Let’s face it, hiking makes us hungry. But what should we eat out on the trail?
Here are 10 hiking lunch ideas for you to consider.
1. The Humble PB&J
Hiking burns a lot of calories. In fact, if you’ve read my post on hiking vs running, you know that an hour of hiking can easily burn between 300 and 600 calories an hour. For this reason, you’ll want to pack a calorie-dense lunch that doesn’t weigh much.
You might also want to pack a food that doesn’t spoil easily. The humble peanut butter and jelly sandwich ticks off both of these boxes. Peanut butter has a good amount of protein and fat and jelly provides a quick energy burst in the form of simple sugars. Surround this with some whole wheat bread and you add even more protein as well as a good supply of complex carbohydrates to keep you supplied with energy throughout the rest of your hike.
Get yourself a small sandwich container and you won’t have to worry about your sandwich getting crushed inside of your backpack. Also, you’ll be able to re-use this container so you won’t be wasting money or ruining the environment as you would with plastic sandwich bags.
2. Tuna or Chicken Pouch Sandwich
Chicken and tuna both provide a ton of protein without taking up much space. A single serving from a 2.6 ounce pouch will give you about 17 grams of protein. I usually prefer tuna as I feel I don’t eat enough fish but chicken works just as well.
Opened tuna and chicken will go bad while you’re out hiking and I can’t imagine how the tuna would smell after a few hours out in the hot sun. Cans of chicken and tuna can get messy and they are hard to drain while out on the trail.
This leaves us with the dried tuna and chicken pouches. These pouches are easy to pack and they take away all of the mess that the water in the cans seems to bring with it. It also takes the smell down which could be important depending on where you’re hiking.
Bring some healthy bread with you and you can up the calories and add some much needed carbs to your hiking lunch. This will also increase the protein, pushing your lunch over the 20 gram mark.
3. Trail Mix
For a lighter lunch, consider packing a big bag of trail mix. Trail mix is great because you don’t really even have to stop to enjoy it. It’s packed full of calories and has a nice mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
Trail mix is also lightweight and packs down small so you can put a bunch of it in your belt pocket. Even if I pack a larger lunch, I’ll usually still consider bringing some trail mix with me to enjoy on the trip.
The only downside to trail mix is that it is dry and some trail mixes can be full of salt. This means you end up needing to drink a bit more water than usual.
Also, the large diversity of foods placed in the average pack of trail mix means that there is a higher likelihood that your body won’t agree with one of them. People with peanut allergies will have a hard time finding a well-balanced trail mix and people with chocolate or fruit allergies may find their options limited as well.
4. Protein Bars
I remember eating the original protein bars as a kid and they didn’t taste very good, were hard to chew, and on top of all of this, they made my mouth very dry. Things have changed these days however and many protein bars are so good that it is hard to resist eating more than one of them.
These bars have a large amount of protein and carbs in them and they usually range between 200 to 300 calories. If you’re looking to shed some weight while hiking, a protein bar is the perfect lunch as you won’t be eating many calories, but you’ll still end up getting enough protein to retain your muscles.
My favorite protein bar right now is the Elevation protein bar by Millville. Chocolate peanut butter and chocolate chip mint are delicious and each provides 20 grams of protein. Also, there isn’t any sucralose in them which some other protein makers are currently putting in their bars to sweeten them. The jury is still out, but it seems sugar substitutes may be harmful to our health.
5. Cold-cut Sandwiches
If you have room for a cooler, feel free to pack your favorite cold cut sandwiches. A nice turkey and cheese sandwich with lettuce and tomato on it is a nice treat when you’re out on the trail. On a hot day, it can feel especially nice to be eating a lunch that is chilled.
Bring an avocado to use as a healthy alternative to mayonnaise and you’ll get a nice mix of protein, slow burning carbs, and unsaturated fat with your sandwich. As an added benefit, the avocado comes in its own natural container so you won’t have to pack an extra container just for condiments.
Some people even pack along a bag of chips to go with their sandwiches as well. The reason for this is that potato chips weigh very little for how many calories they offer. If you want to be a bit more health-conscious, choose a bag of mixed vegetable chips instead. You’ll still get all of the caloric benefits but you’ll get a healthier mix of vitamins and minerals.
6. Pre-packaged Camping Meals
Military surplus MREs and Mountain House freeze dried meals offer up a hearty alternative to a more traditional lunch. These meals are dry though, so you’ll need to pack some extra water to prepare them.
Also, you may find that these meals are more expensive than any of the other options listed here. On the other hand, they also offer up a lot of calories in one small and convenient package so the extra money might just be worth it.
Some people complain that they don’t like the taste of dehydrated meals but personally I like many of the meals I’ve eaten. This is especially true of the military MREs. The lemon poppy seed pound cake that some of the meals come with tastes amazing!
7. Protein Pancakes with Maple Syrup
Get a package of protein pancakes that only require the use of water and heat to prepare them. Make up a bunch in advance and bring them along with you. The pancakes will hold their freshness until you’re ready to eat them and the maple syrup you bring with you won’t need to be refrigerated at all.
Grab a pancake with your hands and dip it into the syrup so you don’t have to pack any silverware. You’ll get a lot of protein and both simple and complex carbohydrates. Plus, pancakes in syrup are delicious no matter where you eat them.
8. Canned Stew or Hearty Soup
Going for a day hike in cold or rainy weather? Grab a can of hearty soup or stew and bring a small alcohol stove to warm it up with.
A large can will give you somewhere between 10 – 15 grams of protein depending on what type of soup you decide to go with. You’ll also get a lot of vitamins and minerals and a good amount of carbs.
I like to buy the cans with the tabs to open themselves up with. This way I don’t have to bring a can opener and the top comes off cleanly so I can eat right from the can.
One thought to keep in mind is that some soups and stews can be high in sodium. You’ll be eating the entire can so you’ll be getting not one but two mega doses of sodium. For this reason, you may be better off going with a low-sodium version instead. If you find these to be too bland, you can always bring a small salt packet to add a little bit back in if absolutely necessary.
9. Avocados on Whole Wheat Bread
For those of you who want to avoid meat, consider bringing some bread and some avocados to spread on top of it. An avocado comes in its own natural container and you don’t even need a knife to get it open.
The avocado will give you a large dose of potassium and vitamin b-6 as well as a sizable amount of mono-saturated fat. It also provides a bit of protein and carbs as well. Spread the avocado over Ezekiel bread or whole wheat bread for some additional protein and carbs and you have a nice high-calorie meal to take with you.
Just be careful as an avocado has 40% of the recommended daily amount of fiber. Combine this with whole wheat bread and if you’re not used to fiber you may have some stomach issues to contend with. The hiking trail is not the place to experiment with your tolerance to fiber so you may want to try this meal at home first before you consider using it as a hiking meal.
10. Granola and Dried Fruit Bowl
Granola is high in calories, high in protein, and light in weight. Dried fruit is high in nutrition value, light in weight, and tastes great.
Combine some granola and dried fruit in a bowl and you have a nice high calorie meal that tastes great. Bring a spoon and pour some water in the bowl and you can eat it like a bowl of cereal or oatmeal.
You can buy your own granola and dried fruit or you can buy pre-made bowls. Personally, I prefer to make the bowls myself as this allows me to create the ratio of granola to dried fruit that works best for me.