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How Ultralight Backpacking Works


Ultralight Backpacking Food: What's for dinner?
When you meet a water source, you should drink every drop of the water you've got and refill.
When you meet a water source, you should drink every drop of the water you've got and refill.
Guy Crittenden/Getty Images

When people talk about their ultralight backpacks weighing less than 10 pounds (4.5 kg), they're referring to the weight of their packs without food or water. These items, of course, have a huge affect on the weight of the pack, though the weight will vary based on the person's needs and on the hiking conditions. Larger people, youngsters and teens all require more food. And the colder the weather, the more calories you need to keep warm. On average, you should plan on carrying about 2 pounds (0.9 kg) of food for each day that you're out.

What food to carry is a big decision. Some people choose to carry granola bars and drink mixes that can be added to water, and do very little cooking on the trail. While these foods are dense with nutrition and calories, they may not leave you feeling satisfied. Many backpackers find that one hot meal a day dramatically improves mood, energy level and ability to sleep.

There are a variety of freeze dried foods made specifically for camping that can be cooked quickly in boiling water. Other lightweight foods that make a hot meal include ramen noodles, packaged noodles and potatoes, and instant soups. Pair these with a bagel or other hearty bread, and you have a satisfying meal.

For many ultralight backpackers, oatmeal for breakfast and a hot meal in the evening make up the bulk of their daily calories. Quick breaks during the day to refuel with granola bars, dried fruit or nuts round out their meals.

Water is the most important -- and the heaviest -- part of the pack. How much water you should carry depends on how much water is available where you're hiking. In the desert, you'll want to take more water than you think you'll need. But if you're hiking near mountain streams, you can get by with carrying very little extra water. Regardless of how much water you choose to carry, you should carry two separate containers. What size the containers should be depends on how often you'll reach water during the day, but generally each container should be at least 24 ounces. When you reach fresh water, drink all of the water you have with you and refill both containers. Continue to hike as your water filtration system works. When the water is ready, stop and drink again. Always drink all of the filtered water that you have left when you reach your next stop. This method should keep you well hydrated throughout your hike.

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