Home / Advanced Backpacking Skills / Long Distance Backpacking Meals

Long Distance Backpacking Meals

Backpacking Food for a 9-day Trip

I just finished bagging all of the food I need for an upcoming trek through the 100 mile wilderness on the Maine section of the Appalachian Trail. All together, I packed 9 days worth of food in the 2 OPSACKs you see above. Together, they weigh 14.2 lbs and contain 53 meals, snacks, coffee, and tea with an average caloric density of 110 calories per ounce.

It's taken me about 3 weeks to assemble all of this food. Packing a food bag for a 3 day trip is a million times easier than planning and preparing a menu for a long distance expedition that's over one week in length. 

For this trip, I dehydrated a lot of the larger meals myself or used dehydrated ingredients from Harmony House and Packit Gourmet (PG's dehydrated banana dices are fantastic.) In the process, I learned a lot about dehydrating your own food by testing the results. In the end, I had to switch out some of the recipes I planned to use with others that fit my style of trail eating, general impatience with waiting, and desire to avoid making my pot dirty.

For example, I dehydrated a lot of white rice and brown rice to use in rice pudding or as a carbohydrate with a sauce. However, in testing those dishes, I found that rice takes a long time to rehydrate without a heat source. Instead, I found that dehydrated pasta re-hydrates much faster. So I ended up replacing my rice dishes with pasta dishes and diversifying my pasta treatments to add more variety to my menu.

Dehydrating your own food takes an enormous amount of effort, but it has its rewards because you can make ingredients that you just can't buy. For example, one thing I dehydrated were slices of french bread drizzled with honey. When dry, you pulverize these in a blender to create breadcrumbs which act as a sweetener and a thickener in fruit dishes. They can really make a re-hydrated fruit dish pop and add some valuable carbohydrates in the process.

Here's my final meal plan then, broken out by day.  if you're interested, you can compare it with the menu plan I posted a few weeks ago before I started this process.

DayMeal ItemWeight in oz.
1BreakfastBanana Nut Bread Pudding4.1
1Snack 1Ginger Cookies2.4
1Snack 23 Pieces Large Toblerone2.9
1LunchGouda and Crackers6.6
1Snack 3Sunflower Seeds2.0
1DinnerSpaghetti with Vegetarian Sauce6.9
2BreakfastPumpkin Bark and Raisins5.5
2Snack 1Cranberry Almond Gorp3.1
2Snack 2Ritter Hazelnut Sports Bar3.6
2LunchGouda and Crackers6.1
2Snack 3Black Licorice4.1
2DinnerPasta, Olive Oil, Red Pepper, Chesse7.6
3BreakfastMashed Sweet Potatoes,Corn, Raisins5.7
3Snack 1Chili Spiced Mango3.6
3Snack 2TJ Lumpy Bumpy Bar2.5
3LunchChorizo Sausage4.1
3Snack 3Candied Ginger3.4
3DinnerTortilla Soup/ Cliff Bar4.6
4BreakfastBanana Nut Bread Pudding5.2
4Snack 1Nut Mix3.0
4Snack 2Bulk Chocolate2.1
4LunchJustin Nut Butter & Crackers3.1
4Snack 3Freeze-Dried Strawberry Compote2.7
4DinnerSpaghetti with Vegetarian Sauce7.0
5BreakfastPumpkin Bark and Raisins5.5
5Snack 1Dried Cherries and Raisins4.1
5Snack 2Ritter Hazelnut Sports Bar3.6
5LunchSalami and Crackers7.4
5Snack 3Black Licorice4.0
5DinnerSpaghetti with Vegetarian Sauce6.8
6BreakfastMashed Sweet Potatoes,Corn, Raisins5.6
6Snack 1Cranberry Almond Gorp3.0
6Snack 2TJ Lumpy Bumpy Bar2.4
6LunchSalami and Crackers6.1
6Snack 3Nut Mix2.4
6DinnerSpaghetti with Knorr Pesto Sauce10.1
7BreakfastBanana Nut Bread Pudding5.6
7Snack 1Nut Mix2.3
7Snack 2Ginger Cookies2.3
7LunchJustin Nut Butter & Crackers3.0
7Snack 3Bulk Milk Chocolate2.2
7DinnerSpaghetti with Vegetarian Sauce7.1
8BreakfastBanana Nut Bread Pudding4.0
8Snack 1Nut Mix2.3
8Snack 2Sunflowers Seeds2.4
8LunchChorizo Sausage4.0
8Snack 3Bulk Milk Chocolate2.2
8DinnerBanana Nut Bread Pudding4.0
9BreakfastPackit Gourmet Smoothie3.8
9Snack 1Cranberry Almond Gorp3.6
9Snack 2Sunflowers Seeds2.3
9LunchJustin Nut Butter & Crackers3.1
9Snack 3Ritter Hazelnut Sports Bar3.7
  Coffee & Tea: Days 1-43.3
  Coffee & Tea: Days 5-93.7
  Total oz227.8

