Beginners are prone to epic mistakes. For example, I once packed five pounds of pancake mix. Don’t ask. And intermediate and experienced backpackers often fall into sub-optimal packing routines simply out of laziness or lack of time. Are you dissatisfied with your adventure fuel, hoping to lighten your load, or just looking to improve an important backcountry skill? Below are 10 backpacking food mistakes and how to correct them.
But first, what makes a good backpacking diet? I believe there are six key traits: lightweight, calorie dense, low volume, varied (in flavor and texture), reasonably healthy, and easy to eat/prepare. Beyond those, you should also strive for food that tastes good, and supports your daily mileage and itinerary goals.
1. Not enough variety
My dream backpacking meal plan consists entirely of unique food items, with no two snacks being the same. While I may never achieve that perfectly, I believe variety makes everything taste better. If you’ve ever been on a longer trip and packed the same things to eat every day, you’ll understand the soul-crushing feeling of looking into a food bag and realizing that you already hate all the options. One way to correct this is to buy a wide variety of foods in bulk at the start of backpacking season, then store them well and dip into each for one or two serving per trip.
2. Too much trail mix, too many bars
The most common way to fail the variety test is by overpacking in these two specific categories. I shudder to recall the times I’ve seen my partners snack game consisting exclusively of bars and nut mixes. Every bulk, health and junk food section will offer a wide variety of good snack options that are not those. Especially Trader Joe’s, if you have them around. For maximum salivation, I personally recommend no more than one bar and two trail mixes per day.
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Here are a few of my personal favorites: Half Pops, peanut butter filled pretzels, sesame sticks, Aztec trail mix, toasted coconut, dried cherries, dried mango, cinnamon candied almonds, white chocolate pretzels, Korean BBQ flavored dried chick peas, chipotle smoked gouda, Twix, fiber supplement brownies, mozzarella cheese sticks, fig newtons, salted sunflower seeds, Clif Kid Z fruit ropes, landjäger.
3. Not enough salty food
Hiking is a sweaty business, especially in summer, and you’re going to need to maintain a steady intake of electrolytes. You’ll be especially hard pressed to find salts if you fall for Mistake #2. Plus, who—besides 6-year-olds—wants to eat sugary food literally all day long? To correct this, while laying out your food at home, make sure to pair each sugary snack with a savory snack and you’ll guarantee an even mix.