Food & Fitness

How to eat healthy while camping

Since the boyfriend and I are away on a 5-day hike, I figured I’d write a post about the food that we’re eating.

Food is essential in everyday living, but it is especially important to have a steady fuel intake when you’re back-country camping. This particular hiking trip is over 50 km long and it’s through the Canadian Shield, so the terrain is all rocky and difficult to maneuver. We carry everything we need for five days on our backs – it’s certainly a grueling workout!

hiking trip

The boyfriend and I during a trip to Riding Mountain last year.

I’m a health nut and the boyfriend is also very interested in eating well, so we try to choose healthier foods to take with us camping. Here are a few tips for eating healthy when you’re out in the back-country:

1) Eat a hearty breakfast. Breakfast is a very important meal when you’re exercising all day long. We’ll only have four mornings that we need to plan for, and we’re having oatmeal for three days on our hiking trip. We have our oatmeal with ground flax, organic cane sugar, vanilla protein powder and cinnamon. The flax and protein powder are great additions for healthy fats and quality protein. On the fourth morning of the trip, we’re having eggs and hashbrowns (both dehydrated), which will be an awesome protein/carb combo.

2) Have a variety of snacks. Snacks such as dried fruit, beef jerky, Luna or Clif bars and Larabars are perfect for hiking. They can be slipped into a pocket on jammed into a backpack without worry about squishing them. They also provide a fast burst of energy for when you start lagging.

3) Take dried foods that pack well. Packing light is extremely important for a hiking trip, but so is packing non-bulky items. The best way to do this is to dehydrate meals, and then rehydrate them when you’re ready to eat. We made spaghetti and chili ahead of time and then used my dehydrator to dry them. Then you have an entire meal in a ziplock bag, which you just need to add to hot water when you’re ready to eat. Easy! For lunch, we like having wraps. Tortillas pack much better than a loaf of bread, as we learned last year; a banana and peanut butter wrapped in a tortilla, or some vacuum-packed salami and cheese wrapped in a tortilla really hit the spot, and you don’t have to worry about the tortilla getting squished.

hiking break

Getting out our lunch on a hiking trip last year.

4) Don’t be too afraid of calories. You’re burning a lot of calories on the hike, and it’s essential that you stay energized. You won’t necessarily lose weight on a hiking trip, but you’re probably going to burn a fair amount of fat. Nourish your body.

5) Stay hydrated. This is so important! The boyfriend and I bring juice crystals with us on our hikes to make the water especially appetizing. I really like drinking water, but I definitely wouldn’t drink as much of it on a hike if it wasn’t occasionally flavoured as pink lemonade. Every person should carry two water bottles, and you should also take with you water tablets and a water filter to ensure that the water you drink from lakes and rivers is safe and clean.

water bottle

Filtering lake water and filling up a water bottle on a very rainy day last year.

6) Plan a few vegetarian meals. It’s tempting to have meat at every meal on a hiking trip, but this isn’t necessary. Our spaghetti and chili are both meatless – we used texturized soy protein to add extra protein. As mentioned above, our breakfasts will all be vegetarian; the only meat we’ll have is some salami for a few of our lunches, and the beef jerky as a snack. I think it would be really cool to attempt a vegan hiking trip at some point, but that would require a little more preparation, I think.

7) Choose meals that are quick and easy to make. At the end of a long day of hiking, the last thing you want to do is spend a couple hours cooking a meal. That’s what’s so great about dehydrated foods – they’re already cooked, so you just need to add hot water and you’re good to go. Oatmeal and wraps are equally fast to make. The less hassle, the better when you’re back-country camping.

8 ) Have a back-up option. Anything can potentially happen when you’re out in the bush. Wild animals, weather conditions, falling down and hurting yourself or getting lost are all potential dangers when you’re out hiking. It would be great if those weren’t possibilities, but they are, and it’s important to take them into account. There’s always the possibility that you’ll be in the back-country for a little longer than expected, and if that’s the case, you need to have a back-up meal. We carry a dehydrated meal from Mountain Equipment Co-op – the ingredients aren’t the greatest, but it provides nutrients necessary when hiking. It’s also a good idea to take a few extra snacks and an extra portion of oats just in case someone gets especially hungry or in case you accidentally drop your meal on the ground or some sort of equally tragic situation occurs 🙂

tracking trails9) Carb up. Carbs are your best friend when you’re hiking. That’s why I love the oatmeal and the dried fruit – it’s the right type of energy you need to sustain and keep going and to have fun! Protein and fat are also important, but I find that it’s carbs that I usually want for this type of long-lasting exercise. If you’re normally afraid of carbs, don’t be while you’re hiking. They provide your body with vital sugars, nutrients and energy. They should easily make up the bulk of your food.

10) Have a little treat. Our treat is hot chocolate (we will likely have a mug each every evening), and 2 mini bottles of wine (each contains about 1.5 glasses, so we’ll have that for the first night of our hike). It’s nice to have something to look forward to at the end of the day!

What do you eat when you’re hiking (or doing other outdoor activities)? Do you try to eat healthy or do you bring along a lot of processed items? What do you find yourself craving during long hikes? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!


  1. anony-mum

    As a former Canadian National Park Interpreter (not a forest ranger, but someone who took people on hikes and back-packing expeditions, and gave lots of talks about nature and wilderness) I just want to remind anyone who is heading out into the wilderness to “pack-in, pack-out” (take EVERYTHING out with you, including things like sunflower seed shells) and also “Take only pictures, leave only footprints, kill only time”. These are good lessons for any type of activity in any location, even in a city park.

    Hope you are staying dry and having a wonderful time.

    One last comment: “the nut does not fall from the tree” 😉 Glad to see you enjoy one of my old favourite activities

  2. westwood

    Agreed with the above 🙂

    I very much also agree with everything you’ve said… and REALLY appreciate this article… except one very minor point. Juice crystals actually add to dehydration by increasing urination, so usually we only carry them in case a kid has low blood sugar and we need to get them back up quickly (for context to others, I spent 5 years taking 8-15 year olds on 5-21 day canoe trips).

    And a handy tip… regulating bathroom-ness is key. Banana chips for stop, dried apricots for go!

    1. Sagan Morrow

      Ooooh interesting about the juice crystals! I wasn’t aware.

      As it turned out, we didn’t end up having the juice too often – plain water was great. We DID make the mistake of eating less than 1,200 calories one day and not drinking nearly enough that particular day, which turned out to be a BIG BIG mistake. More about that in a future blog post, heh.

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