Backpacking for Beginners: Food and Water

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Typically when Greg and I hike he carries all the gear and I carry all the food. I’m just a girl and I’ve got a bad shoulder so I can’t load up like that mule can. For this particular trip into the Winds we packed for ten days. Whatever length of trip we go on, I always pack an extra day of food just in case.

Pre-trip food organizing.
Since I’m in charge of carrying it, I like to do all the food organizing myself. I pack three bags- one for breakfast, one for dinner, and one for snacks.

Eat the heaviest stuff first!
When you carry the food, your pack gets lighter every day!

Greg and I eat lots of dehydrated meals on the trail. They’re not cheap ($7-10/meal) but they sure are light and convenient. We tried dehydrating our own food for awhile but quickly gave up when we realized how much time and energy goes into dehydrating food that really isn’t that great. And now we don’t have the counterspace.


Some of our friends taught me to never hike without a protein bar in my pocket to stave off hanger. I can feel my batteries falling out sometimes, and that happened on the second day of this trip and I sat down on a fallen tree and cried because I didn’t want to go any further. Greg was not happy with me right then, but he backtracked and found us a lovely campsite and I eventually caught up to him and we stayed there two nights, happy as larks. Don’t let hanger ruin a great day.


Heading up to Hailey Pass, supposedly the toughest of the trip.
Breakfast is the best meal of the day, and our favorite is pancakes and pre-cooked bacon, followed by scrambled eggs with cheese and bacon. And anything else that involves bacon.

The dehydrated eggs don’t have a ton of flavor, so I packed in some Taco Bell and McD’s salsa. We fry the pancakes in the bacon grease, and when that runs out I use coconut oil if I’m feeling real fancy, or olive oil if I’m trying to save weight. There are few things in life so delicious as pancakes crisped in coconut oil and topped with real maple syrup. Topped with honey is a close second.


To cook all that food we carry a couple of MSR pots, an MSR skillet, an generic tin cup, and an MSR Titanium cup that can double as another pot or a bowl. For a measuring cup I carved measurements into the side of a liquid laundry detergent cup, which tucks nicely into everything else. We have a wide variety of plastic eating and cooking utensils, the most important being a folding MSR spatula. Hey, do you like MSR? Apparently we do.


We carry a couple of camp stoves for convenience and I obsess a bit about carrying extra fuel. You can’t always have fires in the backcountry (though in a dire emergency I would start one if I could) so I would never want to run out. We have the MSR PocketRocket which uses pre-filled fuel cannisters, and the MSR Whisperlite International which takes any old kind of fuel you want to fill it up with. This is especially handy for traveling in other countries where pre-filled cans aren’t available.


We Warckens filter all our water, even what we plan to boil. We use a 4L Platypus GravityWorks filter, which can clean 4 liters of water in 2.5 minutes, and take a SteriPEN for backup. I think the Platypus is the easiest water filter system there is, and it is especially valuable when hiking with a group. It’s one of our favorite pieces of gear. The SteriPEN only purifies water, it doesn’t filter it, so I always fear big bugs slipping through. But you could always filter the water through a handkerchief before purifying it. We use the SteriPEN with a wide-mouth 32 oz Nalgene, but I don’t drink out of them very well, so I put an easy sipper adapter in mine so I don’t pour it down my chest every time I drink. Oh, and a SteriPEN + Nalgene combo comes in real handy in other countries where tap water is questionable. Save the Earth! Purify water in your own bottle instead of buying plastic.

The Platypus is idiot-proof with a dirty bag to gather water in, and a clean bag to hold the filtered water. You just connect the two with a long hose/filter and let gravity do its thing. We filter one bag, then fill a second dirty bag, so we always have 8 liters available at camp.
For the gravity filter system to work, you have to incorporate gravity. But be very aware, trees in the mountains are generally a little full, lot of sap. Greg made us this filter rope so we could hang it from branches without it touching the actual tree.

In addition to one or two Nalgenes between us, I always carry a 100 oz CamelBak, and Greg may or may not carry a 3 liter Deuter bladder. Generally we designate one Nalgene for electrolytes and that bottle isn’t allowed into the tent with us after it’s been tainted with smellies. I keep my bladder in my pack so if I really need water during the night it’s right next to me in the vestibule.

That about sums up the Warckens’ backpacking diet and food prep. I could live entirely off cheese, pistachios, almonds and jerky when we hike, but it is nice to look forward to a hot dinner every night. Just know that dehydrated meals tend to have a negative affect on the GI tract. This is one area where a shared sleeping bag is not the most pleasant experience you could imagine. Oh, and orange liquid poo is normal.


Packing List:

  • backpack and rain cover
  • tent (don’t forget poles, rainfly, and footprint!)
  • sleeping bag
  • silk sack
  • sleeping pads
  • breakfast, lunch, and dinner per day, plus one extra day
  • “bear rope” to hang smelly stuff from trees
  • water filter
  • water bottle or bladder


Check out our other Beginner Backpacking posts:

Backpacking: Tent, Sleeping Bags, and Packs

Backpacking: Clothing

Backpacking: Other Pertinent Gear


See our full Wind River Range – Lizard Head Loop trip report:

  1. Big Sandy to Cirque of the Towers
  2. Cirque of the Towers to Valentine Lake
  3. Valentine Lake to Big Sandy


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