Eating in the Wild: Hiking Tips & Tricks

January 18, 2022

man eating a sandwich while hiking

Blog written by Wise Owl Outfitters.

My single greatest fear is being torn apart and eaten by a pack of ravenous zombie hippopotamus. Hippopotami? Hippopotamuses? Hippopotami. Being torn apart and eaten by ravenous zombie hippopotami. I don’t like to talk about it, though, and you’re in no position to judge because I don’t think you would do well being eviscerated by undead hippopotami either. 

Anyway, moving on…

After that, my second greatest fear is being stranded in the wilderness and starving to death. And it is because of that fear that I always make sure that I am well-stocked and well-prepared when I go out into the woods to hike or camp.

You should be too. 

How Much Food Should You Pack For A Hike?

The key is to pack enough food but not too much. Remember that you will have to carry all of that stuff up a mountain and that ice you bought is going to melt at some point.

  • Bring Enough – One of the most common mistakes beginners make is not bringing enough food to compensate for the energy they are burning when they hike or backpack. Make sure you have enough fuel for what you are planning to accomplish. More on this later.
  • Don’t Bring Too Much – On the flip side of that, some beginners will end up packing too much food that isn’t practical for the circumstances: salad in cumbersome containers; an entire loaf of bread with jars of peanut butter and jelly instead of individually prepared sandwiches; any food that requires plates and cutlery. 
  • Be Practical – You want it to pick food that is compact, lightweight, and that you don’t mind eating after it is a little squished. Canned food always seems like a good idea because it is compact and will keep fresh, but we forget how heavy those little cans of tuna fish really are.
  • Don’t Overload On Sugar – Nutrition should also be considered. There is a Goldilocks-amount of sugar that is good for trekking, but that’s it. Bring a little candy, sure, but you also want to bring savory treats like beef jerky or salted peanuts to balance it out.
  • Keep It Simple – When it comes to food planning, I want to underline and emphasize low-maintenance meals. Part of the allure of the outdoors is its demand for minimalism. To leave behind the cozy comforts of society and rely on the bare necessities. The simpler the better.
  • Don’t Be Fancy – People see Instagram influencers on top of a mountain, eating elaborate meals beside a campfire and they get carried away. I’ve seen some campers head into the hills with coolers packed with decadent cuts of meat, specialized cooking utensils, an assortment of spices, and non-perishables. If you want an elaborate dinner, go to the Four Seasons. If you want to go hiking, cram a bunch of protein bars in your backpack.

How Much Food Do I Need While Hiking?

We work like machines. We need fuel. 

We need more than cups of coffee to survive. Especially when we are using a lot of that energy to walk up mountains or surpass a steep rock scramble during a hike or backpacking trip.

The rule of thumb is that an individual should eat somewhere between 1 ½ to 2 ½ pounds of food per day. That should equate to 2,500 to 4,500 calories.

Calories are the things your body burns when you’re just sitting around. So, after a long day of hiking, when you’re sitting around a campsite bonfire throwing sticks and kindling into the flames because that’s how you and your friends get your kicks, just know that your body is stoking its own bonfire inside of you by throwing calories onto the pyre. 

7 Foods To Take While Hiking

You will want to take food that travels well and will keep. Below are some of the items I bring along for fuel when out in the wilderness.

  • Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches – A peanut butter and jelly sandwich always slaps. There is a reason it’s a classic. It is the only food you don’t mind finding smashed in the bottom of your backpack. Sometimes it actually tastes better that way.
  • Cereal – Who doesn’t love cereal? Here’s the best kept secret about cereal: You don’t need milk. Sure, it might enhance the experience, but handfuls of dry cereal can be an addictive and tasty treat as well as a reliable snack for the outdoors.
  • Fresh Fruit – As long as you don’t grab that brown banana that has been sitting on your counter for a month and you don’t leave it out in the sun, a fresh piece of fruit should keep for as long as you need it to.
  • Freeze Dried Snacks – I’m a sucker for slices of freeze-dried mango. It’s all I ate for a year straight. I was a mango addict. I don’t touch the stuff anymore. I’ve been clean for a couple years now. But, by all means, you should get on it.
  • Energy Bars – Tasty? Check. Dense in nutrients? Check. Small and easy to pack? Check.
  • Chips – C’mon. Do I really need to go into details about this one? I’d rather not insult your intelligence.
  • Trail Mix or Granola – There is a reason it’s called trail mix and it’s not because it was invented by someone named Archibald Trail. Some might argue that these should be grouped in with ‘cereal’ which is just absurd to me. It doesn't require milk.

Note: If you’re going camping, you should already know that you need to bring graham crackers, marshmallows (I still think it should be spelled marshmellows), and a chocolate bar. S’mores are a must. It doesn’t count as camping unless there are s’mores. 

What you might not know is that there are two kinds of making a s’more: the classic way and then the special way. The special way is identical to the classic way with one slight modification: substitute the slab of chocolate bar with a peanut butter cup. 

How To Store & Carry Food For Hiking

 My third greatest fear is being mauled by a bear. And surviving. Not surviving it takes a close fourth place on the list of greatest fears. So, there are a few reasons you want to keep food sealed and well stored when hiking. 

If you’re camping, you want to keep your food away from your shelter. Should some animals decide that they want it, there is no point in putting yourself between a wild animal and those chocolate chip cookies you were looking forward to. You also don’t want to sleep in clothes you’ve cooked or eaten in.

  • Reusable Zipper Storage Bags – If you’re going to get the flimsy ones that are disposable and tissue paper thin then go ahead, I am not going to try to stop you except to tell you that the climate crisis is real and you won’t be helping to preserve these nice places you like to go hiking.
  • Dry Bags – These are great for numerous reasons, including a place to keep food, electronics, and dry clothes when you’re kayaking, hiking in the rain, or traversing deep water. Dry bags are waterproof and airtight, so they can also be used as a “bear bag” when camping, which you can put food in and hang from a tree with rope to keep out of reach from their bear hands.
  • Odor-Proof Garbage Bags – Remember that any unusual smell could potentially draw the attention of hungry animals, so you want to prevent that from happening. Some garbage bags come scented to neutralize the smell of waste inside them. Do not buy those. Get unscented bags that seal air-tight to prevent smells from escaping.

Be Careful What You Put In Your Mouth

Is there anything safe to eat out in nature? No. And if you’re actually asking this question then I don’t trust you to go hiking or camping without proper adult supervision.

You shouldn’t be eating anything that you didn’t prepare at home or buy at the store. The only reason you should resort to ‘living off the land’ is because you are stranded in the wilderness and starving. But don’t do that. It’s not as fun as it sounds.

The Most Important Thing To Know About Food When Hiking

Please make sure that you bring any wrappers, baggies, or other garbage with you when you leave. We only have one planet. Be kind to it.


Contributing Writer: Jonathan D'Ambrosio

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