My Ultralight Backpacking Food List 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:  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.

Food is fuel for your body, just like gas is for a car. Without fuel, you can’t get very far. Runners know this all too well. If you’re expending a lot of energy, you need to replace it to keep going.

Returning home from a backpacking trip 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.

An ultralight backpacking stove cooking a meal in a small pot.
What delicious backpacking meal is on the menu tonight?

To solve these problems during my recent 13-day, 220-mile thru-hike of the John Muir Trail, I created the following ultralight backpacking food list with a goal of packing 3,000-3,500 calories a day into a lightweight 1.5-2 pound package. Here’s what I included…

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)

To keep things interesting, I decided to rotate three different dinners. While I made some personal adjustments, the original recipes for these backpacking meals were created by Andrew Skurka. I’ve linked to the original recipe on his website for the first two meal options 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

I can no longer find Andrew’s Curry Couscous, so here’s an alternative cashew curry couscous recipe from Backpacker.

Hot tea and noodles in camping cups.
Thai Peanut Noodles with tea.

Note: I occasionally had dessert, which consisted of 4 bite size Snickers bars (170 calories / 1.3 oz). While I did not eat them every day, I left most of my leftovers at Muir Trail Ranch when I picked up my resupply, so they are not included in my total calorie count. Additionally, I removed them from the meals in my resupply since I wasn’t eating them frequently.

If you happened to find a pile of Snickers in the hiker boxes at Muir Trail Ranch, you’re welcome!

Per Day Totals

  • 3,151 calories
  • 27.6 oz


Although I made some minor changes at the beginning and end of the hike, this ultralight backpacking food list is representative of what I ate every day for two weeks.

Overall, I lost about 8-9 pounds during the trip, but I did not experience hunger or energy issues. The main challenge was the lack of variety in my dinner options; eating the same thing every night became tiresome quickly. If I were to plan for the same duration again, I would incorporate more variety. Nevertheless, this backpacking meal 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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