Your Appetite while Backpacking?

Have a favorite trail recipe or technique you'd like to share? Please do! We also like reviews of various trail food products out there. The Backcountry Food Topix forum is the place to discuss all things related to food and nourishment while in the Sierra wilderness (as well as favorite trail head eateries).
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Your Appetite while Backpacking?

Post by SSSdave » Fri Jul 12, 2019 10:34 am

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On another backpacking board about a decade ago, there was a lively thread about appetites while backpacking. The most surprising conclusion by the end was that a majority of enthusiasts had poor appetites especially the first few days that was balanced by epic hunger as soon as they reached trailheads and were able to stuff themselves in towns on their ways home. So how is your own appetite and eating habits out on trips and why do you think it is so? What about eating habits back at your home life?

(Could have put this thread in our "Backcountry Food Topix" sub-forum but then few would see it and it would be ignored.)

Another thing that surprised us was how boring was the limited choice of food for a fair number of people. Like coffee and some cereal bar for breakfast, a couple Snickers bars for each day and some granola for lunch, some freeze dried dinner for the end of their trail day, and little else, all concisely bagged, packed into minimal spaces.

This person that has had a BMI 21-23 most of my adult life is of the other extreme. At home when not too physically active, like I was during my m-f 8-5 working career, I tended to eat like a bird. At paid for department lunches, while most others were choosing $20+ dinners, I with a small unstretched digestive tract, invariably chose minor menu items priced in single figures, and was the last to finish eating whatever that others often had to encourage I stop talking and eat so they could move on. At home I infrequently eat breakfast, ate light not cooked food like yogurt or PBJ's for lunch, and usually had just one cooked meal a day that was most often meatless. Have always eaten lots of dairy including 1% milk. I've also never been a restaurant enthusiast mainly because of being an economic peon and medical issues with any food containing MSG.

Out in the backcountry I eat enough for 2 people. Physical activity has always made me a hungry boy. Bring lots of stuff I normally won't eat at home especially sweets, meat, and greasy junk food stuff. A lot of candy, pastries, cookies, cheese, nuts, fruits. Often that does not include breakfast because as a landscape and nature photographer I get up at dawn, toss a zip seal bag with granola or such into my day pack and am soon out working. In fact when conditions are productive, at 10am as light becomes too harsh to work I often find I haven't eaten anything because I've been too frantically busy. And the same thing may repeat during late afternoon light so that we usually have our main meal at lunch. And then in the afternoon I just keep snacking and pushing more food in. After I return from any late light work, I may have some snacks or at most heat up a Lipton cup of soup. On group trips with fishermen will also eat trout that I have strong skills catching and cooking.

The above noted, it is true that after particularly grueling trail days, I may be in semi delirium with a poor appetite. Such days I am also liable to sleep poorly as my somewhat sore and over-stressed body is hyper sensitized.

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Re: Your Appetite while Backpacking?

Post by bobby49 » Fri Jul 12, 2019 1:10 pm

If I go out on a week long trip, for the first few days I will be consuming lots of liquids and relatively few calories. Then after a few days the appetite kicks in when I am down about five pounds. The extra eating will carry through to the end of the trip, but I still end up five to ten pounds below my starting weight. The good news is that as the trip continues and I'm eating my food load, the carried weight is slowly diminishing. By the very end of the trip I feel pretty good due to light pack and full belly.

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Re: Your Appetite while Backpacking?

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sat Jul 13, 2019 7:38 pm

Short answer- appetite just fine while backpacking. And not much reduced as I age (so far).

I have worn my Garmin fitness-GPS watch on several 5-day backpack trips this year as well as almost every day in town where I average 5-7 miles a day dog-walking. If one were to believe the "calories expended" estimates based on steps, miles, heart rate and weight, then I use about 3,000 - 3,500 calories per day on my backpack trips. In town I use about 2,200 calories per day.

I also use a spreadsheet to record the nutritional value and weight of the food I bring. For 1.3 pound of food per day, I get about 2,400 calories per day. If I were to eat all my backpack food (which I almost do, except bits and pieces and spices- but when I catch a lot of fish, I do bring back more of my rations.) So, I should have about a 1,000 calorie per day deficit, which would be about a pound per every 3 days. Long term (including what I gain back after a trip), the 1 pound loss per 5-days of a trip seems to be about right. Over the entire backpack season I usually am down about 10 pounds and then very slowly gain that back over the winter.

As for hunger while backpacking, I am quite hungry at breakfast and dinner, less so during the day. I just do not get hungry while walking and I take very few breaks during the day. So most of my backpack food is for breakfast and dinner, with only some nibbles for trail food. I crave salty and crunchy trail food, such as jerky and nuts. I often will finish off my unused trail food for desert after dinner. I actually make a point of eating what I take for each day (except if I catch lots of fish), even if I could eat less if I were simply stopping when no longer hungry. I can only remember a few times in my life when I did not want to eat while backpacking.

In town I am actually MORE hungry. I have had to learn to ignore my hunger, or I would be a blimp by now! So in town it is about the opposite; I eat a set amount and quit, even if I am still hungry. While backpacking, I eat a set amount of food even when I could would quit before finishing if I were to base it only on hunger. I have done this long enough, that I know I have to stuff in more food at dinner or I get really hungry in the middle of the night. And if I skip a hearty breakfast, I run out of energy while hiking.

Also, I DO NOT pig out when I get off a trip. Then I just eat normally while at home, which of course means a lot more vegetables and fruits. I am fine with less meat but I do have a meat-loving husband so cook and eat more meat at home than I would by myself. And I have a sweet-tooth so I make myself earn my goodies- only eat them after I have burned the calories.
Last edited by Wandering Daisy on Sun Jul 14, 2019 8:03 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Your Appetite while Backpacking?

