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Calories to Consume Backpacking

I'm wondering what others use as a calculation for calories to consume per day while backpacking. The "standard" of weight * 25 or 30 for all day activity with a pack seems high to me, but I'm fairly new to backpacking. I'm 250lbs, fairly fit and strong ( bod), with a pack base weight of 29lbs. If I were to consume the standard calculation, that's 6,000 calories per day, which is a ton of food. I will also often be going with my 8-year old daughter who has proven well in hikes of a few miles in a little over an hour, and her total pack weight will be 10lbs (12lbs if she needs to carry an extra liter of water). She's 68lbs in weight and is very fit/toned (lots of gymnastics). 

Assuming we hike roughly 10 miles in a day, or between 4-6 hours of active hiking depending on terrain and temperature, what would you recommend on caloric intake? I'm up for going into a deficit for my own intake to lose 20-30lbs over time, which would be my fit/healthy weight, but I need to ensure my daughter maintains. I'm assuming 1700-2000 calories per day is a good number for her.

Any advice is greatly appreciated, thanks!

6 Replies

I suggest you read some trail journals written by (or watch video blogs) and see what hikers say about what they carry foodwise and how much they eat. You don't say how long this hike will be, though you imply it is more than just a long weekend. 

Generally speaking, and YMMV, hikers on the Appalachian Trail have suppressed appetite during the first 1-2 ish weeks of their hikes. Their example should serve as a good guide no matter where you might be hiking. Many new thru-hikers overpack their food bags and arrive at the first resupply opportunity with meals still to go.

Then "hiker hunger" tends to set in. Typically thru-hikers cannot comfortably carry enough daily calories on the AT, but resupply options are plentiful over 99% of that trail. They "tank up" at town stops or road crossings to help make up the difference. Once thru-hikers have put hundreds of miles under their belts, they turn into machines into which they pour calories and out come miles. I know very few who count their calories. They just eat. 

But for your daughter, more care definitely required. One popular method of providing enough calories is the breakfast shake--Carnation mix, with add-ins as desired, sometimes mixed the night before. Olive oil, a very calorie-dense food, to mix with dinners. Parmesan cheese, same thing. Peanut butter. A little research on hiker foods will lead you all those places and more and include discussions like "to eat candy bars or restrict carbs/sugars" and "avoid processed foods vs. eat whatever, it's just fuel." 

Bottom line: IMHO carry 1-2 pounds of food per person per day. In the early days of your hike, I bet the challenge will be wanting to eat. When hiking I find I move away from "three square meals a day" and more toward eating a little something every hour or two during the hiking phase of the day with one substantial meal once the miles are done. After you and your daughter have hiked a week or two or three you'll know what works for you. Big hot breakfast followed by snacks? A 2-3 hour break in midday in which the "dinner" is prepared and eaten, followed by a rest before hiking on? 

Hope this is a good place to start. . . .

Thanks Ed, that helps and is along the lines of what I thought. I usually eat 2 main meals a day, and breakfast is a granola bar or something light, so I'd probably be most comfortable with a 700 calorie lunch and dinner and mix in 3-4 300-400 calorie snacks (meal bars, complete cookies) per day. 

I don't think I'll have a problem getting 2,000 calories into my daughter. She doesn't like most "hiking foods", but she does love peanut butter, almonds and other nuts like that, Mountain House granola bags, trail mix, GORP, that kind of stuff. And if nothing else...I doubt she'd turn down anything if hungry enough. With her it would be long weekend hikes until she's conditioned, then in a year (late fall) go out to the Rockies with her for a week if she likes it. If not, I'll do it myself. I have some cousins who have hiked every peak out there and love backpacking, and we'd go with them. 

That said, I do like the Mountain House meals and am fortunately blessed to plan them for main meals. But even the two-person meals are 700 calories total, so I'll need to supplement with other things.  


I've never heard that calculation, but I think I'll use it in the future!  It is definitely the right number of calories for me when hiking (or sitting, ha,ha).  I hiked the AT and started in shape, always being hungry.  I became more and more uncomfortably hungry and at different pts. in the hike had trouble with carrying the weight of the food vs. being hungry.  I ended up carrying more weight than recommended, but did better. 

I would recommend even if you're not hungry and are looking to lose weight, you make sure you're eating the minimum base recommended for you to ensure you don't lose energy.  I think once hiker hunger sets in, most people are already hurting for calories! 

I also like your idea of carrying PB.  I was laughed at for carrying the weight of a jar in the beginning of my hike, but it was a great way to supplement calories when needed and I think worth the weight.  (mashed potato powder helps too and is light!) I don't think powdered PB has the fats that jarred does and I don't think I got enough fat on the hike which maybe impacted my joints and led to a really low body fat %.


Agree with @Ed_C , he covered it very welll.  But I'm wandering where in the world 6000 cal per day came from?  IMO it's not realistic and probably impossible to pack/carry/figure out.

The 1.5-2lbs per day is a very good rule-of-thumb.  FYI hiking above 10,000, one tends to not to have a good appetite anyway, for what it's worth.

REI member since 1979!

REI Member Since 1979

@HikerBot I just tried out the calculation on a thru-hike of the Long Trail in VT for my partner and I.  I used the weights we wanted to be and 25 for him and 30 for me as I have a high metabolism.  This came out to 3300 calories for me and 3950 for him which I combined to build a meal plan for us.  We hiked for 18 days and gorged ourselves in town one day a week while resupplying and still lost more weight than planned.  We were both in decent shape when we started as far as hiking for 10-15 miles/ day for weekend trips.  Maybe the calculation also depends on the terrain and how hard you push?  He definitely had low blood sugar at times and didn't have the stamina he wanted, so I think we may have needed more (or I was eating more than my fair share....).  I really don't like the calculation of 1-2 lbs a day, because calories are very different between food choices.  I mailed two resupply boxes and shifted the higher calorie dinners and snacks to the last week's pickup and the box actually weighed a few lbs. less than the first box!  We also purchased 12 additional snack bars for week 2, so I think I should have used 30 for both of us!  It'll be a lesson learned for next trip!


A lot of the food you might take averages out at about 100cal/oz, so 2 lbs a day gives 32 * 100 = 3200 calories.  This is about what a "typical" 15-30 year old "active" male adult needs.

Typical 15-30 year old males can't be bothered to analyze food and add it all up.  Hence the 2lb/day rule of thumb.

If you have no personal experience to plan by you can use that table to adjust the weight of food you should plan to take. 

Obviously you can be more weight efficient if you want to take the time to design your diet emphasizing food that has higher cal/oz.  Nuts and oils like tend to be about 200cal/oz.  Things you want to take for taste or some specific nutritional quality might have much less than 100cal/oz.