If you hike often, you’ve probably found yourself searching for new hiking lunch ideas after falling into a rut of eating the same meals over and over. There’s no reason to feel confined to a smushed ham and cheese sandwich on white bread – unless that’s your jam! – because there are so many great options to choose from. Here are a few ideas for sandwiches, salads, and even a few unconventional lunch options that will help fuel you while you’re on the trail.
The best lunches to take on a hike are full of protein, healthy fats, carbs, and some fiber. They leave you full without weighing you down, and they offer lots of fuel and energy to get you through the rest of your hike.
What To Consider When Packing Your Lunch
There are a few things you should always consider when packing your hiking lunch, from the outside temperature to the way you pack your backpack. Before choosing your lunch, spend a few minutes considering the route, weather, gear, and overall itinerary to ensure that you’re choosing the best option for your hike. Try to pack your lunch towards the top of your bag so that it is less likely to get squished, and keep any hot liquids on the outside of your backpack to avoid spill disasters. Also always remember to leave no trace when hiking with food.
If you go to open a container of fresh food and it has ballooned outward in the packaging, beware. This is usually a sign that the food is releasing gasses and is no longer good to eat, or is otherwise rapidly declining. This does not apply to airtight packaged foods like potato chips or crackers, which may balloon (or even pop open) due to the changes in atmosphere.
To keep cold items chilled throughout the day, wrap them in an insulated piece of clothing, like a down jacket or wool sweater. This is especially important when searching for the best Caribbean islands for hiking.
If you’ve ever hiked with your lunch, you probably have run into the dreaded squished sandwich disaster. There are a few ways that you can prevent your lunch sandwich from being squished. First, protect sandwiches in your bag by wrapping them in loose clothing and keeping them towards the top of your bag.
Next, choose a bread that is less likely to squish or crumble. Store bought white bread is prone to collapsing, but tortillas, pitas, and heartier fresh breads will have more integrity.
Length Of Your Hike
The length of your hike is an important factor to consider when packing your hiking lunch. Does your sandwich need to survive two hours of moderate walking along a lake, or are you getting up at 4am to try to summit a peak? The longer your hike, the more you’ll want to consider packing something that either won’t get crushed or will still taste good if it does get crushed.
Dietary Preferences Of Your Group
If you’re packing lunch for a trip with friends, be sure to ask for dietary restrictions and preferences before you decide on a meal plan. You may need to opt for a sandwich bread that is gluten free, a meatless option, or just avoid an ingredient that someone doesn’t like very much. It’s better to ask than to leave someone without a meal while on a long day of hiking. Plus, hungry hiking companions are likely to be grumpy hiking companions.
Pro Tip: Eat Breakfast Before Your Hike
It’s always a good idea to eat breakfast and drink water before you hit the trail. By the time you’re actually hiking, your body will be using the calories and energy you have stowed, but you’ll be more likely to feel tired and groggy if you don’t have some food in your system. A pre-hike breakfast can be simple: oatmeal, a bagel, some organic dates or a piece of fresh fruit are all perfectly good options.
Hiking Lunch Ideas
So now that we’ve covered important topics like squishability, here are some of my favorite hiking lunch ideas!
For many people, the quintessential hiking lunch is a sandwich. For good reason, a portable sandwich can be the perfect option for your next adventure. See below for a list of sandwich options worth considering for your next hiking lunch.
Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato sandwiches are a classic, and they make for a great hiking lunch. This crowd pleasing sandwich is quick and easy to make, perfect for whipping up in the morning before you set out for your hike. This sandwich classically has mayonnaise, but you may want to bring some packets separately to add just before you eat in order to keep your bread from getting soggy.
You can easily make a BLT vegetarian or vegan by using soy or tempeh bacon and substituting a vegan mayo for the regular mayonnaise. My favorite vegan bacon is the Sweet Earth Benevolent Bacon, but there are plenty of options available in stores.
A caprese sandwich has three main ingredients: tomato, basil (or pesto), and mozzarella. You can easily add some protein to a caprese sandwich by adding chicken or prosciutto, both of which you can find at the deli counter. This sandwich can be toasted or untoasted, depending on your preference, and is usually a crowd pleaser.
The classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a solid hiking lunch choice. I like to make my PB&Js with crunchy peanut butter, artisan raspberry jam, and local sourdough. If you are worried about your sandwich getting soggy, you can spread peanut butter on both of the slices of bread, then spread the jam in between the peanut butters. Pro tip: PB&Js are great when you add some salt and pepper potato chips just before you eat them. The added salt and crunch pairs really well with the sweetness of the jam.
