The Wonderland Trail – Mount Rainier

The Complete Backpacker's Guide to Exploring the 93 Mile Trail

DIY Lightweight Backpacking Meals

Backpacking is a calorie intensive activity. Eating enough and eating the right foods is essential to having enough energy to enjoy your trip. Being hungry will make the trail seem like a punishment instead of an adventure and it will leave you lacking the energy to enjoy the magic and mystery of the mountain. The Wonderland Trail is best enjoyed on a full belly.

Most backpackers use between 400 and 600 calories per hour while hiking. That means even an average sized hiker hiking for 10 hours a day could use as many as 6000 calories a day (don’t forget, camp chores and even sleeping requires energy!). 6000 calories per person per day is a good guideline but your caloric needs may be significantly different. We pack much less — around 3500 calories per person per day (plus a little extra in case of an emergency) and we don’t loose weight while we are on the trail.

So how much food should you bring? In order to determine how much food you need for a long trip, go on a short trip with a lot of food in your backpack and write down how much you eat on the third day. By the third day of a trip your appetite should accurately reflect the number of calories your body is using on the trail. The amount of food you eat on the third day of your short trip should be the amount of food you bring per person per day on your Wonderland Trail Vacation.

Nutritionally dense, non-perishable foods like nuts, granola, powdered milk, oatmeal, dehydrated fruits, vegetables and beans, beef jerky, crackers, salami, dehydrated soups and sauces, pasta, instant rice and chocolate are all excellent trail foods because they are lightweight, simple to prepare, and won’t spoil on your trip. Beverages like coffee, tea, powdered drink mixes and hot chocolate are lightweight luxuries that are great to have along, and treats like Pop Tarts, and Fig Newtons in your food caches keep things interesting and add calories (a good thing!).

If you plan to do much backpacking and enjoy hot dinners a food dehydrator is well worth the investment. Dried meals at camping stores are ridiculously expensive, but can be made at home with a food dehydrator (see recipes below). Some dried foods like apples, raisins and onion flakes can be bought cheaply at the grocery store. Others, like apricots and cranberries taste better store bought, but many, like pineapples and carrots are easily and inexpensively dehydrated at home. Home dried pineapple is my favorite trail food β€”it is sweet and chewy and makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

Meal ideas:


It’s chilly in the morning, but once you start hiking you warm up. As a result, many hikers prefer a fast breakfast that doesn’t require a lot of cooking or clean up.

  • Granola with powdered milk
  • Peanut butter, almond butter or Nutella on Crackers
  • Pop Tarts
  • Coffee
  • Hot Chocolate

For slower mornings:

  • Oatmeal with powdered milk, cinnamon, and raisins.
  • Veggie Scramble (see recipe below)


Instead of eating lunch proper, we keep our energy up by snacking throughout the day on high energy foods. If you bring a variety of nuts and fruits you can pick out a few to eat each day – that way you won’t get bored eating the same trail mix every day. You might like some of the following:

  • Dried fruit
  • Pineapple
  • Apples
  • Raisins
  • Apricots
  • Cranberries
  • Prunes
  • Dates
  • Nuts
  • Almonds
  • Peanuts
  • Cashews
  • Pistachios
  • Walnuts
  • Chocolate Bars
  • Granola Bars
  • Beef Jerky

If you want to stop and have a sit down lunch, I recommend the following:

  • Packaged fish and crackers (salmon and tuna both come in lightweight packets)
  • Salami and Crackers
  • Peanut butter or almond butter on crackers


These dehydrated cooked meals are well worth the effort:

  • Pesto Pasta with Spinach (see recipe below)
  • Couscous Curry (see recipe below)
  • Vegetarian Chili (see recipe below)

If you don’t want to cook, the sit down lunch foods above make fine dinners.


  • Candy
  • Granola Bars
  • Nutella on crackers
  • Hot Chocolate


Try these printer-friendly recipes! Be sure to try all of your recipes beforehand – make sure you can prepare them easily and that you like the way they taste before you’re on the trail and committed to eating them.

Veggie Scramble

Pesto Pasta with Spinich

Couscous Curry

Vegetarian Chili

– Ruth Thompson – 2011