Tom Judd <<<>>> Hiking Food

This is a work in progress

Food Stuff


Food constraints are

  • The food should provide more than 2000 calories/day. Everyday life needs that much, hiking much more. If the calorie count does not keep up with expenditure, then at a minimum, you should not feel hungry
  • The volume should be low enough that the complete food supply should fit into a bear barrel. A bear barrel is a requirement in parts of Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite national parks where I do most of my backpacking.
  • The weight should be low. With carbohydrates and protein at between 3 and 4 calories/gram and fats near 9 calories/gram, it is understandable that the percentage of fats would be higher in hiking food. It is no accident that the iconic hiking food, gorp, is made of peanuts (high fat), chocolate (high fat), and raisins.
  • Packaging should be by day (or meal).
  • Food should be fast cooking (to save on fuel weight). Consideration should be made for no-cook, no-heat food. Mid-day meals should not need cooking
  • Food should be nutritionally balanced. But this is not absolute. Calories are more important than balance. Your body can adjust if it is only a week of hiking. Take some vitamin pills if you worry about it.

Tom's Formula

I have never relied on packaged freeze-dried meals (e.g Mountain House ® ). They tend to be expensive, and too salty for my taste. You have to watch out for the total calories; sometimes it can be low. I have known others to use them, but often fortified with other food (e.g. instant rice). A big advantage is that they need no cooking, so are easy to prepare. But, the same can be said for oatmeal. And oatmeal generates less packaging trash.

Instead of pre-packaged meals, I make my own. Most convenient are cereal grains. So, I developed a simple formula that combines grains with common foodstuffs to create practical hiking meals. When in doubt, when in a hurry, the formula gives me good healthy food in quantity that I can immediately package for any length of trip. .

The food formula below assumes you are going to be cooking it. These are all quick cooking, takes only about a minute after the water starts boiling. If you want to completely eliminate cooking, see the next no-cook section.

Standard Formula, Daily
Ingredient Amount (grams) Calories Note
grain 160 592 Cream of wheat, Cream of Rice, Couscous, Quick Oats, Grits, MaltoMeal®, Instant Rice, Wheatena®
nuts 70 425 Peanut, Cashew, Almond, Sunflower Seeds
dried fruit 70 245 Raisin, Cranberry, Date, Apricot, Banana chips
dry milk 70 252 Nonfat
total 370 1514

I simplified the food. Only four items and the measurements of three of them are 70 grams each. This makes it much easier when combining all ingredients into a bag. Variety is achieved by mixing the combinations so that none appears twice, unless you like it.

Daily food needs about a liter of water to cook, or ten liters for a ten-day trip. It takes about 15g of fuel to bring a liter of cold water to a boil and sterilize it or cook with it. That means you need at least 150 grams of fuel to cook your food. I used to use the Primus® type pressurized gas canisters that came in 1 pound and 8 oz sizes ( 450 / 225 gram ). But, pure butane is cheaper. The hair-spray style gas bottles are quite common. Coleman® has 227g of butane fuel in a 108g canister. Cheapest easiest place to get them is at Walmart. It takes only one canister to cook ten days of meals and have a healthy reserve.

Packaging: Do not use zippered/sealable plastic bags. The zipper and seal are stiff, do not fold over easily and so will occupy more space. You can use the plastic bags used for fruits and vegetables at the store. I use gallon sized bags (28cm x 32cm) designed for twist-ties. Once filled with food, I squeeze the air out, twist the bag, wrap the tail around and encircle the whole thing with a rubber band instead of twist-ties. I stick a 6 inch piece of masking tape to the bottom on which I list the ingredients.

A postal scale is essential. It should read in both metric and English units. Since all nutritional information on packages in the US is in calories and includes gram equivalents in the serving size, I have settled on calories and grams as my units.

The formulary is designed for breakfast and dinner when it is convenient to handle and cook bags of food. So, it doesn't include the total required calorie intake. For lunch/breaks/snacks I include the equivalent of two Snickers bars (250 calories/bar, 53 grams/bar).

Ingredient Amount (grams) Calories Note
Formula 370 1514
2 bars of candy 106 495
total 476 2009 About a pound of formula per day

This is adequate for normal daily activity, but additional calories are needed to allow for energy used with heavy hiking.

