Some Quick Thoughts on Calories

To a great degree, food on the trail is about getting food that you will like and eat, getting enough calories, and getting nutrution.  I have witnessed some hikers run out of energy, and after a discussion about their calorie intake, it was pretty clear that they were only taking in about 2000 calories a day, which would be pretty low for a long distance trip.

There are a few ways that I have seen hikers look at calorie intake.

1) 100-150 calories per mile, beyond a 2000 calorie base.  In this case, a 10 mile day average would have a hiker eating 3000-3500.

2) 3500-5000 calories daily total, regardless of miles.

There are several of factors involved in this – the amount of weight that you are carrying, your own weight, difficulty of hiking, elevation gain, climate, and more.

Personally, On a trail like the LT, I typically shoot for 4000ish calories.  I know that some days will be more, some days will be less. Additionally, I can easily get more if I have a town stop, which can include one big meal, and dessert….maybe a beer.

It is worth it to do some calculation of your calorie intake, simply to know if you are way under.

Typical weight of 1 days food will be near 2 lbs if around 4000 calories.

The below sections have food list examples…while only one may appeal to you, take a look at all of them so you get an idea of the variety and the strategy.  If you have used a different food plan that you think would be viable for the Long Trail, I’d love to hear from you.

Simple Meal Plan

In this plan, one can purchase everything on the fly from most grocery stores and often from convenience stores.  This hiker did not use a stove with this plan (yes, Idahoans and Ramen can be eated without a stove), but a stove certainly could and often would be used with a meal plan such as this.

This hiker wanted a meal plan that was inexpensive as well as easy to purchase.  Many of these items were purchased from The Dollar Store, and the rest from a grocery store.

Option 1 – Pop Tarts (2 per package) x 2
Option 2 – 3 Quaker Instant Oatmeal

Morning Snacks:  3 generic breakfast bars

Option 1 – Hormel Pepperoni (Single Pack 3 oz) with Ramen (Single Pack 3 oz), 2 Tortillas, and Skittles (2 oz)
Option 2 – Tuna Pack (OR Chicken Pack) with Ramen (Single Pack 3 oz), 2 Tortillas, and Skittles (2 oz)
Option 3 – Triscuits with cheese and pepperoni.

SnacksGummy worms (8 oz), Peanut/Chocolate Chip/Raisin mix (8oz)

Option 1 – Idahoan Instant Mashed Potatoes (Single Pack 4 oz) with 2 Tortillas and a Chocolate bar (4 oz)
Option 2 – Knorr Side Instant Flavored Noodle Pack if using a stove) with 2 Tortillas and a Chocolate bar (4 oz)
Option 3 – Tortillas with cream cheese and pepperoni

ExtrasPeanut Butter, Cheese

These extras would usually be carried by this hiker to augment lunch and dinners to add extra flavor and calories.  This hiker would typically put a bit of cheese and peanut butter into a tortilla and add in Ramen or Idahoans for lunches and dinners.



Gluten Free / Vegetarian

This hiker wanted to maintain a gluten free and vegetarian diet while being on the AT in 2013.  Her meal plan allowed her to hike without a stove, though all of her dinner’s are ones that can have hot water added to them to rehydrate well and taste a little better.  If she was going out again with similar dietary desires, she would take a stove to rehydrate the Thai Kitchen Noodles better.  This meal plan was used on a section hike of the Appalachian Trail.

Breakfast:   Homemade Gluten-free Granola 

(Granola Recipe here:

Morning Snack:  Continue eating Granola, Raisins with nuts (Almonds, Cashews or Peanuts)

Option 1 – Gluten-free Tortillas with Cheese and Mustard
Option 2 – Gluten-free tortillas with Sunbutter

Snack:  Continue eating Raisins with nuts, Small Candy bars

Option 1 – Thai Kitchen Noodles (*note – These don’t rehydrate well without a stove)
Option 2 – Instant Mashed Potatoes
Option 3 – Indian Food packet with brown rice.


Gluten Free #2

This hiker wanted to maintain a gluten free diet during a series of west coast hikes in 2014.  Her meal plan allowed her to hike without a stove, though all of her dinner’s are ones that can have hot water added to them to rehydrate well and taste a little better. This plan was used on the John Muir Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail and Wonderland Trail. All but the Homemade Gluten Free Granola were purchased en route in towns near the trail.


Option 1 – Homemade Gluten-free Granola*
Option 2 – Gluten Free Granola
Option 3 –  Chex Instant Gluten Free Oatmeal

(*Homemade Granola Recipe here:


Option 1 – Rice Crackers/Tuna Packet/Sharp Cheddar Cheese
Option 2 –  Rice Crackers/Nut Butter/Jam
Option 3 –  Rice Crackers/Salami/Sharp Cheddar Cheese

Snack:  Lara Bars, Nuts/Raisins, Small Candy Bars


Option 1 – Instant Mashed Potatoes/Salami
Option 2 – Corn Tortillas/Cream Cheese/Salami
Option 3 – Thai Kitchen Noodles (*note – These don’t rehydrate well without a stove)



Self Prepared

This food plan requires pre-hike prep, but ingredients were controlled.

These hikers wanted to control their ingredients the best they could.  Before deciding on the foods that would be taken, the hikers cooked and tested everything to make sure they liked the taste enough to continue eating these foods for a few months.  Most of the meals were done in batches, and packaged in vacuum sealed bags.  Every resupply required a package.  This meal plan was used on an entire thru hike of the Appalachian Trail.

Breakfast:  Peanut butter/Oatmeal breakfast bars, Granola (Peanut Butter Granola or Cinnamon Almond Granola) with Carnation Instant Breakfast drink packet.

Lunch/Snacks:   Bear Valley Meal Bars, Chocolate Energy Bars, Cliff Builder Bars, Homemade Granola Bars, other random snacks, such as candy bars and trail mix.


Option 1 – Corn Spaghetti with spaghetti sauce
Option 2 – Macaroni with sloppy joe meat
Option 3 – Chicken chili with pasta
Option 4 – Minestrone with Pasta

I have used these two books over the years for food ideas:

The Complete Trail Food Cookbook: Over 300 Recipes for Campers, Canoeists and Backpackers

Backpack Gourmet: Good Hot Grub You Can Make at Home, Dehydrate, and Pack for Quick, Easy, and Healthy Eating on the Trail: 2nd Edition