I enjoy doing quite extended treks in the backcountry that rely on us (mostly 2-4 people) being independent from any kind of civilization for up to two weeks.

For me the foremost problem in these kinds of treks is the weight of the food: I've been on treks where we easily started out with 15kg of food per person, which is obviously a big strain for everyone carrying it.

I have already spent quite a lot of thought and time optimizing our trail food to reduce weight:

  • We only bring food with very high calories-to-weight ratio.
  • We bring food that require as little fuel to prepare as possible (reduces overall fuel weight needed).
  • All the food is repackaged into the most light-weight packaging possible.

Example: Instant Pasta, Couscous, Chocolate, Peanuts (best calorie-to-weight ratio out there), dehydrated instant soups and sauces for pasta, porridge, powdered milk, energy bars...

So... we're set on carbohydrates, sugar and fat, but I'm guessing what we're still struggling with is protein intake: many protein-rich foods are either fairly heavy (dried meat, hard cheese) or spoil quickly. The few I know that are both light weight and durable (like beans and lentils) take forever to cook, meaning that we'd have to bring a lot of extra fuel.

  • Do you have a suggestion on how we could improve our protein-intake on extended hikes?
  • What kinds of protein-rich trail food with low weight exists out there? (bonus points if it is tasty)

P.S. We use light-weight trangia camping stoves, as they are quite efficient and their fuel can be bought almost anywhere. I'd rather not rely on open fires as this will limit our treks to routes that go through territory where open fires are allowed and where there is plenty of firewood.

P.P.S. Somebody is bound to bring this up, so I'll just say here: fishing/hunting is not an option for me. Both require a lot of time (and often permits/licenses) and are simply not reliable enough: I can't stake the meals of our group on getting a lucky catch.

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    Just to say you don't have to cook beans, so long as you're a fan of them cold :) also beef jerky is a possible option for protein intake.
    – Aravona
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 8:13
  • Ah, of course I'm not talking about canned beans - they contain tons of water and are waaaaay to heavy. I'm talking of the dried beans, and they must usually soak overnight and then cook for an hour or two.
    – fgysin
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 8:23
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    sorry nor was I, I'm talking actual beans, cold and raw. Drieds a different matter yes. Still beef jerky is something I won't go on a trek without, it's very high protein and if you by the right stuff it's low fat too.
    – Aravona
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 8:25
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    Interesting question, but I'm essentially asking about protein density, not calorie-density.
    – fgysin
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 10:22
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    Protein isolate powders are as protein-rich as you can get (90% +), easily available, and are easy to carry (will keep for weeks if kept dry). Whey and soya are relatively neutral-tasting and can be added to other foods, or mixed with water as a drink.
    – aucuparia
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 15:40

6 Answers 6


I do a lot of strength training when not backpacking, and try to keep my protein up around ~140 grams per day, on average. I asked a related question over on the fitness.stackexchange.com site, and at this point make all my own meals (usually with my dehydrator) because I find pre-made-hiker-food to be junk.

The lightest protein source I know of is simply powered whey. It's nearly gram-for-gram protein, meaning that you're not going to find much that's more efficient in terms of weight. If you really want to get efficient, you can spend big money for the whey supplements designed for patients with parts of their digestive track removed (typically from cancer treatments).

I usually eat oatmeal in the mornings, and I drop a scoop of chocolate whey protein powder in, mix it up cold with my oats, add some cinnamon and chow down while on the move. It sticks like concrete, so I like to mix it in a ziplock and eat out of that.

In the evenings, I like to do quinoa and/or whole wheat noodles, re-hydrated pasta sauce, and some re-hydrated ground beef. I don't get to my ideal protein load for the day, but I'm miles better than I would be otherwise. My daily intake looks something like:

  • 24 grams breakfast in the morning
  • 20-ish grams throughout the day eating lunch and snacks
  • 40-ish grams at dinner

Protein bars tend to be heavy for the amount of protein in them. They're tastier than a scoop of whey, but they also tend to melt (and freeze), so I leave them home.

Regarding calcium and bone leaching (and the need for calcium), I'd raise two points. First, most whey protein has calcium included. Second, the Mayo Clinic has a write up which addresses this issue as well.

  • 3
    I'd personally argue that eating a very healthy diet is kind of a luxury that you sometimes cannot afford on a long trek. Freeze dried foods have the highest energy density, and retain more nutrients than dehydrated foods. The form of calories you consume during strenuous activities barely matters from a perspective of health, as you're going to have a very hard time spiking your blood sugar when you're exerting yourself. Salt would be the only concern, but again you often need to replenish sodium lost in sweat. Runners often crave sodium for this reason.
    – tsturzl
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 22:09
  • Freeze dried meals might be a terrible choice for dieting, but on the trail I think they're hard to beat.
    – tsturzl
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 22:10
  • @tsturzl that's a fine point of view, but in the same way that you might carry a camera because you like to take pictures (as where I don't), I care about keeping my physical strength up for other athletics which does suffer if you don't maintain your protein. More to the point, the guy asked a question to which I'm answering, not really getting into a value judgement of what he should or shouldn't pack which is a separate point and honestly quite subjective.
    – Eric
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 22:13
  • On a 14 day endevour you can expect to leave some comforts behind, and some may be unhealthy. Protein isn't very energy dense. While what you're saying makes sense and I totally agree, my point is more so that on a long hike without resupply you should probably focus on whats key calories. Not really an opinion, as he stated that weight was an issue, where as protein doesn't pack many calories per gram as fat or carbohydrates. As even "raw" whey protein is only 50% protein by weight. On a 14 day endevour I might leave the camera at home, leave my PJs behind, etc.
    – tsturzl
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 22:19
  • Though I still upvoted your answer because I feel its an important view from a different perspective than my own. Everything is subjective, and though you maybe more subtle you too have an opinion you illustrate.
    – tsturzl
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 22:21

I don't understand why you're so centric around protein. There are protein bars, some of which contain over 20g of protein. There are also freeze dried meats which is actually more protein dense(higher protien-weight ratio) than protein bars.

