Great views, fresh air filling your lungs, the mind and body-boost of exercise...hiking offers amazing benefits. Whether you’re planning a day-long adventure on the coast, a fast ascent of your nearest peak, or a multi-day hike through a spectacular national park, getting your hiking nutrition right can make or break a hiking or backpacking trip.
It’s also a great excuse to enjoy a picnic with your favourite foods. Depending on the terrain you’re tackling and how long you’re on your feet, hikers can burn as much as 5,000 calories a day.
Choosing the best foods for hiking is a balancing act. You need energy packed foods that are nutritional and tasty but also lightweight and practical. Unlike running and cycling, you’re not just thinking about fuelling your effort either. For day-long treks you might need to consider lunches and even post-hike dinners while you’re still out in the wild.
Luckily, devising the optimal fuelling strategy doesn’t have to be complicated, and Veloforte is here to help. We live and breathe natural nutrition, and we’ll use our expertise to serve up a helping of hiking food ideas. We’ll also share some basic fuelling principles to ensure your walks are well-fuelled. And delicious.
From Veloforte, here’s how to stay energised wherever the hike takes you, plus a range of foods to support your post-trail recovery so you can bounce back for your next big excursion.
Read on for your complete guide to bullet-proof hiking food prep.
Best food for hiking and backpacking
- Energy bars
- Nuts and nut butters
- Energy chews
- Trail Mix
- Dried fruit
- Fruit cake
- Dehydrated meals
Fuelling hikes is all about finding calorie-dense foods. Tasty eats that deliver big hits of energy for every extra gram you add to your pack. Packability, practicality and enjoyment also come into the equation. The best hiking foods are easy to carry, can withstand the elements – including bumping around in your bag – and are things you’ll actually look forward to eating.
Because you’re often moving at lower intensity and slower paces, the list of food to take hiking is longer and more varied than it might be for runners and cyclists who work at much higher heart rates.
You’re likely to be less reliant on carbohydrates, and fat and protein can be a bigger part of the mix than if you were running a marathon or cycling a stage of the Tour de France.
Beyond day hiking food ideas, if you’re planning multi-day adventures with overnight camps, you’ll also want to consider backpacking meals that are as easy to cook as they are to carry.
Energy bars are a brilliantly versatile source of portable, snackable energy. They can be used as an alternative breakfast if you’ve camped overnight, for on-the-go glycogen tank top ups, and even convenient recovery-boosting hits of post-hike protein.
The Veloforte Energy Bars range covers all your bases with tasty options for energy, extra protein for recovery and even natural caffeine when you need a little extra kick. All our pack-friendly bars use energy sources like dried fruit and nuts to boost your energy levels and provide the perfect balance of nutrients that keep you at your best.
Nuts & Nut butters
A survival food for our hunter-gatherer ancestors, snacks don’t come much more energy-dense than nuts. Macadamias, walnuts, brazil nuts and almonds pack the most calories and they also deliver recovery-supporting protein, fibre, healthy fats and important vitamins and minerals. You could fill a sandwich bag with mixed nuts but nut butter pouches also make excellent portable fuel.
Go for nut combinations for the best balance of nutrients and keep an eye for nut butters that add extra nutrients like calming Ashwagandha.
If you take the little and often approach to hiking fuel, energy chews like Veloforte Energy Chews are perfect. Unlike jamming a bag of jelly sweets into your backpack, these delicious bite-size bumps of energy have been carefully created to offer the optimum balance of fast-acting carbs to keep you topped-up and fatigue-free. They also contain electrolytes to support hydration.
Each pack of Chews delivers around 40g carbs in six melt-in-the-mouth bites. They also come in citrus and ginger, lime and menthol and sour cherry and guarana, so you can mix and match to avoid taste fatigue on longer days on the trails.
A classic go-to hiking snack, trail mix combines the natural sugar of dried fruit with the energy dense healthy fats and protein found in nuts. When eaten together, this savoury and sweet combination can modulate energy absorption and improve insulin response.
You can buy pre-mixed packs, but we prefer creating our own combinations that are tailored to taste and nutrient needs.
Provided they’re packed well and protected from bruising, bananas offer a great source of fast-acting energy from simple carbs.
The average banana also contains around 450mg potassium – essential for muscle function – plus manganese, which supports energy production and protein metabolism. You also get vitamin C, B6 and fibre and some studies have shown this may help reduce post-exercise inflammation.
The long shelf life, heat stability and compact nature of dried fruit makes it a perfect source of energy on the move. You also get many of the nutrient benefits of fresh fruit.
Gram-for-gram dried raisins, dates, figs, apricots, mangos, bananas can provide more fibre, vitamins and minerals than their hydrated counterparts. They’re also a fantastic source of antioxidants. For maximum benefit, add a variety to your own hiking mix.
