Besides having the proper gear and enough water to stay hydrated, well-planned day hike food is one of the most important things to consider before setting out for a long day on the trail.
I have been enjoying mountain-top meals and trailside snacks over the last few decades so I have piled up a huge list of my best ideas to share with you!
In this post, you can find everything from unique mid-hike snacks to elevated meals to enjoy before, during, and after your hike. When you’re out on a day hike, you want to ensure that you have the right food to fuel your adventure successfully.
Your food choices can make the difference between an invigorating and victorious approach to the summit or an exhausted disappointing choice to turn around because you didn’t bring enough sustenance.
🥾 Best Day Hike Food
The goal for a much-deserved day in nature is to have things go nice and smooth and if you’re anything like me, that starts with a happy belly! You need food that will give you energy but won’t weigh you down.
Why is hiking food important? We all know what it feels like to suddenly lose momentum and crash from not consuming the right amount of food or enough of it.
Avoid the low and the “bonk” by planning a healthy array of meals beforehand. Take care of your body with well-planned day hike food ideas!
The best foods for hiking are those that provide ample energy and help you feel full and satisfied without weighing you down.
I’ve compiled a big hiking foods list. No matter what your preferences are, there is something here for everyone!
🍜 What to Eat Before a Hike
This planning starts the evening before your hike. I say the perfect diet is the one that’s tailored to the individual. So, one version of the best food for a day hike may not work for everyone. Alter things as needed for your own needs.
Learning how various foods affect your body and providing it with what it needs is a gift that you deserve.
I say this knowing not everyone can tolerate eating more carbs. If you can, consider eating a high complex carb meal the night before a long day hike.
Pictured above is a really delicious noodle dish by Ruth Reichl (and sauteed spinach) that is a regular in our house. Give it a try! It’s the perfect meal to eat for dinner on the eve of your hike IF you handle spicy foods well.
Complex carbs are important for high-energy activities because you digest them more slowly than simple carbs. It’s super important to fuel your body properly with high-energy foods before you head out on a hike.
What you eat on your non-adventure days is just as important as what you eat before your hike so be consistent with your nutrition and take care of your body habitually. It will help your strength overall in the long run.
🥑 Breakfast Before Hiking
It’s super important to consider what food to eat before a hike! Heading into a day hike with a content belly while also being well-hydrated is key.
Let’s also discuss what NOT to eat for your hiking breakfast as well so you can avoid feeling lethargic and crummy overall.
If you typically down a bowl of cereal each morning, that’s just not going to cut it for supporting your energy for a grueling hike.
Fats are beneficial at breakfast (and lacking in most cereals) for their ability to slowly release energy.
However, we can compromise. If you love your cold cereal, eat it, but consider adding in good fats on top such as coconut flakes and hemp seeds or include an avocado protein smoothie on the side.
As an alternative whip up a super hearty bowl of backpacker’s oatmeal and feel that fuel your hike for hours!
Then, assess how you feel hiking and adjust food if needed for the next time. Use these hiking breakfast ideas (pictured below) to try something new!
The best breakfast before a hike will not create a drop in blood sugar but rather sustain your energy until your next meal.
✔ DO EAT High protein, healthy carbohydrates, and good fats. Consider eggs, breakfast meats, tofu, vegetables, fruit, sweet potatoes, whole grains, seeds, and nuts.
❌ AVOID High sugar items, empty carbohydrates (donuts, pastries, typical cereals, white flour pancakes, flavored yogurt, juice), and overly greasy or fried foods.
📝 Best Day Hike Food List
ALWAYS REMEMBER: Pack it in, pack it out! If you don’t eat it, you must carry it back out! Only bringing what you need for hiking snacks and lunch for the day is wise.
In addition, as with the rest of your gear, weight is just as important when considering the food for hiking.
Although, because it is only a day hike, you can splurge a bit and carry what you are willing to (I am looking at you, you beautiful block of gouda cheese!) as opposed to when backpacking when you need to carry a few days worth of food.
The importance of the best trail food for day hike success is hopefully high on your radar. For someone who enjoys food as much as I do, delicious and satisfying hiking foods are something I look forward to, just as much as the journey to the peak.
Finding satisfaction and nourishment in what you eat is important while exerting yourself outdoors. Taking care of your needs and pampering yourself is a good thing!
✔️ Hiking Snacks
- APPLE: This class snack exists because it is super satisfying and healthy. A great pick-me-up that can be munched on while hiking.
- TANGERINE OR ORANGE SLICES: Tangerines are easy to peel. Remember to have somewhere to pack away your peels. Orange slices are great instead of a whole orange which can be challenging to peel.
- GRAPES: For summer hiking grapes seem to really hit the spot for a much-needed snack. Be careful where you pack these to avoid smooshing.
