So you’re ready to begin a fun filled outdoor adventure on the mountain. But before leaving, you need to make sure you’re packing the right day hiking food.
There are items you should definitely bring, and others you should leave behind. On a day hike you need to properly fuel you’re body – not destroy it.
If you consider yourself a beginner when it comes to hiking, then this list is for you. Keep reading if you want some useful ideas of what to bring on your next day hike.
Got a sweet tooth? Check out my list of 12 Mouthwatering Campfire Desserts!
Tips for Bringing Day Hiking Food
Bringing the right day hiking food and packing smart go hand in hand. I’ve come up with a simple trick you can use on your next day hike, to avoid over packing. Ask yourself these questions:
Do I really need this?
Can I live without it?
This is a useful packing mindset that will only get easier as you gain more hiking experience. Keep in mind that not all hiking food needs to be refrigerated.
Eat Before You Leave
It’s a good idea to eat before you leave on your day hike. This will not only give you some energy early on in the day, but it will also save some space in your backpack. It’s pointless to pack a ton of food and then eat right when you get to the mountain. You should eat a couple of hours after you begin your hike.
Pack Your Food on Top
To avoid your food getting crushed, it’s best to pack your food last. Once you’ve placed the heavier items at the bottom of your bag, you can then pack your food. This also makes it super convenient when it’s time to eat. You food is more accessible and you don’t have to go digging around your backpack.
Don’t Bring Unnecessary Silverware
Packing your backpack for a hike is all about packing smart. Bring things you absolutely need, and leave behind luxury items that make life easier. Use silverware that has more than one use – like a spoon and a fork. The more items you bring will only make your bag heavier – you always want to be aware of this.
Give Your Body What it Needs
Hiking is a physically demanding outdoor activity. Even though it’s considered low impact cardio, it can last for hours – sometimes even the whole day. You might be in peak physical shape, but your body still needs the proper food to recover.
Giving your body the proper nutrients on a day hike will provide you with the energy to on keep going. But before I explain more on day hiking food, I want to briefly mention the key macronutrients your body needs.
Carbohydrates are made up of sugars, starches and fibers, which can be found in fruits, grains, vegetables and various milk products. There are some trendy diets today labeled as “low-carb” aimed at cutting out bread, pasta, and other starchy food items.
You should be consuming plenty of carbohydrates during your hike. Because carbs are fuel and you need fuel to keep you going. When your body uses up all its carbs you will hit a wall. Carbs might be the most important macro you can give your body on a hike.
Protein is an essential macronutrient for building and maintaining muscle. The old school way of consuming protein is from animal meat, but today there are many other ways to get your protein in. Whey powder, protein bars, and Greek yogurt are some alternative choices.
So how much protein do you need on a day hike? Well you don’t need as much protein as you do carbs. And although protein is known for building muscle, it can also help with muscle recovery. This is great for those working leg muscles during an intense hike.
For many years fats were considered to be bad for you. When examining many products in a grocery store we can still see the “fat free” craze. But it’s important to understand the difference between good fats and bad fats. You can find good fats in vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish.
Nuts are the primary ingredient of the classic hiking snack, trail mix. Nuts have a ton of good fat. And although carbs are a great source of energy, eating a big bowl of pasta can weigh you down for a hike. Fats can provide you with that energy without the food coma.
Finding a Balance
A combination of these three macronutrients is the ideal day hiking food. Sure, carbs and fats might be more useful when hiking, but it’s still a good idea to consume all three. A well balanced diet involves all of these key nutrients.
Top 10 Energy Bars for Hiking
Energy bars are a quick and easy way to get in a snack. They’re probably the most convenient day hiking food you can bring. There are many different energy bars available on the market today, and I’ve listed a few of my favorites below.
If you notice a theme with these energy bars, it’s that many of them are non GMO, gluten free, and have no added sugar. All natural ingredients are the best option for your body when hiking. You want to properly fuel your body with the energy it needs to keep going – and avoid the junk that will slow you down.
1. Clif Bar
Clif bars are the classic energy bar, specifically made for hiking. After all, just look at the image on the wrapper – it’s a person rock climbing. Clif bars are a great source of protein and fiber. And they’re also made with real organic rolled oats.
2. Quest Nutrition Bar
At 190 calories per bar, each serving contains 20 grams of protein, 5 grams of carbs, and 7 grams of fat. These bars are also gluten free, so your stomach won’t be weighed down during your hike. Oatmeal chocolate chip is my personal favorite.
3. RXBAR Protein Bar
What I like about this bar is that all the ingredients are clearly marked on the label. The company’s “No B.S.” model includes no added sugar, no gluten, no soy, no dairy, and no GMO. You can only expect natural ingredients like egg whites, dates, and nuts.
4. KIND Nuts and Spices Bar
Have you ever read the ingredients on a processed food item only to not recognize a single thing? The Kind bar was made to eliminate this confusion. It’s only made with the highest quality whole nuts and nature’s most delicious spices.
