A friend asked me the other day what food I take when I go for a day hike. I rattled off a list of all my favourites, but without putting them into context they were of limited use to her.
Firstly, I would just like to say these are my personal preferences for fuelling my body when I go hiking. There are plenty of other great food options for you to choose and experiment with. One of the great things about day hikes for me is I can splurge a little in what I take to eat as my pack weight isn’t such an issue as with overnight hikes.
Before we get started with what’s in my pack, for me any hike starts with a good breakfast. My go to is a bowl of wholegrain oats to which I add, milk powder, water, a banana and blueberries or whatever other fruit is on hand. This all goes into the microwave for a few minutes to cook before devouring it with big dollops of Greek unsweetened natural yoghurt.
For snacks I take mainly nutritious energy dense foods. Raw or dry roasted unsalted nuts are a mainstay as are Houhora cookies (a glorified Anzac cookie recipe I got over 30 years ago and a family favourite). Ill also take homemade fruit cake or banana cake and some dried fruit if I am going for a long hard hike. For an easy shorter hike, some lighter snacks like crackers, hummus and carrot sticks are good. A must for me no matter what hike I am on is some fresh fruit that won’t squash, with oranges being my go to. Bananas are a great nutritious energy dense food but not always the best look. Seriously when I take a banana it is always bruised by my first break.
Lunchtime it is a wrap stuffed full of salad with chicken or cheese or egg, and cold cooked kumara for some extra carbs. I prefer wraps over a sandwich, you can stuff more in them, they are less messy and hold together even when they get a bit squashed. For a treat after lunch I always have a few squares of chocolate.
I also carry a couple of energy gels for those times when you need a little extra oomph but conditions at the time are not favourable for stopping. Gels are great to have as an emergency food too and I pack these along with a one square meal and extra nuts in case things don’t go as planned.
Staying hydrated during my hike is an important nutritional factor I don’t ever want to overlook. Not drinking enough can influence my performance and enjoyment of the day and lead to detrimental health outcomes. I take at least a litre of water with me no matter the hike and more if there are no streams to fill my bottle up, and yes, I do use tabs to purify the stream water.) I aim to drink regularly throughout the day. At lunch I am a big fan of a hot drink, so I carry a 500 ml thermos with me for a tea or miso soup depending on the weather.
How much I eat is determined by the energy costs of the hike and I consider the hike duration, the terrain, environment and weather conditions, and the pace I want to set for the day. A full day hike is not the time to be counting calories or on some fad diet which limits your food choices and/or intake. I want to enjoy myself and ensure my safety and don’t want to have a fatigue melt down halfway through the day.
I like to take a break roughly every 45- 60 mins, to rest, refuel and to get some fluid into me. If I am on an easier hike, I may just have a drink and a bit of rest without the need to eat. Although I have a strong background in nutrition and good intentions, I don’t always get the regular break bit right when out hiking on my own. There are times I carry on hiking way longer than I should just to get to that perfect lunch time spot; the top of a knoll or mountain for that great view, a sheltered sunny spot in winter, or a stream to dangle my feet in on a hot day. I always pay for this oversight, whether by just not enjoying the walk as much as I could have, stumbling or getting careless because I am tired, and being outright hungry as I plod on to find that perfect spot. Something I need to work on.
When the hike is over and I am back at my car, I like to get in a protein drink to start muscle recovery as soon as possible. This is to kick start the repair process to my muscles and minimise any soreness in the days to follow especially if the hike has been long and hard and/or included a lot of downhill sections. I usually just take a jar with 3 heaped tablespoons of skim milk powder which I add water to, but a protein powder (whey isolate) is another option. How much you ask? Not to go into too much detail here as I will save the topic of protein for a future blog but age plays a big factor and for those of us who are no longer menstruating 40 g of protein is recommended and 20-25g for all you young’uns.
Lastly, I just want to say a big thanks to my family and friends for letting me include the photos of you eating out on one of our hiking adventures together 😊