- ROASTED AND SALTED NUTS: Cashews, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, and macadamia nuts are all great choices.
- DRIED FRUIT: I like to dehydrate fruit for outdoor adventures because it is cheaper and fun to have a variety of fruits to enjoy. Our favorites are dried kiwi and dried strawberries!
- CARROT STICKS OR MINI CUCUMBERS: Remember to eat your vegetables during hikes. Veggie sticks are an easy, healthy, and crunchy addition to your snack regimen.
- TRAIL MIX or G.O.R.P: Make your own or buy some, but definitely don’t skip this essential snack for hiking. It’s the classic day hike food!
- SNACKING OLIVES: These have become quite popular and can be found in shelf-stable pouches in many grocery stores.
If you cannot find any definitely buy your regular olives and pack some up for gourmet hiking snacks. Another option is packing dehydrated olives, which are super flavorful and resilient as they are dried.
- ENERGY BALLS: There are so many delicious recipes out there for energy balls. Make your own custom version or try this favorite recipe of mine.
- PROTEIN BARS: Almost everyone has a favorite protein bar for that quick bite to eat when you start to feel super peckish.
If you’d like to try a delicious plant-based protein bar that I recommend highly, check out Aloha Bars. We tried these for the first time last summer and I am hooked!
- GRANOLA BARS: Homemade or storebought bars are one of the class hiking snacks that never go out of style. This is a must-have day hike food for kids!
- FRUIT LEATHER: A homemade fruit leather is a really fun and tasty snack for hiking. I make my own in my dehydrator because it is so easy to do with whatever fresh or frozen fruit I have on hand.
- PEANUT BUTTER or NUT BUTTER PACKET: Justin’s is a well-known brand. They have flavored nut butters or plain versions. A nice burst of yummy protein.
- CURED MEAT STICKS: I buy the Vermont Smoke & Cure Meat Sticks because they are ubiquitous in stores around here and they taste great.
- POPCORN: Make a bag at home and attach it to the outside of your pack for a super lightweight satisfying salty trail snack.
- PEANUT BUTTER PRETZEL NUGGETS: I buy the Quinn brand because they do not contain Palm Oil, are OK for our gluten-free friends and they are non-GMO.
- SEASONED RICE CAKES: Great on their own or with something to top them (cheese, nut butter, jam). The birds and chipmunks love the crumbs these create, don’t stress about the mess.
- ROASTED CHICKPEAS: I love these crunchy spicy snacks that pack protein into a little salty snack that is healthier than potato chips.
- WAX CHEESE: These cute little cheeses, such as Babybel, seem to be just the right size for snacking. Kids love to peel their own and play with the wax.
- CHIPS AND GUACAMOLE: I am a bit of a guacamole addict and I can assure you this is a fantastic day hike food. While it takes a bit of extra planning, especially if you make your own guac, it will be worth it.
- DARK CHOCOLATE: It had to make the list. Don’t go into the woods without your favorite dark chocolate bar or some Hu Snacking Gems! They are really good. Bring enough to share with your friends.
- HARD-BOILED EGGS: Peel on the trail or in advance. It’s a perfect hiking snack and one goes a long way. I like to peel my eggs in advance and season well with salt and pepper or furikake, storing them in a small container in my pack.
- GRANOLA: Original or Grain-Free granolas are great for snacking on en route and are full of complex carbs and deliver a nice crunch.
- DARK CHOCOLATE-COVERED ALMONDS: Oh yeah, just remember to eat them before they get too melty in warmer weather!
- STUFFED DATES: Seriously such a good idea if you have the time to make some in advance! Use them as hiking snacks or add them to a charcuterie board for lunch. Check out these recipes.
- CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES: Yes! Cookies are sometimes JUST what you need to persevere on a long hike. When consumed during exercise, there is no excessive blood sugar spike with small amounts of sweets.
- CHEX MIX: Right?! THIS right here is a very good idea. Who doesn’t love a good Chex Party mix? Make your own or just buy it. I recommend eating some cheese or jerky alongside it to add protein.
- FREEZE-DRIED ICE CREAM SANDWICH: WHAAAAT?! YES! How else can you enjoy ice cream on the trail? My family recently tried the Gastro Gnome Meals Huckleberry Sandwiches on our last backpacking trip and were blown away by their deliciousness. Plus, they are the perfect small size for travel!
How often should I snack while hiking?
This is perhaps based on personal tolerance and the answer will vary for each individual, but I like to eat every 1-2 hours when hiking.
Eat when you are hungry and also drink water often. If you get too hungry while hiking, your energy will be depleted soon.
In addition, take care of the needs of others in your hiking party. Stop when someone needs to, always.
Young kids, especially, do much better on hikes when there are frequent stops for snacks. Set a timer, if it helps, and stop for the little ones every 30-45 minutes.
