Staying fueled while you hike is of the utmost importance if you want to be able to crush your way up and down the trail. But figuring out which foods you should bring on your hike and which ones are best avoided is no easy feat.
So, what foods should you avoid while hiking?
The quick answer is that you should avoid bringing perishable foods with you while hiking because you likely won’t have access to a fridge to keep your food cold as you trek. Since spoiled food can increase your risk of serious foodborne illnesses, it’s usually best to only bring non-perishable items with you on a hiking trip.
We know first-hand how challenging it can be to plan your own meals and snacks for a hiking adventure. Coming up, we’ll take an in-depth look at some of the dos and don’ts of food on the trail so you have the knowledge you need to organize your next trip into the mountains.
Types of Food to Avoid While Hiking
Food and nutrition while hiking are deeply personal choices so what one person chooses to eat on the trail may be very different from the snacks that another hiker might choose to bring.
However, despite these differences, there are some kinds of foods that are typically best avoided on hikes. These primarily include perishable foods that will spoil if they aren’t kept constantly refrigerated. Other foods to avoid while hiking will be items that are too bulky/heavy or contain a high amount of water content.
Examples of foods to avoid while hiking:
- Soft cheeses
- Meats requiring refrigeration
Fruit is definitely a healthy choice while out on the trail but should be taken sparingly and eaten within the beginning of your journey. The weight to calorie ratio is hardly worth the effort.
For example, foods like yogurt, soft cheeses, and other meat and dairy products that need to be kept cold aren’t great options for hiking snacks. When these foods spoil (which is very possible if they sit in your backpack while you hike in a hot climate), they greatly increase your risk of developing foodborne illnesses, which can be serious.
Of course, people do bring perishable foods like sandwiches and wraps on day hikes. In many cases, hikers keep these perishable items next to an ice pack so they don’t spoil as they walk. But remember that, while this is a fairly common practice, it does come with the risk of foodborne illness if your food isn’t kept properly cold. So if you choose to do so, it’s at your own risk.
Beyond perishable foods, other things that are best avoided on hikes include heavy and bulky foods that will weigh you down on the trail.
Now, this is more of a preference than a hard and fast rule, but most people don’t like to carry more weight in their pack than they need to. Opting for foods that aren’t as bulky and heavy may reduce your pack weight, which could make your hike more enjoyable.
What Should You Not Eat BEFORE Hiking?
There are no universal rules as to what you should and shouldn’t eat before you go on a hike. Rather, it’s up to each person to figure out what pre-hike meals help them perform their best on the trail.
Many hikers opt to eat a well-rounded meal with a mix of complex and simple carbs, fats, and proteins so that they have the energy necessary to sustain them as they trek. This meal can look very different depending on your unique dietary needs and restrictions, so it’s down to you to do some trial and error to figure out what you like best.
That being said, before you go on a hike, it’s generally best to avoid eating foods that you know don’t make you feel very good. For example, if you’re lactose intolerant, it’s probably not a great idea to eat a cheese pizza with some ice cream right before you go on a hike.
If you are struggling to find a pre-hike meal that works for you, consider contacting a qualified dietitian or nutritionist who can help you build a meal plan that’s best for your unique needs.
Is It OK to Hike With Food?
Yes, it is okay to hike with food. In fact, it’s generally expected that hikers will hike with food.
That’s because snacks provide much-needed energy on the trail so that you can actually complete your trek. If everyone were to hike without food, most people would get really hungry part of the way through their trek. Excessive hunger can lead you to exhaustion, which can cause poor decision-making, especially in cold and wet environments. That’s why staying properly fueled is essential while you hike.
However, if you plan to camp, you will need to take extra precautions to protect your food from animals. These precautions are particularly important in bear country as we don’t want to habituate bears and encourage them to eat human food.
The rules for food storage on overnight trips will vary greatly depending on where you’re actually camping. In some areas, you may be required to store your food in a dedicated storage locker or in a bear canister. Other land managers will require you to hang your food from a tree in a so-called bear hang.
Because these requirements can vary so much, it’s imperative that you double-check any food storage regulations in your chosen camping area before you leave home. It’s the responsibility of each camper and hiker to know the rules and to follow them properly.
Staying Fueled on the Trail is Critical For Your Adventures
No matter how you look at it, packing the right food for your hike is critical if you want to stay adequately fueled during your outings.
As a general rule, it’s best to avoid perishable foods as you hike because these increase your risk of developing a foodborne illness. It’s also typically better to avoid really heavy or bulky foods as carrying these items as you walk can be a bit of a challenge. But, every single person is different and there’s no one snack strategy that will work for every hiker.
Most people find that a mix of non-perishable snacks can help them stay energized as they hike. However, the key is to figure out what meals are ideal for your unique hiking needs so you can make the most of your time in the mountains.
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David Parnell is the founder and lead editor at Trail and Summit, who enjoys writing on a wide range of topics from travel trailers to trail running. He’s an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.