How To: Not Starve while Bikepacking

What to bring, and how to turn it into food

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.

Photo: Anthony Smith
Photo: Anthony Smith

Counting Calories

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.

Four long days’ worth of food for two people after provisioning at a grocery store. Photos: Kurt Refsnider
Four long days’ worth of food for two people after provisioning at a grocery store. Photo: Kurt Refsnider

Breakfast ideas

  • 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)

 

Lunch ideas

  • Crackers, cheese, summer sausage and avocado
  • Sandwich fixings (bagels, cheese, cured meats or nut butter)
  • Potato or tortilla chips with cheese and avocado

 

Snack ideas

  • Limited number of energy bars
  • Nut butter packets
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Potato/tortilla/corn chips
  • Trail mix
  • Dried coconut
Food for a quick overnighter for two bikepackers. Photo: Kurt Refsnider
Food for a quick overnighter for two bikepackers. Photo: Kurt Refsnider

Dinner ideas

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.

 

Thai noodles

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.

 

Tuna mac

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

Two sausages

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 MSR Pocket Rocket heating up water for morning coffee.
The MSR Pocket Rocket is ideal for heating up water for morning coffee. Photo: Kurt Refsnider

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.