Hiking and calories. How many calories do you need in a day?

Hiking Food Pasta Female Hiker

I have a post about what to eat while hiking, but the question of calories is important and deserves a separate post. If you bring too much food it will add weight to your pack. But if you have too little, you will not have enough energy to stay comfortable.

Then there is of course also the issue of planning your trips. You need to know how long you will be hiking to plan your meals. I’ve written a separate post about how to plan your hiking trip that covers how many kilometres you can walk in a day.

BBC Magazine has an interesting article about hikers who have survived for very long without food. Soldiers are sometimes trained for days without enough to eat and sleep and thus know that it is possible to survive. It is however very uncomfortable.

The British National Health Service recommends that a men need around 2500 kcal a day and women about 2000 kcal.

But hiking can be a physically demanding activity, depending on the difficulty of the trail, the weight of your backpack, elevation profile, weather conditions etc

So just bringing freeze dried hiking foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner, is not enough to keep you fully supplied with calories.

Freeze dried hiking foods and calories

Female hiker freeze dried hiking food hiking stove

To put this in perspective let’s have a practical example with hiking food from REI.com.  

Breakfast:

Backpacker’s Pantry Granola with Bananas, Almonds and Milk

This breakfast is really affordable. One pack is for two people and the nutritional value is 620 kcal per person.

Lunch:

Backpacker’s Pantry Louisiana Red Beans and Rice

This is also marked as “2 servings” but offers only 300 kcal per serving, which is pretty low for lunch. So let’s suppose you eat the whole pack and your lunch will give you 600 kcal.

Dinner:

Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai Veggie – 2 Servings

This is also marked as “2 servings” and in this case, you get 460 kcal per serving.

If you eat these three meals you will get 1680 kcal which is below to suggested amount even for women. If the trail is difficult and has a challenging elevation profile, it’s cold and you have a heavy backpack – this is not enough and you need more food.

Snacks, protein bars, energy bars, chocolate

Water bottle chocolate snack

This is where snacks, protein bars, energy bars, chocolate etc will help you out.

REI has many options:

Loucks Sesame Seed Snaps will give you 230 calories each.

Little Secrets Crispy Wafers 190 calories.

BARNANA Organic Chewy Banana Bites add 275 calories.

AlpineAire Foods Snack Mix is a whopping 900 calories.

Munk Pack Protein Cookies add 360 calories.

How to plan?

Hiking Foldable Cup

Counting calories may seem like a hassle at first but actually it’s super easy.

All you have to do is add up how many calories you will get from your breakfast, lunch and dinner and then add enough snacks to make up the difference.

I usually aim for 3000 calories a day – some days, when it’s cold and raining for instance I eat all my food, on other days I might not need all of it.

If I was an adult woman, I’d probably bring around 2500 calories.

In my everyday life, I usually avoid chocolate, artificial flavours etc. When hiking, I allow myself a little latitude and usually end up losing weight despite eating chocolate and other “unhealthy” foods while hiking.

Thankfully hiking food these days can be super healthy and there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free options.

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