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Favorite Backpacking Foods | Average Hiker

big sur bars

Favorite Backpacking Foods

My favorite backpacking foods are not always the best for me from a nutrition perspective. I’ve tried to improve my diet, but it can be tough on long hikes.

When asked what my favorite things are about long-distance hiking, right up there in the Top 5 is FOOD.  It’s not just that I can eat WHATEVER I want in town and still lose weight (a huge plus), but I can also justify the food I eat while I hike – at least to my horrified inner voice.

On my next hike, I decided to cook and reviewed my cooking kit in a previous post.  I use the word “cooking” rather loosely since the meals will consist largely of the rehydration of dehydrated meals.  There is very little actual “cooking” involved.  However, this may change on future hikes, as I’ve decided to get a dehydrator and start “experimenting.”


The meal I spend the least amount of time on is breakfast.  I’ve just never been hungry first thing in the morning.  Eating breakfast for me has always been fuel for the engine. 

When I have eaten, though, my favorite breakfast has always been Big Sur Bars.   They are like dessert bars, not at all similar to protein bars or other typical hiking bars, most of which I now avoid.  They have three flavors – Original, White Zest, and Blind Date.  At 600 calories and three servings per bar, they are perfect for a long hike and a chronic sweet tooth!

Favorite Backpacking Foods - Big Sur Bars

The only catch, due to the fresh ingredients, is their shelf life is not that long.  You also have to order them online.  I usually keep them in the freezer and then mail them to myself at different points along the trails.  They are usually in the priority box for about a week, and then I carry them for about a week. I’m still alive, so this is working.

Cereal is another common breakfast food for me. I mix in Nido powdered whole milk made by Nestle.  I am just poor in a little water, and it is good to eat. Nido lasts forever, so I pre-pack it in my priority boxes, which I then have mailed to me.  In the mornings, I sometimes hike until my first water source and then stop to make my cereal for breakfast.

Other breakfast foods for me have included bars (yuck), Pop-tarts (I love them but am starving 30 minutes later), Bagels, Peanut Butter, Cheese, Oatmeal, Tea, Coffee, nuts, dried fruit, and Muscle Milk.  On some longer, faster hikes, I’ve mixed Nido and Muscle Milk Powder to make protein drinks in the morning.  I mix Vanilla and Chocolate Muscle Milk with Nido and water, and it’s like a milkshake.  I don’t really like the Vanilla, and the Chocolate is too bitter, so I combine the powders.  I’ve also mailed these to myself after mixing them ahead of time.


Snacks have always varied. I LOVE chocolate, Snickers, and most any other candy bars.  I’ve always found that energy was short-lived, so I’ve mixed them up with other protein bars.  I smiled as I read this old post. Candy bars are no longer on my list of foods. They are still widespread on the trails, though.

Over the years, I have overindulged in protein bars, and now I hate them.  An exception is Big Sur Bars and a recent, little-known upstart called “Greenbelly.” 

Greenbelly makes their original “Meal2Go” meals and their most recent product – “Mud Meals,” a powder you mix with water.  The Meals2Go is, for me, really a bar in a bag, and they are pretty good.  I’ll sometimes munch on them as I hike.  They stick to my belly and last a long time!  The Plain Mud Meals are good also, with great natural ingredients, but if drinking a powdered meal, it is still Nido and Muscle Milk that I drink.

My snack of choice is Teriyaki beef jerky.  I always keep a bag in my pocket and snack on it throughout the day.  I also never eat the same brand because I hunt for the perfect jerky.  In addition to jerky, I like dried fruit, CANDY, mixed nuts, trail mix (although it is close to bars now), and almost any cookie.

Another smile for me. I no longer eat jerky. There was just too much salt, and I feel better with the lighter plant-based proteins during the day, along with other more healthy fats. Jerky is still very popular on the trail and a great source of protein.


Lunch is pretty simple.  I mail myself the peanut butter cups and jelly packs I purchase from  I usually use two cups of peanut butter on a tortilla and four packs of jelly.  I make sure I get the jelly pack and not the jelly cup.  The cup easily breaks open and causes a MESS.  The jelly pack is a lot tougher.  I’ve never had any issues with the peanut butter cup.

I still make PB&J sometimes, but I mostly stick to hummus and Justin’s Honey Almond Butter. is great because I can purchase almost any tiny, single-helping-size condiment I need.  I like their tiny Tabasco sauces and mustard packs and have often gotten good deals on pouches of tuna and chicken.  Salt and Pepper packets are also a must-have for me.

I still use Minimus for all things tiny but have moved to Sriracha Sauces instead of Tabasco. I’ve also not eaten pouch chicken since 2013, and I rarely eat pouch Tuna anymore.

I’ve eaten other things for lunch – tortillas, sausage, cheese, avocado, onion (fresh veggies the day out of town), bagels, rehydrated ramen, beans, tuna packs, etc., but PB&J is by far my favorite.  I’ve never gotten tired of it.  I’ve also carried Pringles.  I love the can since the chips are light and don’t break.  I’ve also used the Pringle cans to carry other “breakable” foods, especially the day out of town when I might carry fresh vegetables or fruit.

No more sausage and processed meats, but I still love bringing fresh veggies out of town.


In the past, I’ve cooked and gone “stoveless” on long-distance hikes.  Since this is a shorter hike, I’m going to cook.  I’ve always kept my food simple and have used dehydrated meals

There are a lot of manufacturers now – organic, Paleo, etc., but my main go-to brands have always been MaryJanesFarm, Alpine Aire, Harmony House, Backpackers Pantry, and Mountain House Meals.  Those are also in my order of preference and offer a much shorter opinion if you don’t want to read through lengthy articles.  I’m kind of like the “cliff notes” version reviewers.

On the hike before this article, I bought pasta and rice meals as I hiked and used my new cozy.  I would mail ahead my tuna packets since I was already mailing boxes and got a really good deal buying them in bulk.  I didn’t have to mail anything, though, as every town I went through had a grocery store, except for one resort stop, and you could purchase everything you needed.

I added Tuna to every meal unless it was beans and rice.  In those, I often cut up some summer sausage or other spicy sausage if I could find it at a deli.  I liked to make sure I was getting plenty of protein.  I don’t carry mashed potatoes, although I know many people like them and have often seen people mix them with their pasta sides.

No more sausage, but I did discover the fully loaded mashed potatoes and butter buds. Yogi mentions these in her guides also. These are even good cold. I like to them with hot water and add lots of cheese.

A last note on my boxes.  Some people use them, and some people don’t.  I use them for some items and not others.  I typically put my maps, batteries, condiments, guide pages, and limited food in them.  I bought the bulk of the food on that trip as I went through towns.  I use Priority boxes from the Post Office and mail them ahead with my ETA information and name.  Post Offices typically hold them for 30 days, and I pick them up when I get to town.

Final Thoughts

My eating habits have changed over the last couple of years. I eat less junk and animal protein and try to think about nutrition. I eat more grains, nuts, and plant-based meals. I still eat proteins at dinner, though, since I still feel like I need them for recovery, and mixing the right plant-based proteins to get a complete protein is beyond me at this point. I have a feeling this may also evolve, though.

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