Trail Food for Thought

Done right, meals on a trip can be a highlight and give you something to look forward to. Everything tastes better when you're doing something challenging outside. Food is necessary for fueling adventures, but there is more to it than that. It's interesting to see what food people bring for outdoor activities.

My friend and frequent adventure partner, Ekaterina, has occasionally come on a full day, strenuous trip with only two peaches and a bag of beef jerky because she couldn't decide which foods would be suitable for the trip. She may have a stronger constitution than I do; I would be laying on the ground with low blood sugar foraging for clams if I did this. As another example, my partner is willing to pack a single large container of dinner leftovers to eat cold throughout a day-long trip (craziness!).

Those approaches to food are fine and they both certainty always survive, but for me, I need to put a little more thought into it. I typically like to bring a variety of food and often look forward to the snacks I bring.. For an activity that lasts all day and burns a lot of calories, I want to have appealing things to eat to keep my energy up. I figured I'd write a bit about what stuff I usually bring and why. There are a lot of things to consider when packing trip meals and snacks.

Size & Weight

Depending on the activity you're doing, weight may or may not be a concern. If you're car camping, of course you can go ahead and bring a cooler and not worry much about repackaging. At the other extreme, backpacking, you want to avoid heavy containers and excessive packaging and pay more attention to portion sizes. You may even want to buy or make dehydrated food for the convenience and low weight.

For me, I pack for bike trips similar to backpacking. After all, you still have to carry whatever you bring and there is a high potential for squashed foods. Kayaking is somewhere in between, depending on the trip. I've led many guided sea kayaking trips where we brought coolers, and on my own longer sea kayaking expedition I brought canned and jarred food to spice up boring carb-loaded dinners. We even brought a whole pineapple on one trip. Very refreshing! Depending on the boats you're using, you might have a lot of packing space.

For kayaking, you can also use heavier (waterproof always) containers to protect your food, meaning you have more options. For a sweet energy boost, I like to bring dry cereal in a jar. More delicate fruits like raspberries, pears, and stone fruit can also be brought in containers. I would not bring bananas anywhere myself, because they ripen so quickly when confined.

Food for a solo four-day bikepacking trip.


The outside temperature can be a major factor for deciding what foods to bring. Cold temperatures can cause issues with foods getting frozen or, at the very least, quite hard. Protein bars turn into paving stones, and fruit does poorly in freezing temperatures. If you want to eat a protein bar while snowshoeing for example, you'll probably need keep it warm against your body.

This February, Karisma and I went snowshoeing when it was extremely cold, around 5° F. I packed us some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, nice and high calorie and