Food & fluids

Food planning is important for hiking safety

Tourists at woodHiking (Tramping) is a high-energy sport which can be made more enjoyable if careful thought is given, when planning the trip, to your total nutritional needs.

Issues to consider when packing

Level of experience

People who have done a lot of hiking in the past will already have a good idea of the quantities of food required. Age and gender are also important to consider as it can dictate issues of strength and endurance, weight of the pack etc

Topography, season and weather

The topography of the preferred route will influence the distance travelled each day and therefore the amount of food to take. Season may matter more to the height of river crossing’s than the clothes to take and hikers need to be prepared for all seasons as changes in the weather can occur rapidly.


If hikers are planning to stay in huts or guest houses then this will help as cooking facilities are supplied. However it is still wise for them to have access to a small cooker or flameless heat pack so that they can still prepare hot food in an emergency.

Safety issues

Each hiker should always take some foods which do not require cooking and extra rations for emergencies. Reading weather forecasts before setting out and notifying others of expected time of arrival etc are also important safety considerations.

Food considerations

The psychological value of food

While food is important to sustain energy levels it must also sustain the psychological and emotional needs of the hiker. Conserving some favourite foods or drinks for the last 2-3 hours of a tramp can help to maintain energy levels. Research does show more injuries occur in the mid-late afternoon in open country than other times of day. This is often when people become dehydrated, their muscle levels of energy (glycogen) can become depleted and blood glucose levels may be falling, all factors which lead to fatigue


Energy needs vary according to the age, gender, weight and level of activity of the individual. For example a 60kg adult women hiking in mountainous country for 6hours per day would need around 18,300kJ/4350 kcal while an adult man weighing 80kg hiking for the same period would need approximately 25000kJ/6000kcals.

Children who take up hiking also have needs for growth. For instance a 14yr old girl weighing 55kg covering the same distance and times mentioned above would need around 17500kJ/4200kcals while a 17year old boy weighing 70kg on the same trip would need around 24500kJ/5800kcals.


This is important for tissue growth and repair and as it is digested more slowly than carbohydrates (within 3-4hrs) even in small amounts, it can aid satiety. Good food sources include cheese, eggs (or egg powder), pastrami, meat and fish.


Fats provide the greatest amount of energy per gram taking around 4-5hours to digest and are also important for healthy nerves and cellular functions. Margarine, cheese, bacon, nuts and chocolate are good food sources for hikers.


These can provide an instant source of energy. Foods with a high glycaemic index (GI) such as bananas, honey, glucose sweets, gels and sports drinks release energy within 30minutes while foods lower in GI such as muesli, dried fruit, muffins and bread release energy more slowly within 2hours and are therefore more satisfying.

Menu Planning

When planning what foods to take it is important to first consider the cooking arrangements. For instance if staying at a lodge where meals are provided the hiker only needs to take snacks and survival rations for a day or two, compared with people staying in the open or in huts and preparing their own meals in which case they would need to take a smaller cooker and all their provisions. For them the weight of each item is a key issue.

In New Zealand the Back Country® and The Outdoor Gourmet® food companies have produced a wide range of freeze dri breakfast foods, meals, desserts and ration packs. These products are nutritionally balanced, light weight, compact and quick to prepare. Care has been taken to ensure that the fat content in these products is limited to the recommended 30% of energy and vegetarian and gluten-free options are also available.


This may start with muesli but if using porridge or bran cereals be sure to add dried fruit, nuts and milk powder for extra energy. Whole grain bread, split muffins or cabin bread provide carbohydrate for energy. Dehydrated yoghurt, cheese slices or scrambled eggs (using egg powder) provide protein for satiety.


For most hikers this is based on bread or cabin bread and spreads may include margarine, Vegemite® or peanut butter available in tubes or portion packs. Cheese, pastrami, salami, pate or smoked sausage offer protein. For long hikes canned cheese, tuna, smoked oysters or pates may be useful towards the end as fresh food supplies dwindle. Freeze dri options could include Savoury or Mexican pita bites®, Cheddar potato lunch® or scrambled egg.


Fresh or dried fruit; fruit or oaty biscuits; muffins; fruit cake or loaf; scroggin; nuts; chocolate; muesli bars and beef snacks (Biltong®) offer valuable sources of energy, particularly for growing children.


This may include some fresh meat (initially), ham or bacon to which dehydrated vegetables can be added. Or the whole meal can be freeze-dried. These meals are sold in foil packs to which can be added cold or hot water and then resealed and left for 10 minutes to become reconstituted. If hot water is not available then these meals (once reconstituted) can then be put into flameless heat packs to heat through. Alongside these types of meals dishes such as instant mashed potato, rice, pasta and soups can offer extra sustenance.

Quantities to take

Freeze dri packs come in single (or entrée) servings of 75g and 90g which may be enough for a woman or young children. Adolescent groups and men would probably need to use the double serving packs of 190g to feel satisfied.It would be advisable to try at least one of these meals before leaving home just to check your preferred serving size.

Although not cheap these Freeze dri products offer gourmet meals to the weary. Honey soy chicken®; Beef teriyaki®; Nasi goring®; Roast lamb and vegetables® are just some of the dishes on sale. Desserts are also available such as Apple pie or crumble®, Fruit salad trifle®; Three fruit cheesecake® and Strawberries and ice cream® to name just a few.

Just one word of caution about freeze dri food is to read the use by date label. Most of these products will last for up to three years. It is also important though to ensure that the foil wrap has not been damaged as if air can get into the product it will start to deteriorate.


An adequate fluid intake is vital to any exercise lasting longer than one hour, benefiting performance, temperature control and circulation. Popular fluids include tea, coffee, milo, drinking chocolate, soups and powdered fruit or sports drinks. For coffee lovers Gourmet brewed coffee is also available. Most recreational shops now stock “bladders” for carrying up to 2 or 3 litres of water. These plastic water carrying bags are made to fit inside back packs or jackets with a feeding tube attached to make hands free feeding possible. It is also possible to buy belts designed to carry two drink bottles on each hip.

For hikers relying on mountain streams for water, recreational stores now carry a range of water purification systems from tablets and filters to light weight water purifiers, there are now gadgets for everything.

If you are planning a hiking trip or would like help with sports nutrition for trips involving, skiing, mountain bike touring or endurance racing then do contact us to ensure that you have allowed sufficient energy and nutrients each day for maximal performance and safety.


About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »


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