The above is calculated by day. Additional food, packaged by trip, adds to the daily calorie intake. The list is below. At the bottom I added them all together with a grand total calories/day based on ten days.

Support Food, per trip
Ingredient Amount (grams) Calories Note
cocoa mix 250 915 cocoa 150g, milk 100g
coffee 240 739 instant coffee 40g, milk 100g, sugar 100g
sausage 140 540 Four Jimmy Dean® precooked patties
butter 113 810 one stick, quarter pound
trail mix 227 1101 Walmart® packaged trail mix
support food sub total 970 4105
Ten day formula total 4760 20080
Ten day grand total 5730 24185 Average about 4.2 calories/gram
Standard Formula Food per day 573 grams 2420 calories About one and a quarter pounds per day.


Example Food
This is an early example of the food I would pack. This is for eight days. The Bear Barrel is half-seen at the bottom left. Four different daily packs are seen labeled A through D.

2003 hiking food

No-Cook Formula

This section could be called No-Heat since I always mix these up with cold water: no heat before eating. I use this formula for long trips because I can save the weight of cooking equipment and fuel. To pack the food as tight as possible, I need to blenderize the food. The texture of blended food would become an issue except for the nuts and dried fruit. They provide something to chew on.

The No-Cook formula is very similar to the standard formula with the following differences:

No-Cook Formula, Daily
Ingredient Amount (grams) Calories Note
grain 150 555 Wheat Tortilla, Yellow Corn Tostadas, White Corn Tortilla, Ramen, Quick Oats, Instant Rice, Couscous, Tortilla Chips
nuts 70 425 Peanut, Cashew, Almond, Sunflower Seeds
dried fruit 70 245 Raisin, Cranberry, Date, Apricot, Banana chips
dry milk 70 252
sugar 10 37
total 370 1514

Important: tortillas have to be dehydrated. Flour tortillas lose more than 25% of their weight when dried. White corn tortillas lose 47%! They are nearly half water. The yellow corn tostadas and tortilla chips come pre-dried. All must be put through a blender to reduce the volume.

To underscore the importance of blending the food consider the milk. Two cups of fluffy instant dry milk, once sent through the blender, will shrink down to 1.1 cup. This makes it much easier to pack the maximum amount of food in a bear barrel.

To prepare the food for eating, I use a small measuring cup to dish out the right amount into a plastic jar with a screwtop lid. Add a generous amount of water. View from the side as you stir it to make sure there are no dry clumps. Let it set. A minute or two for most will be enough. Couscous and instant rice take up to ten minutes.

To clean up afterwards, pour a little clean water into the jar, shake (with the lid on), then drink. A couple of cycles of this will do. These meals are low in sticky fat, so most debris just rinse off.

The flavored oatmeal packets do not seem to work as well with no-cook food.

Dehydrated Food

The best trail food for me has been dehydrated fruits, vegetables, and meat that I have prepared myself. I remember well the first time I tried my dried strawberries. It took about ten seconds for the crisp fruit to become rehydrated and then POW! My mouth was filled with the most intense and delightful strawberry flavor that I had ever experienced.

Dehydrated Strawberries

Preparing Strawberries for dehydration: Slice and place on paper towel

The dried food turns out very crisp. It is similar to a potato chip or a brittle dry maple leaf in the fall. For example, the dried apples I find in the stores are floppy; my dried apples crack like a taco shell when bent. The importance of thorough drying is twofold:

The total calories from the dried food is small. The value is in the taste and variety they bring to the hiking menu.