Freeze dried foods generally offer the best weight to calorie ratio, because they have almost no water weight. Even a dry nut or beef jerky will still retain water weight. Freeze drying would likely be the best route when trying to find high protein meals for the very same reason.

If you can't find enough protein in these meals, and can't carry something like jerky, peanut butter, nuts, etc because of weight. You should probably supplement protein with whey powder or something similar, which is literally straight protein, and about double the amount of protein density as a standard protein bar. Spirulina is a bit higher than protein bars in protein density.

Thru-hikers usually don't even supplement protein like this, and get it from eating a standard healthy diet. I can't imagine why you'd need so much protein, unless your traveling a very long distance without possibility of resupply. Even people who do long distance hiking without resupply focus on calorie density, and tend to carry up to(possibly more) 30lbs of food. You might just have to accept the fact that you're going to consume less than optimal amounts of protein for muscle recovery and just power threw the aches for the duration of your trip.

But to answer your question, the 3 highest protein density foods:

  1. Pure Whey Protein powder
  2. Freeze-dried beef
  3. Protein Bars
  • Great answer, though I agree regards to protein as too high a protein intake requires a large balance of calcium, which isn't easy to take trekking!
    – Aravona
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 8:27
  • I'd be very interested in an example of a standard healthy diet that is durable and light enough that we can carry 14 days worth of it. My personal standard healthy diet contains lots of fruits/veggies and eggs/milk/fresh meat which are all unavailable on a long trek.
    – fgysin
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 8:35
  • I was more so implying a standard healthy diet for those conditions. The longest I've been out was 6 days, and I ate solely on freeze dried foods, energy bars, candy bars(sugars is very energy dense) and jerky. Its far from lightweight, but part of the draw back of going on long treks without resupply is that is weighs a lot.
    – tsturzl
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 8:49
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    Careful with protein bars. Many actually have quite low protein - just a little more than ones that don't claim to be protein bars. Whey is bulky, leaving Freeze dry as the best option.
    – user5330
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 9:09
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    @mattnz some protein bars have as high as 40% of your daily recommended in take. I based my analysis on the ProBar Base protein bars. The cookie dough protein bar has 21g of protein (42%DV). Freeze dried beef having slightly more than the protein bar. Whey beat both at 50% protein per serving(about 7tbsp or 30 grams).
    – tsturzl
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 10:51

I had good success with self-made hiking food based on couscous and soy "ground beef" - this type of thing (no recommendation for this particular brand, just an example). Each meal gets packaged into two separate vacuum bags: one for the soy (and dried mushrooms, if part of the meal) and one for the couscous and other stuff.

Prepare by putting the soy kibbles into your pot, fill up with water until just not covered (but everything gets a chance to get wet), let sit and rehydrate for about 40 minutes. Add some oil (carried separately in an appropriately-sized Nalgene bottle), more water and the couscous bag contents, heat until boiling, simmer for 3 more minutes on lowest-possible heat, let sit covered for 7 minutes more. Enjoy your meal.

Stuff to add to the couscous: spices and dehydrated herbs, dehydrated onions, garlic, soup vegetables, dried mushrooms, Knorr Fix-type "just add water" tomato sauce, powdered mushroom cream soup, pre-cut dried fruits (sealed in an extra baggy, because of the residual moisture) for some amazing tajine-style flavor.

Of course, you can vary the portion sizes as desired. In my experience, 1 part soy stuff for 2 parts couscous by weight was ok. Different brands of soy stuff are different - I had some that was basically flavorless, but a different kind that smelled like dry cat food on its own, and kept some of that aftertaste even after cooking and copious spices. I'd recommend testing that out at home beforehand.

This combination needs very little fuel.

If you're happy with using pasta, have a look at the marketed-as-healthy legume pastas (from chickpeas, red lentils etc). Not only do they carry the protein typical for their ingredients, they also tend to have short cooking times (6-8 minutes). They are a bit high volume though, due to their shape.


Assuming that you have easy access to drinkable water and some time when cooking, lentils can be soaked in cold water for an hour or two to reduce the cooking time. Soaked, red lentils should easily be done in about 10 minutes and not take much more time than most sorts of pasta.

I would also reconsider if hard cheese is too heavy. A ripe hard cheese can have water content as low as 20% or less (less than many protein bars) and the rest is mostly a pure nutrition bomb built of protein, fat, minerals, vitamins and trace elements.


For breakfast I bring freezer-bag-cooking porridge with powdered Scottish oats and chocolate protein powder, mixed with nuts and honey. Each portion is in its own bag. You add warm water, stir, and you have your proteins served along with carbs. And it tastes great.


  • easy to do once you have a bulk of the ingredients (I may point out to my source if anybody's interested)
  • you don't have to clean anything as with any freezer bag cooking food


  • you have to lick the sticky bags inside out if you don't want to waste food - and you don't want to, since you carried all its weight and are going to carry any leftovers
  • morning theoretically isn't the best time of the day when to assume proteins; but personally I never had any issues (digestion ones nor any other) with it

Protein powder. Add it to your food. Add it to water. Add it to hot-water+powdered milk.

  • FYI, I think you received the downvote because Radpin said it a day earlier.
    – user6552
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 18:59

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