When it comes to deciding what food to take along for hiking up a mountain, you want to think short-term versus long-term benefit.
While hiking, your body is primarily concerned with one thing: energy (a.k.a. food). Bringing too much food on your hike can weigh you down, but bringing too little food, or the wrong type of food, won’t allow your body to replenish the fuel you burn.
Pack performance foods with a high caloric density, which is a measurement of the average calories per ounce of food. In those terms, a handful of nuts has a caloric density of somewhere in the range of 150, whereas an apple only has a caloric density of about 14. Some of you may want your body to also consume fuel from your “reserve tank”, otherwise known as your “guts and butts,” and for those of you who are exercising to lose weight, that’s fine. But, in this beautifully diverse world where we are all built differently, some of us may not have “guts and butts,” and without that reserve tank, your body will start using the fuel in your muscles.- and that’s a circumstance you want to avoid! So, packing the right amounts of the right food for your mountain hike is therefore essential.
Let’s do a quick refresher about the most common sources of fuel for our bodies.
- Readily available fuel is found in carbohydrates, either simple—found in sweets and fruits, which can be turned into blood sugar in minutes, or complex—found in breads and grains, which take an hour or two to digest.
- Medium-term endurance fuel is found in fats, which take hours to digest.
- Long-term endurance fuel is found in proteins, which take days to metabolize in our bodies and never directly convert toblood sugars.
So now you’re asking, what specific foods are best to bring for a day-long, strenuous hike? Here are some of our favourites:
- Trail Mix, also known as Although you need fuel from fats during your hike, some trail mix brands go overboard, so it’s bestmaking your own. If you own a food dehydrator, you can dry fruits like bananas, mango, pineapples and apples. Then add any of the following ingredients:
- mini pretzels
- animal crackers
- dried cranberries or blueberries
- nuts, including pecans, walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, and pistachios
- pumpkin seeds
- sunflower seeds
- shredded coconut
- whole-grain Cheerios
- chocolate or butterscotch chips
- M&Ms or Smarties
- Energy bars are another great choice. Although these are often expensive, they are handy to pack and have reasonable caloric density and nutrition. Many are enhanced by soy protein so are a good option for vegetarians. Make sure to read the nutrition labels and avoid brands that are high in additives.
- Whole grain pita bread or bagels.
- Nut butters like almond butter (don’t forget to also pack a spreading knife!).
- Cheese, although only in small amounts as it doesn’t keep well.
- Dried meats like beef, buffalo or turkey jerky. Again, read the nutrition labels so you avoid those nasty additives.
- Sesame crackers.
- Fig bars
- Pretzels (especially for a hot day when your body will be happy for the added salt).
- Chocolate covered prunes.
- Peanut M&Ms.
- A good quality chocolate bar (your reward when you summit the peak!).
In addition to snacks like those listed above, also make yourself a tasty sandwich. It’s advisable to consume small quantities of food throughout the day to keep you energized and avoid a sugar crash. So, instead of cutting your sandwich in half, cut it into eight snack-sized segments. Suggestions for a delicious sandwich are:
- Almond butter with sliced apples
- Peanut butter and banana
- Brie with sliced grapes and cranberry sauce
- Extra spicy Tofu salad
- Tuna and avocado
- Smoked salmon and cream cheese
- Egg salad
And lastly, pack a couple good quality granola bars. Better yet, make your own! Here’s a tried-and-true recipe for homemade bars that you are guaranteed to love:
- 3 cups oats
- 1 cup pecans
- 1 cup raisins (soaked)
- 1 cup slivered almonds
- ½ cup chocolate chips
- ½ cup sesame seeds
- ¼ cup coconut
- ½ cup melted butter
- almond flavouring (or vanilla extract)
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 1 can condensed sweetened milk
Heat the butter and milk slightly, and then combine with the remaining ingredients. Pour onto a greased pan and cover with strips of plastic wrap so that you can press and flatten the mixture onto the pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes or until slightly golden. Cut into bars when almost cool.
All this talk of food may make you forget the other key ingredient that will fuel you on your mountain hike: Water! The standard recommendation is to consume one liter or more of water prior to starting your hike. Maintaining hydration is as critical a goal as packing the right quantity of the right food (AND summiting!).
Regardless of what food you bring, don’t waste any energy worrying that the number of calories you are consuming is higher than usual. The energy output from a significant mountain hike will burn a lot of calories and your body needs to replenish that energy by being allowed to consume good quality fuel.
Do you have any favorite hiking foods that you would like to share? If so, join the conversation on our Facebook page!