Planning your Ultralight Backpacking Food

Make a Backpacking Food List

Decide how many ounces per day of dry food you will pack. In the post, The Top Three Guidelines for Ultralight Backpacking Food we talked about how to determine that dry weight in guideline #2.

This is the total weight of all food, not counting the packaging, and includes candy, snacks, everything. The number you pick is your magic food budget number. You’ll want to check the accuracy of that number over several trips and once you’ve discovered your optimal number, resolve to stick to it.

Go back to The Top Three Guidelines for Ultralight Backpacking Food and review Guideline #3 to remind yourself about the consequences of carrying more food than you’ve determined that you actually need.

Make a daily meal plan, and turn it into a shopping list by counting how many ounces of each type of food you want to carry. If you’re new to ultralight backpacking and don’t know what’s available, check out Ultralight Backpacking Meals: Dinner BasicsUltralight Backpacking Meals: Breakfast Basics and Ultralight Backpacking Meals: Walking Food for ideas.

Go Shopping for Backpacking Food

Take that list with you when you go shopping. Remember, you are looking for dehydrated foods that can be rehydrated  or steeped in boiling water. There is amazing variety at your regular grocery store, and as was pointed out in, Backpacking Food: What to Pack and How Much Do You Need, backpacking food may be a more expensive option for a big eater.

You can keep a running total of your food weight while you shop by reading the packaging, and writing down the weight of the food as you put it in your shopping cart.

Lay Your Backpacking Food  Choices Out

Go back home and lay your food out for each day in separate piles. Make each day fit your weight budget. Look at your daily food. Is it balanced? Does it look healthy? Now is the time to make informed trade-offs and take more of one thing and less of something else.

Count out the number of solid fuel tablets you need

Look at the meals you will cook. Count how much water you will need to boil every day. One solid fuel tablet will bring 20 oz of water to a boil. A large soup or stew for dinner will take one tablet. An 8 oz. hot beverage will take half a tablet. Count out the fuel you will need, and pack it up into a ziploc fuel bag with you lighter.

Pack Up Your Backpacking Food

We recommend packing your food in ziploc sandwich bags. They are very light weight, airtight, and you can see what is in them. They are the perfect ultralight backpacking food containers. In most cases you can save significant weight by repackaging the food you buy into zip-loc sandwich bags. You can write on the plastic bag with a felt pen if you want to label the contents, or give yourself cooking instructions.

We recommend grouping each day’s food into separate quart or gallon size zip-loc bags. This way you will observe how much food you eat every day. By packing this way, you develop a visual sense of how much food you eat a day. For most people this a new experience, and very insightful. Packing this way will also keep you from worrying about how much food you have left when you are halfway through your trip.

Pay attention to the weight of the food containers if you carry food in jars or bottles. Glass jars and metal cans are always a bad idea. When you are hiking, you should carry out all of your packaging and trash. Weighing your trash and empty food containers at the end of your trip will help sharpen your thinking about food packaging.

Each morning you will transfer your walking food for the day to one of the external pockets in your Lightning Access Backpack. A real benefit of ultralight backpacking is that you will never feel the need to remove your backpack to rest, and with the Lightning Access Backpack, everything you need, from your walking food to your Poncho Tent to your water are easy to reach.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Winfred L. Blair May 15, 2013 at 5:53 pm

Ziploc freezer bags also work for cold food items. Look at the cold food items with the same objectives as with the dry foods. You will be surprised how all those little individual weight and space savings add-up to substantial reductions. If it can come out of a container or bulky carton and into a Ziploc, do it.


admin May 16, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Hello Winfred. You’ll notice that all the foods we suggest at Ultralight Outfitters are dry foods because the Beer Can Stove is used to boil water only. Then, the dehydrated food is added to the boiling water to be reconstituted. But, you’re absolutely right about the importance of removing any and all packaging possible when backpacking. And ziploc bags are a great for lightweight consolidation.


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