Food to bring on a week-long backpacking trip. Yum!
Photo by Ryan Linn
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Guthook's Backpacking Food Planner

How much food do you pack for a backpacking trip? Why do you pack that much? How much SHOULD you pack? Everybody has different strategies, so pull up a chair and see what Guthook does to determine just the right amount to bring.

Ryan Linn       Inside Atlas Guides       10/19/2018
Ryan Linn
Inside Atlas Guides
10/19/2018

It’s been a while since I was last on a thru-hike, so all of my backpacking trips these days require advance planning when it comes to food. If a backpacking trip is five days long, there’s no time to resupply in the middle, as I would on a months-long trip. Instead, I have to decide on everything I’m going to bring with me right from the start.

Over the past few years, I’ve developed a system that works well for me. This system, rather than counting calories, assumes that the food I pack is sufficiently calorie-dense, and focuses instead on the weight of food I bring, as well as the amount I don’t end up eating on the trip. This helps me decide just how much bring on the next trip, and hopefully increase efficiency.

The plan involves one of a backpacking nerd’s favorite tools: a spreadsheet! You may have used spreadsheets to plan what gear you take in your pack. This is basically the same, but for counting ounces of food rather than gear. Start by deciding on how many pounds of food you’ll bring per day— 1.5 to 2 pounds is pretty standard. Then decide how a day’s food weight will be divided between breakfast, lunch/snacks, and dinner. After returning home, you can see just how well you did, and how much food comes back.

Hiking food piled on the ground in the wilderness
On the trail, it’s time to dig in.
Photo by Ryan Linn

Here’s how my food planning went on a recent 5-day backpacking trip in the Elk Range of Colorado. Since 2 pounds per day has been my standard food weight in the past, I started with that. The previous year, on a trip in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, I’d easily finished 2.25 pounds per day. I figured the Colorado trip would be similar enough to the Wyoming trip, so I decided on 2.25. The terrain on the Colorado trip would be easier, and the mileage shorter, but temperatures would be colder. That’s two factors pointing toward bringing less food, and one for more. In retrospect, I could have packed less, like 2 pounds per day, but the higher number seemed fine anyway.

Once I decided on the 2.25 pounds per day (36 ounces), I split that into 7 ounces for each breakfast, 8 for each dinner, and 21 for the rest. I chose the breakfast and dinner weights based on some meals I had put together earlier, so that was easy. A big trip to Trader Joe’s and the local grocery store settled the rest.

Spreadsheet with meal planning for backpacking trip
Food plan for 4.5 days in the Maroon Bells Wilderness
Photo by Ryan Linn

Skipping ahead to the end of the story, I returned home from the trip with 28 ounces of food leftover. It wasn’t my best work in terms of planning, but still useful for future reference. It seems the lower mileage counted for more than the cooler temperatures, so I can take that into account on future trip planning. And since I plugged all of the remaining food weights into my spreadsheet, I find that I actually ate 1.75 pounds of food per day on average, and ate about 81% of my packed food. That spreadsheet will factor into next summer’s big trips, and I can adjust my targets accordingly in the future.

Spreadsheet showing what food wasn't eaten on hiking trip
Post-hike analysis of the food brought on the trip.
Photo by Ryan Linn

You can check out my backpacking meal planning spreadsheet in Google Sheets or Apple Numbers.

When you click on Google Sheets, go to “File → Make a copy” and make a copy of the excel sheet so you can edit your own.

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About the Author
A man wearing a backpack and carrying trekking poles stands on top of a rock cliff with a view behind him.

Ryan Linn

Ryan is also known as “Guthook”, which is where our apps get their name. Already an avid hiker, he hiked the Appalachian Trail, New England Trail, and Pacific Crest Trail before joining forces with Paul to create the Guthook Guides apps. Ryan handles iOS development for our apps from his office in Maine, and usually runs away to the forests and mountains throughout New England. He also volunteers with the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Baxter State Park in Maine is his happy place.