Most Popular Searches

  • backpacking meals
  • long distance backpacking
  • backpacking food list

38 comments

  1. What an absolutely fantastic menu! I'm feeling hungry just reading through it, and it puts my own rather lazy dinners of Beanfeast & Smash, and macaroni cheese, utterly to shame. I'd absolutely love to try out some of those things at some stage. The banana nut bread pudding, for instance, sounds good enough to convert me to eating breakfast! What's pumpkin bark? Wow… I envy you your trip just for the food, let alone the walking :)

  2. Great stuff once again! You're going to take the Mariposa, aren't you? Did you post already a Gearlist, as that could be interesting ;) Have a safe, relaxing and enjoyable walk with tasty meals!

  3. Bark is a general term for any kind of mashed stuff that's been dehydrated because it looks like bark when dry. To make pumpkin bark, you buy canned pre-mashed pumpkin without extra flavoring, add pumpkin spice and some maple syrup, and then dry the heck out of it. Then powder in a blender, add raisins, and you have a wonderful hot comfort food for the trail.

  4. The Mariposa Plus is half packed now. I've got my minimal gear on the bottom with the food bags on top to keep the center of gravity up a bit, which I like. I'll post a gear list when I get back – I'm taking a little extra gear on this hike because it is so long and remote, but the total kit + food and fuel should work out to be under 35 lbs, and steadily go down as I eat up the contents!

  5. Ahaa. Thanks for the explanation :)

  6. That's looks a nice menu for a long trip, I may have to come back to this if I get on next years TGOC :-)

  7. The nice thing about the Challenge is that there are towns and pubs along the way. This trip doesn't have any real resupply options. If I get onto the Challenge next year I expect I'll mostly eat the local food and lots of cadbury bars.

  8. A much more ambitious menu than hours. I'm envious, but think we will never get there. Actually seem to be moving the other direction – towards junk food. Added PopTarts as am and pm snacks last year and found it gave us a lot more energy during the day. Also, Erik the Black blogged on a junk food diet the other day and actually made some sense: Erik the Black's junk food entry

  9. hours = ours. I sometimes hit enter before my brain engages.

  10. I only eat junk food that's good for you. :-) BTW, I checked out your blog – really like it.

  11. All I can say is, Wow! You are light years ahead of me so I can't tell you how much I appreciate this blog. 14 pounds for 53 meals is impressive. I'm still too much of a grunt backpacker…military habits die hard:). I had a 60 pound pack for my overnight trip last week. Of course over 30 pounds of that was water, plus the dog made me carry her food. It's got me looking hard at lighter gear. Anyway, enjoy your trip.

  12. I read your blog – your dog is a good writer :-) and it's good that you carried all that water for her. Different conditions require different gear/sustenance needs and those always trump the lightweight imperative. Regarding my meal weight, I think I could have gone lower than 14 lbs with a different food mix, but live and learn. 1.5 lbs is my normal daily food weight and I was honestly hoping to shave a few more pounds off.

  13. Thanks, I'll let her know. In all fairness, she can't type worth a damn. So in addition to carrying her kit, I also have to transcribe her work! Still, she's a good dog.

    I am just getting back into recreational backpacking after years of very sporadic trips, so I am finding that much of my gear is pretty obsolete. It is nice to have more menu choices than just saying, "I'll take the meatloaf MRE."

  14. A stellar example of how backpacking food should be done.

  15. Does that mean I got an 'A'? :-)

  16. why does "Meatloaf MRE" sound very scary? :D

  17. Just stumbled upon Earlylite's 14 pound food list and found it very impressive. As I've gotten older I've tried to get my pack weight down through less gear, lighter weight gear, and more recently different food selections.

    I just returned from a section hike from Front Royal north to Harper's Ferry that was a testing ground for dehydrated vegetables added to rice based meals and dried meats. I thought it worked well but my hiking partner wasn't impressed. Since I do all the planning and prep work he'll just have to adjust.

    What books or websites might you recommend to further my education into dehydrated meals?

  18. Oooohhhh…. looks sooo good! I will have to try some of this to supplement my usual black-bean soup with cheese and mashed-potatoes-and-ramens failsafes. But where's dessert? ;)

  19. Great list! Thanks for posting it.

    What your recipe for the banana nut bread pudding?

