Staying Healthy on the Trail: Nutrition Tips for Solo Hikers

Nutrition Tips for Solo Hikers
Image: depositphotos.com

By Caitlin Evans

Hiking alone can be an exhilarating, terrifying, life-altering, and excruciating experience.

Having just seen Wild for the first time a couple of months ago (and having berated myself for not watching it earlier), I was amazed at how the challenges and setbacks faced by a first-time solo female hiker have been accurately fleshed out in a couple of hours.

If you are getting ready to head out on your first solo adventure, there will be hundreds of thoughts zooming around in your mind, all vying for top anxiety-inducing and heart-rate-pumping position.

Let’s try to ease some of the strain, and discuss what to eat (and what not to eat) when you are hiking alone – and more importantly perhaps, how to make sure your pack is a little bit lighter than Cheryl Strayed’s Monster.

So let’s now dive into Nutrition Tips for Solo Hikers:

 

How much should I eat?

Let’s start with the very basics.

To avoid losing too much weight and muscle mass, aim to construct your diet in this manner:

  • 45-55% carbohydrates
  • 35-40% fats
  • 10-15% protein

This is mostly applicable to longer hikes, where you will be spending several days on the trail. If you are going on shorter hikes, and you’re not worried about losing weight and mass, you should reduce your fat intake, and up carbs and protein.

As for your caloric intake, keep in mind that most hikers will burn around 3-4000 calories a day (depending on factors such as weight, fitness level, and age). This translates to eating quite a bit every day.

 

How many times a day should I eat?

Image: depositphotos.com

 

While in ‘regular’ circumstances, you can go for hours without eating a single bite, that shouldn’t be the case when you’re out walking or hiking. To keep going, your body will need a constant energy source.

Aim to eat every 2-3 hours. Depending on what your body is used to, and what works best for your gut, you can either eat three larger meals during the day and mix in a couple of snacks in between, or you can eat 7-8 smaller meals split up evenly during your waking hours.

Don’t let your body go too long without eating. You may not feel hungry, and you may be taken up by the effort of walking or just enjoying your surroundings, but food is fuel, and you need to keep adding it.

 

Packing and similar considerations

Image: depositphotos.com

 

As you will need to eat a lot (and eat healthy), packing can be quite a challenge, especially with no one around to help distribute some of the load.

Here are some important considerations:

●     Store your food properly

Sometimes it can be very difficult to know how many calories a certain amount of food has. The simplest way to circumvent this issue is to pack individual meals and snacks and label them accordingly. You don’t have to pre-plan your entire route (you can, of course), but something as simple as bagging meal options separately can be of huge assistance.

Also, make sure your containers, bags, etc. are lightweight, easy to close, and store your foods at optimal temperatures.

●     Weight

We would all rather carry too much food than not enough. And while that is completely understandable, you’ll have to lug that weight around on your own back. This can not only cause you to burn more calories, but it can also make your hike less pleasant.

Look for foods that are calorie-dense but not too heavy. Ideally, you will have a mix of high calorie-dense foods on you, like nuts and peanut butter, for example, as well as something that has a lower caloric density, like fruits and veg. Look for something in the 120-130 calories per ounce range.

●     Your personal diet

Don’t forget to factor in what you actually like to eat (or need to eat). For example, if you are looking to use food to combat an autoimmune disease, and are sticking to a specific AIP meal plan, make sure what you pack is aligned with it. Consider things like allergies and bloating, and tailor the plan specifically to your own body.

●     Prep time

It’s easy to imagine yourself making elaborate meals on a campsite while you are still sitting in the comfort of your kitchen, planning meals. But consider how tired and in pain you will be when you need to stop for a meal. Are you really going to go all out? If you want to spend more time cooking, do it for breakfast. For dinner, go for something very simple and easy to make.

●     Water

Don’t ever forget that you will need at least some water to cook with, and to wash dishes. So, either you can lug it with you or stay at campsites that have access to water (depending on how far you are going). When calculating your pack’s weight, don’t forget to factor in the water you need to have with you, just in case.

