A day on the bike is enough to generate a sizeable appetite, but a day of pedaling a bike laden with gear for a few nights out can create a monstrous appetite. Eating regularly and sufficiently is critical for a couple days or more of riding, and for many, eating, eating and eating some more is a particularly enjoyable element of bikepacking. Energy bars and freeze-dried meals are the easy way out, but with a bit of creativity, satiating your hunger can be much more satisfying and nutritious. Here, I'll share some ideas for tasty foods, how much to carry, and a couple good stove options for cooking up a hot meal or an afternoon coffee pick-me-up.
First, just how many calories should you carry? Running low on food in the backcountry is a stressful situation, and carrying far too many calories just weighs you down. A good rule of thumb is to plan on eating 250 or 300 calories per hour of riding beyond your normal daily caloric intake of 1,500 or 2,000 calories. Three days out with 6 hours of moving time each equates to needing to carry somewhere in the neighborhood of 8,000 calories.
- Oatmeal (add nuts, nut butter, or coconut to increase calories)
- Polenta (add powdered milk or coconut cream, Craisins and protein powder)
- Granola and milk (powdered milk, add dried fruit)
- Rice-and-cheese burrito (make extra at dinner and have leftovers for breakfast)
- Crackers, cheese, summer sausage and avocado
- Sandwich fixings (bagels, cheese, cured meats or nut butter)
- Potato or tortilla chips with cheese and avocado
- Limited number of energy bars
- Nut butter packets
- Nuts and seeds
- Potato/tortilla/corn chips
- Trail mix
- Dried coconut
Salmon, cheese, and potatoes
One or two packages of smoked salmon
One-and-a-half cups dehydrated mashed potatoes flakes or sweet potato cubes
Six ounces of your favorite cheese
Boil water, add the potatoes, stir. Add salmon and cheese, stir. Serve when cheese has melted. Substitute sausage for salmon if you prefer.
One box Thai Kitchen (or equivalent) rice noodles (angel hair pasta cooks quickest) or, two packets per person Thai Kitchen noodle soups
Coconut milk powder or coconut cream
Curry powder or paste
Two pre-cooked chicken sausages
Boil water, add noodles, stir. Add coconut, sausage and curry.
Two boxes Annie's Mac & Cheese (or brand of preference)
Two tuna packets
Optional: more cheese!
Curried veggies and rice
One-and-a-half cups quick-cook rice or pre-cooked rice packets
One or two packages Tasty Bites, flavor of choice
Polenta, cheese and sausage
Three-quarters cup polenta
Six ounces cheese
Optional: milk powder
Boil water and simmer polenta until water is absorbed and mixture is almost gelatinous and the polenta doesn't crunch to the taste. Stir in cheese, milk and sausage.
Bean, Cheese, and Rice Burritos
Half cup dehydrated beans
One cup quick-cook rice or pre-cooked rice packets
Six ounces cheese
Corn or flour tortillas per personal preference
Cook rice and set aside in separate bowl (or return to a Ziploc bag). Boil water, add beans and immediately remove from heat (they burn nearly instantly). Let fully hydrate; stir in cheese. Serve with rice onto tortillas.
Heating it up
The ideal stove for bikepacking is compact, lightweight, efficient, and burns fuel that can be easily procured on longer trips. Two great options are MSR’s Pocket Rocket and Trangia’s Spirit Burner. The Pocket Rocket uses canisters of isopropane or isobutane, is simple to use and can heat up water for coffee first thing in the morning before you have a chance to get impatient. The stove doesn't simmer particularly well, so cooking some meals without burning the food can be a bit of a challenge. And unfortunately, you're forced to carry an entire fuel canister whether you need it or not.
The tiny Trangia stove has become my go-to stove for virtually every backcountry trip I take. This stove burns denatured alcohol, a fuel readily available in hardware stores, pharmacies and many grocery stores. It's as simple as can be, but it requires patience as the heat output of alcohol is notably lower than isopropane or isobutane. With the simmer lid, almost anything can be cooked on the Trangia, even steaks. You only need to carry as much alcohol as you'll need for your trip, helping minimize weight and bulk. Just don't expect your morning coffee right away as it takes around five minutes to heat up a couple cups of water.
Reward your efforts
Give a few of these meal ideas a try on your next multi-day ride. It'll take a little more planning than grabbing a stack of simply-add-water meals, but your mind, stomach, and legs will be rewarded with delicious food and more energy. As many bikepackers say, eat to ride, ride to eat.