For a day hike, you want food that is nutritious, tasty, can be carried cold, provides energy and isn't too bulky. When I got out on a day hike I am normally out anywhere from 5 to 12 hours doing distances of about 9 miles (15 km) to 18 miles (30 km), so the amount of food I take can vary.
On a longer day hike I will stock some extra food in my day pack than on a shorter one. I also take the type of hike into consideration too.
If I know I will be doing 15 miles up and down very steep and rocky terrain, I know I will need some extra fuel as I will be burning up much more energy than if I was on a nice gradual and soft rise or the flat. In summary, it varies.
The Good News
I think for a day hike, as you’re probably only out for a third of a day on average, you have the luxury of taking a bit more of what you fancy with regards to food.
That is, as you’re only out for the day, factors like weight and bulk, although still important, aren't as big a factor as if you were out on a longer trek.
This is of course within reason. Carrying Chinese takeaway food from yesterday’s dinner, or chocolate eclairs from the bakery fresh that morning probably still isn’t a good idea 🙂
The 10 Best Day Hike Foods
OK, now to get to the core of what this post is about. I have listed below, in no particular order, what I think the 10 best day hike foods are and why. These are my top foods and I commonly see most of them quite regularly on the trail so I think it’s safe to say they’re a good bunch to go with.
I’ve put nuts first. This quiet little category isn’t very bling at first glance but there is an impressive selection of nuts available which are great for the trail.
A mix of nuts is fine, whatever ones you enjoy the most. For me, I like almonds so they’re my main stay as far as nuts go.
They’re light, easy to carry and provide a good punch on the energy and nutrition fronts. For a day hike I add a handful of almonds into my lunch box.
You can learn more about the nutritional value of Almonds here.
This is another mainstay of mine. They’re a bit bulkier but again as you’re on a day hike, weight and freshness shouldn't be issues here so it’s very feasible to carry fresh fruit in your day pack on a day hike.
For me, on an average day hike I take an apple and a banana. Handy to carry and easy to eat. They’re a winner for a day hike!
What’s great about fruit is the variety plus there is high water content which all helps as you sweat and lose water on your hike. Everyone has their favorite and, again within reason, you can carry what you like to eat.
You can learn more about the nutritional value of different fruits here.
Dried Fruit / Trail Mix
This is another one I often turn to too for handy, lightweight and nutritious snacking. Dried Fruit is of course a much less bulkier version of the fresh variety and has a much longer shelf life.
My preference is again banana and apple but whatever you prefer is fine. Trail mix is also a popular choice and I do use it from time to time. A mix of dried fruit and nuts, a handful here and there is a tasty little power pack while out on the trail!
You can learn more about the nutritional value of dried fruit here.
Ah, how can anyone not like chocolate. I think as humans we’re hardwired to enjoy it. Hiking out on the trail is one of the few places where I really feel you can snack on some chocolate and have a very clear conscience about it.
Chocolate is a great little energy booster. It works very fast and so if you’re approaching the end of your hike and you come up against a final steep peak but you’re not feeling 100% up to it, a bite or two of chocolate can do the trick to give you that little boost to push on.
Chocolate can also generate a nice bit of heat in the body too so can be good if you’re feeling cold.
On top of that, there is a psychological thing with chocolate. Not 100% sure how it works but there is something comforting about eating chocolate. I guess it sparks off some happy receptors in the brain or something but in summary, it is psychologically pleasing as well as being functional.
Finally, chocolate is easy to carry and pack away. A standard bar isn’t heavy or bulky either. I always stash a bar or two away for emergencies. I take 70% cocoa dark chocolate on my hikes most of the time but milk chocolate is fine too.
You can learn more about the nutritional value of chocolate here.
Boiled / Jelly Sweets
Again, in a similar ball park to chocolate, these are really just for little blasts of sugar. They’re functional and they score highly on the psychological side too.
Not heavy or bulky, they’re also nice to be able to share around with your fellow hikers. Again, a little blast of sugar now and then can be just what you need on a longer day hike.
