How Many Calories To Eat While Backpacking?

how many calories to eat while backpacking

HHow many calories to eat while backpacking? It used to be really difficult for me to figure out how much food to bring on backpacking trips. I would eyeball amounts, and every time I did, I would overpack by bringing far more than needed. Now that I use this method for determining how much food to bring, it is a lot easier. It does take some time to calculate energy and make a meal plan, but the end result is well worth the effort.

The Quick Answer

When backpacking, the average person requires roughly 21-25 calories per pound of body weight (equivalent to 3,500 calories a day for a healthy male). This is generally equivalent to about 2 pounds of food each day. Calorie requirements and how much food is necessary can vary considerably depending on the journey, pack weight, and calorie density of the meals you bring.

How Does Backpacking Food Calculator Works

how many calories to eat while backpacking

The “Pandolf model” was utilized in the creation of this backpacking calorie calculator. In a military study conducted in 1976, a researcher was assigned with calculating how many calories soldiers burned while walking with their heavy loads on.

While the calculator is good at determining how many calories you will need in a general sense, it may be quite off. 

The number of calories you require each day can differ considerably based on any one of these factors. Also, keep in mind that counting calories have its drawbacks. Despite this, calorie counting remains the most accurate method to determine how much food you will need while backpacking.

Drink Before You Are Thirsty

Yes, drinking water is essential to good nutrition. Thirst is a critical early indicator of dehydration: By the time the thirst response kicks in, you are already 2 to 3% dehydrated. This will reduce high-intensity endurance performance by 10%. Drink 14 to 22 ounces of water about 2 hours before exercise to be hydrated. Drink to thirst during the trek: A good target is to consume 6 to 12 ounces of water or a sports drink every 15 to 20 minutes. After the hike, drink 16-20 ounces of water or a sports drink every hour for a few hours to fully rehydrate.

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Fuel With Carbs

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred main energy source while hiking and backpacking since they are easier for your body to break down than fats or protein, making them less likely to cause problems with your stomach. To increase strength and endurance and reduce tiredness, it is recommended that you eat 30 to 60 grams (120 to 240 calories) of carbohydrates per hour while backpacking. 

Eat Breakfast

Starting the day with a nutritious breakfast will help you perform better (compared to hiking on an empty stomach). The meal should be low in fat and fiber, high in carbohydrates, and include some protein. It is essential to eat enough calories to keep your energy levels up while also allowing time for digestion before trekking.

At least 300 to 500 calories should be consumed at least an hour before going out on the trail. Hiking breakfasts that are nutritious include oatmeal with dried fruit, a scrambled egg and cheese breakfast burrito on a tortilla, or granola with powdered milk. Fresh fruit or an energy bar are excellent alternatives for offering a fast energy boost if you need to get out and walk right away.

Eat Every Hour

pile of dessert beside board
how many calories to eat while backpacking

There are only a few hundred calories available for the body to utilize while working out. This amount will keep energy levels constant and will not fill the stomach to full capacity. When too many calories at once are eaten, blood is diverted away from active muscles in favor of digestion. Backpackers’ palates vary, and some benefit more from gels while others tolerate carbohydrates; some can eat what they want and still climb well. Try out a variety of foods during your training to determine which ones your stomach can handle best.

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Consume Electrolytes When Hiking In The Heat

As temperatures climb, not consuming enough electrolytes can have the same impact on your performance as dehydration. You must replace chloride, sodium,  magnesium, potassium, manganese, and calcium on a regular basis in order for performance to remain consistent. Over time, excessive water intake without the addition of electrolytes can cause hyponatremia, a potentially deadly condition in which your body’s salt levels are insufficient. If you are planning a long backpacking trip, such as the AT or PCT, you will want to replenish your body with salty snacks (pretzels, Goldfish, salted nuts), electrolyte replacement beverages, or even electrolyte supplements to keep it properly balanced.

Calorie Distribution For Backpacking Meals

Tallying up calories is straightforward, but getting the distribution correct took a long time. My most significant blunder was always forgetting to bring enough food. I frequently overpacked for breakfast as well.

Here are some basic rules to follow when preparing meals. Keep in mind that your requirements will vary based on factors like whether you want to eat a hot lunch, how difficult your hikes are, and so on.

  • Breakfast: Consider eating 400-600 calories for breakfast an hour before you go out (or at least 20% of your daily calories). Some people prefer a more substantial breakfast, but if you have a lot of walking ahead of you, it will make you sluggish. So do not go overboard with 25% of your daily calories for breakfast.
  • Snacks: When going for a long hike, you will need to eat every hour or so. When hiking, try to consume 120-240 calories each hour. I usually made the mistake of taking too few snacks when hiking. Snacks should account for roughly 35% of your daily calories. If you are not eating lunch, you might be skipping out on as much as 50% of your daily calories!
  • Lunch: I prefer a hearty, cooked dinner and plan to spend about 15% of my calories on lunch. I am not on a thru-hike, and I am not always attempting to do a lot of miles on the trail. If you skip lunch, make sure you pack some snacks. Also, be sure that your snacks include a wide range of options so that your lunch does not become just GORP. For example, I enjoy a trail mix with crackers and hummus as my lunch.
  • Dinner: For supper, around 20-25% of your daily calories should be consumed. That’s probably about 400 to 750 calories for dinner. Although many backpackers consume large dinners as a result of their lack of attention to the rest of the day’s calorie requirements, this is not an efficient way to fuel your body!
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