Australian Hiker | Food on the Trail, a Beginner’s Guide (2023)

    Food on the Trail, a Beginner’s Guide

    Where to begin?

    My wife once told me that she’s third on the list of my favourite things with food being number one! Now I won’t get into that argument, I know better, but food is very important to me, not just from a survival perspective but because I really do enjoy it. Now this preoccupation with food is not just me. When we first start hiking apart from the myriad of equipment choices that we are presented with there is also the question of what do we eat on the trail, how do we carry it and how do we prepare it?The aim of this article is to take some of the angst out of mealtimes for new hikers by providingan overview for quick and easy food options on the trail that doesn’t require much preparation or thought. By keeping food selection simple at the start this will allow you to focus on everything else that is going on.

    In future articles we will discuss more complex meal choices including dehydration, cooking and meal preparation on the trail to help widen your menu.

    To listen to the podcast version of this article check out this link

    Types of hiking, a broad overview

    When talking about food for hiking we first need to consider what types of hiking we are talking about. Day, overnight or multi-day/multi-week hikes each have their own unique challenges and the type of food that you carry will vary for each. Lets look at why.

    Day Hikes

    Many of us started hiking with simple easier day walks before progressing on to overnight and longer trips and this makes the meal decisions much simpler. When you are hiking for just a single day the sky’s the limit (almost) in what food you can take with you. You still have to carry it but given that you usually aren’t carrying tents and other overnight gear, weight and pack space tends not to be an issue.Unless your are day hiking in very cold conditions cooking is usually not on the cards so the food that you tend to carry can be thrown together at home.

    Overnight Hike

    If were doing an overnight hike we now have the added burden of our camping equipment as such our pack weight has increased. In most cases for an weekend overnight trip we may have four or maybe five meals to cater for as well as snacks. This is still not a lot of food by any means. On overnight trips you can choose to keep it really simple and bring some pretty fancy food for your nighttime meal. You can also choose to carry some form of camping stove so that you can rehydrate food and to make a hot drink of some sort.

    Multiday/multiweek Hikes

    This is where it can become difficult. Carrying food for anything up to ten days at a time on the trail is not just a matter of taking one day and multiplying. On extended hikes there are four main considerations:

    • Food weight
      • For multi-day hikes food is often the biggest individual weight impost and when you carry 7-10 days of food at a time you really want to consider each and every item because the weight adds up. My typical food allotment which I have whittled down over the past two years for ten days weights in around 7.3 kg (16 pounds) or 730 grams (dry weight) a day. The food you eat needs to provide the calories to keep you going but not be excessively heavy. Thankfully you will reduce this weight each day as you eat
    • Food perishability
      • If you are hiking for an extended period whatever food you bring with you must be able to survive being dragged in and out of the pack as well and ensuring that it doesn’t go off. While you may be able to carry perishables for the first day or two that’s about the limit. A good example here is bananas or peaches which will often end up squashed by the time you get around to eating them
    • Desirability
      • On an extended multi-week trip I go through very defined periods of what I like to eat and jerky is a good example here. I will average eating around 30-40 grams of jerky a day but on a two week trip will go off it for the middle 4-5 days before having cravings for it at the end. On long trips food gains in importance so its more critical that you enjoy what you eat. Life’s to short to eat food you don’t enjoy so you need to have variety in your hikingdiet
    • Calories
      • For most of us in our normal day to day life we keep an eye out on how much we eat. In our normal lives the benchmark figure for an adult is around 2000 calories (8700 kilojoules). On an average hiking days where I walk around 13-25 km I use around 4000 calories. On a typicaltwo week hike (Larapinta Trail) I will loose on average about 7 kg (15.5 lbs) in weight. This is due to being super active, not having access to junk food and loss of appetite on the trail. What this means for me is that I need to carry food that is calorie dense. The higher the calorie content the better

    Australian Hiker | Food on the Trail, a Beginner’s Guide (1)

    This photo was our food (for two people) from our 14 day Larapinta Trail hike. Everybody over caters on the Larapinta Trail including us! We’ve learnt since then

    (Video) Hiking 101 for Beginners | Useful Knowledge

    Food hygiene

    Handling food on the trail is really no different to how you deal with it at home. For some reason though we seem to be willing to take bigger risks and the ‘5 second rule’ becomes the ‘I’ll just pick it up, brush it off and continue eating it rule’. Somehow most of us are still alive so it can’t be all bad. What level of risk you take with food becomes a personal choice but here are some common things to consider.