Post by Jimr » Sat Jul 13, 2019 11:12 pm

I normally only eat one meal per day. Done this for years. Backpacking, I normally choke down breakfast after coffee, then very light snacks for lunch and a reasonable dinner. Reasonable is about 800 ml of food. I don't have much hunger while backpacking, but I know I need the calorie intake, so I force it a bit.
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Re: Your Appetite while Backpacking?

Post by Wandering Daisy » Sun Jul 14, 2019 8:12 am

I just want to make an observation about using backpacking as a means of losing weight. It rarely works long term. In fact if you loose too much weight in a short time, you will most likely gain it back, plus some. I would rather NOT swing the 10 pounds every year, but if I were to take 3200 calories per day my pack would weigh a lot, so the aim is to minimize weight loss.

Everyone is different, so if you have enough energy and stay healthy year-round, then whatever you are doing food-wise on backpack trips probably is fine for you. With time you will get it all figured out.

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Re: Your Appetite while Backpacking?

Post by balzaccom » Sun Jul 14, 2019 11:43 am

I agree. My wife and I figure that we will lose a few pounds over the course of a four or five day trip, but that weight will come back over the winter. She is a professional chef, and I am retired from the wine business, so we take food seriously. But we also know that we cannot carry enough weight to eat gourmet food at 10,000 feet on a six day pack trip. So we compromise.

We eat about 1500-2000 calories per day on the trail, and we'll hike 5-10 miles per day with a pack. Breakfast is instant oatmeal with some added nuts, hot cocoa, and a handful of dried fruit. Lunch is usually salami and cheese with crackers, an energy bar, and more fruit. Dinner is Miso soup a freeze dried entrée, more fruit, and something sweet like a chocolate bar. It's enough to satisfy our hunger, without making us feel really full.

We do not have any trouble eating any of the meals when it's time to do so.
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Re: Your Appetite while Backpacking?

Post by giantbrookie » Thu Jul 18, 2019 8:30 am

This has varied as I aged. When I was a kid and teenager my appetite seemed somewhat suppressed on trips, but part of this may have been that the backcountry food selection back in the 1960s and 70s was just not that appealing and I didn't become reliable catching fish until the 1980s. In my early adult years (say to 30) my appetite was moderate during hiking trips and my usual sea level weight was higher than nowadays (from about age 21 to 50, base weight was about 172-174 on a 5'10.5" frame) and I'd lose 5-10 lbs on harder backpacking trips and get super hungry on return. By my mid 30s, though, my wife and I were taking so much food on trips, and eating so much that I'd lose very little weight. I'd still feel like pigging out on return, though (my wife would start the daydreaming conversation of "what will we eat when we get out" on the very first day). I would find that if I went into a hard trip somewhat lean (lean for me in those days was 168-170 although this is not as lean as "normal" for me now) I'd feel weaker, so I'd try to go into those trips a tad on the heavy side (say 175). From somewhere around age 50 onward (will turn 60 a few days after my return from upcoming week-long trip) my base weight had stabilized at about 160. I bring a ton of food on my trips and eat a lot. I don't lose much weight on the trips (I think I did crash to 155 or something once) and I don't feel the need to pig out when I return. So the summary answer is I eat I lot on backpacking trips, but this has evolved as I've aged. Late edit August 6, 2019. Following the Dec. 2018 prostate surgery, in spite of vigorous exercise my base "walking weight" (as they say in boxing) had gone from about 160 up to 162-164. The 'warmup' trip for the 2019 "Three Drainages" epic brought my weight down about 160 at the start of "Three Drainages". I returned from the trip and weighed in at 155 after my return-home pig out. I now wonder in hindsight if the weakness I felt on the big trip was partly connected with me going in a bit too lean (for me) because certainly I found I suffered when going on trips even in a less lean state in my 30s. I may try my old "Himalayan style" (ie put on bit of extra weight over my usual) ramp up next year for whatever big trip I do in addition to keeping to my vigorous off season training regime plus warm up trip or two. One way or another, my appetite was elevated for nearly a week after my return from the July 20-26 trip. Now I really have to get back in the gym (or get back up to the High Sierra).
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Re: Your Appetite while Backpacking?

Post by sekihiker » Thu Jul 18, 2019 8:43 pm

I have never had problems eating on hikes. Granola bars, tang, and coffee for breakfast; trail mix and dried fruit for lunch; miso soup, potatoes with spam or canned meat, and thin oreos make dinner. I usually lose about ten pounds over summer but gain it back by the next summer. I seldom bring back any food except for a couple of backup granola bars.

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Re: Your Appetite while Backpacking?

Post by stevet » Mon Aug 05, 2019 7:49 pm

No problems eating during the first few days, maybe it is training? I learned to eat a couple hundred calories per hour to sustain me during my GC R2R2R hikes, and reworked my backpacking "menu" to mimic the slow drip of calories throughout the day. Eating a little bit every hour is much easier than consuming than 3 big meals. I kind of force myself the first couple days, but once into the hike and into the routine I generally welcome the snack time.

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Re: Your Appetite while Backpacking?

Post by Harlen » Mon Aug 05, 2019 10:09 pm

I seem to be in the minority here. On mountain trips I have long been baffled by my lack of appetite for anything other than dinner, which for over 30 years has consisted of ramen noodles or couscous, with a bit of salami or cheese mixed in. Breakfast and lunch I mainly eat to lighten my pack, and under the old assumption that I am burning a lot of calories. I must be, because I always come out lighter. I've learned to take less and less food over the years.

Interestingly, I eat too well at home, but consume little alcohol. This is reversed in the mountains- especially on ski trips, when I really enjoy a few ounces of spirits mixed with snow.
Last edited by Harlen on Mon Aug 19, 2019 11:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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