The different types of hiking food can basically be broken down into categories of fresh, dried, packaged or canned varieties. The standard food groups of proteins, produce, carbohydrates and dairy also apply. Of course, many hikers think of packing food in terms of what they will eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Lightweight, high calorie items that are also a rich source of nutrients make the best kinds of hiking food.
Complete freeze-dried meals are created by some food manufacturers especially for hikers. These light pack weight meals are usually designed to include protein, carbohydrates and vegetables. Beef stew and chicken wraps are just two examples of the types of already prepared, commercial freeze-dried meals available.
Hikers may also bring along separate items such as freeze-dried shrimp, packaged rice and fresh broccoli florets and carrots, plus a few seasonings in small plastic bags, to create their own meals. For cooking these meals, a compact portable stove and a small pan with a lid as well as a spatula will usually be enough. Safe water is also needed for drinking as well as cooking hiking food. If syrup is brought in a small squeeze bottle, along with pancake mix in a zip top plastic bag, plus some dishware, pancakes can be prepared for a hearty hiker's breakfast.
Freeze-dried berries can be added to pancakes or granola for nutritious breakfasts or snacks. Powdered milk is an important hiking food as it provides a source of calcium and vitamin D. As it's dry and very light in weight, powdered milk is easy to take along in a backpack. When mixed well with cold water, it can taste good, but otherwise it may be a little difficult for some hikers to get used to at first, especially if it's lumpy. A little chocolate syrup can turn this milk into a more palatable, high energy drink.
Packaged energy bars are popular types of hiking food. They often taste similar to candy bars, but have protein and other nutrients added. Small chunks of chocolate added to foods such as nuts and dried fruit can make the ever-popular, classic outdoor snack called trail mix. Plastic bags filled with this mixture can be eaten by the handful on the hiking trail to provide a source of fast energy and nutrients. Raisins, peanuts and a few colorful chocolate candies can make a basic trail mix, but many more varieties are possible; some of them are sold in packages or in bulk at supermarkets.
Other hiking foods include cheese and crackers, peanut butter sandwiches and beef jerky. Fresh fruit, cherry tomatoes and dried fruits such as apricots and banana slices are also usually easy to take along on a hiking trip. If pack weight allows, cans or individual containers of fruit cocktail may also work. Pouches of dry soup mix and dehydrated potato flakes can help cooks add variety to their hot meals.