Bikepacking is very much like a puzzle. Solving the puzzle requires you to make the best of what little space you have. Then there's the gear part but that's quickly solved after you find what works for you - gear is a very personal subject in any case. The bigger challenge, however, involves establishing what food you need and working out how much space to assign as you don't want to fall short when it comes to calories.
Not only do outdoor meals need to deliver enough calories, be packable and easy to prepare but they must also be palatable. A lot goes into finding the right meal which has resulted in a whole industry that's dedicated to creating meal solutions for every type of adventure, whether you are packing light (and leaving the stove behind) to multi-day meal plans in a box. We took a look at all the best bikepacking food options and put together a list to keep you fueled and ready to tackle the path ahead.
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Best bikepacking food
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Getting enough calories to keep you going means looking at every option available. Eat often but adding calories to your water help keep you fueled. Untapped is the brainchild of gravel racer extraordinaire Ted King. It's a simple idea to get high-quality carbs and electrolytes without a long ingredient list. The Lemon Tea Mapleaid product is the option if you're looking for a bit of caffeine. It's a relatively low amount but there's enough to help when you need it. There's also salt to help replenish what you lose and a crisp lemon flavor that helps balance other incoming sugars.
There's a reason that gels are a mainstay in the sports marketplace. They work really well at delivering fast carbs when you need them. When you are really working hard, a gel is easy on the stomach and fast to consume. GU supplies a full range of flavors to meet most tastes including a toasted marshmallow flavor. There's also Hoppy Trails for when you want something a little less sweet. For the longest and hardest trips, switch to the Roctane gels to get more sodium and amino acids.
Your body consumes amino acids as part of the fuel it needs to keep going. In many situations, you have plenty of reserves but when you run out your body starts to pull the reserves out of the muscles. That means muscle destruction at a cellular level resulting in more fatigue and less power. Bikepacking is a situation where it can be impossible to eat enough fuel to replace what you are burning. Taking BCAA capsules gives extra insurance to help protect your muscles. While it's possible to also get amino acids from food, having an easily packed capsule allows more flexibility in the food you eat.
It's hard to argue when it comes to the convenience of a gel. It's easy to eat while moving and it's a fast way to get energy into your body. It's also easy to take them on a trip - just in case you need it. The biggest criticism against gels is that they aren't "real food." It's less convenient to carry a burrito while riding but Trail Butter products solve this problem. They take the form factor and convenience of a gel and pack it with real food instead. No matter your stance when it comes to on-the-bike food, Trail Butter provides an alternative. Think of it as a fat-and-protein-focused gel option.
Yumbutter caters to all tastes with its comprehensive range of nut butters. There are options for almond, cashew, peanut, macadamia, sunflower, and pecan and the composition is simpler. Choose the peanut butter and you've pretty much got the peanut butter without needing to carry a jar. The delivery method is a little bit different too with no option for a small serving. Instead, 6.2oz containers house a little over 1000 calories that will help you go all day long.
Planning the food you need for every day of your trip can be a serious undertaking. You've got to go through each meal and figure out what to bring and how much, not to mention source each item. Patagonia is offering a do-it-all item - the Provisions 2-Day Camp Meal Kit For 2. All the pieces are shelf-stable, meals only require the addition of water and there are snack options, too. The company has even considered where the food is sourced and the future implications and recyclability of the packaging.
Consider the Curry listed here as a placeholder for the whole product line. Good To-GO has options for carnivore, gluten-free, pescatarian, vegan, and vegetarian. It also carries breakfast as well as entrees and it sells kits with enough food for various lengths of time. There are options with double servings or single servings to tailor the calories you need per day or make packing for two easier. Just add water and everything is ready in minutes, so while you get plenty of flexibility there's still all the convenience you want. Just make sure to pick up some snacks to go with the meals.
Along with nut butters, Tuna is another old-school classic backcountry food. The reasons are obvious, it's a super-concentrated protein in an easy-to-consume format. Another good reason for choosing Tuna is that you don't need to cook it. You don't even need to add water. If you want to get a little fancier, use condiment packets to dress it up. Wild Planet packets is the easiest possible way to carry tuna as part of your meal plan.
If you are going the no stove route that typically means a lot of bars and powders, which opens up the discussion of how to handle meals. You could go with cold water instead of hot for freeze-dried options but that leaves you with cold soaked food. Ryan from Range Meal Bars decided there had to be a better way. What he uncovered was a recipe for a bar the size of two decks of cards with the nutrition value of a full meal. The Alpine start flavor has about as much caffeine as a half cup of coffee plus honey, peanut butter, and dark chocolate flavors.
Protekt made a name for itself with sun protection. It has a range of quality natural sunscreens but more recently it's branched out into supplements. The Rest formulation is an option of particular interest to bikepacking. There's nothing better for recovery than get a good night's sleep but, for some people, that's a challenge. If you have trouble sleeping restfully while bikepacking the Rest supplement might be a good option. The formulation doesn't make you drowsy. Instead, it's a collection of natural ingredients to help you relax and set the foundation for better sleep.
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Best bikepacking food: what you need to know about
Stove or No Stove
Due to the restrictive nature of luggage capacity on a bike, bikepacking shares many similarities to the ultralight backpacking movement. That movement is all about obsessively counting grams and optimizing every single thing that comes on a trip. As an extension, many ultralight backpackers choose to go without a stove.
A stove is a luxury that adds weight on its own and also means heavier food. Go without and not only do you not carry the weight and volume of a camp stove but surviving on only ready to eat food is the absolute lightest choice. The question is do you want to make that choice?
If you've already made the choice to move as quickly as possible and as light as possible then go without the stove. If you aren't sure then consider how cold it's going to be, how often you might be able to supplement from a store, and above all else what your goals really are. It's definitely an easier experience with warm food but not everyone counts easier as a goal.
Use a variety so that you don’t get bored
Cookies are delicious. If you spend an entire day eating nothing but cookies they are suddenly not so delicious. Food boredom is a very real problem that can quickly derail your plans. Make sure to keep a variety of different foods in rotation to keep from getting bored.
Even if you are living on simple carbs it's important to keep some variety. It could be as simple as using a variety of flavors or it could be more complex than that. You'll have to see what works for you but there are options. Rotate through different tastes and textures and make sure you are always able to keep the calories coming in.
How hard are you riding
Food is fuel and you need different fuel depending on how hard you are working. The hardest rides require carbs that are fast and easy for your body to process. It takes energy for your body to process food. When you are already putting every possible bit of energy towards riding the last thing you want to do is divert some to dealing with food. In those situations, stick with easy to digest carb-based nutrition.
If you are riding at more of a party pace then you want slow-burning foods. Fast-acting carbs will spike your blood sugar. They might be good in an emergency but they shouldn't be your primary fueling strategy. In those situations, you are going to want to stick to higher fat and protein options. The fuel choice should be slow to digest so that you have a continual drip of energy.
Make life easier by pre-portioning and unwrapping when it makes sense
Even beyond what fuel you need there are a lot of reasons to understand what kind of pace you will be riding ahead of time. If you are taking things slow and steady then it's an entirely different experience. You'll have time to slow down and think about what you are eating and how much. On the other hand, if you are bikepacking in a competitive framework then your brain is really not going to be working as well as you'd like.
Whatever pace you like to take your trips, pre-planning at home can make life less complicated. Take things out of wrappers and pre-portion them so that they are ready to eat. You'll have less to carry and you won't have to think about how much to eat. Just pull out the next bag and eat when it's time. You might not be trying to beat the clock but it will still make life less complicated.