On a day hike, you don’t have to be as careful with the weight of the food you’re packing as you would on a multi-day hike, but you are so active that it is vital that you get enough calories and nutrients to keep your energy up. If you need some meal ideas or inspiration, we’re here to provide.
Ultimately, these are only suggestions and after a bit of experimenting, you’ll work out the best combination of food for you. However you decide to plan your food, you’ll want to base your choices on these main principles to ensure you stay healthy and safe on your hike.
Even though you won’t be as strapped for space on a one day hike as you would be on a multi-day hike, it is still sensible to choose foods that are relatively lightweight, so you don’t load yourself up unnecessarily. Your chosen food should have a high calorie-to-ounce ratio, providing you with lots of energy without requiring lots of energy to carry. You should also consider the packaging your food comes in, as on most hikes you’ll need to carry all your waste with you, so tinned food will leave you carrying around a heavy and bulky tin, potentially with sharp edges. Leave the cans at home, and choose items wrapped in light plastic wrappers, or wrap your own in beeswax paper.
Certain food types are more valuable when you are out on a long hike. Your foods should be focused around three main food groups to provide the energy you need to stay active: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. The foods you choose should be primarily geared towards a gradual release of energy. Complex carbohydrates are better than simple ones, because simple carbohydrates release a burst of energy which can leave you feeling drained and crashing after that energy wears off. Proteins don’t supply much energy, but are excellent at building and repairing muscle.
Even more important than choosing the right foods, is making sure you stay hydrated. Depending on the conditions, you’ll need to consume between 0.5 and 1 litre of water per hour. You’ll need to make sure you have plenty of water on you, or be certain you’ll walk by running water and can filter or purify it. Drink regularly, because if you wait until you feel thirsty, dehydration will have already had a negative effect on your body. And if you are drinking a lot due to hot or sweaty conditions, make sure to have enough salts and electrolytes to absorb the amount of water you need. If you are worried, bring hydration tablets or powder to make sure your body can absorb the water it needs to. Click here to view bottles and flasks.
Before you head out, it’s important to make a breakfast that will sustain you for a few hours without overfilling you. We’d recommend anything with a good mix of complex carbohydrates and proteins. Porridge can be a fantastic option to give you that slow release energy for the first couple of hours’ walking, as can Greek yoghurt with fresh fruit and seeds for a lighter option. If you need warming up before you begin, eggs and wholemeal toast can work well. As tempting as it may sound, avoid a Full English Breakfast – you risk overwhelming your body with the amount of oily food, and becoming sluggish while it attempts to digest this. And while some people require caffeine to wake up in the mornings, we would recommend drinking tea instead of coffee, to avoid the possibility of a crash several hours into your hike.
It’s important to bring plenty of healthy snacks with you, even on a one day hike. You’ll be burning approximately 2000 calories on a four hour long walk, although this varies depending on the difficulty of the hike – if you’re climbing or facing steep uphill walks, you’ll burn even more. This means it’s important to have plenty of snacks to keep your energy up. Trail mix, or nuts and dried fruit are essential, containing a mix of carbohydrates, proteins and fats that keep your energy up and help you feel full. You can bring some fresh fruit without worrying about it getting turned to mush, which, as well as tasting delicious, helps you stay hydrated. A little chocolate, particularly dark chocolate over 70%, is a great way to get a quick boost of sugar, and even contains a small amount of caffeine. We also think it is a great pick me up when you’re getting tired and grumpy, releasing endorphins and dopamine – instant happiness!
Snacking regularly (every 1-2 hours) is better for your body on the trails than eating three big meals, because it is easier to maintain consistent energy levels, and you don’t get that heavy, slow feeling of having a full stomach. Energy bars and gels are designed to provide energy on strenuous hikes, so it’s always a good idea to pack a few. However, they can taste… less than exciting, so it’s worth tasting a few varieties before you pack your bag, so you know you’re going to enjoy eating them, rather than dread your next snack break. Meat jerky is a popular choice, given how easy it is to carry it long distances. Having plenty of water is a must, as we mentioned earlier. However, for those moments when you’re craving a different taste, adding hydration tablets or sports drink powder adds electrolytes and salts to help your body absorb the water.
You have more flexibility with your lunch than on a multi-day hike, as you can bring fresh food without worrying about storing it correctly during your days. Many people choose to prepare sandwiches for their lunch, which is an easy choice to carry with you, and with fillings like dried meat, cheese, hummus and vegetables, you ensure that you get a mix of complex carbs, proteins and fats to fuel your afternoon’s walking. If you prefer to avoid bread, you could prepare a salad, with quinoa or couscous as a nutritious base. Quinoa is an excellent choice because it has a high protein content. And then add any vegetables you fancy to make a lunch you’ll look forward to stopping for.
It is recommended that you eat something within 30-45 minutes of finishing your hike, this ensures that your muscles recover. So it’s a good idea to leave a recovery snack in the car or home if you are hiking nearby. A hot chocolate can be an excellent recovery drink, giving your body a good mix of sugars and proteins, particularly if you choose a hot chocolate without much added sugar, such as some good quality powders or by melting good quality chocolate directly into milk. Another option is making a smoothie or protein shake, as the fruits provide sugars to replenish your energy reserves and the milk and protein powder begins to repair and build your muscles.
If you have returned home for dinner after your day-long hike, you have almost unlimited options for your post-workout meal. However, though you may be tempted by easy foods like pizza, certain foods will help you recover and build your muscles worked during the day. Rice is an excellent carbohydrate base, being easier to digest than gluten containing carbs. We’d recommend a healthy protein to accompany this, such as beans or fish. Salmon is a great source of lean protein and omega-3, which is supposed to reduce muscle inflammation. A good choice is making a chicken or vegetarian chilli, with a good amount of beans or lentil protein, and chillis are full of B vitamins to promote oxygen movement around the body.