Overnight Overnight backpackers have one big advantage, weight and durability doesn't matter. If you're going on an overnight trip, the sky is the limit when planning your meals. Fresh meat, poultry or fish can be brought along, just be sure it is frozen rock hard when you start your trek and you prepare it that evening. Fresh vegetables including potatoes, onions, corn, and carrots can be steamed or roasted when wrapped in heavy foil. If you want to carry the bulk of an egg carrier, you can bring fresh eggs for the morning, unless you are staying in very hot conditions. Of course if you don't want to deal with complex preparation, bringing a heavy can of beef stew, soup, or beans is an easy way out. Just be sure you pack out what ever trash you bring with you.
Two to Four Days This is a trip where you have to keep all of the important factors in close balance. We recommend you have at least one good meal while out on the trail made with fresh ingredients, even if it is your first night. Excellent foods to take along include dehydrated prepared meals, rice, pastas, cup of soup products, and beans. Dried fruits can be stewed if you have the water and time to soften them up. Packing ingredients that can be used universally can help reduce the load. Honey can be used instead of sugar for cooking and flavoring, olive oil can be used for frying as well as a dressing or topping, peanut butter sure goes a long way on almost anything. Pita bread and mini bagels will hold up better than crackers in your backpack. A common pitfall, weekend backpackers typically take more than what they need.
Five to Eight Days If you are going on an extended trip, weight is going to be your number one issue. An eight-day trip can put sixteen to twenty-four pounds of food on your back. Dehydrated meals are going to be your staple on the trail. However you need to balance your diet with some real food. In the mornings you can pancakes from powered mixes that require no oil or eggs. Oatmeal with raisins or other dried fruit is sure to please, as will a big handful of gorp. To cut down on weight even more consider eating balanced sports bars for lunch, but make sure you are taking in enough calories to stay in peak condition. Trash will also be a major consideration. Be sure that you repackage everything you can so you're not wasting valuable space in your pack, or carrying unnecessary weight.
More Than Eight Days Hitting the trail for more than eight days, you're going to have a hard time carrying what you need to eat with you and not wilt under the weight. While on the trail dehydrated prepared foods, rice, pasta, dried meats will be the staples of your day-to-day diet. The best thing to do is to plan a re-supply point along the way. This allows you to have a more varied menu, and improves the nutritional value of what you are eating along the way. A common pitfall, distance hikers typically take less than what they need.
If you are hiking distance trails like the John Muir, Pacific Crest, Ozark, or Appalachian, there are a number of places where you can arrange to pick up packages that you have sent to yourself. Another to consider on distance hiking is if you are passing nearby towns, breaking off of the trail and treating yourself to some real food. A greasy burger with some fries, or a Coke with some Pop Tarts can be a welcome treat after a couple of weeks on the trail. To keep your system running normally, it is important to maintain as much balance in your diet as possible. Cramps, constipation and diarrhea are common problems for long distance backpackers.
With so many options and combinations, combined with your own personal taste, the most important thing to remember is to pack in what you will eat. Sure those dehydrated meals you got at REI or EMS cut down on weight and preparation time, but if each mouthful is going to be an agonizing experience they aren't going to do you much good. Like everything else in the outdoors, a little bit of careful planning goes a long way.