You should pay attention to your backpacking nutrition guides. Backpacking doesn’t require a special diet, but it does demand that you plan your food correctly.
You are burning a lot of calories as you hike and your choice in foods is critical in providing the proper amount of calories (energy) for your activity.
Energy from food is measured in calories. A lot of the nutrition guides that I’ve read suggest you get 3000 – 4000 calories per day, if you’re moving your camp site every day.
After 3 days, you will want to increase that by 500 – 1000 additional calories per day. You can go with fewer calories if you plan on a base camp and just doing small day hikes with less strenuous activity.
Cold weather may demand even more calories.
Younger backpackers may require an additional 25% more food than adults. I’ve backpacked with 100s of teenagers over the years and it seems to me that for every mile I walk, they might walk 2 miles for all the extra stuff that they do.
Here is a nutrition guides chart that will help you in seeing that maintaining the right caloric count is not all that difficult: calories = cal, gram = gm
Proteins: are essential in maintaining muscle and body chemistry
4cal/gm, 30% of daily calories.
Meats – dried, canned, fresh
Dairy – cheese, milk, eggs
Beans, nuts, legumes
Carbohydrates: provide fast energy. Consumption is used within 2 hours. Spread the intake throughout the day to sustain proper energy levels.
4cal/gm, 50% of daily calories.
Grains, cereals, breads (can be mixes)
Rice, macaroni, noodles
Fruit – Juice, dried, fresh (heavy)
Candy – Candy bars are good, but avoid those that have extra trash packaging. Like the cardboard inside the wrap. Just extra stuff to carry. Choose those that have peanuts or peanut butter in them. These are going to be messy in the summer time. If you are allergic to peanuts, look for candy bars that use another food for protein.
Fats: burn slowly and supply the most calories per weight. Fat takes 6-8 hours to burn. The burning of fat is what helps to keep us warm.
9cal/gm, 20% of daily calories.
bacon, butter, oil, margarine
Most nuts contain a large amount of oil.
Summary: According to the activity and the season, the ratio of proteins, carbohydrates and fats will vary. Cold weather and higher altitudes require more fat. Remember that fat provides body heat. In hot weather, use less fat and balance with more protein. Eat items high in carbohydrates throughout the day to support high activity.
Foods that qualify in all these categories can be found at your local grocery store, health food stores, specialty camping stores and mail order for freeze-dried foods. Read the nutrition guides on the package.