Ever since I was young, the staple family vacation consisted of camping and hiking and it created a love for the outdoors that led me on a week-long trip on the Appalachian Trail recently. Though a week of carrying everything you need on your back may be slightly more involved than the occasional day hike most people opt to engage in, the same principles of what to eat while on the trail can be used in both situations.
A general rule of thumb for hiking, and many other practices, is the age-old adage “Less is More.” Exercise is a natural appetite suppressant so your body will want less than you might expect, even if you are only hiking for a few hours. When assembling your supplies, focus on the essentials; if you are planning on a having a lunch, do away with the extras a lunch at home might normally have, such as chips or pretzels, and only pack a sandwich instead. For longer hikes it is often even more efficient to break eating down into simple snacks than an actual meal. As your body settles into a rhythm of continuous, prolonged exercise, it will digest food faster and need energy at a quicker rate; the larger the meal, the less streamlined your body can be.
“Less is More” also helps out in less noticeable ways. The less food you bring on a hike, the lighter your pack will be, which always improves attitudes. For longer hikes, less food has the added benefit of a smaller chance of attracting wildlife and an easier task of hiding food for overnight treks. Environmentally speaking, bringing less food typically means having to worry about less waste.
When it comes to what a hiker should eat, the simpler the better. As previously mentioned, the longer a hiker is out on the trail, the faster his or her body will digest food in order to replace the large amount of calories being burned and the energy being used. To help your body in this process, eat simple, non-processed foods. Generally, the more additives a food has, the more chemicals and unnatural elements that your body is not as equipped to break through, which will slow it down on a hike. Fruits and nuts are two of the easiest foods to bring on the trail and go a long way to making sure you reach your destination. On a more scientific level, they also provide different rates of digestion that help create sustained energy. The fruit is sugary, in a natural way, and is very quickly converted to energy. Nuts, on the other hand, are protein-filled and take longer, kicking in when the fruit is used up. Fatty foods will take even longer to metabolize. For a simple, sustaining lunch, not much will beat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This tasty, elementary school treat provides three stages of metabolism and energy. First the jelly, made from fruit and sugary, will be turned into energy quickly. As that fades, the bread, which is a starch, will kick in. And finally, the peanut butter, which is fatty with oils, even when naturally produced, will add its energy at the end. There are also a variety of natural and healthy energy bars that will do all this and more, all packed into a little snack.
No matter where you are hiking, nor how long you are going for, it is always worth taking the time to think about what food you are bringing.