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What are Good Backpacking Breakfasts?

A Leisurely Hot Breakfast
A Leisurely Hot Breakfast

You’d think there was a simple answer to this, but it really depends. What you eat for breakfast depends on knowing what your body needs in the morning. It depends on external weather conditions, the number of daylight hours you have, the distance you need to hike that day, how much weight you are willing to carry, and whether you are addicted to caffeine or not.

The one thing you need to keep in mind when eating breakfast or any other meal is that your body can only absorb about 400 calories of food an hour,  so it really doesn’t matter how much food you consume for breakfast beyond a certain point (this process is called gastric emptying if you’re interested). This is why it’s important to snack during the day when hiking, otherwise you’ll fall behind on the number of calories you can turn into energy until after dinner.

If it’s warm out and I’m in a hurry…

I know that my body craves carbohydrates and water in the morning. So if it’s fairly warm out and  I have a long day ahead of me, I eat a ziploc bag with 500 calories worth of dry granola, a half dozen dried apricots, and I drink 32 ounces of cold water. This is my baseline breakfast and the one I mainly eat from late spring through early autumn (for New England hiking.)

Granola is a calorically dense food with about 100-120 calories per ounce and it compresses reasonably small in my food bag. It’s also really easy to prepare when I pack for a trip, which is another reason I like it. I’ve also eaten so much instant oatmeal on backpacking trips that I can never eat it again.

Another breakfast food I eat on trips is pound cake and I often bring some along on backpacking trips as an alternative to having granola every day. Pound cake, butter cake, ginger cake, or logan bread are all calorically rich and will stand up to being deliberately smushed to take up less space. I slice the cake up and put it into sandwich bags when I pack my food at home or resupply during a hike, and aim for a 500 calorie piece for breakfast in place of granola.

One thing I’d like to also emphasize here is my water intake. When you sleep at night, it’s normal for you to lose about 1 liter of water through perspiration and exhalations. Drinking one liter of water at breakfast is needed to restore the water you lost during the night and bring your body back into equilibrium. It also means you don’t have to carry it in your pack (where it will feel heavier. )

If it’s cold and dark outside…

When it’s cold and dark outside in early spring or late autumn, I like to eat something hot for breakfast. Daylight is short during this time of year, but I know from experience that I can almost completely pack my gear while my breakfast is “cooking.” For these meals I also eat granola, but I pour the hot water into the ziploc with the granola, and munch on the dried apricots. There’s is nothing like Trader Joe’s Ginger Granola with hot water in the morning! It is a fabulous pick me up that beats instant oatmeal any day.

I’ll also boil enough water for a big pot of tea and drink the rest of my 32 ounce water allotment cold. Cleanup is easy because this is essentially a freezer bag meal. I reckon the entire procedure adds about 30 minutes to my morning routine, but a hot meal is a worthwhile mood enhancer in colder weather, so the extra time spent is worth it to me.

In winter…

In winter, I like to eat granola with hot water and a big pot of tea, but I’ll also eat a chocolate bar and some nuts to increase the fat content of my meal. These foods take more energy to break down than carbohydrates and help stoke my metabolism so I stay warmer in the morning. I’ll also put several bags of sugar in my tea to create a surplus of calories in my system.

No Clean Up

I’ve never been big on elaborate meals for breakfast. I think this is because I want to get out of camp in the morning (early of course) and get hiking. I certainly don’t want to be stuck cleaning up anything and my method avoids that altogether. I’d rather have more free time in the afternoon or evening after I’ve hiked the distance I planned to hike for the day, than burn up precious time in the morning.

What about You? What do you eat for breakfast on hiking trips?

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  1. Heck, I struggle (and usually lose) to find a healthy breakfast on non-wilderness days. Having said that, for several years now I’ve been obsessed with finding the perfect scrambled egg. What I’m about to suggest is not the perfect scrambled egg…and it’s pricey…but it’s pretty stinkin’ good. Mountain House Scrambled Eggs with bacon or ham. After a day or so of eating the usual hiker fare, waking up to this warm, moist, savory breakfast is a nice way to start a day on the trail. They’re pre-cooked and rehydrate in their own packaging, so no pan mess to clean-up. After hydration there’s a little water left-over and this supplements the water for my instant grits nicely. I also like to bring along a pack of shelf-stable bacon from which I fry up a couple of strips in my lightweight skillet. Starbucks Via is the perfect liquid accompaniment…and maybe a caffeine pill, just for kicks.

  2. I am going on a forty one mile, five day hike and I dont like oatmeal. What do I do?

  3. Homemade instant oatmeal with chia seeds and dried fruit – sometimes dried blueberries, sometimes dried cranberries or apples. No added sugar most of the time. I’ll also bring along pre-hardboiled eggs to add some protein – usually one or two per day. An egg container holds six which is perfect for 3 or 4 days. I only have to boil water to add to the oatmeal and for a cup of coffee, and my luxury a hydro flask with a pinch of loose leaf tea to which I add hot water whenever I stop long enough to justify getting out the stove. It’s very nice to have hot tea with snacks on the trail.

    BTW – I can’t eat the pre-made commercial instant oatmeal- it tastes awful, Chemical, over-sweet, with who knows what. Learning how to make instant oatmeal at home was a game-changer. My cholesterol dropped over 50 points once I started having it for breakfast most days – on or off the trail.

  4. Drinking cold water before or during a meal ain’t such a good idea. Warm or hot much better, but not too much. Cold water, cold milk, etc, slows metabolism, which requires heat for the digestive enzymes and such to do their thing. This is from the science of Ayurveda, one of the oldest and most revered health systems on the planet.

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