Hiking consumes calories – that’s a no-brainer, really. But it also means you should have food with you to replace some of those calories when you take breaks on your walk.
Now, obviously that doesn’t meant loading down your backpack with burgers and chips. You want food that’s going to give you energy, and also something that can sustain you if something happens and you’re stuck out overnight.
So what are the best things to take, and what are the good eating strategies? Ideally you want something with a high calorific density, around 440 calories for each 100 grams eaten. That’s putting energy back into your system at the rate which you’ve expended it, so you won’t feel tired and lethargic as the hike continues.
Before You Go Hiking
People have sung the praises of a good breakfast for many years, and they’re correct – the right breakfast can help set you up for the day. But the last thing you need is a full English, tempting as it mind sound on a chilly morning. You’re much better off having porridge, which will release energy into your system gradually, and which will serve you much better out on the trail, rather than feeling full and bloated. It’s also best to steer clear of alcohol the night before a hike, since it will simply leave you dehydrated.
You also need to make sure you have ample water with you – and drink it while you walk. It’s vital to stay hydrated; if you don’t, leg muscles can cramp painfully, forcing you to stop, which is not pleasant if you’re out on exposed hills in bad weather. Make sure the water in your bottle is fresh, and that there’s plenty of it, a least a litre, and more if you’re going on a longer hike.
Good Hiking Foods
Chocolate can provide a good burst of energy, of course, so it’s worth having a small bar or two at the bottom of your backpack. You don’t need to eat it all in one go; just a little will give you a boost.
Sunflower seeds are high in calories, and you can munch them as you walk, no need to take a break (although regular breaks are a good thing for most people). Bananas are high in potassium, too, which is good for staving off cramps, as well as giving that welcome energy boost, but remember to pack up the skin and take it with you. Trail mix, which combines nuts and dried fruits, is also excellent. With raisins, peanuts, dried bananas and more, it offers a strong balance of sweetness and calories.
What about energy bars? Are they worth the money? Most of the time, the answer is yes, as long as they have the carbohydrates, especially the complex carbohydrates (as found in porridge) that are released slowly. As with anything else, though, you shouldn’t over indulge; the idea is to replace the calories, not have a feast.
Food For Longer Hikes
If you’re going on a hike that will last a few days, then you’ll need to pack more food, and freeze-dried meals are the ideal solution, since they take up very little room, don’t weight much, and are easily prepared.There’s an almost infinite variety of meals available, but you’d be best advised to stick to choices like pasta, which is strong in carbohydrates, or something with meat, that offers plenty of protein (if you’re going with your kids, there’s even freeze-dried ice cream for a treat). In general the meals aren’t expensive – certainly less than you’d pay in a pub or café – but if you’re sharing a tent, avoiding those with baked beans might be a good idea!
Make sure you have a good breakfast in the morning before setting out – those sachets of instant porridge are good here – and consume plenty of water. When the hike is over…then treat yourself to a slap-up meal to celebrate.