With as much as 360 calories in a 100g slice, a long life and a pack-friendly density, fruit cake is a great alternative to trail mixes and neat handfuls of dried fruit.
If you really want to beef up that energy delivery, iced and marzipan-coated fruit cake packs an extra punch. Though it won’t score as high for health.
If you’re embarking on longer expeditions and self-sufficient multi-day adventures, ‘proper’ meals come into the equation. Army-style dehydrated meal packs are a good solution.
These deliberately high-energy, freeze-dried meals are powdered and vacuum packed to save weight and have to be rehydrated with boiling water. You can find all kinds of dishes from savoury curries and chilli, to breakfast porridges and even classic desserts.
Be warned though: some expedition foods focus on convenience over health. So read the labels closely to ensure you’re getting the best quality.
Important nutrients, vitamins and minerals for hiking
If you want to feel well-fuelled for your hikes, recover well and generally keep your immune system strong, it’s important to understand the main nutritional building blocks that supply energy, support muscle repair and keep that hiking machine ticking over.
Here’s a basic introduction to the important macros, micros, vitamins and minerals that make up a healthy diet for hikers.
Carbs are the body’s preferred fuel for exercise, particularly when intensity levels climb. At lower intensities, you’ll also be using fat as a fuel source but you still need adequate sources of slow and fast-acting carbs to power your efforts.
Carbs get converted into readily-available glucose which is either used immediately as hiking energy, or stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver - your main fuel tanks. Your limited storage holds between 300 and 600g of glycogen and takes between 90 and 120 minutes of low-to-moderate intensity exercise to empty.
Taking on board some additional fast-acting carbs can be beneficial in certain hiking situations, for example, before you tackle a steep climb.
Provided you’re not power hiking up Mont Blanc, the proportion of calories you burn from fat, while trekking, will be higher. In fact, at 65 percent of below your aerobic capacity, fat contributes 50 percent of the fuel you need. It also offers more than double the potential energy that protein and carbohydrate do. Most of this comes from stored fat – that’s good news for your waistline though it is possible to top up fats too.
However, not all fats are created equal. The body needs ‘good fats’ – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – to function properly. These help with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A,K,D and E) that support recovery, energy supply and your immune system. They can also lower blood pressure levels, reduce cholesterol and cut the risk of heart disease. Trek-friendly nuts and nut butters are good sources of healthy fats.
On the flipside, despite being big on calories, saturated fats found in foods like cakes, biscuits, crisps and fatty red meat, can be harmful to health. So as much as that pack of custard creams might seem like a good trekking snack, there are better options.
A vital building block, protein plays an essential role in recovery. At a hiking pace it’s easier for the body to process and getting protein into your trail snacks can boost active recovery, supporting the repair process while you’re still moving.
It helps repair micro-tears in the muscles and supports the uptake of glycogen into the muscles, refilling your fuel stores for your next outing.
Your protein intake depends on a range of factors, including the duration and intensity of your hike. But aiming to consume 0.4 grams per kilogram of bodyweight at each meal, also provides a good regular supply to support your efforts.
You can get your protein from plants or animal sources but you should aim for combinations that provide complete proteins with all 20 essential amino acids. For example, peanut butter on a wholewheat bagel.
When we sweat, we leak more than just water. We also shed electrolytes that are crucial to balancing hydration, keeping our muscles function and supporting energy burn. We all sweat at different rates with varying levels of salt loss and temperature and intensity also have an impact.
It’s important to replace those lost electrolytes throughout your hike. Sodium is the main electrolyte lost through sweat. It plays a vital role in hydration, helping to maintain fluid balance. But it also helps to conduct nerve impulses, stimulate muscle contractions, and control blood pressure and volume. But potassium and magnesium are also part of the crucial electrolyte mix.
Carefully balanced electrolyte powders, like the Veloforte Vivo, Attivo and Solo, offer a lightweight, convenient and delicious way to top up. Vivo and Attivo also come with added hits of hike-supporting carbs so you get more bang for your backpacked buck.
Importance of hydration when hiking
For day-long hikes, water is mission critical. Just 5% dehydration can result in up to a 30% reduction in performance. Depleted fluid levels make your heart work harder to pump blood around your body, you tire more easily and become more prone to muscle cramps. Even worse, getting caught in the wilderness without enough water can be serious, even life-threatening.
The NHS recommends drinking 1.2 litres of water daily and building good hydration habits into your every day in the lead up to your hike can help. Your own unique fluid replacement needs – during and post-hike – depend on duration, intensity, temperature and sweat rate.
