How to Fend Off Hiker Hunger When You’re on the Trail

hiker hunger snacks
Jordan Siemens/Getty Images

Most day hikers consider a few Clif Bars, a Snickers, and some beef jerky a proper “trail lunch.” However, if you’re gearing up for an extended backcountry trek, it pays to pack smarter. The right meals and snacks will keep you feeling fuller longer, and, most importantly, ensure you’re energized for long days on the trail. Here are five pro tips for fending off hiker hunger.

Don’t Skip Breakfast

Contrary to the latest biohacking advice, skipping breakfast might be the worst possible decision for a day of hiking. Even those who typically don’t eat breakfast should plan a meal that balances carbohydrates and fats. A blend of simple and complex carbs provides a shot of readily accessible fuel so you’ll be ready to go. Fats are doubly good by slowing digestion and helping to keep you full. A mix of granola, oatmeal, and nut butter is an ideal way to start the day.

Eat Less, More Often

It’s obvious to recommend that eating more often will fend off hunger. The key though is eating the right nutrient-dense foods — in particular, those high in fats — at regular intervals throughout the day. Some thru-hikers suggest snacking every 60-90 minutes. It’s not as daunting as it sounds, and it rarely requires breaking your stride.

hiker hunger apple
Hero Images/Getty Images

While most dieticians advise consuming one-quarter to one-third of all calories through fats, hikers have very different needs. Maintaining a diet of at least 40% fat can prove critical to staying full and energized on the trail. Keep fat-heavy snacks like nuts and chocolate bars in your pockets, so they’re accessible whenever you need them. Peanut butter is a hiker’s best friend, and anyone who’s hiked the PCT or the Appalachian Trail proudly spreads it on everything.

Beware the Sugar Crash Cycle

Relying on sugar to provide energy boosts throughout the day is a surefire way to a cycle of constant crashes. The key is tempering sugar intake with other types of nutrients. Dried fruit and energy blocks guarantee an almost instant sugar rush, but be sure to supplement them with things like nuts to slow the energy release.

Maximize Your Overnight Recovery

Not eating right on trail days can lead to uncontrollable hunger at night. This is when most hikers binge on highly processed and junk foods to satisfy the previous eight hours of cravings. The hours just before bed are key to your body’s overnight recovery. Protein helps repair torn muscles. Most studies recommend that high-intensity athletes consume around 1.6 grams of protein per two pounds of body weight. The anti-inflammatory properties of fiber also fend off sore, stiff joints and muscles in the morning. Consider foods like meats, fish (even packaged tuna), chickpeas, and lentils at dinnertime.

Eat Fresh in Town

Most long-distance hikers spend days or weeks away from civilization. That means packing foods that can literally go the distance. But, most highly processed foods lack vital micronutrients that can only be found in fresh food. Whenever possible — on days spent off the trail and in town — stock up on plenty of fruits and salad. Of course, it’s probably not the food you want, but it is what your body needs. They’ll help your body load up on fat-soluble vitamins for the days when you’re back on the trail. Also, be sure to pack a complete daily multivitamin which can help fill the nutritional gaps when your miles from the nearest market.

Food & Drink

How to Cure Salmon in One Savory Recipe

Learning how to cure salmon isn't only a great skill to have, but it's going to up your breakfast game for days.

10 Day Hike Essentials to Take Every Time You Hit the Trail

f you are missing anything from this checklist, each item can be purchased for $50 or less.
Food & Drink

Remember Surge? Here’s What Happened to the High-Octane Soda from the ’90s

The highest of high-octane sodas from the 1990s, Surge, was big in its day, but what happened? And can we expect it back?
Food & Drink

How to Make Beef Jerky at Home

We enlisted Minneapolis-based chef Thomas Boemer to explain the process and share a beef jerky recipe.

Hitch Tent Is a Clever, Non-Rooftop Platform for Your Rooftop Tent

To camp in a tent is glorious; to camp in a rooftop tent is sublime.

The Best Car Camping Gear for Any Season

Long nights, coolers full of beer, and comfortable beds are a good recipe for year-round car camping adventures.

The Most Adventurous Wildlife Safari Tours in North America

For travelers seeking a nature-centric adventure, check out these wildlife safari tours that don’t require a trip across the pond.
Fashion & Style

GoLite Makes Performance Apparel from Post-Consumer Recycled Plastic

They wick, stretch, regulate temperature, and repel moisture, all while making use of recycled fibers.

The Best Long-Distance Bike Trails Across America

The best thing about bicycling is that it can take you to some amazing places. You can cover more miles than walking and, unlike driving, you’re still connected to your environment.

Everything You Need to Know About Van Life (and Some Cool Gear to Take Along for Ride)

Contemplating a modern nomadic lifestyle? We interviewed four van life experts for tips on surviving and thriving on the road.

23 Best Travel Pants for Hiking, Exploring, and Everything in Between

Our favorite, all-around travel pants are suitable for every environment and activity, from finding comfort on the plane to finding adventure outdoors.

We Tested the Recool, Igloo’s New Biodegradable Cooler

Size, ice retention, and durability — here's how a cooler made from biodegradable pulp performs.

The Best Travel and Adventure Documentaries on Netflix Right Now

If you're reading this, you're staring at a screen. Wouldn't you rather be exploring a different part of the world than the Internet?
Fashion & Style

7 Shirts You Can Wear on the Trail and to the Office

Work shirts can be uncomfortable. They don’t breathe or wick moisture well. They don’t regulate temperature. They stink after a hard day. But does it have to be that way?