A lot of preparation goes into taking a hike. You have to plan your route, decide what to wear, pack your bags with the essentials, figure out how much water to bring, figure out what to eat during your hike, and what to eat after your hike. Don’t fret! We have listed some of our “go to” snacks below; all of which are healthy (or healthier options) that provide sustainable energy and will help you power through your hike whether it’s a short 4-miler or a huge 20-mile day hike!
There are a few things to consider when deciding what to eat:
- How long the hike is
- How difficult the hike is (usually gauged by elevation change, average grade, and trail quality)
- How far you have to drive to the trailhead (how long since you last ate)
While it’s important to fuel your body for your activity, it’s also important to make sure you aren’t falling into the trap of thinking you need to pack a ton of candy bars or other sugary snacks. When you fuel your body with quality food your body will repay you with an awesome and enjoyable hike!
Just a note here: we pack food even on short hikes, just in case. You never know what is going to happen if something doesn’t go according to your plan and you are stuck on a mountain for much longer than you thought it’s best to be prepared.
The foods below will be listed throughout this article in different tiers of hikes based on length. We’ve included our favorite brands in the list below. Even though we are hiking and burning a lot of calories we still pay attention to the ingredients in our food. We want to feel our best, hike our best hike, and recover quickly.
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- Protein/Energy Bars
- Beef Jerky
- Rice Cakes
- Granola (watch your portion sizes!)
- Fruit (dried or fresh – make sure you wash it before you pack it!)
- Trail mix/energy mix (this is really a mix of carbs and fats … watch your portion sizes!)
- Nuts or nut butter (fats)
- Coconut Oil Packets
- Energy Gels/Chews
What To Eat On Short Day Hikes
For the purpose of this article, I am going to consider anything 4 miles or less a short hike. On a hike like this, just eat your normal meals before and after the hike (meals that consist of lean protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats).
- Eggs (protein) with avocado or peanut butter (fats) toast (carbs – we love Ezekiel bread)
- Greek yogurt (protein) with fruit (carbs) and peanut butter (fats)
- Overnight oats (try one of our recipes!)
- Protein pancakes (try one of our recipes!)
- You could also drink a protein shake but I would advise eating real food since you will likely have a protein bar on your hike
Water: Plan on consuming 1 liter of water for every 3 miles hiked and adjust up to 1 liter for every two miles if it’s hotter than 80 degrees and/or there are more than 500 feet of elevation gain per mile. For example, if you’re doing a 4-mile hike with 2,000 feet of elevation gain in 85-degree weather, you should consume at least 2 liters of water.
What To Eat On Medium Distance Day Hikes
On hikes that are between 4 and 10 miles and/or more difficult, you will want to plan out your meals in advance. Obviously, hikes that are 4 miles long will require a lot less effort than hikes that are 10 miles long, so take the actual length into account when planning your food needs. You will not only need to know the distance but also the difficulty. There’s a difference in energy used when walking 7 miles on a flat surface around a lake versus that of a 4-mile trek to summit a mountain.
Prior to the hike:
For breakfast before your hike, I suggest eating a combination of protein, carbs, and fat (same examples as the list for short day hikes). Slightly adjust your calories up (by about 15%) to ensure you’ll have plenty of energy to start your hike so that you don’t stall a mile into the hike.
During the hike:
In your pack take protein, fat, and carbs. Energy gels or chews could also be used on medium distance hikes with plenty of elevation gain.
Water: Plan on consuming 1 liter of water for every 3 miles hiked and adjust up to 1 liter for every two miles if it’s hotter than 80 degrees and/or there are more than 500 feet of elevation gain per mile. For example, if you’re doing a 6-mile hike with 2,000 feet of elevation gain in 85-degree weather, you should consume at least 3 liters of water.
After the hike:
Refuel your body with a healthy meal once you finish! Again: protein, fat, and carbs. There are a ton of options for this! Also, a BCAA drink will help you recover faster.