5. PowerBar Performance Energy Bar
This energy bar is meant to be used before and during a hike. When engaging in high-endurance competitions like running, cycling and swimming, you need the right food to fuel you up. Choose one of these five delicious flavors available.
6. Larabar Snack Bar
This wholesome and tasty bar comes in a variety of delicious flavors for you to enjoy. It’s made from real food and simple ingredients – a perfect snack for a hike. It’s also gluten free, non GMO, vegan, soy-free, and dairy-free.
7. LUNA BAR
This gluten free Luna bar is another perfect hiking snack. It’s made with organic oats and is also non GMO. Sugar in this new recipe has been reduced and contains 25% less sugar than original LUNA bars. Chocolate dipped coconut is my personal favorite.
8. Bobo’s Oat Bar
I don’t know who Bobo is, but they sure made a delicious bar! This tasty snack is made with all natural and organic ingredients. It’s also kosher certified, gluten free, vegan, and non GMO. It’s baked in Boulder, Colorado (which is a great hiking area).
9. Power Crunch Protein Energy Bar
The Power Crunch Protein Energy Bar is a delicious blend of protein and energy – which is exactly the balance you need on a day hike. It’s low in sugar and contains no sugar alcohol. This bar is also made with real wafer cookies.
10. Clif Builder’s Protein Bar
Think of how delicious that original Clif bar tastes, then add some more protein. That’s what you get with this Clif Builder’s Protein Bar. It’s packed with 20 grams of protein per serving, and plenty of carbohydrates to help you perform better on your hike.
Fruit is another great day hiking food you can bring with you. It’s super healthy and has plenty of nutritional benefits your body will need on a strenuous hike. Just think about what kind of fruit to bring before hiking and how you’re going to store it.
The last thing you want is some squished fruit destroying the inside of your backpack. You might be able to get away with an apple at the bottom of your bag, but a banana will surely get mushed.
You can also bring some dry fruit with you on a day hiking trip. Dry fruit is popular among outdoor enthusiasts, because it’s easy to store, quick to snack on, and it tastes great.
This article wouldn’t be possible without mentioning one of the most versatile hiking foods – the sandwich. When made with the right ingredients, sandwiches are an amazing source of carbs, protein, and fats. They’re really the ultimate well balanced meal. And you can eat them with one hand!
How much better can it get?
There are an endless amount of options when it comes to building tasty sandwiches for your hike. Just look at the original peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s incredibly simple to make and a perfect solution to your hiking hunger.
Just remember that peanut butter is loaded with fat and doesn’t have that much protein. So it’s not the most balanced sandwich you can make. I prefer going with a meat, cheese, and vegetable combination. Pile it on two slices of whole wheat bread and you’re good to go.
Storing Your Day Hiking Food
Now that you’ve figured out what food you want to bring on your hike, you need to pack it. Don’t just throw it in your backpack and hope for the best – you need to pack smart. There are also some useful tricks if you’re planning on bringing food that needs to be stored hot or cold.
If you’re going on a hike with a group of people I recommend bringing a food bag. This is a backpack only used for storing food. Having a dedicated food bag will make things easier, because all your food is kept safe in one place.
For longer hikes I would bring a bear canister to keep your food protected.
How to Keep Your Food Cold on a Hike
There are a few ways to keep your day hiking food cold. The most common way is using ice packs. These little things have been around for years, and you simply just place them in your lunchbox or cooler after a few hours in the freezer. Avoid using plain old ice because it will melt quickly – and you could have a big mess.
Another way to keep your food cold on a hike is by freezing it the night before. If you’re bringing along a sandwich for example, freeze the meat and cheese the night before your hike. Then once lunch time rolls the next day, your food should be perfectly cold and ready to eat.
When selecting the storage container for your food, I would choose an insulated lunch box like this. Using an insulated lunch box in addition to ice packs will keep your food colder for a longer period of time. They also make insulated backpacks so you don’t have to carry around a lunch box on one shoulder.
How to Keep Your Food Warm on a Hike
So how about when you want to hike on a cold winter day? You can keep your food warm with insulated storage containers. Just be aware that it’s much more challenging trying to keep food warm – compared to keeping it cold. Liquids are easier to keep warm, because you can simply store them in insulated containers.
It’s nice to eat a hot meal during your hike – but it can be difficult to keep it warm for hours in your backpack. That’s why I only suggest bringing liquid food. There are plenty of options, so don’t worry – soup, stew, or chili are some of my favorites. You can also bring some frozen meat and build a fire to cook your food on. This is the freshest and warmest meal you can have on a hike.
By now you should be more comfortable with day hiking food and the various items you can bring. Protein bars and trail mix are great, but don’t forget about all the other food options at your disposal. Eating outside doesn’t have to be boring, you can still bring delicious tasting food in your backpack.
And don’t forget to pick up your trash after eating. Let’s keep the parks clean!
Check out this article for more beginner hiking tips