Planning out your food for the AT is a complicated process. Replenishing the 3,000-6,000 calories you’ll burn each day requires an awful lot of food! To make things even harder, your food needs to be to be lightweight, nutrient dense, and resistant to spoiling. And you want it to taste really good, too!
While backpacking nutrition is a pretty personal thing, there are a few foods that have proven themselves over and over again as worthy of a spot in any thru-hiker’s food stash. These foods are light in weight, high in calories, fat, and protein, and easy to stuff in your pack.
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- Nuts. Nuts are one of the best energy foods out there and a staple in almost every backpacker’s nutrition plan. They pack loads of calories and lots of healthy fat in a really light package – and they taste really good!
- Dried fruit. Dried fruit is a perfect backpacking food because it contains all of the nutrients of regular fruit without any of the water (and its associated weight!).
- Energy bars. Energy bars were specifically designed for the rigors of long athletic endeavors, which is exactly what you will be doing! They load a lot of calories into a very compact, easy to digest, and shelf stable package. And with so many great options on the market, there is an energy bar to suit just about every thru-hiker’s palate.
- Energy gels and chews. Energy gels (like GU) and chews (like Clif Shot Bloks) are perfect trail foods because they provide tons of energy, are easy to digest, and taste really good. Some even contain caffeine for an extra jolt of energy!
- Nuun tablets. Maintaining a proper electrolyte balance out on the trail is extremely important. Nuun tablets are lightweight and can easily be dropped into a bottle of water to make a delicious, fizzy, hydrating drink.
- Beef jerky or salami. Beef jerky is awesome for long thru-hikes because it is light in weight and contains loads of calories and fat. This is just what you need when you’re out on the trail! Its savory flavor is also a welcome break from all the sweet foods you will be consuming.
- Powdered hot chocolate. If you find your energy waning on a chilly and challenging day, a cup of hot chocolate may be just what the trail doctor ordered. Full of sugar and weighing next to nothing, a cup of hot chocolate will boost both your body and your mind!
- Hammer Perpetuum. Perpetuum is a powdered drink mix that was designed to give endurance athletes the sustained energy they need to keep going all day long. Mix a couple scoops in with your water and take sips at regular intervals to keep your energy up!
- GORP. Yup, Good old raisins and peanuts. There’s a reason it’s called “trail mix”! GORP is awesome because it packs a big nutritional and caloric punch while being very light in weight.
- Multi-vitamin. No matter how hard you try to vary your diet while out on the trail, you won’t be able to achieve the same amount of variety that you probably have at home. A good multi-vitamin can help fill in any nutritional gaps and keep you healthy on your hike!