    Thanks!

  20. Variety is essential. I was hoping to see an epilogue. How did your food plan work out?

    Doing a little math: 228 oz X 110 cal/oz / 9 days = 2800 cal/day

    Was this intended to be a weight loss diet?

  21. That doesn't sound right does it? I'll have to dig around in my notes. Anyway, the food worked out fine the 6 days I was on the trail and I stayed pretty much on schedule with what I had prepacked per day. No worries energy wise – I was full and amused by the variety.

    A few lessons learned though.

    1) I didn't need to pack 9 days of food. In fact, I'd recommend against it. Pack 5 and stop at White House Landing to resupply, despite their markup. Your body will thank you for a lighter pack. Carrying to much food, probably accelerated the ITB that took me off this section on day 6.

    2) After all that dehydrating, I found that spaghetti with olive oil and a little cheese was the most satisfying dinner. This probably won't work on a longer hike, but I was so zonked at the end of each day, that bland comfort food was preferable over raz-ma-taz.

    3) Salami is the perfect recovery food. Eat it when you get to camp and before you set up for the night. Ah!

  22. Thanks for a useful response and the entire interesting thread. I don't want to make the discussion about me, but I'm a little desperate for solid advice and creative trail food. The last time I planned a long backpacking trip was over 20 years ago, and everything I know is wrong. All I can do is the math.

    Now I'm planning to thru-hike the Long Trail, this being the centennial year. It's been encouraging to learn that I can buy back my youth with ultra-light gear and methods. My base weight is down to 12 pounds including the necessary stuff + camera, umbrella, and 2nd pair of shoes.

    To keep the max total pack weight down to 20 pounds, obviously I need to be careful about food. Which brought me here. I can cope with the weight of consumables using caches spaced 3-4 days apart.

    Also, I've been reading nutrition labels and weighing food to find winners in terms of both weight and volume. Based on a 3000 calorie diet, I figured I'd have to budget 2 pounds and 100 cubic inches for each day.

    That's why I was surprised to see you content with 25 oz/day. Nothing would delight me more than planning on 1.5 pounds instead of 2. Is it possible that your menu supplied more calories than 110/oz? I could easily push a diet past 120 calories/oz with a shot of olive oil every day. It's a miracle food on so many levels.

    Looking forward to experimenting with tomato powder and hummus powder. Here's a huge discovery: Wasabi peas have 130 calories/oz. How about that for a complex carbo, sinus-clearing, breakfast wakeup.

    To your point about salami, my doctor advised tilting toward carbs in the morning and protein in the evening. Any good experiences with TVP?

  23. Helen,

    In summer, you can definitely get away with 1.5 lbs a day. You just need to be a bit careful. Olive oil is wonderful stuff.

    I will have to look through my notes to find if I made a mistake,but that could take a while – chances are what I have here is correct afterall.

    I've never heard of anyone caching food for the LT – but it makes sense in places because those Vermonters don't pick up many hitchhikers. There are some points, like the base of Middlebury's ski slope that do have bus service, so you should look into that. There are also some stores pretty close to the road where you can resupply.

    Your comment made me remember a funny, but tangential story about food from when I hiked the LT in 2008. I met a guy at the shelter just past Bolton Mountain who only carried 1 item of food for his thru hike – a giant bag of cheerios mixed with peanut M&M's. I would have gone mad, but he insisted it was the ideal trail food because it was so easy to resupply.

  24. Helen, if you like math, you might like to google the bpl-gear-list-spreadsheet-contest winner for a tool to calculate cal per oz. Also backpackingchef.com for creative cookery. Also I assume you'll do some shorter warm-up trips to learn what hits the spot for you?

  25. Thank you, WB. I learned at a very early age that there were far more letters than numerals. Therefore I concluded it would be far easier to get an education using math than with literary skills. Really. It's been a long, strange trip, but I made to retirement with some gas left in the tank.

    I did find some of those spreadsheets and found them useful—some new ideas and some verification. Still, it's impossible to understand why anyone would set out into the wild without a camera, bug protection, and a spare set of underwear and shoes. That's just a Death March.

    Also I noticed they budgeted 20 oz/day for food. I don't get it. To get 3000 calories, the food would have a grease-soaked 150 calories/oz. Why bring a stove? You could just light the food on fire.

    Honestly, I don't know if can generate 3000 calories of kinetic energy every day for 3 weeks. Certainly skimping on food leads to disappointment and danger from physical and mental weakness.

    I've been training for this trip my whole life. I hunt waterfalls and geocaches through the warm months. This winter, we travelled through Arizona and New Mexico for 2 months. We hiked almost everyday in some exotic setting, including Gettysburg and Manhattan on the way back. But I haven't been backpacking in 20 years. So I have a lot pieces to fill in.

