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We’ve got the best hiking lunch ideas and good hiking snacks with the right mix of carbohydrates, protein and fat that will give you energy for your hike.
While paying attention to what you eat is always important, it’s especially important if you have a long, strenuous day of hiking.
What Should I Eat on a Day Hike?
According to the Mayo Clinic, their recommendation for endurance athletes is 60–70% of calories from carbohydrates, 10–15% from protein and 20–30% from fat
- Carbohydrates provide the energy that your body needs to fuel your muscles during hiking.
- Protein is important for repairing and building muscle tissue.
- Fat helps provide sustained energy.
It’s important to note that these are estimates. The optimal balance for you may vary depending on a number of factors, including your individual nutritional needs, the length and intensity of your hike, and your personal preferences.
I recommend experimenting with your hiking lunch and snacks to see how you feel during and after your hike. You should also choose some foods with a bit of salt since you lose salt when you sweat.
I’ve tweaked my favourite combination of lunch and hiking snacks over the years and continue to do so. But my current favourite is
- olives stuffed with almonds
- fresh blueberries
- sesame seed and honey bar (like Loucks Sezme Honey Sesame Snaps)
- beef jerky stick
Here’s a good nutrient calculator. Just add in all the ingredients of your hiking lunch idea and hiking snack to see how you do on the ratios. Then you can adjust accordingly.
Admittedly, mine is higher in fat and should have a better balance of carbohydrates (only 32% vs the recommended 60-70%), so I’ll now be on on the lookout for new hiking lunch ideas where I can add more gluten-free (I’m celiac) complex carbohydrates when I’m hiking.
You’ll also want to ensure that you have a good hiking breakfast since you want to start your day off right.
What Foods Should I Not Eat on a Hike?
Avoid processed, sugary foods, especially junk food.
Choose fresh food that contains micronutrients over processed food. For example, olives are an excellent source of healthy fat, as it is olive oil, while potato chips aren’t.
Foods that are processed and or sugary are harder to digest. You want complex carbohydrates that will sustain your energy and not just give you a sugar high, then leave you feeling depleted.
Your body will have to use extra energy to digest these foods, making your hike seem harder. Plus, they provide low to no nutritional value.
27 Quick and Simple Good Hiking Snacks
Your hiking snack should be healthy. You don’t want to crash after a sugar high. You can find tasty snacks even if you have a sweet tooth. Look for a combination of complex carbohydrates and lean protein, and be sure to choose a variety of foods for a balanced healthy snack.
Here are a few tasty snack options that are perfect for hiking
- Fresh fruit (apples, oranges, bananas or berries are all good choices)
- Cherry tomatoes
- Trail mix (try Power Up Trail Mix (Keto-friendly, Paleo-friendly, Non-GMO, Vegan and Gluten-free)
- Carrot sticks with fresh hummus or guacamole
- Celery sticks with classic peanut butter (or nut butter of your choice like Organic Power Fuel Crunchy Nut Butter by NuttZo)
- Whole grain crackers with hummus or guacamole (like Back to Nature Crackers)
- Apple slices with nut butter like almond butter
- Beef jerky (or another type of meat, I love buffalo jerky when I can find it like the Bison Boys Buffalo Jerky)
- Energy bar/protein bar or breakfast bar (I like KIND bars)
- Olives stuffed with almonds
- String cheese (cheddar cheese is a good choice)
- Sesame seed bars like Loucks Sesme Honey Sesame Snaps, which are perfect if you have a sweet tooth
- Dried fruit (apricots, mangos, etc, like Anna and Sarah Mini Fruit Trail Mix)
- Sunflower seeds
- Banana chips
- Pumpkin seeds
- Whole grain pretzels (like Unique Sprouted 100% Whole Grain Pretzel Splits)
- Rice cakes with peanut butter or another nut butter
- Hard-boiled eggs lightly sprinkled with salt
- Greek yogurt
- Roasted chickpeas (try BIENA Chickpea Snacks Variety Pack)
- Popcorn sprinkled with salt
- Protein shake or smoothie (try Noka Superfood Fruit Smoothie Pouches)
- Wasabi peas
- Seaweed snack
- Dark chocolate (like JOJO’s Dark Chocolate)
6 Quick, Simple Hiking Lunch Ideas for Summer
These day hiking lunch ideas are nutritionally balanced yet hearty enough to keep you full. Don’t think that just because it’s a salad, it’s not a full hiking meal.
These all have plenty of complex carbohydrates to keep your energy levels up the whole day.
I recommend using a special container for salads like the Bentgo® Glass – Leak-Proof Salad Container with Large Salad Bowl, 4-Compartment Bento-Style Tray for Toppings, and a Container for Dressing.
