Hiker Hunger: A Backpacker’s Plague

3 – 4 days on the trail hiking up and down mountains at higher elevation than home is hard on the body. Throwing on top of that hauling 40-50 pounds of gear, food and water into the backcountry creates a stressful situation for the body be experiencing. Sometimes poor sleep, dehydration and malnutrition can be a dangerous situation and should always be avoided. There are so many sleeping setups on the internet that you can look at for making sure that you get your required sleep. I also have written a post on the gear list page about sleep systems. Dehydration is extremely dangerous and backpackers and hikers should always be drinking more water than is regularly recommended. I believe that a half a liter of water should be drunken every hour, but more is needed in hotter climates. Pay attention to your body.

The specific numbers on how many calories are needed to maintain a person’s body weight change significantly from person to person, so the number of calories that I will be given are about what a person of average size and build with an average metabolism would need during a single day. This also depends on how far you’d be hiking during the day and the weight in your pack.

Food is as important as the other two factors and can cause serious issues with your thought clarity, problem solving and some motor skills. While at home, people generally eat about 2,000 calories with moderate about of exercise, which is definitely under the amount of calories that you’d need to intake for maintaining your body weight during a day of backpacking. If you are hiking with 21-42 pounds or hike moderate hills that day, you would need to intake about 5,000 calories. If you are going to hike with a pack more than 42 pounds or more intense hills, then you will need to intake about 6,000, which is about the same as a long distance runner (More info on burning calories).

While backpacking, you are obviously carrying all of your food on top of everything else, so carrying 24,000 calories of food for 4 days is hard, so backpackers look for how to reduce the weight up sustain the calorie count. You may need to ditch the ramen and the can of beans.

How to reduce weight but maintain the calorie account:

  • Choose calorie dense foods:
    • Look at the serving size and compare it to the amount of calories
      • Foods can have different serving sizes, so make sure that you are paying attention to the amount of calories per general serving size
    • Having good fats in your food is great because a gram of fat has 9 calories, while protein and carbohydrates have only 4 calories per gram
    • Some foods are denser in calories and you are wanting to have close to or more than 100 calories for most of your food- peanut butter, flour tortillas or olive oil are great examples
      • Unsaturated fats are great because they are calorie dense and they are good for your body- peanut butter, nuts, and seeds are great examples of it
  • Eat regularly during the day:
    • Some people will pack up and start hiking before eating breakfast. This isn’t the best practice as the your body misses the fuel that it needs to start off.
    • On the trail, snack regularly. This is sometimes hard because of how much mileage you may have to do, where your snacks are located, or the mindset that you may have but it is important.
    • Maintaining a similar eating schedule to your home eating schedule is important because your body is ready to process the calories around that same time
    • This also gives your body a break while on the trail
  • Drink high calorie drinks:
    • Normally, we drink water the entire trip, which is necessary for staying hydrated, but adding other drinks could be helpful
    • Flavored powdered drink mixes weigh almost nothing and have calories and can replace electrolytes that are spent while hiking
  • Fatten up before the hike:
    • It is hard to bring enough food and only after a few backpacking trips, you will bring the right amount, so having extra fat stores before leaving on the trip will give a slightly larger buffer zone before you get dangerously low on calories

Higher calories, lower weight

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