Lightweight Backpacking Food How-To

When it comes to lightweight backpacking food, there is no magic formula. While food is not included in the goal weight for lightweight backpacking, the weight of food adds up fast and it’s helpful to plan your meals carefully in order to keep your food weight down to a minimum.

Food preferences vary from person to person and above all it is important to pack foods that are enjoyable and filling to you. One person might be able to happily live off of instant rice and dried onion soup, while another must have meat.

The closest to a magic formula we can get are a couple guidelines for planning your menu.

Plan for 2,500-3,500 calories a day. If you’re walking a fairly relaxed trail, no more than 2,500 calories should be good. If it’s a more intense trail, shoot for more like 3,000 calories. These numbers vary of course depending on gender, age and physical make up. Also, the amount of calories needed increase if you are backpacking in cold weather.

Plan for 1-2 pounds of food a day. Again, if you’re doing an easier trail, you won’t need as much food. A harder trail will require more calories and thus more food.

Below are our main tips for lightweight backpacking food:

  • Try to pick meals that don’t require cooking in order to avoid bringing a stove, fuel and a cooking pot.
  • If you are going to be backpacking in an area where water is readily available, bring dehydrated foods. You can either make dehydrated food yourself or purchase prepackaged meals on-line. Dehydrated foods are quite light and can be very filling.
  • If you are going to be backpacking in an area where water is not readily available and you’ll need to be carrying most of the water you’ll need, avoid bringing foods that need water for their preparation. You’ll quickly cancel out any weight you would have saved from dehydrated food simply by the extra water you’ll have to bring to prepare it.
  • If you really want to bring fresh foods like fruits, plan on eating them the first day so their extra weight will be gone quickly.
  • Bring nutrient dense food! While things like instant rice are super light, their weight to nutrients ratio is small. One ounce of beef jerky has almost 6 times the calories of one ounce of cooked instant rice. Sure a batch of instant rice will fill your tummy without adding much weight to your pack, but you will quickly be hungry again and your body will not have sufficient fuel to keep you going. If you bring more nutrient dense food you can technically bring less of it.
  • Bring food you like! It’s okay to throw in a treat or two. These things, while adding some extra weight can be worth it simply from the morale boost they can bring.
  • Food is important. While we encourage you to think in terms of lightweight backpacking food, it is wiser to try sacrificing pounds in other areas instead of starving yourself.

For more information about backpacking food, visit the following pages: Backpacking Food, Backpacking Menu, Backpacking Recipes,

and Ideas for Backpacking Meals.

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