This will help prevent your salad from going soggy and is a convenient way to store toppings like seeds and bacon bits while keeping your dressing separate.
- Whole-wheat Tortilla Wrap with Hummus and Cooked Chicken or Tuna
- Chickpea Tuna salad or Chicken Salad (This recipe only takes 10 minutes to prepare, and you could substitute chicken if you don’t like tuna.)
- Blackbean, Corn and Avocado Salad. Get the recipe here.
Vegan Mediterranean Chicpea and Couscous Salad. You could also substitute quinoa for the couscous. Check out this recipe.
- Avocado and Quinoa Salad. This recipe is vegan and gluten-free.
- Lentil salad with Feta Cheese. Feta is a great way to naturally add salt to your diet. Get the recipe here.
7 Hot Meal Hiking Lunch Ideas for Winter
When you’re hiking in winter and are carving comfort food in the form o a warm meal, these healthy yet hearty meals will fill you up and keep your energy levels stable during your hike.
While many of them are meatless, they still provide good sources of protein. Or you could add meat to them if desired.
Just be sure to put your food in a container like the THERMOS Stainless King Vacuum-Insulated Food Jar with Spoon which will keep your food warm for up to 14 hours.
- Dehydrated meal/freeze-dried meal (just be sure to bring a thermos of hot water to pour into the pouch). While these are intended more for backpacking and multi-day hikes, you can still use them on day hikes if you don’t have time to prepare a regular lunch.
Try Mountain House Fettucine Alfredo with Chicken or Mountain House Chicken Fajita Bowl or Peak Refuel Sweet Pork and Rice. While dehydrated meals won’t taste like a homemade meal, the cooking time is 10 minutes or less. And these ones are tasty, popular options that offer a good source of protein.
- Spinach, Sweet potato and Spinach Dhal. Get the recipe here for this vegan soup.
Pumpkin Chili with Black Beans and Chickpeas. The pumpkin adds extra nutrients and complex carbohydrates. This recipe only takes 30 minutes to prepare.
- Regular chilli with your choice of meat.
- Chickpea, Black Bean, Quinoa Tortilla Soup. This recipe is both vegan and gluten-free (if you use GF tortilla chips).
- Vegetable and Wild Rice Soup. This recipe is both vegan and gluten-free, or you could use regular cream in place of coconut milk.
- Turkish Red Lentil Soup. You can make this recipe vegan by skipping the butter or make it vegetarian by using vegetable stock. Or if you want more lean protein, you can add some meatballs or other meat.
10 Tips for Hiking Lunches and Snacks
- Have a breakfast with complex carbohydrates. And feel free to enjoy your morning coffee if you normally have one.
- Aim for a balance of 60–70% of calories from carbohydrates (60-70%), protein (10-15%), fat (20-30%). This will keep you properly field for your hike and your energy levels up all day.
- Bring more hiking snacks than you think you need. Hiking burns up a lot of calories so you may be hungrier than usual and a HANGRY hiker, is not a happy one. I recommend bringing non-perishable extras like trail mix, dried fruit and a protein bar, like KIND bars.
- Avoid eating before a big ascent if possible. It will make your hike seem more difficult.
- Eat smaller portions more frequently instead of eating a bigger meal all at once. This will help maintain your energy levels throughout your hike.
- Don’t forget to bring plenty of water. It’s important not to get dehydrated. I recommend bringing a water bottle (and using it with an electrolyte mix) and a hydration bladder to have a backup water source in case you lose one, or it leaks. Check out our article What You Need to Know About Water and Hiking for how much to drink and other tips.
- Consider bringing coconut water. If you feel faint or it’s a hot day, coconut water like Vita Coco Coconut Water is a great way to get natural electrolytes and keep yourself hydrated.
- Bring a variety of foods when hiking to ensure you get all your nutrients. You need a combination of complex carbohydrates, lean protein and fat, so bring different snacks and look for lunches like salads, soups or stews containing different nutrient-dense foods.
- Add Salt to Your Food to Help You Retain Water. You sweat a lot when you hike, so you need more salt than usual to avoid dehydration and feeling light-headed. I often carry a few small packets of salt that you can find in fast food restaurants in my hiking backpack to add to soups and stews or in a real pinch to add to my water bottle if I’m feeling lightheaded.
- Use a special salad container like this one to keep salads fresh and a THERMOS insulated jar to keep hot foods warm. They’ll help make it feel like you’re eating at home.
Now you know the best hiking lunch ideas and hiking snacks to keep your energy up on your day hike. Be sure to check out our other hiking tips here.