushwhacking, and time above tree line. We covered about 120 km in 6 days.

We divided our lunch into two lunches, typically about 3 hours apart. We got onthe trail around 8, would have first lunch at 10:30 to 11, and second lunch around 2:00. We would camp between 6 and 7. This year there were heavy fires in B.C. and the sunlight ranged from yellow to orange. At times views were lost in the smoke under a mile away.

I mention this to give context to the gear list on the linked spreadsheet, and so that you can adjust quantities for your activity level.

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I made a 272-mile hike through the Sawtooth Mountains and this was my diet (which worked well for me):

2-3 oatmeal packets in the morning
trail mix as a snack
top ramen with powdered chili for lunch
then rice or mashed potatoes with a few seasonings mixed in for flavor such as garlic, herb, butter, cinnamon etc...

Rice, mashed potatoes, dehydrated milk, and oatmeal are the lightest foods you can bring.
Brown rice is healthier than white as well.
I had to carry all my food in because there was no re-supply but I used a filter water straw for all my water needs (worked great).

Cliff bars and Snickers or M&Ms both make a great snack but are weight if you are worried about it.

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Lots of people have posted answers saying what they like to eat. However, the OP asked a very specific question, which was: "What is the most efficient food to take a for a 12-15 day hiking trip? [...] Assume I have no taste at all and don't care about eating the same tasteless thing every day if necessary." She specifically stated that her only criterion was efficiency.

By this criterion, there is one very well-defined answer to her question, which is that she should bring food that is purely composed of fat. Fat has an energy density of 9 kcal (37 kJ) per gram. This is a pretty good approximation for all fats. If you look around for pure-fat foods with very little water in them, basically all you find is cooking oils such as olive oil. For comparison, granola is about 3 kcal/g (12.5 kJ/g), oatmeal 2 kcal/g (8.4 kJ/g), cookies 6 kcal/g (25 kJ/g). So by the stated criteria, the OP should put a large jug of olive oil in her pack.

If you use calories per liter as your figure of merit, you get about the same answer: cooking oil. This is because oil is about twice as dense as most foods that you'd actually want to eat.

Do I recommend a diet of pure olive oil for a 2-week backpacking trip? Of course not, but that just shows that the OP needs to state more realistic criteria. Not only would any human be miserable on this diet, but carbs serve as the primer for fat metabolism. The human body can't digest fat without having carbs as well. Without any carbs, you get ketosis. See, e.g., McArdle, Exercise physiology: energy, nutrition, and human performance, 1986.

A good starting point in setting more realistic criteria would be to decide on some balance of fats, carbs, and protein. A standard recommendation is about 50% of calories from carbohydrates, 35% from fat, 15% from protein.

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Historically, many coureurs de bois survived on pemmican, a mixture of rendered fat, dried meat, and dried fruits rich in vitamin C. It's supposedly a nutritionally complete meal, and capable of sustaining you over long periods of strenuous activity. Marrow fat is supposed to be the most nutritious and least likely to spoil, but any thoroughly rendered fat will do for a short trip. You can find many different recipes online.

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I like to eat Knorr Spaghetteria. I don't know if it's the most efficient energy-wise, but it's vastly more efficient than outdoor store dehydrated meals price-wise!

At Amazon they sell at €1.45 per package. A package is advertised to be a meal for two, but it isn't — it is a meal for one. But €1.45 per meal is not bad at all.

I used to bring peanut butter, but I don't bother any more. I just bring peanuts. Lots and lots of them. Easier to carry, easier to eat.

Apart from that, I eat hardkeks, dried fruits (mango, papaya, strawberry, and pineapple), chocolate, oatmeal with raisins ad sugar.

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Rice.

If you have fresh (or purified) water, an amazingly small amount of rice would suffice for 14 days. I've trekked the Cordillera Real for 12 days, and rice was the only reasonable option in terms of weight. A small set of spices - especially salt and pepper - dramatically improves its taste.

If you don't want to eat the same food for 14 days, take other kinds of food (e.g. Pasta) and eat them the first few days, so that you'll carry a reasonable weight afterwards.

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Fat, fat and fat.

If you are hardcore, you can get products like: Naturlig energi til heste This one is a Danish product though, but it is 99,5% pure vegetabe fat in powder, odor-/tasteless. Pretty cool to add to your food, you get the highest density of calories possible and it just melts in your mount, without a taste.

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For me, it's all about dehydration.

Ok, 12-15 days without resupply? I highly suggest you research the surroundings of this place you are going to trek. Like knowing your water supplies are at (springs, creeks, etc) so you are not packing heavy. Finding out, if you can have camp fires because don't waste your fuel but use it on a raining day. Understand the weather, this will tell ya how much gear you really need. Also pack as light as you can! You need to reduce your pack wight to counteract the food weight!

You can do A LOT of dehydration on your OWN! There is web sites out there that gives you step-by-step on how to do this, and cut wight out too. I have the Nesco Food Dehydrator FD-75A which has worked really well over the years. I also bought a book from Backpackingchef.com that went into detail about stoves, cooking, packing my meals, planning, inventory, etc... The best part, it has a lot of GOOD recipes!

Another site to check out is thebackcountrychef . com (different from above URL) which has some info about calories of energy per day, meals, etc. I would highly suggest watching videos on Youtube by OnlyTheLightest to help reduce wight in your pack. Also Harmony House Foods site has a lot of already dehydrated foods. Good site for buying supplies for those last minute trips.

Also there is NO RIGHT WAY for backpacking, years living by the Appalachian trail.

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Recently, nutritional drinks that fulfil the complete nutritional requirements of adults (optimum proportion of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and other nutritients) have been on the rise. Backpackers are probably not the target audience, but their needs should be served pretty well by these shakes.

Popular brands are Soylent (US only) or Joylent (Europe based but shipping worldwide).

Personally, I have tried Joylent and I still drink it from time to time, especially if I need some quick energy after work before going to the gym but don't have the time to cook. It's not a culinary explosion, but I think it wouldn't be a big problem to live off it for two weeks, especially if you add dried fruit for some variety.

It's about 2100 kcal per bag of 600 grams, so for 10 days, assuming you need more than these 2100 kcal due to the permanent exercise, you'd end up with around 10kg. That's quite a load, but significantly less weight would only be possible with a far more fat-centered diet. Apart from the powder itself, you only need water and a plastic shaker. No fire necessary. As long as you have access to fresh water, using the same shaker all the time shouldn't be a problem (if you clean it properly).

Realistically, I wouldn't live off that stuff alone, but for my next longer trip I'm planning to cover about half of the food needs with Joylent.

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The most efficient "food" you can carry is the body fat you can afford to lose. In our younger days, we went on 12 to 14 day backpacking trips, with a much more varied diet than suggested in the other answers. We took freeze-dried breakfasts and dinners, bread, cheese, butter, sliced ham, chocolate, nuts, dried fruit, frozen orange juice (one 6 oz can per every-other day), a 1/2 bottle of champagne, a small can of liver pate and a can of olives. We figured on losing 5 pounds to 7 pounds apiece during the trip. We were travelling in country that had an abundance of pure water, although later we did take a reverse-osmosis water purifier. We weren't especially strong, either. The luxuries were far, far more important to the enjoyment of the trip than the burden of their modest extra weight.

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