By: Amelia, Registered Dietitian from Backcountry Foodie
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Whether you are doing a quick overnight or a thru-hike, meal planning for backpacking takes some practice. Great meal planning can make your whole backpacking trip. Meal planning gone wrong can be a frustrating mess that leaves you hungry and cranky.
This year at Backcountry Foodie, we added a resupply coordination service. Managing 20 thru-hikers’ foods, beverages, and non-food resupply items has been a true challenge, and wow - have we learned a lot!
But watching those hikers cross the finish line strong and knowing that we played a part in their success has been extremely satisfying.
10 Tips for Planning Backpacking Food
Here are 10 tips for planning backpacking food gained from 20 years of backpacking and a crash course in resupply coordination this year.
1. Organize, organize, organize!
Aaron can’t stress this enough. Coordinating 20 hikers at once requires more labels, lists, containers, and space than she ever imagined, but organization makes the process possible without losing your mind. Even if you’re just coordinating for yourself or a small group, organization is key.
- Ziploc bags. If you’re planning for a multi-day trip and order boxes of snacks, store each snack in its own gallon Ziploc baggie to keep things organized. Be sure to reuse the bags for your next trip once they’re empty.
- Labeled bins. Store backpacking food in bins labeled according to what’s inside. For example, Aaron has breakfast, lunch/dinner, dessert, and snack bins to keep items organized.
- Day-to-day meal organization. When preparing 24-hour supply of food, add each item to a gallon Ziploc baggie to keep the days organized in your backpack. Aaron finds this method helps her keep track of what she needs to eat each day. Again, be sure to save and reuse the baggies for future trips.
2. Use a backpacking calorie calculator.
If you’re just guessing how much food you need, you are setting yourself up for problems! Overpacking food results in too much weight. Under-packing food could result in excessive fatigue, injury, and overall misery.
We created our own backpacking calorie calculator that uses science-based algorithms relied upon by the military, professional sports teams, and the Olympic Committee. It’ll give you the closest estimates available for backpackers. Check out the Backcountry Foodie backpacking calorie calculator.
3. Plan for your fuel needs.
We recommend using the brilliant FlipFuel gadget to consolidate partial fuel containers. This allows you to always pack a full canister instead of juggling several partials. Plus, you’ll always know exactly how much fuel you have.
To minimize fuel usage, rehydrate food instead of planning to cook it on the trail, use a pot cozy to make your cooking more fuel-efficient, and consider mixing in some no-cook or cold soak recipes.
4. Consider water availability.
If water sources will be scarce, look for recipes that require less water to rehydrate. There’s nothing worse than realizing that you don’t have enough water to make dinner!
The Backcountry Foodie resupply recipes are designed to require less water than most commercially prepared backpacking meals.
5. Don’t overlook beverages.
Including beverages in your meal plan will not only help you to stay hydrated, but it can also add extra electrolytes and calories to your backcountry diet. A nutritious beverage can double as a treat to look forward to on the trail! Many hikers don’t realize how easy it is to pack trail-friendly smoothies and tasty coffee drinks.
6. Remember to bring snacks.
Pack multiple snack options to have between meals while you are on the go. This may seem excessive for non-snackers, but eating nutrient-rich snacks throughout the day will help ensure that you get enough nutrition.
You are unlikely to be able to eat enough if you limit your eating to 3 square meals, particularly if your hike is strenuous. Snacks can include DIY trail mixes, no-bake energy bites, bars, chips, crackers, candy, cookies, dried fruit, and more.
7. Plan for flavor fatigue.
Some people can eat the same foods day after day. Most cannot! While it may be easier to just bring 10 of the same breakfasts, we recommend bringing variety. One of the biggest lessons from the resupply business is that what sounds good to many hikers on day 5 may no longer sound edible on day 20.
8. Expect some changes and be flexible.
If you’re long-distance hiking, it’s inevitable that your hiking pace or mileage will change and you may not reach your intended destination on schedule. This can cause stress if resupply boxes were mailed well in advance to post offices and/or outfitters.
Be open to resupplying from towns if necessary to fill your bear bag until you’re able to pick up your resupply box. This is one of the perks of using our Resupply Coordination Service. You place orders as you need them rather shipping boxes months in advance. We can also assist with bouncing boxes if you’re unable to reach the planned resupply point.
9. There’s always a solution to special diets.
Just about anything you eat at home has a backcountry version. Many of Aaron's hikers this summer needed a special diet such as gluten-free, dairy-free, or both. We found options for everyone.
10. Know what you have and what you need.
Make that grocery list early! This step prevents the need to make stressful last-minute changes in your meal plan.
- A grocery list allows you to make ONE trip to the store instead of multiple. Our Backcountry Foodie Meal Planner creates shopping lists for you with just a click of a button! It’s a huge time saver.
- Planning well in advance will give you time to order any rare backpacking ingredients (like butter powder) online.
- Know what’s already in your cupboard. We ended up going to an inventory software that makes a grocery list for us based on current inventory and expiration dates.
While you probably don’t need a software solution for yourself, you may benefit from a simple spreadsheet version. This is especially true if you dehydrate your own backpacking food and have a collection of dehydrated ingredients and leftover meals on hand from previous trips.
Make a list of your items and the dates you expect them to expire. Before the start of each season, go through your inventory to check for spoilage.
Actually, I have one more tip to share that Aaron learned this season as a resupply coordinator for thru-hikers.
11. Shipping your resupply boxes.
USPS Flat rate boxes are significantly more expensive than USPS priority mailing boxes. If you plan to ship resupply boxes well in advance, consider using the shipping app, Pirate Ship, to save on shipping expenses.
The large USPS priority mailing box can hold 6-7 days worth of food and costs roughly $8-$15 when shipping from the west coast to a west coast address. The same box costs roughly $15-$20 when shipping from the west coast to the east coast.
USPS flat rate boxes are quite a bit smaller and cost $22.80 each.
Additional Help: How to Plan Backpacking Food
We hope you can use some of these tips for your next backpacking trip! If you are feeling overwhelmed with meal planning for an upcoming trip, Backcountry Foodie can help.
We offer recipes, meal planning tools, a resupply service, and backpacking nutrition masterclasses for backpackers of all experience levels. Schedule a quick discovery call here to learn more!
About the Guest Author: Amelia | Nutrition Coach | Backcountry Foodie
Amelia is a registered dietitian and has a master’s degree in Food Science & Nutrition from Colorado State University. She started her career as a bionutritionist designing meals for research studies and later specialized in weight management and bariatric surgery. A lover of hiking, backpacking, and competitive swimming, she also has a passion for sports nutrition. Amelia currently resides in Spokane, WA with her husband and two daughters.
About Backcountry Foodie
Founded in 2017 by Aaron Owens Mayhew, Backcountry Foodie is the leading source for ultralight backpacking recipes and meal planning resources. As a registered dietitian and ultralight long-distance backpacker, Aaron created Backcountry Foodie while preparing homemade, lightweight meals for her thru-hike attempt of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2017 and subsequent section and thru-hikes of the Appalachian Trail, Oregon Coast Trail, Colorado Trail and the Condor Trail.