✔️ Day Hike Lunch Ideas
Hiking lunches can definitely make or break a successful day on the trail for my family. With two seemingly constantly ravenous kids, if lunch isn’t satisfying, the hike back to the car is full of whining.
What’s that? You don’t have kids? Well, we ALL know adults get hangry too and I’ve heard my share of hunger groans from adult companions as well. These hiking lunch ideas will hopefully spare everyone from the hunger drama.
- SANDWICHES: You can choose to keep things simple with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a ham and cheese sandwich. Sandwiches for hiking are popular because they pack easy, are customizable and downright taste great!
- WRAPS: Another similar option is a wrap that can be filled with anything from peanut butter and banana, to chicken salad, to beans and guacamole or veggies and hummus. A recent new favorite is made on the mountain top with dehydrated hummus, sundried tomatoes, and dehydrated olive paste.
- GREEK YOGURT AND GRANOLA: Use a thermos and make a lighter lunch topped with fruit, nuts, and seeds for crunch. Sometimes a cold refreshing lunch of protein-packed yogurt is all you want!
- TUNA: One of our family’s favorite new easy packable lunch items, when we are low on time, is FreSHé Gourmet Canned Tunas! They really surprised me with how good their flavor is, truly.
If you can remember a fork and a sealable bag to store your used tin, these are a win-win. Pair them with some veggie sticks and cheese or chips.
- SOUP or RAMEN: On a cooler day you can choose to pack a leak-proof thermos of soup from home or bring a little Solo alcohol stove to make ramen on site. They work really well, are easy to use, and don’t add a lot of weight to your pack. We love ours and use it often for a no-fuss day hike warm-up!
- LEFTOVER SAMOSA: Indian food is my favorite cuisine and I find a samosa with a side of cucumber raita to be a delightful hiking meal. Give it a try! If you don’t know how to make samosas just buy a frozen variety to bake at home.
- COUSCOUS or QUINOA SALAD: Make your own and stash in a reusable container. Add olive oil, garlic, dried fruit, lemon, crumbled cheese, chopped veggies, and herbs for a simple trail lunch.
- QUESADILLA: Make your quesadillas at home, slice and pack them into a tin for your hike. Add beans, spinach, chicken, hot sauce, or fresh herbs for more flavor.
- QUICHE: A big ‘ol piece of quiche wrapped up carefully or stashed in a stainless steel container is a really satisfying lunch that will help you stay energized.
- CHARCUTERIE: This is a must-try and perhaps a repeat for every day hike if you have the tolerance to carry a bit of extra weight like a chunk of cheese and sausage as well as a knife for slicing. Add olives, veggies, fruit, cracker, or french bread to the spread!
- SLICED GRILLED CHICKEN OR STEAK: Leftovers from dinner are so good for a hiking lunch. Add half an avocado and some veggie sticks, fruit or rice pilaf to make it a meal.
- LOX BAGEL: For the foodie hiker who loves a good bagel! Smear cream cheese on a bagel and add slices of lox, thinly sliced red onion, and a good sprinkling of capers.
- MEXICAN BEAN SALAD: Mix black beans, chopped avocado, corn, cherry tomatoes, cilantro, cumin, garlic, chopped jalapeño, lime juice, olive oil, and salt. Bring a side of tortilla chips!
- LEFTOVER COLD PIZZA: If you love it, bring it! No one will challenge you. It’s a great day hike food because it is tasty and EASY!
- FRESH THAI SPRING ROLLS: I make my own and my kids love and request these often. Fillings include spicy tofu, mango, red cabbage, cucumber, carrot, cilantro, and scallion and we used a peanut sauce for dipping. Use a damp paper towel in packing to prevent sticking.
- PROTEIN SMOOTHIE: Why not make your favorite protein smoothie and bring it along in a thermos? Remember to bring a few extra nibbles on the side. After so much exertion, you may be hungrier than usual.
✔️ What to Eat During a Long Hike
It’s even more important to calculate food carefully to fuel long hikes. Finishing a 10-12 mile hike in a day comes more easily for some but if you don’t eat enough, achieving that goal can be painful.
The easiest recommendation I can give you to pad your day hike food bundle is to pack a Pro Meal bar or something similar. Have a box on hand for any time you need a filling snack.
These Pro Meal bars are a recent discovery for me. They have saved us at the tail end of several longer hikes and it’s incredible how well they fuel our energy and fill our bellies.
Each bar says it has two servings but for adults, we found that a whole bar is perfect when exerting oneself and needing a boost.
My kids (ages 9 and 12) have consumed whole bars on longer hikes as well. I recommend Superfood Slam and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip.
We have absolutely loved using these in our family to make it through the final stretch of a long day hike. Stomachs start to get hungry and muscles start to tire sometimes right toward the end of a hike.
