Going for a long day hike is one of my favorite activities when I travel or explore a beautiful place. It’s such a great way to enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise but the most crucial thing is to bring enough fuel for your body along the way.
When brainstorming hiking lunch ideas and snacks, your main focus should be on the weight and the nutrition of your supplies. Basically, you want to bring enough fuel for your body to make it through the day but not kill yourself with the weight of carrying it around. This applies to every hike. So whether you are visiting national parks on the East Coast of North America, Tongariro in New Zealand, or anything in between, the same lunch rules apply.
In this post, I am sharing 7 great and easy lunch ideas for your day hike to keep you energized so that you can easily enjoy your day. On top, I’m adding the best hiking snacks to bring along and explaining what works and why, so you can become an expert yourself. These hiking food ideas are all things I have tried and succeeded with for different day hikes.
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For day hike lunch ideas; Choose carbs over protein
As mentioned above you need to make sure that your body is ready for the task you present it with.
In the time we live in, we have become afraid of eating carbohydrates. However, carbohydrates are the body’s fuel. If we do not get enough, we can’t cope with the physical tasks we set for our bodies.
Carbohydrates must therefore clearly make up the majority of the energy intake when we are, for example, day hiking. For both morning, lunch, and evening, you must ensure that you have a large intake of carbohydrates. It can be through completely classic carbohydrate sources such as oatmeal, bread, rice, pasta, etc.
In addition, you should consider carbohydrate-rich snacks as part of your hiking food. Whether it is a raisin mix, energy gels, or juice in the water bottle, is not really that important. The important thing is that you make sure to replenish energy on the body regularly through your day hike food, so you don’t get shaky or start to feel nauseous.
Know that there is a difference between the carbs that you eat. Try to intake complex carbohydrates such as whole-grain pasta rather than just sugary foods. This is because the slow-release carbohydrates will keep you feeling energized consistently, rather than experiencing the highs and lows that sugar can cause.
Lastly, many people have an exaggerated understanding of how much protein we should eat. Our bodies can only absorb a modest 25 grams of protein per meal and although we are active, we do not need nearly as much protein as many people think. Furthermore, a protein-rich diet often weighs a lot in contrast to its nutritional value which is bad news for when you are climbing a mountain. Bring a few boiled eggs with you and your protein intake is covered for the day.
Day hike food rich in protein is, however, good for rebuilding muscle and helps with recovery, while eating healthy fats, such as fat from nuts or olive oil, while hiking will help your body absorb the nutrients from other foods.
To sum it up, when brainstorming ideas for lunch for your day hike, choose carbs over protein and divide it into complex carbs, a bit of protein, and healthy fats.
The main focus for day hike lunch ideas
When brainstorming day hike lunch ideas, or in general, just what to bring to eat, day hike foods should be high in nutritional value and low in weight.
While fruit and vegetables are great and healthy, they weigh and take up a lot of space, and they do not keep you energized for very long at all.
On top, you want to avoid bringing delicate foods that are likely to get soggy or squashed on your back. Having a bag full of squashed bananas stays for a long time. Trust me I have tried. Great backpacking food should be something that you don’t need to worry about leaking through your hiking daypack. The backpacking lunch ideas further below are all great for preventing exactly this problem.
The best equipment to bring on your day hike
If you are bringing day hike food that is already prepared or leftovers from the night before, bring something that will taste just as good at room temperature as it would either heated or chilled. Alternatively, you could bring dried or dehydrated meals that you can rehydrate or heat during your hike. A lightweight camping stove and lightweight cookpot are amazing and convenient inventions! They allow you to upgrade your meals while taking up very little space and weighing almost nothing. Finally, brainstorming day hike lunch ideas or meals becomes a lot more flexible and fun when you have a heating option.
Alternatively, you can bring a good termo bottle with boiled water and use it to rehydrate food or cook simple things like oat porridge.
If you hike a lot or plan to do so in the future, and you, like me, prefer to cook your own things instead of buying pre-packed products, then getting your own electric dehydrator is a great tool. Not only does it allow you to cook your own preferred meals but it also becomes much more cost-efficient.
Dehydrated foods that are carbohydrate-rich, are quite easy to find, but dehydrated proteins are hard and pretty expensive to buy. With the electric dehydrator, you can dehydrate your own meats, fruits, and vegetables and easily, and almost weight freely, bring them for your day hike.
Always make sure to bring enough water. In fact, water is one of the ten essentials you want to bring with you on a hike. It’s a good idea to bring water in an insulated stainless steel bottle. This baby will keep your water cool, spare you from taking plastic molecules, and prevent the plastic taste you sometimes experience when water heats up in a plastic bottle.
For long and especially strenuous hikes, a lightweight hydration bladder could be your best friend as it allows you to sip while you walk.
7 easy day hike lunch ideas
Here I am sharing my favorite day hike lunch ideas that both taste good and are very simple to prepare. Some of these items need to be kept cool so bring your lunch along in a small insulated bag. Throw in a few frozen juice boxes or a frozen water bottle for a win-win solution in terms of weight and nutrition.
Another hiking hack is keeping some snacks in a bento box. These babies are great for separating sweet from savory or preventing things from going soggy!
1. Chicken, avocado, and spinach sandwich
Pre-making sandwiches and bringing them along for lunch on your day hike is a quick and great option with endless possibilities. All you need for this one is:
- Whole grain bread
- Cooked chicken
Alternatively, you can use turkey, cream cheese, ham and cheese, tuna, and add extra vegetables like a few slices of tomato. The good thing here is the whole-grain bread, the protein from the source of meat, and the natural fat of the avocado.
