Ultralight Backpacking Meal Plan for the John Muir Trail

Ultralight Backpacking Meal Plan for the John Muir Trail

There are two things I can’t stand, within the context of this article, when I’m on a backpacking trip. Those are being hungry and returning home with food left over. A good backpacking meal plan can solve both.

The first one probably sounds pretty straightforward. Being hungry sucks. Everyone knows and understands that. But when you’re hiking, hunger can actually slow you down.

I strongly believe that food is fuel for your body, and just like a car, if you don’t keep fuel in your tank, you’re not going to get very far. Those of you who are runners know exactly what I mean. If you’re exerting a lot of energy, you need to replace that energy to keep going. It’s as simple as that.

Returning home with extra food means that you’ve been carrying around more food than you needed on your trip. Extra weight in your pack means extra work on your hike, and who wants to work harder than they need to? Not this guy.

To avoid these problems on my recent 220 mile, 13 day thru-hike of the John Muir Trail, I put together the meal plan detailed below. My goal was to pack between 3,000 and 3,500 calories a day into a svelte 1.5 to 2 pound package.

Here’s what I came up with…

Breakfast + Snacks (1190 calories / 10.3 oz)

  • Dehydrated skim milk – 80 calories / 0.8 oz
  • Carnation Breakfast Essentials – 130 calories / 1.4 oz
  • Chia Squeeze juice – 70 calories / 2.2 oz
  • Coffee cookie (x2) – 150 calories / 0.5 oz
  • Stinger honey waffle – 160 calories / 1.1 oz
  • Cliff bar – 250 calories / 2.4 oz
  • Kind bar – 200 calories / 1.4 g

Lunch + Snacks (1175 calories / 11.2 oz)

  • Trail mix – 280 calories / 2.4 oz
  • Dried blueberries – 70 calories / 0.7 oz
  • Dried apricots – 75 calories / 1.1 oz
  • Dried apples – 60 calories / 1.1 oz
  • Beef jerkey – 80 calories / 1.0 oz
  • Stinger honey waffle – 160 calories / 1.1 oz
  • Cliff bar – 250 calories / 2.4 oz
  • Kind bar – 200 calories / 1.4 oz

Dinner (Avg: 786 calories / 6.1 oz)

I chose to take three different dinners that I would rotate to keep things interesting. I made a few changes to suit my taste, but the original recipes are based on those created by Andrew Skurka. I’ve linked to the original recipe on his website for each dinner option below.

  1. Thai Peanut Noodles – 740 calories / 6.5 oz
  2. Pesto Noodles – 718 calories / 5.5 oz
  3. Curry Couscous – 900 calories / 6.4 oz

Note: Dessert, when I had it, consisted of 4 bite size Snickers bars (170 calories / 1.3 oz).  I didn’t eat them every day when I had them and ended up leaving most of my leftovers at Muir Trail Ranch when I picked up my resupply, so they haven’t been included in my totals. And since I wasn’t eating them for the most part, I opted to remove them from the dinners in my resupply as well.

So if you happened to have run into a huge pile of Snickers in the hiker boxes at Muir Trail Ranch, you’re welcome!

Per Day Totals

  • 3,151 calories
  • 27.6 oz


I started and ended the hike with a few variations from what I’ve described here, but this is generally what I ate every single day for two weeks.

In the end, I lost about 8-9 lbs, but I was rarely hungry and never ran into problems with my energy levels. The only real problem I ran into was a lack of diversity for dinner. Eating the same thing nearly every night got old really fast. If I were to plan for the same time-frame again, I would add more diversity for my dinners. Aside from that, this plan worked out pretty well.

Hopefully it gives you some new ideas for packing more into your meal plan for less.

Let me know what you think about this ultralight backpacking meal plan, and please share your own tips for meal planning for a backpacking trip in the comments below.

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Now, Getgo Outdoors!

Robb Keele

6 thoughts on “Ultralight Backpacking Meal Plan for the John Muir Trail

  • August 10, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    I know! you were hiking for many hours at a time, we won’t be doing that many.
    I have no idea how many calories, I know I should but I was more interested in having yummy food than I was concerned with the calorie count. Our group is mixed in condition and experience so we will take it easy and have a good time. We are probably hiking 10-12 miles each day with breaks in between. The food we packed is adequate…I hope. Last year we had too many leftovers. I’ll find out the name of the hot sauce and will let you know.

    • Robb Keele
      August 10, 2016 at 11:31 pm

      Thanks so much for the link. One more delicious piece of backpacking food to add to my pantry.

      I’m jealous of your trip. If I were to go back and do any section of the JMT again, I would like to do it on a schedule more like yours. There is so much to see there. We never had the time to enjoy our campsites, not to mention any of the side trips.

      There is nothing better than arriving in camp with time to enjoy your surroundings. I can’t wait to see your photos!

      • October 2, 2016 at 2:15 pm

        Hi Robb, I haven’t seen your posting on instagram nor I seen any updates to your blog, I hope you are okay… maybe having fun on a big adventure. 🙂 Take care.

  • August 10, 2016 at 11:06 am

    Wow, this sounds really good! However, I did not see coffee on your list and…I can’t omit that in my pack, I must have coffee! I take Folgers in individual packages, it is not the best coffee but it fits the bill. Our meal plan averages about 22 oz. per day and it includes some fresh veggies and fruit for the first couple of days. We’re going to try some kale, carrots and apples this time. We also have some hard cheese, we took that on our last year’s trip and it worked pretty good. We take hot sauce to spice our food and make it less boring. Little packages of sriracha we get at the Chinese place work but this year we found a dehydrated hot sauce made with jalapeno that is very tasty and goes well with the Ova-Easy egg crystals we are taking. We do not have any candy or cookies though, that sound really good as does the Thai Peanut Noodles…I might have to rethink one of our dinners. Thanks for this info, you did a great job and it is very helpful.

    • Robb Keele
      August 10, 2016 at 12:23 pm

      Hey Prieta, thanks so much for stopping by and reading!

      This meal plan was designed to be lightweight, calorie-dense and to minimize cooking specifically for doing lots of high-mileage days. We were hiking anywhere from 10-14 hours per day once we left Tuolomne Meadows on day 4.

      I normally carry coffee, but my hiking partner is so fast with his morning routine that I was anywhere from 30-45 minutes behind him every morning. Coffee wasn’t an option for me, not to mention a hot breakfast, so I made chocolate chip coffee cookies and carried Mio Caffeine to add to my water. That way I could get my caffeine fix without having to start up my stove.

      22 oz. per day is really lightweight. Do you know how many calories you’re carrying?

      Fresh foods are an awesome luxury, but the calorie to weight ratio is too low to justify carrying them on a high-mileage trek. The closest I had in my meal plan was my Chia Squeeze juice. And at only 70 calories and weighing 2.2 oz each, it was definitely a luxury item that I looked forward to every single day 😉

      Hard cheese is always a great option, but because we were resupplying and it was going to be hot during the days, it wasn’t in my meal plan this time. I just didn’t want to risk having it go bad on the trail since I knew I was going to be running at a calorie deficit of 1500-2000 calories or so per day as it was.

      I’d love to know more about your dehydrated hot sauce. That sounds perfect.

      It sounds like you’re planning a fun trip. I can’t wait to see photos and read about it!

      Thanks again for stopping by!


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