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Hiking Lunch Ideas for Your Next Trip

07.18.20

Trekking out into the woods or a mountain’s deep, unseen depths is one of my favorite activities. However, if I really want to see what’s out there, I have to pack a hiking snack or two to bring along. Bringing food can make planning for a backpacking trip more complicated, as a lot of standard meals will spoil or melt while I’m out on a long hike. 

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of tried-and-true picnic lunch ideas and hiker-approved snacks out there! I’ll go over a few of my favorite hiking lunch ideas in this post. 

What Should I Eat for Lunch While Hiking?

There are a few things that I always try to account for when I’m thinking of day hike lunch ideas. These criteria usually include things like:

  • Is it easy to carry?
  • Will it survive the trip, or will it get squished and crushed?
  • Can I eat it while walking, or will I need to stop and set up a picnic area?
  • Is it nutritious and high in energy?

Heavy, unwieldy things like two-liter soda bottles, jars of condiments, and large Tupperware containers usually get nixed from my hiking food list because they’re bulky and heavy. Similarly, I try to avoid frozen foods and large coolers, as they tend to melt throughout the day (refrigerated is usually okay). 

Hiking Trip Length

Backpacking trip length is an important consideration when deciding what picnic lunch ideas and a hiking snack to pick. For example, if I’m only planning to hike for a few hours, I might only bring fast, easy-to-eat hiking food that I can eat while I’m on the move. However, if I’m going to be out for the whole day, I usually plan to bring at least one full meal that I must rest and make camp for. 

The same principle applies to longer hiking trips, too. If I’m going to be out on the trail for more than one day, it completely changes the items I’ll bring. Refrigerated items like cold cut sandwiches for hiking, or hot items like chicken noodle soup in a thermos will only last about a day, but canned hiking food can last the whole trip.

What Should I Eat on a Day Hike?

If I choose to bring a hiking snack, I like to bring mostly energy-packed snacks on my short day hikes. Think backpacking food like granola bars (avoid chocolate in these if it’s hot outside), trail mix, and beef jerky – they provide long-lasting energy in a small, convenient package. Even dried fruit and hard vegetables like carrots, apples, and celery can be great for hikes. These food items are also great when I feel like exploring hiking lunch ideas vegetarian.

If I’m going to be out on a backpacking trip for a whole day, I’ll usually pack at least one sit-down meal. Carb and protein-heavy meals like pasta salad, sandwiches for hiking, and cold meats are excellent for keeping energy levels high. Running out of energy in the middle of a hike and having no energy left to get home is something everyone should avoid.

Because I can afford to bring a small cooler or insulated lunchbox on a day hike, I have the most freedom with my picnic lunch ideas. I love to pack energy-heavy backpacking food like hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter, avocado, chicken, and tuna. These aren’t appropriate for multi-day hikes, but they’re comfortable and convenient for just one day outdoors.

I don’t hesitate to pack as much fresh food as I can during my day hikes. On any adventure longer than a day, the ability to pack fresh food goes down significantly. Not only are fresh foods healthier and better for regaining energy, but they tend to boost my mood and motivation too.

What Food Should I Bring on a 3 Day Hike?

Three-day hikes are much harder to plan for than single-day excursions. As much as I love fresh food, I need to bring plenty of non-perishable backpacking food that doesn’t take up much space. For a three-day camping trip, I always plan to bring pots, pans, fire-starting supplies, and anything else I need to cook.

Calorie estimating also becomes more critical on extended hikes. I try to pack my meals with as many good calories as possible to help regain energy. I also try to stick to stable energy and complex carbs. I prioritize slow-burning carbs over sugar-heavy foods that’ll make me crash later. Foods like jerky, trail mix with nuts, peanut butter, nut butter like almond butter, and dried fruit are ideal for this!

If I have room in my pack, I always consider bringing along some calorie-heavy canned foods. Things like beans, canned vegetables, and canned meats can make great additions to a freeze-dried, scavenged, or dehydrated meal. Camping coffee can be a godsend in the mornings on long trips, too – it gives a significant energy boost, and it doesn’t take up much space.

What Do I Eat on a 4 Day Hike?

If I’m planning to be out in the woods for four days or more, I always choose meals that take up the least space possible. Instant noodles are a favorite because they’re easy to make and compact. I bring items like canned chicken, beans, or veggies to add nutrients to my instant noodles.

For a four-day hike, I remind myself not to skimp on healthy fats. Fats are slow-burning energy sources, so while they’re not the healthiest to eat in excess when I’m sitting at home, they’re great for extended camping trips. I rely heavily on other energy-giving camping snacks, too, including cheese and crackers, peanut butter, preserved meats, trail mix with dried fruit, and energy bars.

I always like to plan my camping recipes out beforehand. I like to make sure I bring all the ingredients I need for each meal in my pack. I always bring a little extra, just in case. An extra meal or two could be a lifesaver if I ever found myself lost on a hike.

Canned foods are uniquely versatile hiking lunch ideas for long hikes, but I tend to pack them sparingly because of how heavy they can be. Nutritious, protein-packed canned soups like ham and broccoli soup, lentil soup, and beef stew are ideal because they can either start your morning on the right foot or end your day with a warm meal. 

Freeze dried meals and dehydrated foods are great hiking lunch ideas, but I always bring some fresh meals to eat on my first day. Dehydrated meals are nutritionally dense, but I’m always inevitably dreading my next freeze dried meal by the end of day four. One extra day of fresh food helps a lot!

Final Thoughts

In my experience, the best hiking lunch ideas include a mix of snacks that are easy to eat on-the-go to maintain energy levels, and nutrient-dense meals that I can prepare over a campfire.

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