Live on energy bars and a jar of peanut butter? Not if I can help it. They make a quick snack, but one that doesn't satisfy and keep energy up for the miles. (Plus, if I'm hiking in a bear area, I don't want the sweet smell.)
On a recent hiking vacation, I took time to record the process I use to pack for full day hikes.
Questions to ask:
- What will be the temperature?
- Is the day one 8+ hour trail, or several shorter trails with driving between them?
Water - Plan for way more than I need. I drink 4 cups of water before hiking. I take 12 cups or more with me for a full day hike. More if the weather is warm. I mentioned in another post that Camelbak's make consuming your water much easier.
Water Foods - To increase my fluid intake even more, I pack fruits and veggies that do not spoil easily when out all day. Apples, oranges, celery, cucumbers. You can take whole fruit and put the remains in a sandwich bag, or you can pre-cut them. Cucumbers sliced long-ways are great on a sandwich.
Protein - If an all day hike in one location, freezing the sandwich meat will help it to last until lunch. Also, nuts and the above mentioned peanut butter and energy bars are good for snacks. However, I don't recommend relying on them for the whole day. For an afternoon protein, I usually pack a turkey-jerky stick. (Nicks Sticks is the brand I currently use.)
Sandwiches - Hearty bread that won't fall apart. A slice of meat and cheese (frozen). Lettuce, cucumber, tomato (if you don't mind the mess). If the hike is all day, the afternoon sandwich might be peanut butter, since even frozen meat would thaw and be risky after 7-8 hours.
How much to pack - I plan on a small meal or snack for every 2-3 hours. I would rather come back with food still in my pack than to hike hungry for the last few hours of the day. If the day includes driving between hikes, then keeping the afternoon food and water in a trunk cooler means my backpack is lighter and the food fresher.
How to pack - My backpack has two main pouches and two side pouches. Heavy food, like apples and celery, go on the bottom of a main pouch. Then first aid supplies, sunscreen, bug spray, etc. go on top of that. At the very top are crush-ables, like sandwiches. The side pouches work great for the energy bars and nuts, giving quick access if my blood sugar drops while hiking and I need food immediately. When I've gotten "suddenly really really hungry" it's been difficult to try to find a bar buried underneath everything.
Of course, if you are packing for a short hike, less than 2 hours, water is your main concern. On the other hand, if you have never done a full day hike on one trail, I encourage you to experiment. Hike several short trails with breaks in between to test how much food you would need for a full day of hiking.
Whatever length of hiking you do, congrats on getting out there and enjoying the trails and keeping healthy.