Dehydrated Tomato Paste
Dehydrated Tomato Paste, wax paper support while drying

Dehydrated Roast Beef
Dehydrated Roast Beef. Cook 3hrs, put through meat grinder, then dried
Dehydrated Food List
Fruit Note
Strawberries Extremely tasty, most rewarding
Orange Slice as thin as you can. Peeling before slicing gets messy. I break off the rind after dry. Very tasty, delicate, fragile fruit bursts in your mouth
Lemon Strong! Eat only a tiny amount to clear the palate. Good for lemon tea after dinner
Lime Same comment as lemon
Pear Agreeably strong tasting
Peaches Marginal Peaches taste good when dried
Apple Easy to slice these thin. Pears and Apples take less work
Vegetable Note
Bell Pepper Easiest Vegetable. Slices thin, dries out to very thin strings, bursts with flavor when eaten. Red and Green are very different
Yellow Onion Another easy vegetable. Surprising because the sweetness seems more noticable than in raw onion.
Spinach Another easy vegetable. Ultra crisp, delicate leaves. .
Tomato Paste Spread one 12 oz can on three wax paper sheets that are trimmed to fit into the dehydrator. Monitor closely. Pull the partially dried paste away from the paper. Once completely dry the paper sticks. I use this mostly for spaghetti, leftover with other grain bags.

Spaghetti with dehydrated meat

Meat takes a bit more preparation than fruit and vegetables. You have to cook it first. I start with 2-3 pounds of pot roast and cook for several hours, until it cuts with a fork. Remove all the fat before putting through a meat grinder. Grinding helps increase the surface area for quicker drying. Spread on paper towels in the dehydrator. The food in the dehydrator tray closest to the heating element will dry quicker, so I periodically rotate the trays. Stir the meat when you do this so that clumps of meat are better exposed. The product is crisp, light, pure meat. The volume of the meat can be reduced by putting it through a blender. The meat is unseasoned. I rely on the spaghetti mix for salt and spice. The meat goes in a baggy in the freezer until use. Besides spaghetti, I add it to other food bags in the place of milk.

The table below tracks the weight of the meat as it goes through the process:

Step Weight grams
Packaged Roast Beef label 2.44 lb
Unpackaged, washed 2 lb 8oz 1134
Cooked 1 lb 7.7oz 671
After trimming the fat 1 lb 5.8oz 621
After grinding. A half slice of bread follows the last bit of meat to clean out the grinder 1 lb 5oz 608
After drying 9oz 263

You can see that the weight reduction is better than a factor of four.

Most often I use the meat in spaghetti. This recipe works for me, good for two people. If I am alone I will be eating this for a day. Leftovers have to go in the bear barrel, so I do not prepare this until half way through the trip when there is more room in the barrel.

Snacks and Hand Food

Between breakfast and dinner I need calories during the day while hiking. I do not want to stop to unpack my backpack or heat something up, so I rely on munchies I can carry in my pocket. I used to do sausage and cheese, but now tend to go with high-calorie hand food. Snickers candy bars have been the old standby. Two bars give 500 Calories. But ten days of Snickers can get tiring. So, I came up with three hand-food alternates shown below.


Clockwise: Snickers, Nut bar, Mole-mole (from Backpacker Magazine), Nut-Crunch (from Joy of Cooking)

The goal is to have a convenient and pleasant source of 500 Calories. At 5 Calories per gram, 100 grams of the snacks will do the trick. I didn't like the mole-mole very much, it fell apart too easily. That is tough to handle with one hand on the trail. The other two were great!

Nut bar A cup of chopped almonds (130g), a cup of chopped cashews (125g), and 250 grams of broken bulk milk chocolate. Warm in a toaster oven until soft, then press 100 grams into a form lined with cling wrap. I used a metal breath-mint can, see the picture. These are similar to 'Kind' bars or the nut-bar equivalent from Costco. This recepie is higher in chocolate, you can probably cut it by half and still have it stick together. The cling wrap is ultra useful. I can unwrap the bar, eat half, then wrap it up securely again. It will not mess up my pocket, nor will the wrapping fly around like the Snickers wrappers tend to do. This beats trail mix because the single bar is more manageable, and the wrapping keeps the food sanitary, away from your hands.

Nut crunch This is super easy to make: a cup of butter, a cup of sugar and a cup of nuts. Mix the butter and sugar together with a bit of water and heat until it begins to turn brown. Mix in the nuts and pour out onto a flat surface. Score into strips while it is still warm. Pack into 100 gram baggies when cool. I found this in The Joy of Cooking. I skipped the candy thermometer part because I needed an extra hand to hold it. I just stirred until it began to get carmelized. The butter stays locked in the sugar crystals until you take a bite. High calories and it tastes good!

©2017 Tom Judd
Carlsbad, CA