Foods For The Trail
Should I pack a full lunch, or just a couple snacks?
Sweet or salty?
How much is too much?
What foods are best?
Those are only a few of the questions that come to mind when prepping for a (long) day outdoors. Like everyone else, I come across these situations and through trial and errors learn about the best ways to meet my food requirements on the trail. So here are a few tips that I picked up along the way:
(Keep in mind that these are merely suggestions coming from personal experience and that each individual’s needs and preferences vary greatly, in terms of activity but also metabolism or food choices)
DON’T PACK TOO MUCH!
The first mistake that most people make is to bring way too much food with them, “just in case”. That extra weight in your backpack can tire you fairly quickly. Overeating can be a problem too!
A few ways to know if you are taking too much:
- You feel very “full” after a food break. Intense activity requires your body to concentrate most of the blood flow to the muscles and cardiovascular system, leaving only a small amount for digestion and absorption. Being active on a full stomach can be very uncomfortable.
- You don’t come home hungry. You are only supposed to satiate your hunger for the duration of the trip. Feeling like you just came out of a restaurant on your way back is again a sign of too much food. You need to feel mostly light at all times for optimal performance. Replenish with nutrients your body needs to recover only after the facts.
- There is food left in your pack when you get home. Self-explanatory!
How to avoid overeating?
Eat slowly. If you rush through your food, you won’t leave time for your stomach to let you know that you are not hungry anymore. Have a few bites at a time. Enjoy the scenery. Take some pictures. Relax. Repeat.
When should you eat?
If I’m outdoors for a long time, I will snack a bit throughout to avoid the feeling of strong hunger (and therefore overeating). If I really need to have a proper meal in case of intense activity, I usually eat about halfway through my trip. That way I know that when I’m back home, I’m ready for a good meal!
If you have to ask yourself, “should I bring this?”, you probably don’t need to. Also, don’t pack when you are hungry, your unconscious will fool you into bringing extra food!
WHAT TO BRING/EAT (and what not)
- First off, make your food as ready-to-eat as possible. Get everything cut, cooked, seasoned and packed so that the only thing you need to use is a fork, a spoon or your hands.
- Avoid overly salty foods. Jerky, nuts and bars can sound like a fantastic trail food (no water so less weight, high in protein and carb) but they often contain too much salt, which in turn can make you really thirsty and therefore will require you to bring extra water. Check the salt content!
- Go for dried fruits. They keep well, are lightweight and very nutritious (and delicious!). It is probably one of the most essential trail foods in my opinion. Some of my favorites are mangos, bananas and cranberries.
- Get some Granola. You can even find your dried fruits in company of rolled oats, nuts and seeds for a complete snack. Easy to eat, no utensils needed. Sometimes I’ll bring a Greek yogurt and mix it in. Try it!
- For intense activity, I find that cheese and bread can be very satisfying and keep you fueled up for a long time, especially on cold days. Hummus and tahini can be good alternatives for those with dairy restrictions.
- Fruit and vegetable juices are also a great way to get some extra vitamins and nutrients, and quench your thirst at the same time.
- Avoid sports drinks. Unless you are a training athlete, performing in a professional setting or engaged in extremely intense activity, there is no need for that extra sugar and electrolytes. Most of us do just fine with plain water for hydration. [Editor’s note: if it’s a hot day, electrolytes will help you replenish what you sweat out – in that case, bring some along!]
I generally prefer not having to heat up food on the trail (as a stove and/or pot would bring quite a bit of extra weight), which is why I go for some tea or coffee in a thermos when I need to warm myself up. For those who can’t do without a proper meal, I would suggest a pasta, rice or potato salad. The carbs will keep you going for a big day outdoors! Remember to only bring as much as needed.
And even with all those tips, nobody is perfect. So I sometimes bring an extra energy bar, you know…just in case!
See you out there!