Though for a rough guide: you need to consume one-and-a-half litres of fluid for every kilogram of bodyweight you lose on the move. Using your scales to weigh yourself pre and post hike can help you create a benchmark.
Beyond that drink often, listen to your thirst and check the colour of your urine (the lighter the better). And remember consuming electrolytes can help support the body’s fluid uptake, balance and aid recovery too. They also liven up your water with refreshing flavours.
How to create your hiking nutrition and food plan
When you’re planning what food to take hiking, you need to workout how long you think you’ll be moving for, how fast you intend to move and how hard you’ll be working.
There’s a huge difference between wandering around the flats of the Norfolk Broads for a day and the same time spent topping out Ben Nevis. Factor in extra calories for tougher terrain and always pack a little more than you think you’ll need.
Here’s a rough guide to how that breaks down over the course of a day.
The best hiking breakfast will provide a good balance of l0w-GI carbs, fats and protein. Oats with fruit, nut butters, honey and maple syrup are perfect.
Quick and easy to make at home, you can also find instant oats that just require hot water and don’t take up too much space. Or you can even make your own overnight oats to take with you. If you’ve packed nuts and fruit, you’ve also got ready made toppings.
If you’re planning to stop on a rock with a stunning vista for a leisurely picnic lunch where you’ll have more time to digest, you can afford to pack something a little more substantial.
Filled pittas, bagels and sandwiches are good for topping up carb stores while hard cheeses and cured meats make strong energy dense sources of fats and proteins.
If you’re planning to power through and snaffle your midday munch on the move, reaching for an energy bar might be your best bet. You could also consider a pre-bottled meal-replacement shake.
The hardest meal to self cater, your post-hike campsite dinner should deliver enough carbs to restock your tanks for the next day’s adventures while also providing a much-needed hit of protein for recovery.
Dehydrated meals are the most convenient and you can get away without packing a heavy stove. But dried foods such as pasta, noodles, whole grains and beans are light to carry, quick and easy to cook, while pack-friendly veggies like carrots, onions and garlic are good for adding flavour.
The easiest and most fun part of your hiking food, grazing smaller snacks hourly will help you stay evenly fuelled and Veloforte’s bars and energy chews are perfect pocket-friendly treats to nibble on regularly.
How many calories you need per hour will depend on your physique and the terrain, but there are handy calculators to help you estimate how much you need to load into your rucksack.
Hiking food tips and mistakes to avoid
Follow these simple hiking food guidelines and you’ll be well fuelled for whatever awaits on the trails.
Don’t be a melt
Tempting as they might be, some foods simply don’t fare well on the trail. For example, if it’s going to be hot, don’t take chocolate or anything else melty for that matter. Even the hardiest coated chocs can suffer.
Choose robust snacks too. Rice cakes can obliterate to dust with the movement of your pack. Fruits get bruised and anything with oils or juice that’s not airtight is guaranteed to leak or burst over your neatly-packed essentials.
Pick and mix
Whether you’re strapping on your hiking boots for a full-day trek or a week of wandering, it pays to choose foods that offer a variety of flavours, textures, sweet and savoury with each item adding something to your overall micro and macro nutritional mix.
Plus, having a tasting menu approach will ensure you don’t grow tired of eating the same old snacks.
Vacuum seal to save weight
If you’re heading on a multi-day adventure and you need to save space, decanting your foods from their bulkier original packaging can help.
If you’re really serious, you can even vacuum seal foods using one of the fancy machines cooks use on Masterchef to waterbath their salmon fillets. It not only saves space and makes portioning easy but it also helps to keep foods fresh.
Getting started with hiking nutrition
1. Understand your aims
An effective hiking nutrition plan starts with understanding what lies ahead. Are you tackling hills? Facing long spells in the wilderness far from civilisation? Will you need foods in your pack that provide a morale boost as much as an energy lift?
Jot down all the important factors, how long you’ll hike for, how often, when and the intensity, and use it to refine your fuelling needs.
2. Weigh it up
Pack weight and energy expenditure are linked. The heavier your load, the more calories you’ll burn. Think about the nutrient and energy density of all the food you take and aim to maximise both.
3. Create your hydration strategy
Good hydration has many variables and understanding your unique needs for any given trek requires trial and error and attention to detail.
Monitor your sweat rate in different conditions, pay close attention to feelings of thirst and urine colour and remember that water also adds weight. Finding regular refill locations can help you avoid carrying an unnecessary extra kilo.
4. Stock up and start testing
You have the tools to create your hiking food plan, and now it’s time to stock up on the essentials and start your testing.
We don’t think you’ll need to look further than Veloforte’s range of all-natural, real-food bars, gels, electrolyte powders and chews. We provide carefully balanced, powerful and delicious options that’ll support every outdoor adventure.