    Mould is only likely to be an issue on long trips. In researching for this article I came across a number of hiking blogs that discuss mould, particularly in relation to cheese. Food experts will usually advise that it is acceptable to ‘just cut off the mouldy bit’ when we are talking about dryish hard cheese but in doing so recommend that you allow a couple of centimetres on top of the obvious mouldy area just to be sure.Food such as the hard salamis can just have the mould scrubbed of the surface.In relation to other food that is soft and high in moisture e.g. jam, peanut butter and bread, it should be thrown out.

    What not to take

    Avoid carrying food such as raw meat, particularly chicken unless you have it adequately cooled which usually means a cooler and lots of ice. Not really an option for most hiking scenarios. As previously mentioned avoid soft food such as peaches andbananas. Even apples tend to get bruised on a trip past the first day.

    Wash your hands

    Washing your hands prior to preparing food is common practice and preparing on the trail is no different. But sometimes its just not possible to wash your hands with water and soap and we have to rely on hand sanitiser instead. Do the best job you can particularly if you are preparing food for others and use utensils where you can rather than your hands.

    Don’t share

    One habit to avoid is sharing trail mix as you never know how well others have washed their hands. Sharing food is fine but keep everyones hands away from what goes in your mouth.

    Australian Hiker | Food on the Trail, a Beginner’s Guide (2)

    Hand sanitiser should form part of every hikers kit

    The following are some quick and easy options for meals on the trail that don’t rely on cooking and dehydrating meals at home but rather making use of commercially prepared freeze dried meals as well as food options available in most supermarkets. Commercially prepared meals aren’t cheap but they are very easy to prepare and save time. While there needs to be a balance,time saving is my main consideration. As much as I love food, I don’t like cooking on the trail. For me hydrating with cold/hot water is my main form of cooking.

    The following are quick, easy to prepare, and simple meals options set out by meal times


    Commercially Manufactured cereal (40grams)

    • 2.5 Weetbix + 2 tablespoons of powdered milk + water + sugar to taste
    • All Bran+ 2 tablespoons of powdered milk + water+ sugar to taste

    Overnight Oates

    • Tropical Overnight Oates
    • Peanut Butter Overnight Oates

    I will vary these four options over a multi week trip

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    Australian Hiker | Food on the Trail, a Beginner’s Guide (3)

    Tropical Overnight Oats



    Bread wraps are a quick and easy meal choice

    • Wrap with Peanut Butter
    • Wrap with Nutella
    • Wrap with cheese on shorter hikes
    • Wraps with dehydrated dips (or just eat the dip by itself)

    Rehydrated Couscous

    Couscous is a product that can be rehydrated with either hot or cold water. Here are two options that make lunch nice and easy.

    • Pearl Couscous with Vegetables
    • Orange and Pistachio Couscous


    Most of the larger supermarkets will sell salmon in foil pouches and these have become very popular with many hikers as both a lunch and dinner option.

    Australian Hiker | Food on the Trail, a Beginner’s Guide (4)

    Foil packed salmon

    Australian Hiker | Food on the Trail, a Beginner’s Guide (5)

    Peanut Butter has loads of calories. I usually bring a 375gram jar on a 5-7 day hike

    Australian Hiker | Food on the Trail, a Beginner’s Guide (6)

    Bread wraps


    As mentioned freeze dried meals are not cheap but they are convenient. Many hikers won’t use them preferring to make their own meals at home and cook/rehydrate on the trail. I am quite happy to use the commercially prepared meals. I like the taste, they are easy to prepare, and they don’t take up time that I don’t have to make. Don’t get me wrong there are times when I will make my own food. When you first start out use the commercial meals until you know what you like.