●      Fuel

You will likely be carrying some sort of stove with you (at least for making coffee and tea, but most likely for oatmeal and other meals too). Make sure you bring the right kind of fuel, and that you know what kinds of meals you can make on your stove of choice.

 

What should I really eat?

Source: depositphotos.com

 

Here are a couple of more specific suggestions for packing on a solo hike. Of course, you can add or leave out anything you like or don’t like. This is just an example to set you off in the right direction.

  • Breakfast: coffee and tea; protein bars; granola and cereal; oats, powdered milk, nuts and seeds, peanut butter, almond butter, and similar
  • Lunch: tortillas or similar wraps; hard meats and hard cheeses; tuna or chicken; condiments and spices
  • Dinner: instant soups; dehydrated veggies; ready-made dinners; pasta or even rice
  • Snacks: protein bars (any kinds of bars really); trail mix; dried fruits; crackers; your fav chocolate bar

Remember to also pack cooking oil, salt and pepper, and anything else you might need to make sure your meals are not unbearably bland. Also make sure you pack a variety of things: you’ll get bored after a while eating the same things over and over again.

 

Final word of advice

Image: depositphotos.com

 

If you’re hiking alone in a remote area, make sure you also pack a contingency meal pack – something you will not reach for and will end up taking home with you, but are happy to know it’s there.

If you get lost, for example, or if you take longer to cover a certain mileage, or simply rest a day longer, you need to know the food is there in case you do end up needing it.

Enjoy your meals in nature – they are the best kind, more often than not, when prepared after dozens of miles. They’re warm, nourishing and satisfying because of the journey you made to get to them.

Remember to leave no trace, and to dwell on the beauty you are exposing yourself to, as opposed to the hunger pangs and cravings you might be experiencing. Happy trails!

 

Guest Author

Caitlin is a bookworm and active-life aficionado. When she is not trying to find the meaning of life and Universe, Caitlin is researching and writing about various health, travel and adventure-related topics. She is happily addicted to art in all its forms, grilled tofu, and long walks.

27 thoughts on “Staying Healthy on the Trail: Nutrition Tips for Solo Hikers

  • April 4, 2020 at 10:43 am
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    Thanks for sharing this food guide. I’m very new in hiking, and I am learning so much here. So, it isn’t good that I eat a lot during the hike or long walks.

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  • March 14, 2020 at 9:31 pm
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    This was a very interesting and informative read. I’ve never really thought about how much and what hikers should eat. Great tips.

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  • March 12, 2020 at 7:51 pm
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    Very useful information and tips. I am not very much into hiking but would love to go for hiking trips more this year. Meal Prep and packing food and water are quite useful as especially if you are hiking in remote areas. Eating 2-3 times and small meals is a bit of good advice.

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  • March 12, 2020 at 8:25 am
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    These are such healthy food tips. I absolutely loved the fact that you have given a detailed description about the portion, what kind of food and when to eat. The breakdown of breakfast, lunch and dinner was super helpful. Such an helpful post. Will follow it on my next trip.

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  • March 11, 2020 at 10:30 am
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    Very useful information about meal planning during trails and hikes. For solo hikers, it is always important to take care of their health during the hike as there is nobody to support them in between. Packing correct amount and dividing our meals into various parts makes easier to take food with us. Calculating the weight of water and keeping some space for it is a great idea as in the end if we do not plan for water then our bag can become bulky.

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  • March 11, 2020 at 7:31 am
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    Very helpful tips for staying healthy on the trail. I had not even imagined I would have to deal with questions like how much I have to eat or when I have to eat while hiking. You have some real great tips here. And that last bit on what to include in different meals is a lifesaver.

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  • March 9, 2020 at 3:55 pm
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    This is solid and sound advice, so love this. When I hike I always pre-plan my food ahead to make sure I have enough x

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  • March 9, 2020 at 3:53 pm
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    These are really very helpful tips. I agree when you travel on foot water is a must for hydration and your health.

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  • March 8, 2020 at 7:27 pm
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    This is a really insightful post! I love all the benefits that come from going for a good hike – like being outdoors in nature and away from everything and getting a good boost of healthy exercise! I really like what you have mentioned at the end of the post about things to consider when solo hiking – I have been left stuck a couple of times wishing I had packed an extra meal or snack – your post has really helped to remind me the importance of bring a balanced meal with me next time! Thank you!

