I mostly hike in bear country, which limits how much food I can take to the volume of my bear canister. This excellent question dealt with foods that are great on a trip where food-selection criteria do not include limited space or a vegetarian diet. I am interested in what dried vegetarian foods have the highest ratio of calories to volume.

I have a dehydrator, so don't feel like you have to limit answers to store-bought foods.

  • What kind of bears? What area are you hiking in? Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 5:15
  • @DonBranson: Black bears in the Sierra Nevada. They are not the problem though, the limited space in the bear canister is my problem.
    – DudeOnRock
    Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 5:22
  • The reason I ask is that bears vary in their fearlessness of humans. Given that, you may not really have to limit yourself to what fits in a bear canister by hanging food and good outdoor practices, such as not cooking where you camp. Having said that, the areas I hike have very limited bear populations. Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 5:27
  • @DonBranson: A lot of areas in the Sierras mandate the use of bear canisters, good idea though!
    – DudeOnRock
    Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 5:30
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    Peanut butter! Get some JIF and it won't need to be refrigerated. Though, as a vegetarian, I think the most calorie-dense food I bring backpacking is almost always the trail mix. Get some with dark chocolate, if you want to be sure. Commented Jan 3, 2013 at 23:15

2 Answers 2


A recent article on The Out Side Out blog by Reiner Thoni ("Fast and Light" Plant Based Nutrition for Mountaineering) has quite a bit of detail on this, and goes well into the details of a balanced diet and some options for variety.

The following is quoted verbatim:

Carbohydrates - replacing the glycogen reserves - 4cal/gram

Lets start with Couscous, it packs easy, is more nutritious then pasta and prepares instantly making it a corner stone carbohydrate for replacing glycogen reserves in the muscles. When on longer trips where variety is important or with people who are gluten intolerant/celiac steamed quinoa and millet also work but are more expensive and not as readily available. Western couscous variety's are pre steamed so you just need to add hot water and wait 5 min. Casbah sells flavored variety's in 7 oz (200g) bags/box's with flavors like, Lemon Spinach, Wild Forest Mushroom, Roasted Garlic and Olive Oil or Nuts, Currants and Spice. These are organic, simple but healthy meals that you can purchase for under 5 dollars and all that is lacking when compared to freeze dried packaged dinners is a bunch of ingredients that you cant pronounce plus the extra dollars. Its no wonder Conrad Ankor said couscous, couscous, cousous and more couscous when asked what he was eating for dinner on there 12 day assault of the sharks fin on Meru Central's (6310m) massive east face wall. Put simply it works.... Add organic freeze dried packages of mashed potatoes for variety and difference in consistency.

Now your probably wondering... right just eat couscous with some potatoes and you will be prancing up the mountain. Well to be honest you have 1/3 of what you need and are missing complete proteins, certain fats and vital minerals and vitamins. Like an orchestra you need all your members in order to realize the magic.

Proteins - rebuilding and sustained energy 4cal/gram

All the food mentioned in this blog post will contain a certain amount of protein but to ensure complete proteins and enough to aid in recovery I like to fix up a special bag. Garden of life makes an exceptional organic Raw sprouted protein that with its natural enzymes makes its very easy to digest. Also added are sprouts, cereal grass juices, fruits, spirulina, chlorella along with probiotics, fat-soluble vitamins and minerals. This makes it a very special bag that supports your nutrition in many ways while remaining extremely light. To bulk it up a little I sometimes add hemp seeds which are also high in complete proteins.

Fats 9cal/gram

Fat is vital to our survival and is the highest calorie to weight food component so its definitely a key part of the package. During a bout of low intensity exercise of long duration fatty acid oxidation can contribute 50per cent of the energy expenditure. The rest of the energy must come from carbs and the higher the intensity the more carbs are needed. Luckily a large part of mountaineering is low intensity and high fat foods can be readily utilized.

My go to fat is nuts and I like to take a variety of organic nuts to take advantage of each unique nutrient profile. Filling a ziplock bag with brazil nuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, and filberts you have a quick and easy fat source. Because most nuts are high in omega 6 fatty acids (inflammatory) I like to balance it out with chia seeds which are in turn very high in omega 3 ( anti inflammatory). Chia seeds are normally added to my " special bag". Another fat that I take along is coconut oil to add to my soups and dinners improving the taste and aroma while adding a few extra calories.


I love making hot soup and taking a pack of 6 organic veggie bouillon cubs it supplies you with a tone of minerals. Add some spinach couscous and coconut oil improving texture and more flavor. I also like to take rock salt to add to food and water for improved hydration and taste.


Testing many brands I find it very important to find a multi vitamin that is raw with enzymes to allow maximum absorption. GOL seems to put the most emphasis on maximum absorption and has a couple products that meet up to the test, Living Multi along with the perfect food greens formula. I also like to take Wobenzum to help ensure joint health especially for those long descents with big packs.

Additional well balanced foods 60-70% carb, 15-20% fat, 15-20% protein.

For breakfast I turn to Oatmeal and to avoid starting the stove up in the morning I prepare it the night before and let it soak over night in a sealed container inside the bivi. Containing 70% carbs 15% fat 15% protein it is well balanced but I like to add some special bag mix to it and let it all soak together for improved taste and nutrition. Raisins and nuts are also a great addition.

Lunch time doesn't really exist while on the mountain as it's important to fuel the body consistently through out the day. I fill my chest pockets with GOL living food bars I like to eat about 1/2 a bar per hour. Sweetened with honey they contain powerful antioxidants with antiseptic and antibacterial properties and along with many other organic wholesome ingredients (including Fiber) they make for a perfect go to bar that sits well in the stomach and keeps you regular. When the opportunity arises to put the pack down I will eat some nuts and even whip up a quick batch of soup if there is enough time. I always keep a couple emergency gels in my waist pocket on my pack.

Finally for further hydration and immunity boost I like to brew up some echinacea tea with rock salt.

  • This is an excellent answer. Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 2:59

Peanut butter has good calories. Dried beans are good too though they take a long time to prep and cook. You can home dry any vegetable - carrots, tomatoes, corn, mushrooms etc. I also take tomato leathers - mix canned tomato sauce and paste then prep like a fruit leather - and add to boiling water to make tomato sauce. I believe you can also buy dried TVP which you can use everywhere people use ground beef, and it's lightweight.

Your best bet for space is to take ingredients rather than products. Flour takes up less room than the pancakes or dumplings or english muffins you would make from it. I don't make fresh pasta in the wilderness though, I just bring dried pasta from the store.

I've done trips of a week or more with four adults and five children where we had to keep all our food in canisters and we didn't adjust what food we took to be especially small or dense. Your constraints may not actually be that bad. Try some test packing and see whether you really have an issue.

  • Peanut butter may be a very dense food in terms of sustinance per pound, but it is also serious bear bait. Anything you manipulate it with will have a smell. It's not quite as bad as frying bacon and eating it in your tent in the evening, but I wouldn't take peanut butter to bear conntry. Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 16:12
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    I take both peanut butter and my children to Ontario wilderness, and have met brown/black bears - seen them in the day, and heard them at night and had them bash my canisters around. The peanut butter doesn't seem to have caused a problem. Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 23:11

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