The best ultralight backpacking foods are high in calories, compact, and fast to prepare. In order to keep your food load as lightweight as possible, you want to carry foods that have 100 calories per ounce or more. One ounce is 28.3 grams, a fact that will help you compare food labels, measure out portions, and calculate the caloric value of your backpacking food bag
Almonds – 160 Calories per ounce
At 160 calories per ounce ,almonds are a superfood because you can easily eat them while you hike or sliver them and add them to your morning cereal or dinners to boost their caloric value and add some crunch to your meals. While 75% of the energy value of almonds is in the form of fat, they also provide 6 grams of protein per one ounce serving, which can be difficult to eat enough of on a long hike. When I buy almonds I like to get them in bulk at Trader Joes (also now available on Amazon Prime.) While you can repackage them into one ounce servings in advance, if you remember that 24 almonds equal one ounce of nuts, you can take them straight from the bag and dispense with any extra packaging.
If you don’t like almonds or you want more variety, many other nuts and seeds provide excellent caloric and nutritional value, eaten separately or combined into all nut gorp combinations. Eating salted varieties of nuts can also help replace the sodium that you sweat out on long hikes.
Here are a few of my other favorites:
- Peanuts, salted and unsalted – 170 calories per ounce
- Cashews, salted or unsalted – 160 calories per ounce
- Brazil nuts, salted or unsalted, 184 calories per ounce
- Pitachios, shelled, salted and roasted – 160 calories per ounce
- Sunflower seeds, roasted and salted, 173 calories per ounce
- Walnuts, whole or pieces: 183 calories per ounce
Peanut Butter – 165 Calories per ounce
Peanut butter is a hiker staple because it’s high in protein (7 grams/ounce) and is relatively low in saturated fat (2.5 grams/ounce.) It’s also universally found in food stores, even the crummy ones you find at gas stations. When you buy peanut butter you want to get it in a plastic jar because it’s lighter weight than glass, and because you can use the jar to rehydrate other dried foods, no cook style ,while you hike. I like Creamy Jif Peanut Butter the best, but sometimes you don’t have a choice.
Flour Tortillas – 87 Calories per ounce
The problem with bringing bread on the trail is that it’s bulky and goes stale very quickly. Crackers are another option, but it’s almost impossible to keep them from crumbling. Flour tortillas are great food bag item if you crave bread and need something to eat with spreads like peanut butter. Tortillas are high in calories and shelf stable so you can carry them in your food bag until you’re ready to eat them. The smaller 7″ or 8″ size is easier to eat with and less prone to spillage.
Muesli – 98 Calories per ounce
Muesli is a mixture of rolled oats, nuts, seeds and dried fruit that can be eaten hot or cold, with or without milk. Bob’s Red Mill Muesli, also available Gluten Free, has about 98 calories per one ounce serving, including 21 grams of carbohydrates. I typically eat 4 servings (1 cup) for breakfast mixed with dehydrated milk and extra raisins to further increase its caloric content. Muesli will fill you up and get you going in the morning but can be eaten at any time during the day.
Nido – Dehydrated Whole Milk – 150 Calories per ounce
Nido is dehydrated whole milk that has a whopping 150 calories of nutritional value per ounce (8 ounces of milk prepared). On backpacking trips, I often pre-mix it with a cup of muesli in a Ziploc, add water, and eat it for breakfast. If you like milk, a couple of servings of Nido per day will keep the fat on your bones. It also has 7 grams of protein per serving.
Probars – 125 Calories per ounce
Probars are not like any other energy bar made. At 370-380 calories each (125 per ounce) they’re rich in raw foods and available in an assortment of flavors which keep them from getting boring on longer trips. I’ve been eating Probars since 2008 and they’re a staple in my backpacking food bag.
Nutella – 150 Calories per ounce
Nutella is a chocolate hazelnut spread that you can smear on tortillas or eat right out of the jar. It’s a great backpacking food because once you start eating it, it’s difficult to make yourself stop. If you experience loss of appetite on hiking trips, Nutella might be a good antidote. The plastic jars it comes in also make good containers to rehydrate no-cook foods in while you hike.
Olive Oil – 240 calories per ounce
At 240 calories per ounce Olive Oil is 100 percent fat, making it one of the most calorically dense foods you can eat on the trail. It’s a great addition to many soups or pasta dishes and can quickly augment their caloric content, although you need to be a little careful how much you consume in a single serving because it really loosens up your gut (2 ounces is a safe daily limit). When carrying Olive Oil in your backpack, you want to store it in a plastic bottle that doesn’t leak. Alternatively, you can buy it in 1/2 ounce packages from Minimus.biz and store them in double Ziploc bags.
Peanut M&M’s – 140 Calories per ounce
Peanut M&M’s may be one of the best foods every invented for backpacking. Available in bulk or in individually wrapped packages they are easy to find in most convenience and grocery stores. Combining peanuts and chocolate, they provide a mixture of quick energy and longer burning fats.
Angel Hair Pasta – 100 Calories per ounce
If you like to eat hot meals on the trail, Angel Hair Pasta is one of the easiest and fastest forms of spaghetti to cook, taking just 4-5 minutes to boil, or slightly less than the time it takes to cook Ramen Noodles. My favorite way to eat Angel Hair Pasta is to mix it with Olive Oil and a few ounces of shaky Parmesan Cheese (also over 100 calories per ounce) in the cook pot, making a tasty and calorie rich meal.