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  • March 8, 2020 at 11:41 am
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    I went solo hiking once and it was the best feeling ever. Although it did rain and I was slightly freaking out about falling. I was surprisingly very over heated as well even though I drank plenty of water and am already active

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  • March 8, 2020 at 9:50 am
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    These are wonderful tips! I have not yet done a longer solo hiking trip, only trips that took a couple of hours at most. Getting enough nutrition during strenuous hikes is very important to maintain your health on the trails. I completely agree with your comment about planning meals and prep time. In the past, I have planned out meals while travelling (not necessarily hiking, but the same idea) and when that time came I had no desire to cook! I agree that it is important to plan out simple meals that will not take a lot of time-cooking is the last thing you want to do after a busy day!

    Reply
  • March 8, 2020 at 8:39 am
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    I have started doing short solo hikes these days and what to eat and how frequently is something I was always curious to know. Great guide.

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  • March 8, 2020 at 8:20 am
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    I love this! As a solo hiker, I’ve always brought water and food during hiking. These tips would help a lot for hikers!

    Reply
  • March 8, 2020 at 5:03 am
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    This is such an amazing post and the best I’ve read in a while. Solid tips and recommendations!

    Reply
  • March 8, 2020 at 2:03 am
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    I’ve never tried solo hiking, but I love the thought of the time alone to enjoy the outdoors with the quiet to think, pray, etc. Thanks for the great tips!

    Reply
  • March 7, 2020 at 9:12 pm
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    Some great tips in your article thanks. I never thought how important it is to make sure you break down your meals in the % of carbs, fats and proteins when you hike. There is so much planning when you hike on your own, but it is worth every minute spent on it for a successful and safe hike.

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  • March 7, 2020 at 8:13 pm
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    This is a very informative post with good, sensible tips. Every hiker would benefit from reading this.

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  • March 7, 2020 at 2:34 pm
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    It can be tough to eat healthy on the go. These are useful ideas to keep in mind.

    Reply
  • March 7, 2020 at 1:48 pm
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    Even though many people follow the Keto diet, when hiking, you definitely need to increase your carbs! I like the idea of bringing wraps because they combine both carbs and protein and are easy to carry. Great tips!

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  • March 7, 2020 at 1:12 pm
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    Great tips and most of them goes for non solo trips as well. liked the post again, so useful

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  • March 7, 2020 at 2:15 am
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    What great tips, and helpful article. I often have a problem with a balanced diet during hikes. I like the sample hike menu from your guide. The most important thing is to take more water and food for hike in case you get lost on the trail.

    Reply
  • March 6, 2020 at 6:59 pm
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    This seems like a similar diet that I was on when I was training for my half marathon. Super helpful information.

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  • March 6, 2020 at 2:47 pm
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    We’ve been getting into hiking more over the last year. It’s amazing. I used to do it all the time before I had kids but then I moved to an area where there were no great hiking places. A couple years ago we moved back to where I grew up in the PNW and I’ve been in heaven with all the hiking places!!!

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  • March 6, 2020 at 1:56 pm
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    These are all such great tips! I would have never thought about the food needing to be dense in calories but light in weight. When hiking solo, there’s so many details that need to be planned ahead for sure. The only time I hike solo is for a 1-2 hour hike in the mountains near my house. Water and a few nuts does the trick 😉

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  • March 6, 2020 at 8:44 am
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    It is true that I haven’t hiked solo for a while (which is more challenging) but when I hike solo I usually take more care of me than usual. I like your tips because it makes me think of things I haven’t thought of, like how to pack individual food and snacks. I always crammed all of them in the same bag. Thanks for sharing these tips with us.

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  • March 5, 2020 at 10:05 pm
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    Those are some great tips especially about how much to eat. These days everyone is trying to avoid carbohydrates and fats, and concentrating more on proteins. I love trekking and can’t wait for summer to start! Your tips will definitely come into use. Thanks!

    Reply

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