    At the time of writing this article here are my top 10 freeze dried meal choices that are readily available on the market. These ten meals are those Gill and I both like but they may not suit everyones tastes.

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    Australian Hiker | Food on the Trail, a Beginner’s Guide (7)

    Freeze dried meals are a good option for dinners on the trail. Everyone has unique tastes so choose something that you like


    There are a huge amount of snacks on the market and this is one of those food options where each of us knows what they like:

    Sweet Treats

    • Dried fruit
    • Nuts
    • Trail mix
    • Chocolate
    • Muslei bars are all good options

    For a full write up of my current sweet snack selection go here

    Savoury Treats

    • Cheese
      • Choose a hard cheese that is low in moisture and wrap in a cloth
      • Parmesan, Grana Padano, Swiss Gruyere, Cheddar, Gouda and Mozzarella are all good choices
      • Processed cheese may not taste as good but it’s great for longer trips
    • Salami
      • Choose hard and dry varieties but eat within about three days

    Australian Hiker | Food on the Trail, a Beginner’s Guide (8)

    Cheese options on the trail

    Australian Hiker | Food on the Trail, a Beginner’s Guide (9)

    Kooee Jerky. This product is not cheap however this is the best jerky that I have come across to date


    Tea, herbal tea, coffee, hot chocolate and cups of soup are all options for hot hiking drinks. I tend to stick with hot chocolate and herbal teas with the occasional cup of soup thrown in

    Australian Hiker | Food on the Trail, a Beginner’s Guide (10)

    Hot Chocolate comes in small sachets

    Last words

    We hope this overview has helped, particularly if you are new to hiking. As you become hooked on hiking and camping your meal repertoire will expand as you gain in skill and learn what you do or don’t like. What it comes down to in the end is if you don’t like it you will struggle to eat it so only bring food that you enjoy.

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    All comments will be moderated prior to publishing

    2 responses to “Food on the Trail, a Beginner’s Guide”

    1. Australian Hiker | Food on the Trail, a Beginner’s Guide (11) melanoma says:

      September 14, 2022 at 2:53 pm

      Ԍood рost. I will be goіng throuɡh some of these іssues
      as well..


      (Video) A Beginner's Guide to Overnight Hiking (Backpacking) in British Columbia
      • Australian Hiker | Food on the Trail, a Beginner’s Guide (12) Tim Savage says:

        September 18, 2022 at 6:51 am




    How many miles is good for a beginner hiker? ›

    Pick A Hike for Beginners

    The biggest mistake beginners make is overdoing it. They pick a hike that's either too long or has too much climbing. If you're just starting out, pick a hike under 5 miles with minimal climbing. If you want to do a longer hike, make a training plan in advance.

    What is the most common mistakes first time hikers make? ›

    We've compiled a list of the most common mistakes beginner hikers make—and how to avoid them.
    • Planning a Hike That's Too Ambitious.
    • Not Checking the Weather Before a Hike.
    • Wearing the Wrong Clothing.
    • Assuming Getting Help or Amenities Will Be Easy.
    • Not Bringing Enough Food and Water.
    • Not Learning How to Use Important Gear.
    Jul 29, 2021

    What is the golden rule of hiking? ›

    The best thing you can do when hiking is to remember the “golden rule”: treat others the way you would want to be treated. Here are some main points of hiking etiquette. Hikers coming uphill have the right of way. If you're descending the trail, step aside and give space to the people climbing up.

    How far can a beginner backpacker hike in a day? ›

    Most people will plan to hike 3-10 miles per day, depending on what shape you're in and how much elevation gain there is.

    Can a beginner do a 7 mile hike? ›

    A 7-mile hike can become a long hike for both beginner and experienced hikers, depending on the terrain and the elevation gain.

