How Much Food & Water Should I Be Intaking on a Backpacking Trip?

Camping & Hiking expert Hannah K. breaks down your backpacking food and drink necessities so you can stay strong and healthy on the trail.

Photo by Kevin Schmid
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Backpacking and long distance hiking are great ways to escape the city, see beautiful things, and push yourself out of our societal comfort zone. However, you won’t be able to walk over to your fridge and grab a snack or some food when you go. So how can we prepare for this to avoid malnutrition or dehydration?

Dehydration and malnutrition on a long-distance backpacking trip are dangerous conditions and can potentially be fatal. Eating and drinking too much however can leave us feeling heavy, sluggish, and having to wilder-pee way too often than we would like. How much food and water should we actually bring with us on long hiking days and backpacking trips? Let’s talk about it.

Water

A professor once gave me this calculator to figure out how much water I should drink on a normal day: take your weight, divide it in half. That is the amount of ounces you should drink a day. So, say you weigh 160lbs. You would need to drink 80oz a day to be hydrated. This is the minimum amount you should drink. Plan on drinking a lot more if you are an athlete or have very active days.

For backpacking, a good tip is half a liter of water per hour of activity. I also suggest taking smaller sips more frequently rather than chugging water infrequently. This will help keep your hydration levels consistent.

Other factors include the temperature, altitude, and intensity of your movement. Remember to listen to your body—it knows what you need.

Another great way to determine your hydration level is the color of your pee. Too yellow? Drink more water. Is your urine completely clear? You are overhydrating yourself.

Other Water Tips

Keep it ready and easy to grab so drinking water doesn’t become a chore.

Remember to replace your electrolytes. When you sweat you lose a lot. Drinking water (paired with an easy electrolyte powder) is important to help maintain your performance.

Wear sunscreen. A sunburn can expedite dehydration.

Set a timer if you don’t remember to drink water enough.

Drink even when it is cold. If you don’t like the idea of drinking cold water on a cold day, fill up an insulated bottle with hot water. You will want to drink not only to hydrate yourself, but also to help warm your core temperature.

Risks of Dehydration

  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Headache
  • Dark urine
  • Performance quality decrease

Make sure to calculate your minimum water intake in ounces with the formula I gave you, and keep an eye on your pee.

Someone pokes at food wrapped in tinfoil that sits between logs in a campfire.
Photo by Bridger Tower

Caloric Intake

Food is a bit more personal than water. Different people will feel better through different diets and caloric intakes. However, it should be known that you need to eat a lot to keep your muscles strong, your body moving, and get you up those mountains. Food is the energy we need to fuel our adventures and I always suggest eating more than you think you will need.

In my humble opinion and through experience, I try to eat 2,500 calories a day on a trail. I’m not one to count calories, I generally just eat until I’m full. On long-distance backpacking trips however, it is a good idea to know that you are eating enough to stay healthy. Of course that number is different depending on intensity of activity, how long and far you will hike that day, and how many days the trip is in total.

Food keeps our muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones healthy. Without those things, we wouldn’t be able to walk from Mexico to Canada!

What Kinds of Food Should I Take?

Some people like to make or buy their own dehydrated meals. Some people like to bring tortillas and peanut butter. What I’m trying to say is, bring what you like to eat and bring a variety of what you like to eat. You don’t want to get bored eating the same thing every day. With that said, I eat oatmeal every day, and it is by far the most amazing meal of the day. If you are just getting into backpacking, this article offers some great advice on food and water and much more.

Most of the food you will bring won’t be fresh produce. Obviously. But an apple or a small wheel of hard cheese, which you can eat quickly and won’t get bad, will seem like a luxury. Other fresh foods that can last in your bag a bit longer are bell peppers, kale, oranges, carrots, and broccoli.

Don’t forget to bring some spices. Bland food is boring and not fun for the taste buds. While admittedly everything tastes better after a long day hiking, bringing some spices will make the day all that better.

Before I head out for more than a day, I plan my meals in advance. Three meals a day plus a million snacks is always my go-to schedule. I plan meals that will be lightweight to carry, very filling, and help me meet a caloric goal for the day.

Malnutrition on the trail can lead to stomach cramps, nausea, headaches, a performance quality decrease, and can lead to hospitalization in serious cases. A lack of nutrients causes our muscles, ligaments, and tendons to weaken and this can lead to injury on the trail.

Final Thoughts

Although water and food intake is different for everyone, there is a certain minimum we should all try to meet on a backpacking trip to stay healthy, safe, and continue enjoying the trip. What is your favorite meal to backpack with? How do you stay hydrated? Hit me up through my profile and let’s chat about all things outdoors.

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Written By
Although I've been hiking for most of my life, I didn't start backpacking and camping until college when I joined the University Outdoors Club at my school. My first backpacking trip was ambitious, the Batona Trail in the Pinelands in New Jersey done in two days. To do that, we had to walk a maratho...

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