You can learn more about the nutritional value of boiled sweets here.
Granola / Cereal Bars
These are another regular in my pack. They will vary in nutrition value and you should watch for sugar content. With these I prefer to aim for more cereal as opposed to sugar.
There are lots of organic varieties of these which are usually made with more of a focus on nutrition. Don’t get me wrong, a bit of sugar in them is fine and can serve a similar purpose as chocolate in that regard.
However, I find that some of these things are just bars of refined sugar when you look at them in detail so it’s worth taking a good luck at the ingredients. Again, packable, lightweight and not bulky so all good on that front.
You can learn more about the nutritional value of granola here.
Similar to nuts, you can just take a handful when you fancy and eat them. Again, very nutritious and tasty. Many varieties pack a really good energy punch too.
I mention this in the sandwich section below as that’s how I normally factor these in i.e. by adding them to a sandwich but they’re perfectly good to have in a separate container.
You can learn more about the nutritional value of lots of seeds here.
I love my cheese and I think it’s a great addition to your food for a day hike. Normally, this goes in with my sandwich but it’s perfectly good to go into your lunch box on its own.
I should add that a doctor hiking friend of mine told me that cheese isn’t ideal for hiking but hey, I like it too much to not allow a bit in there 😉
You can learn more about the nutritional value of some well known and loved cheese here.
If you’re not a vegetarian, there’s a wide variety to select from here. Ham, bacon, chicken, turkey, beef, etc. This will normally accompany me in the form of a sandwich on a day hike. Whatever you prefer really.
Salami is another good one that can also be very good on its own. Lots of fat in it to provide energy and nutrition. A chunk of salami and a chunk of cheese of your choice is a nice combination.
You can learn more about the nutritional value of some typical cold meat cuts here.
Hard Boiled Eggs
I’ve done this a few times and enjoyed it immensely. A couple of hard boiled eggs thrown into my lunch box. When ready, just peel the shell off and enjoy!
Egg’s pack a lot of protein so good for long term energy and should keep you fuller for longer. They can also be added into a sandwich or mixed with vegetables, nuts, cheese and seeds to make a nice veggie salad if meat isn't your thing.
You can learn more about the nutritional value of boiled eggs here.
Sandwich / Main Meal
I’m finishing with this as it isn't really a ‘food’ per se but a combination of many of the above and it is something I do on all my day hikes.
I usually have a main meal as I will start out in the morning on my day hike and have a good 15 / 20 minute break for lunch at some point. I think you can be as inventive as you want here. I sometimes take rice with chicken and vegetables and I’ve seen many variations of pasta salads while out on my hikes.
Generally though, I opt for the easy option of a sandwich. You’re as free as you please to add whatever contents you enjoy really.
For me, I normally use whole meal bread. I will spread it with Mayonnaise and then I will sprinkle some seeds onto it (sunflower, pumpkin, chia, etc.) These add a nice bit of extra nutrition and flavor to a sandwich I find.
Next up I’ll add up a couple of slices of cold meat. Can be anything from ham to salami, or chicken to turkey. I’ll compliment the meat with a little bit of coleslaw or salad, usually lettuce and red onion.
Finally, I layer on a bit of cheese on top (I use Cheddar, Edam, Camembert or Gouda but whatever you prefer) and that’s me pretty much good to go!
Now, I don’t mean to give a lesson on sandwich making 🙂 what I want to illustrate is that you can put a bit of variety in there.
So, that's it, my 10 best day hike foods. I use all of these in some form on every day hike I go on. As you can see there is a lot of variety and option to choose from and you can be as inventive as you like as you long as you keep it sensible i.e. nutritious and practical.
On a day hike, you have the benefit of not having to worry about food going bad or attracting animals so you have a lot of freedom to take fresh food that you enjoy. If you're going on a longer trek, it is a different story and factors like weight, ease of preparation take a front row seat but we'll look at that in another post.
For now, enjoy your day hikes and eat well on them 😉
Have you any special day hike foods that you like to take with you on a day hike that I haven't listed here? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below.