    I'll tell you about my gear list if I find the right thread. Here I'll just say that I'm a maniac foodie. To illustrate the amplitude, when the Karbon faucet was released, I remodeled my entire kitchen to install the 1st unit east of the Mississippi.

    Today my shipment from Harmony Foods arrived. So far the pantry has 3 dry fruits, instant sauces, potatoes, rice, noodles, coconut granola, and panko for straight carbs. For protein, 6 varieties of meat-flavored TVP, jerky, dry miso and hummus, sardines, pouch salmon, fossilized hard cheeses, air dried sausages, powdered cheddar and parmesan. Dry vegetables are garlic, onion, mushrooms tomato slices and powder, mixed red and green peppers, corn, peas, green beans, carrot. Nuts and berries, 4 varieties each. Drinks are instant tea, milk, cocoa, gatorade, juices, and olive oil. Plus spices, beef base, and citrus oils for flavor.

    In one scenario, I'd carry bags of this stuff, restock from buried caches every 3 or 4 days, and make up meals as I went along.

    I can tell already that I'll run right through a pound of tomato powder. It hydrates instantly, has a clean, strong tomato flavor, beautiful color, and unparalleled versatility. It's perfect for ultra-light backpacking—dips, sauces, stews, soups, cocktails. Add vinegar and you've got ketchup.

    But you're right, I need to test recipes. The Caldera Keg should arrive any day now, so I can develop some proficiency in cooking with alcohol fuel. Speaking of which, I ordered ethanol from the Department Liquor Control today. No kidding.

  26. Helen,

    The tomato powder is a god send overall. It works great in many recipes. If it clumps up due to humidity, just smash it back to a powder.

    Now that you have gotten stuff from Harmony House, have you also seen PackitGourmet's powders and seasonings? If not, do check them out.

    On food and calories – while a longer hike does require more calories don't worry – take what you will eat and some extra. The first week out or two many hikers lose their appetite and eat less, ramping up later. At first eating more than 2500 calories can be hard.

  27. Thank you, thank you, thank you for backpackingchef.com and packitgourmet.com.

    I'm scared to dehydrate chicken, but those bark meals are intriguing. I will definitely make the sweet potato bark.

    Congratulations on Baby Walker, Sarah. I hope he is thriving and you are recovering well. So many products I never saw before, and those powders are astounding. I will surely be doing business with Packit Gourmet. The umami potential with soy and worcestershire sauce powders make my head spin. I can't wait to mix vinegar powder to tomato powder.

    You are absolutely right about hikers losing appetite with an abrupt change in diet and work load. This is a special burden for section hikers, such as our host, that I am consciously trying to avoid by thru-hiking. But we all have to rest.

    This is giving me deep thoughts. Should I stroll the LT at a leisurely 8-10 miles/day, visiting all the side attractions, taking lots of pix, cooking tasty meals, and thoroughly enjoying a comfortable experience? Or engage the trail in a more efficient 12 mile average, and focus on mission completion? And how much of that will be decided for me by environmental conditions?

    Two interesting notes from yesterday. Harmony House sent me FD green beans instead of the peas I ordered. I called, and they will send the peas. Told me to keep the beans. Can't argue with that for customer service.

    Also, the Vermont Dept. of Liquor Control approved my application to purchase 190 proof ethanol for "ultralight backpack cookstove testing." Weirdly, it costs less than denatured alcohol in the Walmart paint dept.

  28. After a week of it being at the bottom of my Pack and two weeks since it arrived I just ate the entire 2 ounce wedge of Wisconsin Cheddar Cheese I bought from PackitGourmet with MRE Vegetable Crackers.. No apparent mold and it has stayed firm in texture and has a good taste with that bite I like to my Cheddar..I will be ordering more for my upcoming trips.According to my little Zipper Thermometer inside my pack, the Temperature reached 80 degrees…

  29. Helen – Packitgourmet really is tops. I just ordered about 30 meals from them. The food is delicious and nutritious.

  30. Being a Person who likes to cook I bought a few packages of their Mixed Veggies, Beef, Chicken, Navy Beans, Lentils, and preprepared at home in little sealed packets my own receipe of Beef or Chicken Boullion and other spices as well as Dehydrated Onion and Garlic and at my last rest stop before dinner, I presoaked all that needed soaking. The first thing I did upon reaching my night camp was start the water boiling and within 20 minutes after I had a wonderful Bean Soup, Beef and Chicken Stew ready with little water needed for clean up..I really like the resealable packages for I can get an average of two meals out of one packet! Great Company…

  31. "… wonderful Bean Soup, Beef and Chicken Stew"

    Dish it, Eddie. We need materials and methods.

