Embarking on a day hike is an exciting way to explore the great outdoors, get some exercise, and rejuvenate the mind. One essential aspect of your adventure is packing a delicious and filling lunch that will keep your energy levels up without weighing down your backpack. The right meal choice can really enhance the whole hiking experience.
As you start planning your hiking menu, consider nutritious and easy-to-prepare options that are equally satisfying. Lunches that combine protein, carbs, and healthy fats will support your energy level throughout the day, and require minimal to no time to set up, depending on the nature of the hike. Convenience is key, so portable meals that resist spoilage are always a good choice, whether you’re going on short hikes or an all-day long hike.
Here I am sharing several ideas for scrumptious and filling day hike lunches – many that are my own personal favorites! From tasty tuna pasta salads to simple yet flavorful wraps, I will provide you with inspiration for your next outdoor excursion. So, let’s dive into some mouth-watering lunch options that will fuel your hiking adventure and satisfy your taste buds.
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Essential Components of a Day Hike Lunch
A well-rounded day hike lunch should include a variety of nutrients to keep you energized and satisfied throughout your adventure. In this section, we’ll explore the essential components you need to consider when packing your lunch: protein sources, carbs, fruits and veggies, and fats.
Including some type of protein in your day hike lunch is always a good idea. Protein helps support muscle repair and keeps you feeling full during your hike. Some easy-to-carry protein sources include:
- Tuna: Canned or in pouches, it’s a lightweight and versatile option.
- Hard-boiled eggs: Prep them in advance for an easy snack.
- Jerky: Choose beef jerky, turkey jerky, or even plant-based options.
- Nut butter: Pack a squeeze pouch or a small container to spread on crackers or bread.
Complex carbohydrates provide energy to keep you going on the trail. Opt for slow-digesting, whole grains when you can to keep your blood sugar stable. Consider these carb sources for your day hike lunch:
- Whole-grain bread: Use it for sandwiches or bring separately for snacks.
- Crackers: Choose whole-grain varieties for added nutrition.
- Granola bars: Look for options with lower sugar and higher fiber content.
- Oatmeal: Prepare overnight oats to enjoy cold during your lunch break.
- Sweet potatoes: Bake or pan-cook some sweet potato chips or wedges for a savory snack.
Fruits and Veggies
Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, as well as natural sugars for quick energy. Pack fresh and dried options for variety, such as:
- Fresh fruit: Apples, oranges, or bananas hold up well in a backpack.
- Dried fruit: Choose items like raisins, apricots, or mango slices.
- Fresh veggies: Baby carrots, snap peas, and sliced bell peppers stay crisp without refrigeration.
- Fruit leather: Lightweight and easy to store, these make a great snack.
Healthy fats are an important component of your day hike lunch, as they provide satiety and sustained energy. Include some of the following fat sources:
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, or trail mix are always a good option.
- Avocado: Bring a whole, ripe avocado and a knife to slice it open, or make guacamole in advance.
- Cheese: Hard cheese like cheddar or gouda holds up well without refrigeration.
- Olives: Pre-pack a small container of your favorite variety for a tasty and healthy fat source.
Remember to keep your lunch balanced, combining protein, carbs, fruits, veggies, and fats for the best day hike experience. Don’t forget the most important thing – your water bottle!
Easy Sandwich and Wrap Ideas
Nut Butter and Jelly Options
One simple and delicious option for your day hike is the classic nut butter and jelly sandwich. You can use peanut butter, almond butter, or any other nut butter you prefer. For the jelly, consider using preserves or jam for added texture. Use whole grain or multigrain bread to ensure you’re fueling up with complex carbs. You can also try:
- Apple slices with your nut butter of choice for a crunchy twist.
- Adding banana to your sandwich for extra sweetness and energy.
Tuna and Canned Chicken Sandwiches
Another great idea for day hike food is a tuna or canned chicken sandwich. Both options provide lean protein to keep you full and energized. Mix the canned fish or chicken with mayonnaise or avocado, chopped celery, and diced pickles. Add some salt and pepper to taste. Put it all between slices of your favorite bread. Some other tasty suggestions are:
- Replacing bread with lettuce wraps for a lighter, gluten-free option.
- Top with cucumber for added crunch and freshness.
Turkey and Cheese Wraps
For a healthy lunch that is easy to carry, try making turkey and cheese wraps. Assemble your wrap by layering sliced turkey, your favorite cheese, and fresh veggies like lettuce, spinach, or bell peppers. If you’re looking for more flavor, add some smoked salmon, prosciutto, or lox. Spread some hummus, mustard, or another spread on a whole-grain tortilla. Some ways to customize your wrap include:
- Swapping out turkey for chicken or ham.