2. Mexican veggie wrap
Wraps are great for a hike as you can stuff them with a bunch of nutritious ingredients and literally roll them up and keep them in your bag. Again you have endless options in terms of filling and this one is a tasty easy option:
- Whole-wheat wrap
- Chipotle or normal mayonnaise
- Precooked black beans (you can ones from a can or little box and simply rinse them before use)
- Precooked wild rice (optional)
- 2 cooked eggs (I prefer scrambled but otherwise boiled)
You can add more things if you prefer or leave out either the rice or the beans if you wish. Here you have great slow-release carbs in the whole wheat wrap, wild rice, and beans as well as proteins. The eggs are a great source of protein and fat, that will keep you full for long. Alternatively, you can choose to cook some fajita spiced chicken, substitute the eggs, or even sprinkle in some protein chips for an extra crunch and protein boost.
3. Pesto and chicken pasta salad
Pasta salads are amazing as they take very little effort and keep you energized for a long time. Simply toss together:
- Whole-grain pasta
- Cooked chicken
- Cherry tomatoes
- Parmesan flakes (optional)
Add whatever you like such as green leaves, avocado, or nuts.
4. Hummus with pita and side vegetables
Chickpeas are a great source of protein and complex carbs. Hummus is easy to bring along for lunch on your day hike. Use a bento box to separate some pre-cut vegetables. Pack some:
- Hummus (store-bought or homemade)
- Whole-grain pita bread
- Cherry tomatoes
- Pre-cut carrots
- Pre-cut cucumber
Here you need to make sure that you bring enough. Bring a good container of hummus and at least two large pitas. The vegetables you bring can vary depending on what you like the most.
Though maybe not the most exciting of the lunch ideas for your day hike, oats are probably the easiest, cheapest, and most convenient option. You can buy different types of oatmeal in little pre-packed packages in different flavors. Simply cook it in a lightweight cookpot over a camping stove, or using pre-boiled water from a termo. All you need is:
- 1-2 packets of oatmeal
- Hot water
- Roasted unsalted nuts (optional)
- Blueberries or other berries as a topping (optional)
- Dried chopped fruit (optional)
Depending on how exciting you wish your portion of oats to be, you can top it with various fruits, and nuts, or add cinnamon.
Soups are easy to buy in packages and come in a large variety. Again you simply need to add water and you can do so using a lightweight cookpot and camping stove, or a termo. Look for soups with high nutrition containing things like beans or pasta. All you need is:
- 1-3 packets of soup (depending on the type, your size, and length of your hike)
- Hot water
- Whole grain bread (optional)
Make sure you bring enough soup to keep you energized and full. Bringing a few pieces of bread for dipping is a great and easy way to make sure you are satisfied. The great thing about soup is also that it brings warmth and comfort if you are in a cold place or have moody weather.
7. Precooked or dried meals
There are endless options in terms of buying dehydrated meals. Alternatively, you can make your own in an electric dehydrator and simply add hot water during your day hike. The possibilities are endless and you can make full meals containing meats, vegetables, or whatever you prefer. Alternatively, you can cook a tasty meal the evening before your hike and enjoy the leftovers for lunch. Here are my absolute favorites, that taste great even without being heated:
- Whole-grain pizza (with whatever you like)
- Lasagne (with or without meat)
Snack ideas to bring along with your day hike lunch
On top of your lunch, you should always bring a few snacks with you to keep you energized for the full day. These are my favorite snack ideas in addition to your lunch during your day hike.
Meal bars like a muesli bar, fruit bar, or protein bar are great snacks as they quickly energize and satisfy you without taking up space or weighing much. Look for options with lower sugar and a high level of nutrition to keep your blood sugar stable.
Nut butter like peanut butter, almond butter, or tahini, is packed with healthy fats and protein to keep you full for a long time. Eat it with bread, crackers, or pieces of fruit such as pre-cut apples or bananas.
Crackers or biscuits
Having a few whole-grain crackers or oat biscuits in your bag can really be a lifesaver. Try to avoid ones that are just full of sugar.
If you are going on a long day-hike then having one or two cans of tuna in your bag is a good idea. Tuna provides protein and if eaten with a few crackers, you should be going for a while.
FRUIT AND NUT MIXES
A trail mix, or fruit and nut mix, provides great energy with sugar, protein, and healthy fats. Also, they are quite satisfying if you are low on energy. Lastly, eating salty nuts mixed with fruit sugar is great for keeping your electrolytes in balance.
Dried fruits like apricots or dates are amazing as they are a tiny bomb of nutrition and natural sugar.
Fruits and vegetables
Bringing a few pieces of fruit and vegetables is accessible and easy to bring along. Bear in mind that they weigh quite a lot without providing energy for a long time. Don’t waste too much space and bring other things if you are hiking for a long time.
Final thoughts on day hike lunch ideas
To sum it up, there are endless options and ideas for a day hike lunch. Keep a focus on carb-heavy, lightweight meals that will keep you energized for many hours. Especially if you are doing particularly strenuous hikes like the Tiger Leaping Gorge in China or the Bukhansan Mountain– in South Korea.
Don’t underestimate the amount of fuel that your body might need as it will be working a lot, and make sure to bring enough water with you.
That way you should be perfectly energized to enjoy a great day outside.
In addition, think about what to eat before a hike. Your pre-hike meal is almost as important as what you eat while trekking. For what to eat the night before a long hike the same rule applies. Think of healthy but nutritious food that will keep you full and energized for a long time.
Finally, if you are taking a hike over several days then it is a more complex backpacking trip where you need to think about nutrition for all your meals.
That was it for the 7 great and easy day hike lunch ideas. I hope you found some valuable information, tips, and inspiration from this post.
As always feel free to comment or add additions below.
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