wilderness, outdoor, hiking

Trail Food: How To Plan Healthy Backpacking Meals

Read on to discover how to go about planning healthy meals for a multi-day backpacking trip.

Having enjoyable food to eat while you’re out on a multiple-day backpacking trip is mood boosting and can make all the difference between feeling full of beans and wanting to curl up in a bush.

If you plan your hike well before you go it will really make your life a lot easier when you’re tired and hungry on the trail.

How To Plan Meals Before You Go

As ever, good planning begins with some questions:

  • How long will you go backpacking for?
  • What is the terrain like? i.e. passing through villages that have shops? or perhaps somewhere more wild?
  • What is your stove set up like? Will fuel be easy to find? Is cooking time an issue?

As an example, I will use this blog to plan for one of the hikes on my wish list – the Peddars Way. For more trail information and a map of the route click here.

Step 1: Look at the general stats of the route

  • Distance from Knettishall Heath in Suffolk to Holme-next-the-sea = 46 miles/74 km.
  • Daily average distance @ 12 miles = 4 days walking
  • Terrain: mainly flat farmland through Breck river valley
  • Drinking Water? Filtering water en route won’t be possible due to it being agricultural land (small filters don’t get rid of pesticides, see my Boudicca Way article for more information)

Step 2: Create a rough breakdown of the days

DayTripFacilities Available
(14 miles/23 km)
Home -> Thetford (train)
Taxi from Thetford to Knettishall Heath
Hike to Little Cressingham
Carpark and toilets at Knettishall Heath Country Park.
Pub at Stonebridge after approx 9 km
Pub and post office at Thompson, 2 km off route = 15 km from the start
(12 miles/19 km)
Little Cressingham -> Castle AcrePub at North Pickenham (@ 8 km)
Pub and shop at Sporle (1 km off route)
Pubs, shop, fish and chips, cafe and places to stay at Castle Acre
(14 miles/23 km)
Castle Acre -> SedgefordCastle Acre (as above)
Pub at Great Massingham (2 km off route)
Pub at Harpley (2 km off route)
Restaurants, hotel pubs and a post office at Sedgeford
(6 miles/10 km)
Sedgeford -> Holme next the Sea
Catch Coasthopper bus to Sheringham and then train home.
Sedgeford (as above)
Pub at Ringstead
Pub at Holme next the Sea

Step 3: Check the facilities

Ideally, you want to find a place to refill water at least once every 24 hours as a minimum requirement, especially if you want to wild camp and/or are taking dehydrated meals with you as an option.

I generally take the view that if I am passing by a shop that day then I’ll buy fresh food to supplement what I bring and up the nutrients. If a shop isn’t likely, then I will have other options prepared that I bring from home.

From the information that I discovered about this walk from the OS Map and some google map searches of nearby villages, there don’t seem to be many shops available that we can rely on.

Therefore, I will plan to prepare food at home to take with me but will factor in having dinner out in Castle Acre and perhaps a celebratory lunch in Holme-next-the-sea on arrival.

Step 4: Time to make your meal breakdown:

Notes on breakfast

Oats for breakfast are convenient and easy to prepare hot or cold. Add extra nutrition to the dry overnight oat packs with superfood powders and dried fruits. You will be happy to have a tasty start to the day that will keep you going AND help to heal your body from wear and tear.

Notes on lunch

For lunches think of foods that are lightweight, easy to eat cold, or make quickly so that you don’t need to stop for too long. Crackers and wraps are always good – they are light and don’t take up much space. I have found that bringing carrot sticks from home wrapped in a damp piece of kitchen paper inside a ziplock bag works well, even in hot weather. Individual portions of marmite, peanut butter and jam are not so difficult to find now too or just decant some into small containers to bring.

Notes on dinner

Ending the day with a hot meal makes the day for me and I personally find it more satisfying than eating something cold. If I’m in a hurry to prepare for my trip then I buy dehydrated vegetarian meals to take with me. When I have more time, I make my own versions with my favourite flavours (often curries or chillis).

Good lightweight ingredients are noodles, cous cous and pasta with tasty spices and dehydrated veggies to add lots of flavour.

Generally speaking the least amount of confectionary that finds it’s way into your diet, the better. However, there will usually be something that creeps in, like some chocolate/biscuits. Think 80/20 rule and minimise the bad stuff, or only eat it after first eating the more nutritious food.

Notes on snacks

As for snacks, the basics are always good.

Dense foods like nuts and dried fruit contain a ton of good nutrition, and although heavy won’t take up too much space in your pack. When you get bored with them throw in some fresh fruit from local shops, a protein shake or a sweet treat, like some homemade cake or flapjack. (See recipes at end of blog.)

I know that it’s sometimes a struggle for me to meet protein needs, so having a vegan protein shake in there helps to tick that box. Good protein levels = better recovery = less achy body!

From personal experience, adding a magnesium supplement also helps to minimise cramps and aches from walking a lot.

Meal Plan for the Peddars Way

Day & DestinationBreakfastLunchDinnerSnacks
1 Little CressinghamFresh fruit protein smoothie, toast and poached eggsHummus, roasted veg & olives wholemeal sandwich
Homemade dehydrated meal pack (lentils, dehydrated veggies, onion, spices & wholemeal cous cous)Banana bread
30g dried fruit and nuts
vegan protein shake
fresh fruit
2 Castle AcreOats packed in ziplock bag with linseeds, raisins, supergreen powder, cocoa, dates, cinnamon + powdered milkCrackers and peanut butter, carrot sticks, apple, dark chocolateDinner out in restaurant or chip shopFlapjack
30g dried fruit and nuts
vegan protein shake
fresh fruit
3 SedgefordOats packed in ziplock bag with linseeds, raisins, supergreen powder, cocoa, dates, cinnamon + powdered milkCup-a-soup, crackers, marmite, peanut butter/hummus (from shop?), carrot sticks, fruit bought in Castle AcreHomemade dehydrated curried noodles with veggies (make into a soup).Nature Valley biscuits
30g dried fruit and nuts
vegan protein shake
fresh fruit
4 Holme-next-the-SeaOats packed in ziplock bag with linseeds, raisins, supergreen powder, cocoa, dates, cinnamon + powdered milkPub at Holme next the sea(at home)Flapjack
(bring extras if needed according to length of journey home/use fruit up from previous days)

Step 5: Pack what you need and you’re off!

Now all that’s left to do is to prep your food, pack your bag and get going!

Doing a good job prepping takes a lot of stress away when you’re out on the trail, and allows you to feel at one with your environment knowing that it’s all taken care of.