When packing food for a multi-day backpacking trip, I try to keep the space it takes up as small as possible so I can bring a smaller, lighter weight backpack. While bringing highly caloric foods helps (over 100 calories per ounce), it’s taken me several years of trial and error to figure out how to pack them all as efficiently as possible and get them into one OPSack odor-proof bag (above) or bear canister.
In the past, I used to break out my means into sub-packages containing all of my breakfasts, snacks (lunch), and dinners or break them out by day in order to keep track of the calories I consumed in any 24 hours period. This approach works on weekend trips, but after a few days, the contents of my food bag have a tendency to move toward entropy despite these efforts to stay organized.
For longer trips, I now pack my food bag based on the “granularity” of an item and its ability to mold or wrap around adjacent items. For example, I pack my grains, nuts, and re-bagged energy drink powder at the bottom of my food bag where they will fill up all of the space available. The next layer are cliff bars, which pack very efficiently and then bulkier items like cookies and banana chips. I shim those items with dehydrated soup packs and a bottle of olive oil, and then pile the most bulky items on top of them, including dried tortellini and ramen noodles.
Packing like this lets me fit 2 more days of food into the same space than the older, more organized methods I used previously and makes my pack a lot less crowded at the beginning of a trip.
Highly “Packable” Foods and Caloric Values
The caloric and nutritional density of the food I pack also helps keep the volume of the food I need to bring by weight fairly low – at about 1.75 pounds per day. I try to eat foods that offer at least 100 calories of nutrition per ounce, but I augment this by adding olive oil to them to, particularly at dinner. At 240 calories an ounce, olive oil is one of the most calorically dense foods available because it’s pure fat.
- Olive oil – 240 calories/ounce
- Roasted Sunflower seeds with salt – 166 calories/ounce
- Roasted Peanuts with salt – 166 calories/ounce
- Roasted Cashew pieces with salt 163 – calories/ounce
- Banana Chips – 160 calories/ounce
- Logan Bread – 126 calories/ounce
- Granulated White Sugar – 110 calories/ounce
- Pound Cake – 109 calories/ounce
- Dried cheese tortellini- 105 calories/ounce
- Uncooked Quinoa – 104 calories
- Cliff bars – 96 calories/ounce
Many of these foods, once repackaged in portion-sized sandwich or snack bags, are easy to pack because they conform to the available space in my food bag. If necessary, I also break up foods like Ramen Noodles in order to make them more granular for packing. I still keep them in their original package to prevent the absorption of moisture and spoiling.
Commercially Prepared Backpacking Meals
Although I’ve tried many prepackaged backpacking meals from companies like Mountain House or Packit Gourmet, I rarely eat them anymore on backpacking trips. Beside the expense, the amount of extra packaging and weight you end up carrying offsets the taste or nutritional value they provide.
My preference is to eat the same foods that normal people eat and that can be easily resupplied at any supermarket given that I can eat as much as I feel like carrying without gaining weight! This simplifies my backpacking trip prep time substantially, especially for Appalachian Trail section hikes, where I can count on passing through a town every few days.Editor's note: If you’re thinking about buying gear that we’ve reviewed or recommend on SectionHiker, you can help support us in the process. Just click on any of the seller links above, and if you make a purchase, we may (but not always) receive a small percentage of the transaction. The cost of the product is the same to you but this helps us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides. Thanks and we appreciate your support!