Hummus, Turkey or Chicken Wrap
The other classic sandwich option on this list is a hummus/turkey/chicken wrap. Typically, this sandwich is made with mustard and/or mayonnaise, and sometimes lettuce or tomato is added. The hummus version could include cucumbers, feta, and tomatoes, but the sky’s the limit! You can dress these simple sandwich variations up somewhat by adding things like sliced red onion, roasted red peppers, or tangy sauces.
Roll for Sandwich – “The Second Wind”
There’s a creator on TikTok who makes randomly generated sandwiches based on ingredients he rolls using dice. The dice rolled a rather classic sandwich called The Second Wind that would be a great hiking lunch, here’s how you can make it:
White bread (or tortilla for a wrap)
Raspberry jalapeno pepper jelly
Cucumber And Cream Cheese
Another classic sandwich with a spin that I found on TikTok is this variation on the cucumber and cream cheese sandwich. To make a hiking version of this classic teatime sandwich, I’d recommend bringing the three ingredients and then assembling the sandwich just before eating on the trail to prevent sogginess.
You’ll need to toast some bread, thinly slice some cucumbers, and then make a spread by mixing together a tablespoon of greek yogurt with a small container of jalapeno cream cheese. The sandwiches are super tasty and would be great paired with some salty potato chips. Because this contains both soft dairy and cut vegetables, this sandwich would be best on a day when it’s at least chilly enough to need a light jacket.
Onigiri are a type of Japanese steamed rice ball that would make for a portable and tasty hiking lunch. These rice balls can contain whatever filling you’d like, but umeboshi (pickled Japanese plums) and salmon are popular options. You’ll normally find a piece of nori or dried seaweed on the outside. Onigiri are light and portable, perfect for a hiking lunch because they’re filling without being overly heavy.
Buy A Sandwich
When I lived in Boulder, Colorado, I loved to stop at a local deli and buy a breakfast sandwich and lunch sandwich from Lolita’s Market & Deli on my way out of town. They were tasty, filling, and made it so that all I had to pack the night before were some snacks.
If you’re planning to stop by a coffee shop on your way into a National Park, check the menu to see if they offer deli sandwiches and then bring one with you for lunch. This option is usually affordable, and it’s ideal if you’re just visiting an area and staying somewhere without a full kitchen. You can always ask the staff to package the sandwich for a hike so that it’s more likely to travel well.
If you decide to buy your sandwich in town, you may want to bring your own condiments like hot sauce or chili flakes to be sure that it has enough flavor.
Salads can make for a wonderful hiking lunch, especially when paired with some crusty bread. They’re a great light and healthy option, but you’ll want to stay away from a lettuce-based salad, which is likely to get soggy and sad while you’re hiking. Instead, opt for a heartier pasta or vegetable salad, ideally with some protein and fiber.
It’s important to note that salads are the best options for temperate adventures. If your hike is planned for a spot that is very hot or very cold, a sandwich is probably a better option because it’s less likely to spoil (and no one wants to try to eat a frozen salad!).
Last but not least, remember to bring a fork with you.
There are almost endless options for pasta salads that will travel well, but my favorites are usually store bought. I look for a pasta that seems fresh and delicious right out of the package, without loose lettuce leaves on top because they usually don’t travel well. If you decide to make your own, choose a shortcut pasta like penne or bowtie to be sure that your pasta salad is easy to eat.
Technically speaking, a couscous salad is just another version of a pasta salad, usually made with Mediterranean flavors like olive, tomato, and oregano. You can typically find great options for a couscous salad in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.
A simple broccoli salad can be a tasty and easy hiking lunch, perfect when paired with bread or crackers. You can use any broccoli salad recipe you like, but my favorite is chopped raw broccoli, honey mustard vinaigrette, a little chopped red onion, sunflower seeds, and dried cranberries. Broccoli is a fairly dense vegetable, so it will hold up better and for longer than a typical lettuce-based salad. For the best flavor, let this salad marinate for at least 30 minutes before eating to break down the broccoli a little.
Cold Noodle Salad
A cold noodle salad can be the perfect hiking lunch, especially if it’s dressed with a peanut sauce. The protein from the peanuts, vegetables, and carbs from the noodles work together to make a well balanced and tasty meal. If you want to step up your noodle salad, add a little lime and/or sriracha hot sauce.
If you’re feeling adventurous and want to take on a challenge for your next lunch, you can consider the following less conventional options. These aren’t great options for every hike, but they could be the perfect lunch for your next adventure.
If you’re going on a more romantic hike and would like to step up your hiking lunch game, consider bringing the makings of a charcuterie board. You’ll want to be sure to pack some utensils and a piece of cloth to serve as the “board” in order to get the full effect. Your charcuterie board could include: olives, toasted nuts, cured meats, hard cheeses, jam, and crackers.
