Backpacking is hard work, especially in the alpine terrain of the Enchantments. Expect to need between 2500 and 4000 calories per day on your trip.
Start by figuring out how long you’ll be backpacking. You’ll need to pack as many dinners and breakfasts the length of your trip in nights, and as many lunches as the length of your trip in days. So for a five-day, four-night trip, you’ll eat four breakfasts, four dinners, and five lunches on the trail.
Now that you know how many meals to plan for, you just need to pick out what to eat for each one.
Most backpackers like to eat a hot breakfast and dinner, and forego a hot meal at lunch. Instead, they’ll snack on ready-to-eat foods throughout the day. Snacking makes it easy to keep your energy levels up, and doesn’t require stopping somewhere to unpack your cooking gear and boil water.
For breakfast, oatmeal is a popular choice since it cooks quickly and can be customized to your palate. Instant or quick-cook oats are the most convenient since they are ready to eat after just a minute or so in hot water. Simply put 1/2 to 3/4 cup of oats (which contain 150 to 225 calories) in a ziplock bag. Add a dash of salt and anything else that sounds good to you: some chopped nuts, raisins, a half teaspoon of brown sugar, or a pinch of cinnamon.
To cook, bring about 3/4 cup water to a boil. Dump in the contents of the ziplock and stir constantly for about one minute to prevent burning. Then turn off the flame and let sit for another two to four minutes. After that your oatmeal should be ready to eat!
There’s nothing like a hot, nourishing meal at the end of a hard day of backpacking. Our favorite trail dinners are dehydrated meals made by brands like Mountain House, Backpacker’s Pantry, Good To-Go, AlpineAire, and Peak Refuel. If you’re hearing “dehydrated meal” and picturing army rations, you’re not alone. But trust us, these are seriously delicious.
To cook these meals, you generally boil 1.5 to 2 cups of water, then dump the water into the pouch, zip it up, and wait around ten minutes. Check the packaging for specific instructions.
The suggested serving size on these premade meals varies, but you should aim to eat 600 to 800 calories for dinner, which may mean that you eat an entire pouch that’s labeled as “two servings”. It’s okay, you’ve earned those calories. Splitting two such packages between you and a hiking parter is a nice way to add some variety, if you don’t mind sharing food.
Are you an extra-hungry hiker? Consider bringing along a dessert item too, in case dinner isn’t quite enough food for you. This could be a dehydrated dessert (there are lots of tempting options) or a homemade one like a cookie or brownie.
During the day, plan on eating nutritious, calorie-dense snacks like trail mix, trail bars, dry fruit, and nuts. You’ll want to be snacking regularly while hiking to keep your energy levels up.
Feel free to be creative about what snacks you bring. Follow these two guidelines to choose snacks that are calorie-rich and lightweight:
- Fat is more calorie-dense than protein or carbs. An ounce of fat will contain more than twice as many calories as an ounce of protein or carbs. So choose fatty foods over protein bars or candy.
- Water is heavy and contains no calories. You’ll get your water by filtering from lakes and streams; there’s no point in carrying extra water in your foods. So stick to dry foods rather than wet ones.
How much fuel should I bring?
If you’re following our suggested meal plan above, you’ll need to boil about four cups (or just under one liter) of water per person per day. This assumes 1 cup for breakfast, 2 cups for dinner, plus an extra cup either for a hot drink or a dehydrated side dish or dessert.
Our recommended stove system will boil about 16 liters of water on a single 8 oz (227 g) isobutane fuel canister. This assumes ideal conditions: wind and cold conditions reduce efficiency. Under the conservative assumption that you’ll actually only be able to boil 12 liters of water from one eight-ounce can, a single can would last two people about 6 days, which is probably longer than the length of your trip.
If you’re going solo and your trip is shorter than four days, you can probably get away with a smaller 4 oz (110g) canister.
Remember that you’ll want at least one fuel canister per stove in your group so that everyone can be cooking simultaneously. Sharing one 16 ounce fuel canister among four people will mean a lot of waiting around for your turn to cook your dinner. We also don’t recommend sharing a single stove between more than two people for the same reason.