Affordable, plant-based backpacking food: Lunch and snacks

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Sarah Siegel/Staff

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After learning the basics of backpacking food and some breakfast tips, you’re almost ready for that trip you’ve planned. Now things are going to get a bit trickier. In my experience, lunch and snacks are the most difficult backpacking food to get right, but they also allow for the most creative freedom. I simply cannot emphasize the importance of a strong lunch and snack lineup. A good snack can get you through any tough climb or mid-afternoon slump, so it’s important to get it right. Let’s start by talking about hydration.

Hydration and drink additives 

You’ll be sweating … a lot. It’s important to drink a minimum of 100 ounces of water per day, especially if you’re at a high elevation. The best way to prevent altitude sickness is hydration. However, water alone might not be enough to keep your body hydrated. You’ll also be losing salts and electrolytes throughout the day, so it’s important to replenish them. There are a ton of options for drink additives, depending on your personal preferences. I’ve met many trail folks who swear by powdered Gatorade because it offers plenty of electrolytes and the sugar can make up for the calorie deficit. Personally, I prefer Nuun hydration tablets because they don’t leave a lingering sweet taste in my water bottle. Unfortunately, Nuun doesn’t have the high caloric value of Gatorade, but many of the flavors do contain caffeine.

On rougher days, you may be tempted to stop mid-afternoon and “brew” some coffee. It’s completely fine to do that, but consider drinking an additional amount of water to counteract the dehydrating effects of coffee. Dehydration will sneak up on you, so it’s important to stay on top of it.

The regular snacks

When crafting your snack lineup, variety is key. Try to strike a balance between savory and sweet. Here’s a list of tasty and lightweight snacks to get you started: 

  • Dark chocolate
  • Corn nuts
  • Trail mix (dried fruit, nuts and chocolate)
  • Pretzels
  • Justin’s Nut Butter packets
  • Dried chickpeas
  • Giant Inca corn
  • Dried fruit: Mango, banana, apple or apricot
  • Granola bars
  • Energy gels
  • Peanuts
  • Pistachios
  • Dried edamame
  • Cookies (bring your favorite kind)

The most important rule is to pack foods that you like. The last thing you want to be doing on the trail is force-feeding yourself snacks that somebody on the internet told you to bring. Try things out for yourself before you pack them, and be sure to (literally) trust your gut instinct!

The specialty snacks

While it’s important to keep your food lightweight and calorie-dense, it’s also acceptable to sometimes include items that will account for your cravings. You might only have room to pack one or two specialty snacks, so make sure they’re worth it. I like to bring a few packs of olives — the juicy texture is a nice change, and it satisfies my craving for savory and salty food. Another option, if you consume fish, is to bring a few packs of tuna or trout. While fish is fairly heavy and not calorie-dense, it packs a ton of protein and healthy fats, and it might be just what you need during your mid-afternoon slump.

Lunch

You probably won’t want to use your stove for lunch, especially if you’re crushing some high mileage. Depending on your eating preferences, lunch can be a combination of snacks or a bigger meal. 

If you’re looking for a larger meal around lunchtime, tortillas are your best friend. When you buy the tortillas with the most preservatives, they’ll last in your bear canister or in your resupply package for weeks. Eating a tortilla with nut butter is a great option, but can get old after a while. 

For a savory flavor, consider dehydrated hummus with your lunchtime tortilla. You can buy dehydrated hummus packets online. But if you’re skilled in the kitchen, you can make your own dehydrated hummus. Mix a can of garbanzo beans, a garlic clove, lemon juice, a few spoonfuls of tahini and some spices with a food processor. You don’t have to follow an exact recipe — it’s backpacking food, for crying out loud! Once you find a favorable consistency, spread the hummus evenly over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and cook at 130 degrees Fahrenheit for two to four hours, or until the mixture is completely dry and crumbly. After it has completely cooled, grind it into a fine powder. When you’re on the trail, add water, stir, spread over a tortilla and enjoy! This is also a great time for you to make use of those olives I mentioned earlier.

Ramen is another great lunch option because it can easily be cold-soaked and offers a lot of sodium to replace the salt you lose to sweat. There are so many ways to get creative with your ramen — many backpackers add dehydrated veggies, beans, soy sauce or Sriracha sauce. If you’re planning on packing ramen, get creative and make it your own. Just be sure to practice it once before you take off on the trip. 

Packing a good snack and supplies for lunch can make or break your backpacking experience. Luckily, there are tons of options for you to make yourself a tasty lunch that’s perfect for the trail. With this guide, you’ll be prepared and energized for a full day of adventuring!

Contact Sarah Siegel at [email protected].