There's really nothing like getting out into the great outdoors and spending team with nature. Whether it's for a few hours or a few days, ridding yourself of technology, breathing in the fresh air and experiencing the simple life has a way of recharging the batteries and giving you a new source of energy. Of course, while you're outside you won't be able to stop off at the local 7-11 for a quick snack. You must pack everything ahead of time. Here is what you need to consider (and pack) when it comes to the best backpacking meals.
Packing Smart for Trail Backpacking Meals Is Important
When you prepare for your backpacking trip, you need to make sure you have the right kind of food. You'll be constantly moving, so you want something that gives you energy that won't tire you out after. The best way to do this is to pack food that are not only high in protein, but come packed with complex carbohydrates.
What Is a Complex Carb?
Carbohydrates are broken down into complex and simple carbs. Complex carbohydrates take longer to break down. This helps give you energy that isn't instantly absorbed by the body. Complex carbs come in the form of whole grains. On the flip side, you generally want to avoid simple carbs. A carbohydrate is really nothing more than sugar. Sugar, such as what you find in a chocolate or candy bar, can give you some instant energy.
There's a reason children go nuts after eating sugar. However, there's also a reason children crash and pass out not long after eating a lot of sugar. Sugar gives you a quick energy high and then pulls the ground out from under you. Simple carbs are also absorbed by the body faster which means you won't have as much time to burn through the energy.
Having a small amount of simple carbs in your backpacking meals can be helpful as it will give you some immediate energy, but it should be just a small portion of your larger meal/snack. The majority of the backpacking meals should be made of complex carbs, proteins, and healthy fats.
Proteins for Your Hike
Not all proteins are created equal. For starters, most protein comes from the consumption of either muscle or parts of an animal. Some plants do have protein, but with that said, most plant-based protein does not have the same branch chain amino acid (BCAA) complex. What does this mean? Branch chain amino acids help divert energy from protein to your muscles. Your muscles will be exerting most of the energy during your hike, so you want more protein energy going to these cells. Animal based proteins have a complete BCAA complex, which improves the delivery method of the protein you consume to the muscles.
Plant based proteins which don't have the complete complex will lose some protein calories in the process and not deliver as much of the protein to your muscles. So even if you consume 15 grams of animal based protein and 15 grams of plant based protein, the muscles in your body will receive a higher percentage of the protein with animal based protein than with plant.
Due to all of this, it's typically better to consume an animal based protein (such as meat, dairy, or egg). If you are a vegetarian or vegan you shouldn't worry, there are still some plant based protein bars that include plants that do have the complete BCAA complex (there are a few grains that do contain the full complex), so you'll want to pack a few of these, although you'll have significantly fewer choices.
You can pack some healthy fats in your backpacking meals. Now, the term "healthy" fats doesn't mean you should go completely overboard with these foods. It is still a fat, and it is still high in calories. However, you can feel better about your consumption of these foods as long as you keep it in moderation.
Healthy fats come in the form of nuts, avocados, and olives. Now, naturally, you can't really pack a backpack full of avocados, but peanuts, and especially almonds are great, as the nuts not only contain healthy fats but are packed with protein.
Don't Underestimate the Power of Water
When looking at backpacking meals, you need to make sure and always over-pack the amount of water you take. Water is of critical importance to your body. First, it keeps you hydrated. No matter what time of the year you go hiking you'll end up sweating. If you hike in hot locations, such as the American Southwest, you'll sweat and not even realize it because the sweat dries so quickly. So pack as much water as possible.
Having water on hand will help improve digestion. With the water your body will break down the foods you eat faster, which delivers the energy to your body faster. Plus, some foods you'll be eating do have a higher sodium makeup. Most dried fruits, jerky, and nuts have at least some sodium, as the salt helps prevent the deterioration of the food (and is often used in the dehydration of the food), so you'll want to increase your water consumption to prevent your body from becoming dehydrated due to the amount of sodium you're taking in and the sweat you're putting out as you hike.
15 Trail Food Suggestions for an Energetic Hike
The right kind of backpacking meals will depend on how long you're going to be gone for, where you're going, your cooking options, and what you like to eat. Some items are more desirable than others, but often times you need to go with what is light, easy to carry, and will give you the needed energy to continue on with your hike.
1. Oatmeal Packets
Oatmeal is a great option if you're going to be spending more than a day hiking. You'll need to heat it up over a fire, so it's a camping meal for sure. However, oatmeal is an excellent source of complex carbs and some protein.
2. Trail Mix
Trail mix is a fantastic option when it comes to backpacking meals. That is because a well put together trail mix is made up of proteins, complex carbs, and even a few simple carbs. You can buy trail mix from the store, although it's better to make it yourself. Most store bought trail mixes are packed with far too much sodium and simple carbs (after all, who doesn't like the peanuts and milk chocolate M&M trail mixes).
Making your own is cheaper, and you can make a few alterations, such as using unsalted peanuts and dark-chocolate. It's still energy packed but without as much salt and sugar.
3. Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds offer healthy fats and protein. Ideally go with nuts and seeds that are unsalted. Almonds are by far the best when it comes to protein packed nuts, although peanuts are inexpensive. Pumpkin seeds are great as well for a munchy snack.
4. Dried Fruits
Dried fruits don't go bad and don't need to be refrigerated, which helps make them more desirable for your hike. Just make sure to look at the ingredients on the label before buying the particular product. Some companies try to make up for the dried out taste with an infusion of sugar. If you have a dehydrator at home, you can make your own dried fruits. You can also place apple slices on a baking sheet and insert it into your oven set on its lowest temperature.
5. Powdered Milk
Powdered milk is packed with protein. It also doesn't go bad, so it's a solid option to take with you if you're going to be gone for a few days. If you will be going on an extreme hike (such as through the mountains), you'll want something with extra calories, so go with the full-fat vitamin D powdered milk.
6. Cheese & Crackers
This option is okay if you're going to be hiking for a short period. The crackers often are packed with sodium, so if possible go with a light sodium cracker. You can find packaged cheese and crackers in the snack section of the local store.
Jerky is a great option when it comes to backpacking meals. It is packed with protein. In fact, it probably has more protein per calorie than any other option on this list. Just watch the sodium intake as these usually are packed with salt.
8. Dehydrated Meals
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You can find these at camping stores. The dehydrated meals are great options for giving you more dining selections. Although you probably only need dehydrated meals on longer hikes.
9. Protein Bars
Try to go with protein bars that are not completely covered in chocolate. There are good protein bars, and then there are some that are glorified candy bars.
Tuna in a package is a great meal, high in protein, and it doesn't take up much space in your backpack.
If you're going to be camping for a few days bring along some rice. It's high in complex carbs and a campsite staple.
13. Ramen Noodles
While high in sodium, these are easy to make, lightweight, and similar to the rice option (only with more flavor options).
14. Certain Fruits
Fruits like apples and bananas are great for hiking. Just make sure to keep the fruit out of direct sunlight for long periods of time.
If you're going to be hiking for a few days, make sure to bring some coffee. It's instant energy and helps make waking up early easier.
There are a number of excellent backpacking meals you can take with you the next time you hit the trails. Now, some of these snacks will be okay during a short trip, while others will be better if you plan on being outside for longer periods of time. Wherever you decide to go, and however long you decide to be out, as long as you pack plenty of these backpacking meals as well as keep as much water on hand as possible, you'll have an enjoyable time outside in the great outdoors.