In addition, consider bringing a SECOND wrap on your longer hikes such as simple bean, avocado, and cheese, or peanut butter, honey, and banana.
We also enjoy extra cheese, hard-boiled eggs, apples, and peanut butter, or a celebratory cookie to fuel the final mile or two.
🚰 Hydration: How Much Water for Hiking?
Packing water is essential to any hike, long or short. But how much water should you bring? The answer may depend on a few conditions, like the temperature, your size, or your level of activity.
I love to use a 2 L water reservoir in my daypack to make sure I always drink at least that much water on my hikes. I also bring a smaller water container on the side. Osprey is a tried and true brand I trust.
A general rule of thumb is to bring one-half liter of water for every hour you’ll be hiking. So, if you’re planning to hike for four hours, you should bring two liters of water.
Remember to keep in mind the weight of your water when factoring in what you put in your pack.
Liquids are typically the heaviest thing you will need. That is unless you are lucky enough to be hiking somewhere where fresh crystal clear water is readily available to you.
During physical activity, you need additional fluids to replace the water lost in sweat. Adding electrolyte tabs or powder to your water helps maintain excellent hydration and aids in recovery.
Since sweat also contains electrolytes (as well as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium), both water and sodium need to be replaced to maintain proper fluid balance. This helps prevent the unwanted symptoms that result from dehydration and low electrolytes.
Continue to hydrate with water after your hike to help with recovery and overall well-being.
🎒 How to Pack Food for a Day Hike
Your day hike food needs to be packed in organized containers for easy access in your pack. Keep snacks in a separate bundle away from your lunch items, in an entirely separate compartment if possible.
It’s really nice to be able to unzip one area of your pack and grab a snack on the trail. I can’t emphasize enough how much you want to keep your pack organized. Think about where to place everything in the order you will need it.
The best containers for hiking foods are those that are reusable and seal well. I often use my favorite Bees Wrap for a sandwich but I pay attention to where I pack it amongst harder objects in my pack such as apples and water bottles, to prevent squishing.
Two tried and true brands I love that seal well are Stasher Silicone Bags and U-Conserve Stainless Steel Leakproof Containers.
The Stasher bags are lightweight and great for sandwiches, cheese and veggie sticks but I do love to use a leakproof hard container for dips and salads on a day hike.
I do not bother with cold packs for our day hike food in hot weather. We simply pack food that will not spoil in the heat; I avoid green salads and creamier sauces.
If I pack sensitive fruit such as strawberries or chopped melon, those are eaten as snacks earlier in the day.
On a hot day, why not keep a cooler in your car packed with lots of ice and cold drinks such as seltzer water or kombucha to enjoy after your hike?
Also, use a designated day pack to pack everything in once you have it packaged. A good day pack can make all the difference in your comfort level for the hike!
Osprey day packs have an incredibly efficient and comfortable ventilated frame and they come with an adjustable torso length capability to the ventilated frame so which means they are perfect for shorter women like me!
This Osprey Sirrus has won me over in that I feel at times I am not carrying anything in the pack due to the amazing anti-gravity suspension system. In my family, we all now use Osprey packs. It’s worth trying one out!
🥗 What’s the Best Food to Eat After Hiking?
Let’s not forget to discuss the best post-hike meal ideas! Whenever possible, try to refuel within one hour of hiking.
I like to have a granola bar, protein bar, or an apple on hand when I arrive back to my car in case I need something right away. Take a few minutes to drink some water and have a light snack.
If you’re searching for a post-hike meal, look for options with protein and complex sugars. A general goal is to go for a 4:1 ratio of complex carbs to lean protein.
I generally crave a healthier option post-hike. However, I say if you are craving a burger, go for it!
A fantastic idea is to really plan ahead and have a couple of salads or side dishes made in advance that you can come home to after your hike and enjoy easily.
Simply grill something to accompany them and enjoy the feeling of bliss that takes over after a successful day conquering a mountain!
💡 Final Thoughts: Best Food for Day Hike
Meal planning for hiking is a crucial part of a successful day outdoors! Once you have a few day hikes under your belt it becomes easier to remember the individual requirements for yourself and your family.
Remember, the goal is to have fun, not feel stressed and continue to support your basic human needs when in the great outdoors; provide water, food, and proper gear/shelter. My final tip is to always pack a rain jacket just in case.
Continuing to branch out and try new foods is part of enjoying life! Food always tastes so much better on the trail so enjoy pampering yourself and those around you with delicious packed meals when climbing mountains.
I hope you enjoy coming back to this list again and again for new ideas and inspiration for future day hike snacks and day hike lunch ideas!
If you need ideas for cold-weather hiking snacks check out this other popular post: 45+ Best Portable Snacks for Skiing