    What is considered a beginner hiker? ›

    Level 1: Beginner – The easiest type of hike you can get with no real inclines. Stroll in the park. Level 2: Beginner – Next level with some simple inclines. Level 3: Beginner – Hikes with some basic experience, experience gain.

    What should you not do on a hike? ›

    9 common mistakes to avoid while hiking and camping
    • Don't start off too fast. ...
    • Avoid hiking alone. ...
    • Don't overpack. ...
    • Don't skip over buying quality hiking boots /shoes and socks. ...
    • Avoid using your cell phone for directions. ...
    • Don't be afraid to invest in key equipment. ...
    • Don't forget to test out equipment before you leave.
    Jun 21, 2020

    What should you not take on a hike? ›

    To help you pack light, here is a list of things you should consider not packing for a trip.
    • Jewelry and Valuables. ...
    • Heavy Zoom Lenses For Your Camera. ...
    • Extra Toiletries. ...
    • Too Many Cotton Clothes. ...
    • Those Nice Shoes. ...
    • Hiking Boots. ...
    • Bulky Towels. ...
    • Guidebooks.
    Apr 30, 2022

    What is trail etiquette? ›

    Be Respectful: While on the trail, remain to the right or where safe when encountering others on the trail and make sure to communicate with others so that they know how to pass your horse safely.

    Why do hikers yield to horses? ›

    Horses. As the largest, slowest-to-maneuver and (usually) least-predictable creatures on the trail, horses get the right of way from both hikers and mountain bikers.

    What do you call a group of hikers? ›

    Herd, The (noun): A large group of thru-hikers that sets off together along the trail.

    Is hiking good for seniors? ›

    Regularly going on hikes can result in various, well-documented benefits for seniors, including: Improved cardiovascular health. Improved circulation. Reduced arthritis, joint and knee pain.

    Can a beginner hike 10 miles? ›

    Hiking 10 miles is hard if you're a beginner hiker or out of shape. To accomplish a difficult hike, you need to slowly build up your endurance and distance by working out the muscles you're going to use on the hike. You should begin training at least six weeks before the hike.

    How much water should you drink a day hiking? ›

    A good general recommendation is about one half-liter of water per hour of moderate activity in moderate temperatures. You may need to increase how much you drink as the temperature and intensity of the activity rise.

    Do you lose weight from hiking? ›

    Yes, hiking can be a great addition to your weight loss plan. Hiking is a form of cardio, so it helps you burn body fat just like a traditional cardio routine.

    Can you lose weight by hiking once a week? ›

    Hiking Once a Week Will Reduce Body Fat and Control Weight

    Hiking is a type of exercise that will burn fat all over your body, including your legs and belly. Hiking once a week would also be a good way to lose weight as a hike is typically at least 2-3 hours long, which is the minimum recommendation for weight loss.

    What is something a hiker should always have before going on his first hike? ›

    Make sure that you have enough food and water for the duration of your hike. Don't forget supplies for emergencies. Aside from enjoying the experience and taking pictures, don't forget to be mindful about your surroundings.

    What elevation gain is considered difficult? ›

    Hike Difficulty Rating Scale
    RatingDistance ORElevation Gain and Loss (cumulative is double)
    Easy5 miles or less500 feet or less
    Moderate5 to 8 milesMore than 1,500 feet
    Hard8 to 12 milesMore than 3,000 feet
    Very Hard12 to 15 milesMore than 4,500 feet
    1 more row
    Mar 13, 2022

    What are the 3 types of hikes? ›

    Though it is up to each individual hiker to categorize their adventure as they choose, I have observed that the vast majority of hikers conform to one of the 3 most popular styles of hiking; peak-bagging, long distance hiking, and day hiking.

    Can a beginner hike 10 miles? ›

    Hiking 10 miles is hard if you're a beginner hiker or out of shape. To accomplish a difficult hike, you need to slowly build up your endurance and distance by working out the muscles you're going to use on the hike. You should begin training at least six weeks before the hike.

