3 Day Backpacking Menu

3 day backpacking menu

There are times on backpacking trips when I simply cannot eat enough food in a day to keep up with my body’s caloric demands. This is a big issue for me on days where I want to hike more than 15 miles and there are a few mountains in the way. When planning the contents of my food bag for such trips, there are two primary variables that I juggle: caloric density and variety.

Caloric density is the ratio between caloric value and weight. I try to make sure that the bulk of foods that I pack provide at least 100 calories per oz by weight. Some sample foods that fit the bill are: cookies, chocolate, roasted almonds, trail mix, olive oil, protein powder, hot sausage, Nutella Hazelnut Spread, hard cheese, nut butters, graham crackers, cheesits, and so forth. Caloric density is important because I shoot for 1.5 lbs of food per day, rather than the often prescribed 2 lbs, in order to keep my pack light.

The second essential attribute of my food bag is variety. I like to jazz it up by having lots of different things to eat, so eating is something to anticipate. Boring food puts me off and I won’t eat it. That’s bad because I have to eat to stay alert and motivated. Don’t underestimate the importance of variety.

When packing food for a trip, I don’t pay much attention to figuring out the proportions of protein, carbs, and fat when I pack, because its just works out if you eat of variety of food. The one thing I do calculate are calories, and I shoot for 3,000-4,000 per day. I also always pack about 500-1000 extra calories per trip in case I need to walk late on my last day or even spend an extra night out.

Here’s a sample 3 day backpacking menu from my last trip, a 44 mile section hike on the Vermont Appalachian Trail.

 Day 1 
BreakfastBreakfast at Home/Car800
Snack OneTrail Mix (Nuts & Berries)300
Snack TwoGinger Cookies400
LunchNutella on Wheat Bread740
Snack ThreeBeef Jerky and Milk Chocolate530
DinnerBoil-in-Bag Rice and Eggplant Punjab740
 Total Calories3510
   
 Day 2 
BreakfastGranola, Milk Chocolate, Protein Powder, Tea1070
Snack OneTrail Mix (Nuts & Berries)300
Snack TwoGinger Cookies400
Lunch1/2 Wheel Gouda Cheese and Wheat Thins650
Snack ThreeLicorice, Almonds700
DinnerTuna in Olive Oil, Cytomax, Almonds790
 Total Calories3910
   
 Day 3 
BreakfastGranola, Milk Chocolate, Protein Powder, Tea1070
Snack OneTrail Mix (Nuts & Berries)300
Snack TwoGinger Cookies400
Lunch1/2 Wheel Gouda Cheese and Wheat Thins650
Snack ThreeLicorice, Almonds700
 Total Calories3120
   
 Extra Food Bag Contents 
 2 x Cliff Bars480
 Almonds340

On this latest multi-day trip, I experimented with eating a larger breakfast than normal, front loading my caloric content for the day, since I often tend to do my highest mileage of the day before 2 PM.  In addition to my normal double serving of granola with hot water, I added chunk milk chocolate for fast energy, and vanilla-flavored, whey powdered protein for alertness and longer lasting energy. This worked well and helped eliminate the sluggish feeling I often feel in mornings during the first hour of walking.

After breakfast, I normally eat two snacks before lunch: the first after about 2 hours, and the second about an hour later. The point of these is to sustain a high energy level.

During lunch, I try to consume around 600-800 calories in the form of carbohydrates and fat. On shorter trips, I’ll eat two pre-made Nutella and Wheat sandwiches on day one because they’re rather heavy, or 1/2 a small wheel of hard cheese and 3 servings of Wheat Thins on subsequent days because hard cheese preserved in wax keeps rather well, even in hot weather. Lunch carries me through to another afternoon snack, which I eat a few hours before dinner. 

Since I like to go to sleep around sundown, I start making dinner as soon as my camp chores are done, such as setting up my shelter and getting fresh water. Like lunch, I try to keep this meal simple to make. On day one of a trip, I’ll cook a heavy Indian boil-in-the bag meal with rice, but on other nights I’ll make a freezer bag meal like Annie’s Mac’n’Cheese. The purpose of dinner is more about muscle and nutrient recovery than walking energy, so it doesn’t have to be your largest meal of the day.

I hope this post has given you some insight into how to pack your food bag for a 3-day trip. If you have any feedback or helpful suggestion for planning meals for longer trips, please leave a comment.

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13 Responses to 3 Day Backpacking Menu

  1. Chris (i-cjw.com) May 28, 2009 at 4:08 am #

    I've great admiration for anyone who can put together an interesting menu for the trail. I usually live of boxes of Calorie Mate (I mean, how can you go wrong with this: , home-made carb gel and pepperoni..
    I'm going to print out your list & put it with my gear, as a reminder that next time I need to expand my culinary horizons.

  2. Earlylite May 28, 2009 at 4:16 am #

    What's your favorite Calorie Mate flavor: potato, fruits, cheese or chocolate? Love the commercial. Great to see our cultural influence at work.

  3. Chris (i-cjw.com) May 28, 2009 at 2:16 pm #

    Fruit flavor! Not too sweet, I can always put away a couple of sticks of this..

  4. John MacDowall September 29, 2010 at 8:43 am #

    Philip. I've come over to the dark side. I'm going lightweight-FBC on an alcohol stove and everything. You'd be so proud of me! Pack is down to 25 # with food and water.

  5. Earlylite September 29, 2010 at 3:24 pm #

    Fantastic news. That's quite an achievement.

  6. Tom August 30, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

    Perfect timing on this article! I was looking for some lightweight options other than just prepackaged meals. Great starting point for my next trip.

  7. Leslie August 30, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

    What about Chia seed? It was used by ancient Incas to keep them fit while running long distances. I've not tested it for that, but maybe someone else has. Also, raw hemp hearts are a super food that gives a lot of energy.

  8. Doe April 19, 2012 at 10:20 pm #

    Good ideas. Also nice to know I’m not crazy thinking wheat thins and cheese are a good lunch option. My son, a new scout, thinks he can just skip breakfast. Ha! I’ll have to have him read this post. Thanks.

  9. Foam June 8, 2012 at 8:05 pm #

    This has been very helpful. We have used this as a guide to help us with our menu planning.

  10. Duncan August 9, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    THANK YOU!

  11. Stacy January 16, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

    You pack cheese that is not refrigerated. How long does it keep, how do you store, and have you ever gotten sick from it?

    • Earlylite January 16, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

      lasts a couple of days just fine. store it in a ziploc plastic. never got sick, no. Hard cheese or cheese in a rind like Camembert or Brie is best.

  12. onlyonetopdawg June 4, 2013 at 7:57 pm #

    Great light weight meal plan. Thought I would add something from my edible-arsenal…ShaSha’s Buckwheat Snacks. I love the ginger & cinnamon flavour but the cocoa vanilla is also good. :) Cheers and happy trails!
    http://www.shashabread.com/snacks/

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