Richard Bucker

hiking calories and food sources

Posted at — Jan 21, 2017

I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist. I did some reading and asked Google some questions. Your experience might be different and there is every hope that I’m wrong because it already contradicts some facts I held to be true.


FACT: All you need is 1 12 pounds of food per day.

REALITY: it DEPENDS on how many calories you need in a day. The smart money seems to say that you need 1200 calories to sit on the could all day and you need 400 calories per hour of hiking (difficulty not withstanding). Therefore in a 10 hour hiking day one need 5200 calories and 12 hour day needs 6000 calories.

FACT: 6000 calories weights 3 pounds

REALITY: That is amazingly FALSE. The person making this claim showed a variety of protein and carbohydrate sources but it was not obvious where the calorie density came from. Sugar is a compact carb, however, there are 15 calories per packet and to get to 1500 calories you would need to consume 100 packets. On the protein side there are animal and vegetable proteins.

1 pound chicken is 1088 calories
1 pound beef is 1136 calories
1 pound pork is 1104 calories
1 pound bison is 496 calories


reference: list of high protein foods

Continuing, I weighed some food I thought I would take on the trail. Each contains between 1000 and 1200 calories. packaging counts for something but I am not shaving fractions here. It’s close enough.


just over 1000 calories

6 servings at 180 calories each = 1080 calories

6 servings at 180 calories each = 1080 calories

And now comes the big reveal:

just under 1 pound

just over a pound

just over a pound

And for comparison
560 calories for a package of 4 and I think you have to drink the water too
PS: a three serving package of mountainhouse mac n cheese is about 900 calories. It’s dense and a favorite of hikers.

While this is not exhaustive research it’s probably the same choices most hikers make when faced with a town/grocery visit. There is only so much mac one can eat. Furthermore there is a trade off in that you need to carry extra water to hydrate the meal so it’s likely to have the same proportions.

conclusion…. 6000 calories weighs 6 pounds. 5 days on the trail means 30 pounds of food.

The reality? Most hikers are unintentionally looking at the rule of 3s running a deficit during the hike and make up for it on a town day. Not only does 6000 calories weigh a lot it also has volume.

Yet another comparison

And how much does it weigh? Almost a pound.


UPDATE I found something interesting… 780 calories and under half a pound.