    How many miles a day does the average hiker hike? ›

    How far can the average person hike in a day? Every hiker and trail is different, but on average, you can hike 8-15 miles a day [4]. Even the slowest hikers can cover a considerable distance if they have the time to spare. At a pace of 2 mph (slower than average), you can comfortably hike 10 miles in a day.

    Is 5 miles a lot to hike? ›

    A 5 mile hike is considered moderately strenuous. Depending on location and elevation gain, it may be challenging for a first time hiker. So, a good starting point for the average person might be 2 miles instead of 5. But with a little physical preparation, you can work your way up to 5 miles quickly.

    Is 6 miles a lot for a hike? ›

    Moderately Strenuous hikes will generally be challenging for an unconditioned person. The terrain will involve a steady and often steep incline. Generally 5 to 8 miles.

    What is trekking vs hiking? ›

    Whereas the definition of hiking includes the word “walk”, something typically seen as jovial, easy and pleasant, trekking is defined as a “journey”, which is typically something that is more challenging, requires more effort and that tends to take more than one day.

    Can you lose weight hiking? ›

    In general, hiking burns more calories than walking because it utilizes steeper paths. Yet, per half an hour, hiking burns fewer calories than running. This form of outdoor exercise offers several benefits, including improvements in weight loss, mental health, and lower body strength.

    How often should you rest when hiking? ›

    My Big Mile Hiking Plan

    Try to keep breaks close to 10 minutes and avoid going over 15-minute breaks. Plan out where I will get water and use these stops as resting breaks. Try to get 25% of my daily miles in by 10 AM and over 50% of my daily miles by 2 PM. Use lunch as a break and keep it under 30 minutes.

    How do you stay hydrated while hiking? ›

    You should replenish fluids and electrolytes by drinking one half to one quart of water every hour you're hiking. You may need to drink more depending upon the temperature and the intensity of the hike. For variety, consider alternating between plain water and a sports drink with electrolytes.

    Is it possible to hike 40 miles in a day? ›

    Taking this average pace and applying it to an 8-hour hiking day (not including rest breaks), it is possible for an average person to hike between 16 – 24 miles per day. There are some people in the “super fit” category that are capable of hiking between 30 – 50 miles per day.

    How much water do I need for a 5 mile hike? ›

    The Quick Answer:

    Adults usually need 2 cups of water per hour of hiking. Children usually need 1-2 cups per hour of hiking. However, you may need more of less than this depending on whether you can filter water along the way, weather conditions, and personal thirstiness.

    How many miles is a 3 hour hike? ›

    Using Naismith's Rule, a nine mile hike should have a base hiking time of three hours at a calculation of three miles per hour.

    How long does it take to hike 5 miles with a backpack? ›

    Most hikers average 2 to 3 miles per hour, so a 5-mile hike could take around 2 hours. Some speed hikers push the throttle at 4 to 5 miles per hour. Tough inclines might reduce your pace to 1 mile per hour, and off-trail hiking might cut that in half. There's no good or bad hiking pace.

    How much water should you drink a day hiking? ›

    Since the rule of thumb is to carry 1 liter of water for every 2 hours of hiking. 3.5 hours would mean you'll need to carry 1.5 liters of water.

    What elevation gain is considered difficult? ›

    Hike Difficulty Rating Scale
    RatingDistance ORElevation Gain and Loss (cumulative is double)
    Easy5 miles or less500 feet or less
    Moderate5 to 8 milesMore than 1,500 feet
    Hard8 to 12 milesMore than 3,000 feet
    Very Hard12 to 15 milesMore than 4,500 feet
    1 more row
    Mar 13, 2022

    What is considered a short hike? ›

    Easy hikes/walks should try to stay under 3 miles to keep them accessible to all fitness/experience levels. By definition, easy events are typically all-access. Moderate – Moderate difficulty, usually a trail, carrier, check for strollers. Moderate hikes or walks are moderate in distance and difficulty.


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