    "… those Vermonters don’t pick up many hitchhikers."

    It's just you, EL. Yur too scary looking. Ha. Contrarily, I would have no trouble getting a ride. But to paraphrase an old joke, I'd never get in any car that stopped to pick me up.

    "I’ve never heard of anyone caching food for the LT …"

    Nobody else has either, which worries me. When I described my concept of burying supplies near road crossings in steel paint cans, one experience LT hiker expressed strong ethical objections. Cited the principle of Leave No Trace. I Zen countered, 'If a cache is so thoroughly hidden in the woods that nobody ever sees it—that I can barely find it–does it leave a trace?'

    If my cache system works well, I thought it would be fun to leave it in place and share the GPS coordinates with other LT hikers. Or even preload the caches with supplies for hikers that come from distant places. How about that for Trail Magic?

    "Middlebury's … bus service"

    I should mention that I have a spouse for that, who is perfectly willing to pick me up anywhere, anytime. In one scenario, I would get whisked away to a swank hotel every weekend for rest, fine dining, hydrotherapy, etc.

    You may be amused to know that we live close enough to Middlebury to shop there, so I could just go home at that point. Also, my ancestral Home Farm is close enough to the northern terminus to walk there, though I'm not quite Helen of Troy.

    The LT is a fantastic 4-dimensional puzzle. Reading your trip reports, I was struck by how your solution had to be so much different from mine. I marveled at your ingenuity and effort to solve the transportation element of the LT puzzle. But that's the easy part for me.

    At this point—sitting on the couch—I'm leaning toward eschewing automobiles and electricity completely for the entire hike. That would add some substance to an otherwise contrived adventure. I'd have to get a camera powered by AA batteries, which could be cached with my other consumables. So there's another layer of compromises.

    Ok, back on topic. My foodie find of the day came from Costco. NatureMade, Immuni-C, FIZZY VITAMIN DRINK MIX. Comes in a box with 72 packets (each 0.4oz). Two flavors—tangerine and raspberry—both delicious, 25 calories. Dissolves instantly with no mixing. Loaded with 1 gram of ascorbic acid and lots of other water-soluable vitamins. It's a perfect breakfast drink.

    Did I mention it fizzes?

  32. The first time I experienced the "Trail Magic" by "Trail Angels" was on the Pacfic Crest Trail.. Rising up out of Scissors Crossing the trail climbs and curves and climbs and climbs some more and there under a Bush were six One gallon Milk Containers full of delicious water..Then a few miles later on, after walking through the Critter Gate there were another dozen gallon containers full of water….I understand they bring the containers in by Horse back…Well thank you very much!! Now that is "Trail Magic"

  33. When you say pasta rehydrates well without a heat source, do you mean that you boil pasta at home, dry it, and then rehydrate with cold water on the trail? I’m headed out for a Colo. Trail thruhike soon and am leaving the stove at home due to the fire ban. I’d love to have pasta, can you clarify how this works? Could I mix up cooked pasta and tomato sauce, blend, dry, and rehydrate on the trail? Any links to recipes for foods that don’t require heat for rehydration would be great. Thanks so much!

    • Yes, you’d have to dehydrate cooked spaghetti in a food dehydrator first. But I wouldn’t try eating it without warm water. Couscous is far better for that. Add anything to it and eat it. No boiling needed. Dehydrated Quinoa also works well for this.

      • Since your dehydrated rice took a while to reconstitute cold, do you think they’d make good cold breakfasts? While you get dinner ready, add water, seal, and let magically transform into a delicious meal as you sleep?

      • If like granola better. More calories for breakfast.

    • Since you have to carry the weight of the dried fixings, and then the water, why not just carry a MRE Spaghetti and Meatball individual serving pack? It weighs in, with the box, which I remove for carrying about 7 oz. total. That is what I do. The MRE’s were designed to eat Cold since often we grunts found it difficult or dangerous to build a fire or to use a stove whose light and or sound would give away our position to the enemy. They eventually created the chemical heater but they often failed if it was too could out. Their not “everyones” cup of tea, so I would do a taste test at home..Get fresh ones and not the ones in a Surplus store..Longlifefood.com or Long life Food Depot has been supplying me since they opened up for business. Individual servings are not that heavy. I always carry at least one in the bottom of my pack for those “Rainy” days. Try their Bread as well, The biscuits are OK, but the White Bread I just bought two cases of after I tried a couple of samples…Forget the crackers…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *