If you’re going on a hike, it’s always a good idea to figure out the best foods to eat before, during, and after a hike with kids.
Hiking is one of our favorite outdoor activities. You get to explore nature, be active, and bond as a family.
A big part of outdoor activities is preparation. No matter how short of a hike you’re going on, you should always eat first and bring food and water with you.
Hiking snacks are fun, but they’re also important to keep up energy levels and stay alert. Here we’ll talk about the nutrients to look for in hiking foods, what to eat before a hike, as well as what to eat during and after hiking.
Nutrients in Food
I don’t know if we are what we eat, but we certainly absorb and use it. If you think about food as fuel, nutrition for hiking becomes more important. We sometimes talk about this with our son. If our bodies were cars, how would we fill the tanks to keep the cars going?
Hiking nutrition comes down to energy found in carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Here are a few reasons why these food elements are so important during a hike.
Carbohydrates are the first energy source your body uses while active. Our bodies are designed to break these down quickly. This makes carbs easy to process on the move. Easier than it is to process protein or fats.
Ease of digestion is important during physical activity for a few reasons. It decreases the risk of an upset stomach or cramping, compared to other biomolecules. It also ensures your nutrients and fuel source are more quickly absorbed for use to keep you going on the trails.
Protein makes up most of our cellular structure. We need protein to feed our cells and help them function and regulate.
On a hike, protein helps sustain energy over long periods. Where carbohydrates burn off more quickly. This is partly because they take longer for the body to break down. Protein is important for muscle recovery after a strenuous hike.
Fats are often seen as the enemy, but good fats are important to the structure and function of our bodies. Fat is a good fuel source because it applies itself where your body needs it. In this way it works well as muscle fuel on a hike to keep you moving.
Healthy fats are also dense in energy (9 calories for every gram of fat vs. a carbohydrate which offers 4 calories for every gram of fat). In this way, it powers you through heavy physical activity.
What to Eat Before a Hike
What you eat before your hike is just as important as the snacks you take on the trail. Your pre hike meal is the food your body uses as fuel when you set out. It should carry you through until you stop for a snack.
If you’re going on a full day hike, be sure to eat breakfast before starting out on your long hike. A hot meal can go a long way on a cold day.
Complex carbs are a good choice for a pre-workout food source. Here are some things to consider for your pre-hike meal.
Water is essential before, during, and after a hike. It’s recommended you drink plenty of water even the day or two before a hike. Being pre-hydrated helps regulate hydration levels, ensuring you begin your hike properly hydrated.
If you’re dehydrated before you get started, you may have a difficult time regulating your body temperature and you may be at risk for sore muscles.
Oatmeal is a healthy hiking meal packed with complex carbohydrates. It’s also lightweight, and simple to pack in a backpack. It only requires water and doesn’t take long to whip up at a campsite.
Oatmeal digests more slowly than simple carbs. This means your body retains energy longer throughout your hike.
We like it because it’s a family-friendly food our son loves. You can add fruit or other toppings to customize the flavor.
Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and whole grain pasta are high in energy and fiber. They’re good fuel before a hike, and healthy for your gut, keeping you regular.
Fiber is a good addition to any physical activity. When your body absorbs water and the risk of dehydration looms, constipation is also a risk. It’s difficult enough to get kids to poop while camping, you don’t want to add to that worry.
Surprisingly, popcorn is also considered a whole-grain and is a perfect lightweight snack for a hike and is super fun to make over the campfire.
What to Eat During a Hike
Foods that are eaten during a hike need to be easily accessible, low in mess factor, and high in energy. This is what sustains you through the hardest part of your long or strenuous hike and ensures you have the power to get back to camp.
We like to hike with a few different hiking snacks. Snacks work well as a distraction on long hikes to keep kids going.
Granola bars or energy bars are a simple go-to hiking snack. They’re quick to eat and packed with all the nutrition your body needs to keep moving. Granola bars often include ingredients like whole wheat oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and peanut or almond butter.
There are plenty of takes on the granola bar, but we recommend trying to choosing bars with healthy whole ingredients. Sweets burn off more quickly, leaving you hungry again. We love Kind bars, they’re a great balance between healthy and snacky.
That being said, bring whatever your kids will actually eat. The last thing you need on a long hike is a kid refusing to eat anything because the choices are too healthy.
Trail mix can be a mix of any number of elements, including dry cereal, nuts, dried fruits, and candy. Like granola bars, choose or make your own that includes your families favorite foods.
If you have a picky eater, trail mix is a great way to encourage young hikers to snack on the trail. Toss in a handful of their favorite sugar cereal or M&Ms among the healthy ingredients.
Protein is good for your muscles and provides energy. Jerky is a good source of fast protein on the trails. We are lucky enough to get ours from an amazing local meat shop, but the stuff they sell at the gas station is just fine too.
Jerky is high in sodium, which isn’t always the evil thing we make it out to be. Our bodies lose a lot of salt when we sweat. Jerky helps replenish these sodium stores. Just be sure to drink enough water to balance the salt intake.
The iodine in salty foods is also one of the essential micronutrients, so don’t go salt-free on your hikes.
Your Favorite Snacks
Any food that keeps you going on the trail is a good snack to take along. Fresh fruit or vegetables are easy to eat and high in natural sugars to boost energy.
Whole-grain tortillas wrapped over a string cheese or with a light coating of nut butter is another good choice on the trail.
Choose whole foods you and your kiddos enjoy. While it’s best to choose foods that have healthy levels of complex carbs, fats, and protein, bring whatever your family will eat.
We like to avoid snacks that require preparation or utensils to keep things simple.
What to Eat After a Hike
Once your hike is over your body needs to replenish nutrition sources and power up to rebuild muscle tissue. Protein is best for this. Look for lean protein to power up after a hike. We don’t recommend anything too greasy or heavy on the stomach.
Here are some of our go-to options.
Chicken is always a crowd-pleaser, and it’s something you can eat hot or cold. A deli meat sandwich, chicken kabobs over the campfire, or diced chicken atop a fresh salad are all great options.
Chicken is great for young hikers looking for a savory post-hike snack. If your crew isn’t big on chicken, look for any other lean meats within one hour of your hike.
We love peanut butter after a hike. It’s easy to eat, a little sweet, and a favorite among most kids.
Peanut butter on whole grain crackers, in a sandwich, or on a tortilla are all great options. You can also try dipping celery hearts or apple slices in peanut butter for added texture.
Yogurt is a little tougher to bring on a hike because it needs to retain a safe temperature, but it’s perfect after. If you have a cooler, low fat yogurt makes a great post-hike snack. Greek yogurt is rich in protein, and healthy micro bacteria for your gut.
On average, adults should drink 2 cups of water for every hour of hiking, while children should drink 1 to 2 cups depending on size. Other factors go into calculating quantity as well, including
- Time on the trails
At higher altitudes, for example, your body responds differently to thirst. You may not realize you’re thirsty until it’s too late. In the heat, your body expels water through sweat, requiring more water than usual.
If you don’t want to bring water on your hike, you should bring a water filter or a way to boil your water to make it drinkable.
Drink Water Before Your Hike
You can curb thirst before it occurs by drinking water before your hike. Be sure to pre-hydrate on days you plan to be active. This helps your body process the water more evenly, ensuring you don’t cramp up by guzzling water quickly on the trail.
Water is also heavy. If you can save yourself a little energy by consuming water before your hike, you can carry less with you on the road. Remember to still account for the amount of water necessary for your time on the trail and body weight.
Drink Water During Your Hike
As you hike your body loses fluids naturally through sweat. These fluids need to be replaced, or your body weakens. Ensure everyone’s water bottle is prepared before your hike, and that it can be carried ergonomically with:
- Carabiner clips
- Bottles with handles
It’s best to take small sips rather than chug water when you get really thirsty. As tempting as it is to quench your thirst in one go, drinking too much water on an empty stomach can cause cramps.
Drink Water After Your Hike
This sounds like a lot of water, but your body needs it. When you return from your hike, much like before, consistency of hydration is key. You lose fluids and electrolytes hiking, especially in when hiking in warm weather.
By the time our bodies send thirst signals to our brains, dehydration has set in. Even if you don’t feel thirsty, have a little drink after your hike to bring levels back to normal. Avoid carbonated beverages while you let your body recover.
We love hiking, and we hope this guide on what to eat after hiking helps make hiking more enjoyable for your family. As always, have fun out there, and stay safe!
I’m Molly Foss, aka Momma Critter. I’ve been camping since I was 9 years old and I always wanted to be Robin Hood and live in the forest when I grew up. I’m excited to share my love of camping with my son as he grows up. My favorite thing to do while camping is roast marshmallows over the fire.