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3 Day Backpacking Menu

When it comes to backpacking food, aim for variety to keep meal interesting
When it comes to backpacking food, aim for variety to keep meal interesting

Here’s a sample 3 day backpacking menu for a 44 mile section hike on the Vermont Appalachian Trail. 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 it 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.

MealDay 1Calories
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

On this multi-day trip, I ate 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.

Published 2009. Updated 2018.

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

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

  4. 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.

    • Beware the light weight of the alcohol stove.

      The weight of a pocket rocket and isobutane fuel is barely more than the weight of an alcohol stove and liquid fuel bottle, but the pocket rocket will boil water in less than a third of the time of the alcohol stove (in perfect conditions for the alcohol), and consume WAY less fuel.

      Also, alcohol stoves are notorious for starting forest fires, being impossible to use in windy conditions, ,using a lot of fuel, and burning people because they can’t see that the fire is not out.

      Be careful.

  5. Fantastic news. That's quite an achievement.

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

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

  11. 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!

  12. Great, I’m in New Zealand about to do a 4 day trek, and i’m gonna base my food of this, Looks awesome.,

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