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Why don’t I have an Appetite on Backpacking Trips?

Packing Normal Food
Packing Normal Food

Have you ever been on a backpacking trip and not had an appetite? Even if you’re hiking 15 to 20 miles a day?

It’s frustrating because you know you should be hungry, and you know need energy to hike the next day, but you can’t bring yourself to dig in at dinner time.

“We can never eat what I take…just not hungry. I eat more sitting at my desk at work than when hiking 15-20 miles a day on the AT”

Here are 3 reasons why I think you can lose your appetite on a backpacking trip:

  1. Different Eating Schedule
  2. Different Food
  3. Less Free Time

Different Eating Schedule

When I go backpacking, my eating and sleeping schedule is completely dictated by the time the sun rises and sets. Since I always get up early, the biggest scheduling change for me is when I eat dinner. For example, I tend to eat 1-2 hours earlier in the day than when I’m sitting down to dinner at home with my wife.

If you have a fixed routine of meal serving times at home, it could be that your body and mind are not acclimated to your new backpacking schedule, especially during the first few days of your hike. If you’re like most people, and you can only take short 1 and 2 night backpacking trips, you might never get used to the changed schedule. However, if you can stay out longer that a few days, my guess is that your body will eventually acclimate to the schedule change and you’ll be hungry again when dinner is served.

Different Food

When I got back into backpacking, I used to buy prepared backpacking meals or pre-package freezer bag meals. Those meals were very different from what I’d normally eat at home and I often found myself not finishing them. They tended to be larger portions than I could eat and had a lot more salt and preservatives in them than I prefer.

It might be that you prefer normal food over commercial backpacking meals or the kind that you prepare FBC style. Eventually, I gave up on buying backpacking food and started bringing the same food on trips that I tend to eat at home, like cheese, crackers, bread, nuts, granola,… just regular food, so there’s not any “adaption” required.

Less Free Time

If you’re sitting at work and munching on food, it’s because you either have free time or you can multi-task. Walking is far more active than sitting still and you might just need to take longer breaks to snack than you do today.

A couple of years ago, I would never stop for breaks during the day and as a result, I ate sparingly between breakfast and dinner Today, I make a point to load up the back pocket of my backpack with about 1,000 calories worth of snacks each morning before I leave camp. I take long breaks every few hours to rest and take in my surroundings and I feel relaxed enough to munch because I’m not in a hurry to get up and walk.

Do you ever lose your appetite on a backpacking trip?

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3 comments

  1. I’ve often marveled at how little I want to eat on a multi-night trip. It’s actually somewhat frustrating, the wasted weight in my backpack. Maybe the moral is to take less food, but denser in calories, carbs, nutrients, protein (or whatever you think your dietary needs are). I’ve wondered if I could go a week on only GU. [shudder] blech.

    What’s even more puzzling to me, is that despite 1. more fibrous fare 2. more water consumption and 3. constant exercise, I am, uh… well… let’s say peristalsis seems to take a break. TMI. Sorry.

  2. This happens to my wife and I when we take a multi-day hike. We have to force ourselves to eat and it almost makes us sick. We buy top of the line freeze dry meals and it seems that dinner is the only time we are able to eat. Breakfast almost gags us and lunch is impossible. Everything seems to dry and amost impossible to swallow. We drink 2 – 3 liters of water a day (NW tempertures) and still seem dehydrated. We think it might be a electrolyte problem and the level of exercise carrying 20 to 30 pound packs 15 to 20 miles per day. We understand that after 10 to 14 days of this your can’t get enough food. The longest single hike we have done was 6 days and we still had food problems.

  3. This happens to me all the time and I’m certain it’s the food. Your mileage may vary, but in my view the food is so monotonous, boring and downright bad compared to real life food that I just eat what I need and nothing more. The soon I do get back to civilization, I eat a fair portion, even immediately after the hike, so I don’t think for me it’s anything to do with the other factors you mention.

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