- Experimenting with different types of cheese (e.g., cheddar, Swiss, or provolone).
With these easy sandwich and wrap ideas, your day hike lunches will be delicious and satisfying. Use your creativity to mix and match different ingredients to keep your meals interesting, and enjoy the great outdoors with a tasty lunch in hand.
Hearty Salad Options
When packing for a day hike, you want to make sure your lunch is filling and delicious. Hearty salads are a fantastic option to keep you fueled and satisfied. In this section, we’ll explore some tasty salad options, including pasta salads, rice and couscous salads, and bean salads.
Pasta salads are both versatile and filling. You can mix and match ingredients to create a unique and flavorful meal. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Mediterranean Pasta Salad: Combine cooked pasta with chopped cucumber, sun-dried tomatoes, Kalamata olives, red onions, and feta cheese. Toss with your favorite Italian dressing or a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, and mustard for a zesty dressing.
- Hummus Pasta Salad: Toss cooked pasta with a generous spoonful of hummus, cherry tomatoes, and thinly sliced bell peppers. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, a sprinkle of paprika, and a drizzle of olive oil to finish it off.
- Avocado Pesto Pasta Salad: Mix cooked pasta with a creamy avocado pesto, made by blending ripe avocado, basil, garlic, pine nuts, and a touch of olive oil. Add in some halved cherry tomatoes for a burst of color and flavor.
Rice and Couscous Salads
These salads make use of rice or couscous as the base and are packed full of nutritious ingredients to keep you fueled during your hike.
- Couscous Salad: Prepare couscous per package instructions and toss with sundried tomatoes, chopped cucumber, diced bell pepper, and crumbled feta cheese. Season with a squeeze of lemon juice, salt, and pepper for a fresh and zesty flavor.
- Oatmeal and Apple Salad: Combine cooked chilled oatmeal with diced apples, halved grapes, chopped walnuts, and a splash of apple cider vinegar. This unique salad is both sweet and tangy, perfect for a refreshing lunch on the trail.
Bean salads are a fantastic source of protein and fiber, and they can be easily customized to suit your taste.
- Chickpea and Roasted Vegetable Salad: Toss drained and rinsed chickpeas with roasted vegetables like zucchini, bell peppers, and cherry tomatoes. Mix in some crumbled feta cheese and a splash of balsamic vinegar for a hearty, tangy salad.
- Black Bean and Avocado Salad: Combine black beans with diced avocado, chopped red onion, and corn. Toss with a simple dressing of lime juice, olive oil, and ground cumin for a zesty, nutrient-packed salad that will keep you full during your hike.
Remember to experiment with your own favorite ingredients and flavors, and these hearty salad options will make your next day hike lunch a meal to look forward to.
Quick and Nutritious Snack Ideas
Trail Mix and Nuts
Nuts and trail mix are a perfect quick and nutritious snack for your day hike. You can create your own unique blend or buy pre-made mixes. Feel free to customize it with your favorite ingredients, such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, and pecans for an energy boost.
Sprinkle some black beans and shredded cheese to make it interesting, and don’t forget to drizzle with olive oil for some added flavor and healthy fats.
Dried and Fresh Fruits
Fruits provide essential vitamins and minerals, making them great additions to your day hike snack list. Dried fruits like apricots, raisins, and mangoes are lightweight and easy to pack. Fresh fruits, like apples and bananas, are also great for on-the-go snacking.
Just be sure to pack them in a sturdy container, so they don’t get squished in your backpack.
Protein and Meal Bars
Protein and meal bars are a portable, non-perishable source of energy for your hiking adventure. They’re convenient and satisfying, making them an excellent choice for those long stretches of your hike.
Choose from various bars, such as protein bars, energy bars, or meal replacement bars, depending on your preference. Just make sure you pick bars with quality ingredients to ensure you’re fueling your body properly.
Sometimes, you might crave something savory during your hike. In that case, satisfy your taste buds with snacks like salami, olives, capers, or even smoked sausages. You can also explore options like cabbage or cottage cheese mixed with pesto for a healthy twist. Just be mindful of perishable foods and pack them in an insulated bag if needed.
You might even consider taking tortilla chips, salsa, and bagels with cream cheese on your hike. These items can be enjoyed separately, or you can create a unique hiking snack by spreading cream cheese on a bagel and layering it with tortilla chips and salsa. Voilà, a crunchy and refreshing way to fuel your hike!