What To Eat On Long Day Hikes
We consider anything over 10 miles a long day hike.
Your planning becomes a lot more important on these hikes and you’ll need to get very strategic with your calorie planning. Pack foods that are calorically dense and provide a high calorie to weight ratio – coconut oil provides about 240 calories per ounce, walnuts ~180 calories per ounce, almonds ~160 per ounce, so shoot for those types of foods. These coconut oil packets from Trader Joes are very light and convenient and definitely provide a very clean source of energy…carry them in your pockets to allow the oil to melt and then spread it on a protein bar or fruit for the extra calories.
Use energy gels during the hike to help provide quick energy boosts. Try to avoid frequent stops as lactic acid will build up in your legs and feet and get you out of your hiking rhythm. We like to stop no more than 10 minutes once every 5 miles for a quick little energy boost. Strategically plan your stops at scenic vistas to optimize the use of your time at those vistas and replenish those much-needed calories.
Your water needs change drastically as well – plan on working in some electrolyte (try Ultima Replenisher Electrolyte Powder) mix to ensure you’re hydrating properly. You’ll have to become adept at treating water from a natural source (spring, stream, lake, etc.) if the hike you’re doing doesn’t have places to refill your water and if you don’t want to lug around 20 pounds of water all day.
Whew these are a doozy! Packing it all into one day – we’ve done it quite a few times and made some mistakes along the way, so we’re here to help you learn from our mistakes!
Here are a few of the long day hikes we’ve done:
- Mount Whitney (we technically camped for maybe 3 hours … just enough time for a nap 😉 on this one but it’s still A LONG hike)
- 23 miles with 6,100 feet of elevation gain
- Yosemite National Park
- Clouds Rest
- 14.5 miles with 3,218 feet of elevation gain
- Yosemite National Park
- Four Mile to Panorama to Little Yosemite Valley
- 14.5 miles
- Grand Canyon National Park
- South Kaibab Trail/Bright Angel Trail
- 17.6 miles with 4,900 feet of elevation gain
- Grand Teton National Park
- Cascade Canyon to Paintbrush Canyon Loop
- 18.9 miles with 4,900 feet of elevation gain
- Glacier National Park
- Pitamakin-Dawson Loop
- 19 miles with 3,500 feet of elevation gain
- White Mountains of New Hampshire
- Presidential Traverse
- 20 milles with 8,000 feet of elevation gain
Prior to the hike:
Eat like you would for the medium distance hike, just increase your portions a bit (maybe even double your portions if the hike is very long and difficult).
During the hike:
You should try to consume the following calories during the hike:
- If you weigh between 120 and 160 pounds = 150 calories for every mile hiked
- If you weigh between 160 and 200 pounds = 200 calories for every mile hiked
- If you weigh more than 200 pounds = 250 calories for every mile hiked
Sure, you’re likely burning more than this during your hike, but you’ll be hard-pressed to make up the calories during the hike.
Water: For long hikes, you should definitely try to consume 1 liter for every three miles hiked and mix in one electrolyte drink for every 10 miles hiked. Pay attention to heat and elevation gain as you may need to adjust your water consumption up if you’re doing a strenuous hike in the heat. Dehydration is a serious issue and can creep up out of nowhere…be proactive with your water consumption and refilling strategies on long hikes!
After the hike:
Refuel your body with protein, fats, and carbs. Don’t forget the BCAA drink!
Interested in making your own hiking food?
Try one of our recipes that are great for hiking:
- 7 Amazing Energy Bites/Bars
- Gluten Free Power Granola
- Gluten Free Cinnamon Vanilla Granola
- Apricot Flax Fall Granola
Looking for more hiking inspiration?
- How to Get in Shape for Hiking
- Hiking Etiquette 101
- Top 5 Tips for Visting National Parks
- 5 Reasons Why You Should Never Hike
- Our Trip Recaps
- 6 Tips for Outdoor Enthusiasts to Help Keep Invasive Pests from Spreading