Freeze dried backpacker meals are hearty and filling lunches that you prepare by adding hot water. They’re a great option for a quick meal, but you’ll want to have a camping stove and pot of water handy in order to get the water hot enough to prepare your meal. I’d recommend skipping the backpackers’ meals for lunch unless you’re backpacking and feeling very hungry midday, as there are easier options for a hiking lunch.
I love to cook quesadillas when I go camping because they’re tasty, especially when you add in black beans and hot sauce. While you could cook your quesadilla beforehand, they’re really much better fresh so you’ll want to prepare them on the trail.
The ingredients should hold up well in mild weather, but you’ll need a camping stove and some cooking utensils to prepare a quesadilla for your hiking lunch.
If you have a way to boil water, ramen noodles can make a great hiking lunch! Opt for a variety that can be prepared in its own packaging or bring a bowl and other utensils to prepare your soup. Of course, you’ll want to be sure to leave no trace and pack out any trash with you. Ramen noodles tend to be high in sodium and low in fiber, so be sure to supplement them with some carrot sticks or other veggies.
Hiking Snack Ideas
In addition to picking the perfect hiking lunch, you’ll want to pack some snacks in your bag. Hiking snacks should be easy to eat while walking, provide some helpful fiber, fats, and protein, and, ideally, easy to share.
Granola is a healthy and quick option if you need something to reach for on your next hike. I like to make my own in big batches and add chocolate chips while it’s still warm. You could always go with a store bought option, but I’d recommend that you choose a granola with larger chunks because it will be easier to eat on the trail.
Granola bars are just about the most classic hiking snack you could name. They’re a perfect addition to your hiking lunch because they’re lightweight, long-lasting, filling, and tasty. I usually go for a chocolate chip Cliff Bar because they’re extra filling, but really any granola bar will do for your hike.
Dried Sausages With Cheese
If you enjoy cured or dried sausages, they can make for a great snack when paired with some cheddar cheese. Be sure that you bring a knife to cut the sausages and cheese.
A handful of toasted nuts make for a great hiking snack. I particularly like to pick up the flavored almonds and/or cashews from Trader Joe’s because they have plenty of options.
Banana Or Plantain Chips
Banana and plantain chips are easy, tasty snacks for your hike. You can find them at most health stores and many larger grocery stores.
Any whole fruit would make for a decent hiking snack, but I always prefer oranges because they aren’t as likely to get bruised and they don’t need to be washed. Be sure to pack out your orange peels, as they take many months to decompose if you leave them on the trail.
Tortilla Chips With Avocado And Hot Sauce
This is one of my all time favorite snacks, and it would be great on a hike if you don’t mind a little mess. To make this snack, you cut open an avocado and remove the pit. Then, fill the hole that contained the pit with hot sauce and use tortilla chips to scoop out the avocado flesh and sauce for a pseudo guacamole effect.
Packet Of Nut Butter
If you need a quick snack that’s high in energy, bring a small single-serve packet of nut butter. Justin’s makes nut butter packets that are mixed with honey or chocolate, and one packet is usually enough food to help you push on to the next lookout point.
What Is Best To Drink While Hiking?
Water is the best option for a hiking beverage. You’ll also want to start hydrating before your hike starts. Especially if you’ll be hiking in a hot climate or taking on a strenuous trail, hydrating before the hike even begins helps to ensure you’ll be healthy and happy while out in the woods. Always leave for the trail with plenty of water and supplemental water purification tablets or a purification device.
What Should You Avoid Taking On Your Hike?
Soda Or Energy Drinks
You’ll want to avoid any foods that will just slow you down or tire you out. Soda and energy drinks are serious culprits, so you’ll want to avoid bringing them on your hike. If you need some additional energy, I’d recommend bringing your own tea or coffee. You can bring hot and iced drinks in an insulated thermos so they’re at the right temperature when you want to enjoy them.
Like energy drinks, greasy foods on the trail will just weigh you down so they’re best avoided. Your lunch on the trail should be putting a little extra pep in your step and helping you to push on the last few miles, the opposite effect of a fatty, greasy meal. If you’re craving a burger after a while on the trail, make your way to a restaurant after your hike to enjoy a fresh one.
Anything That Can’t Be Left At Room Temperature For Hours Without Spoiling
No one wants to deal with stomach issues while out on the trail, so be sure that your lunch choice will be able to stay fresh throughout the day. Avoid soft dairy, and especially soft cheeses, as well as cut vegetables unless you’re able to keep them cool in your bag. Foods like yogurt and bagged salads are likely to give you trouble after a few hours, so stick to foods that are more dense and resistant to variations in temperature.