And there you have it! These quick and nutritious snack ideas will keep you fueled and energized during your day hike. Mix and match as you please, and don’t forget to stay hydrated with water or a refreshing energy drink.
Creative Hiking Lunch Extras
DIY Fruit Leather
Instead of store-bought fruit leather, try making your own at home! It’s a fun and healthier option for your hiking adventure.
Start with your favorite fruits, such as strawberries, apples, or mangoes. Blend them into a smooth puree, then spread it evenly onto a lined baking sheet. Bake at a low temperature until it becomes leather-like.
Once done, cut it into strips and roll them up for a tasty and nutritious trail food.
Onigiri (seen above) are Japanese rice balls filled with various flavors, making them an excellent addition to your hiking lunch repertoire.
To make onigiri, you’ll need sushi rice, seaweed, and fillings such as tuna, salmon, or pickled vegetables. Start by mixing cooked sushi rice with your preferred fillings. Shape the mixture into balls or triangles and wrap them in seaweed for a portable and delicious lunch.
You can even experiment with different fillings, like mixing in some pine nuts or lime for an added twist!
Dehydrated meals are a popular option for campers and backpackers on multi-day hikes. They are basically the ultimate lunch hack for hiking trips. Freeze-dried foods are super easy to prep – just add hot water – which is a big plus when you’re on the go and don’t want to fuss too much.
They’re surprisingly lightweight, so you can pack a bunch without feeling like you’re carrying a ton. Plus, they keep their taste and nutrients intact, so you’re getting good stuff in your belly. Dehydrated foods also won’t go bad anytime soon, making them a great choice for longer hikes. Bottom line: freeze-dried meals are a smart choice that keeps you fueled up and ready to tackle those trails!
Hot Items for Backpacking Stoves
If you’re bringing along a backpacking stove, you have even more options for creative lunch ideas. You can easily throw together a hot meal with just a little bit of prep beforehand.
For instance, you can prepare a tuna pasta salad ahead of time by mixing cooked pasta with canned tuna, chopped veggies, and a simple dressing. Once you’re on the trail, heat it up on your stove for a warm and satisfying meal.
Overnight oats are another great trail food. Mix rolled oats with yogurt or milk and add some fruits or nuts. Store it in a sealed container overnight, and enjoy it as a hot breakfast or lunch on your hike by just warming it up on your stove. Of course, instant oatmeal and a little hot water is always a great option and doesn’t take a long time to prepare.
Remember, the key is to get inventive and cater to your taste preferences while making sure to pack nourishing options for your day hike lunch.
Cold Food Tips
Especially in hot weather, cold food can really be refreshing on the hiking trail. Taking cold food items is easier than you think when you know how to prepare!
Don’t add unnecessary weight to your backpacking trip with regular ice packs. Make your own DIY ice pack with a frozen water bottle (you can drink it when it melts – and you can’t really have too much water), or freeze water in Ziplock bags (I prefer to use reusable sandwich bags to avoid plastic waste).
As you can see, preparing a satisfying lunch for your day hikes doesn’t have to be limited to a boring sandwich! By exploring various ingredients and combinations, you can easily create meals that give you the energy you need to complete your hike. Here are some ideas to help you become more adventurous with your lunch choices:
- Wraps: Replace traditional bread with tortillas or other wraps loaded with your favorite fillings, such as hummus and deli meat or peanut butter, raisins, and peanuts.
- Sandwiches with a twist: Think beyond the basic sandwich by using different bread types or creative toppings like shredded chicken, pickles, and cucumber.
- Trail mix and dried fruits: Combine nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and chocolate chips for a tasty, energy-packed snack.
- Fresh veggies: Pack carrot sticks, celery, or bell pepper slices as a crunchy snack to complement your lunch.
Remember that hiking can be physically demanding, so it’s essential to pack the right food that provides energy and replenishment. Experiment with different ingredients and flavors to find the perfect combination for you, and don’t forget to consider any dietary restrictions or preferences.
With a little creativity, you can elevate your trailside dining experience and ensure you’re fueled up for your day’s adventure. Happy hiking!
Amanda is a mom of 4 living a mostly crunchy lifestyle outside of Atlanta, GA with her husband, 2 dogs, and a cat. As a former special education teacher who also has her personal training certification — Amanda really enjoys teaching others how to do things!
When she’s not working, Amanda enjoys DIY projects, exercising, photography, hiking, and long walks through Target.