After your bike-camping gear strategy has been sorted out, a major remaining piece of the puzzle is planning and packing what you’ll be eating for the duration of the trip. For many people this is the last part of the process, but if you’re newer to bike-camping, we advise starting on this piece — at least thinking through it — well before the 11h hour. The mid-ride bonk is the most common way to tank your adventure, but it’s 99% avoidable with proper planning. Campout is still over a week out — so the perfect timing to start putting together your meal plan is now. To gain some insights, we posed the following challenge to our extended Swift Fam:
Let’s talk about SNACKS! We’d like to know how you think about trip nutrition, how you plan in a group setting, and what sorts of things you tend to go for while bike-camping. Do you have a tried ‘n true approach, or are you still tinkering? Have you learned about any cool new meals or techniques? Please share!
Planning and packing food can be the most complicated part of the entire puzzle. No one knows your individual and personal nutrition needs, preferences, tastes, and aversions better than you do, so start there and keep that in mind as you read through the responses below, overlaying the insights with what you already know about yourself and your dietary needs. Try to put yourself in the moment, feel the exhaustion and predictable ravenous hunger that accompanies a strenuous day in the saddle — what does your body and brain crave? Will it be worth it to bring that specific thing? Or can you satisfy that another more sensible way? The main challenge with multi-day meal planning is that food is inherently bulky and heavy. Balancing nutrition needs (my body will go into convulsive spasms without this), with sensory desires (damn, that would be sooooo good at camp or on the pass at the end of a long climb!), against what you can feasibly fit into your kit and/or bear the weight of on a scorching 20-mile climb — that’s the name of the game. As you read thru the insights from our community, you’ll start to pick up on the recurring theme of balancing personal needs and wants with the reality of space and weight concerns. Apply these to what you already know about your own personal needs, figure out how to ration, organize, and fit it into your kit, and you’ll be in great shape before go time!
Let’s start with Swift Head Honcho, Martina, since she truly went above and beyond on the survey question!
Years of bonking in remote places has taught me hella about my nutrition needs! The take-home is that my body, like yours, is unlike anyone else’s, and what got me into trouble was emulating what worked for my adventure buddies. The day I tuned in to my own personal needs and then proactively communicated them with my travel sidekicks opened a whole new chapter. I’ll say out the gates, that my nutrition needs change according to where I am in my menstrual cycle—which also means that I track that pretty consciously.
Lesson 1: I need three solid meals a day. I can snack on high calorie foods all day long and will still tank if I don’t get a solid something in my tum.
Lesson 2: Hunger gains momentum. On Day 4 of a multiday tour a hungry lion wakes up in my gut and takes over all reasonable faculties. I need food, shitloads of it, and in tight intervals.
Lesson 3: Food planning goes super-far. Here’s my starter list (this process goes for water rationing as well).
- Trace the route and identify all the places where you can restock calories.
- Look at the distance, terrain, and elevation between resupplies and write them down. I usually have a little notebook where I can reference these deets while I’m en route.
- Then jot down how many meals you gotta shop for at each pit stop.
I pick up tortillas, cream cheese, a cucumber and prosciutto for lunches. My snacks always balance sweet and savory cuz more of one than the other makes me crazy. Treat yourself to some freshies. Eat them early on cuz they contain lots of water and are heavier for it. I’m thinking fresh fruit or a cuke here. Instant miso soup is my evening and sometimes breakfast appetizer: Salty, umami and hydrating 😋
On the point of rationing, the author dedicates a spread of small, medium, and large ziplocs to use and re-use for an entire spring/summer season of bike-camping, to divide out daily rations for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Before any trip, I’ll pre-pack for each meal and then put it all in a large ziploc labeled “Day 1, Day 2, etc.” on the bag. That way I know up front that I have what I’ll need for the duration of the trip, and then during the trip it helps me keep it all straight when, (a) I’m exhausted, (b) pressed for time, (c) it’s dark. It all gets packed into my frame bag in order by day, and then in the morning, the “snacks” for that day get moved up into my Moxie TTB for super-easy access when I’m on the move. Oh, and don’t forget a dedicated ziploc or two to pack out your garbage!
We had a several other folks along with Martina singing the praises of fresh produce on a ride, in spite of their inherent water weight. Brandon says, “It’s worth hauling an apple and a few carrots. Freshness on the trail feels like such a gift.” Ilana says she’s, “all about stopping by that farm stand and figuring out how to cram several pounds of cherries into a basket bag!” I couldn’t imagine passing a farm stand and not stopping for the goods! Even if it means delaying the ride because we’re stuffing our faces.
Consistently grazing on snacks and staying hydrated throughout the day is the best way to maintain electrolyte levels and avoid what Adam C. calls “the bonk goblin”. We all know him well! Lots of folks mentioned a mix of high-protein/calorie savory stuff, like nuts and hard cheese, and yummy flavor bursts, like dried fruit and gummies, that, combined, can keep you from sweating out all your salts (hello cramps!), keep the sugars flowing for sprint fuel when your bod and brain need it, and keep that growling goblin at bay. If you have Trader Joe’s in your zone, you’re stoked, but be careful you don’t blow your budget in that snack aisle! The author’s pro tip here, if you’re carnivorous and you can find it, New Mexico-style carne seca is paper-thin, super-dehydrated beef jerky, often with green or red chile, that weighs next to nothing, takes up hardly any space, and packs a huge satisfying wallop as it reconstitutes in your mouth and belly. This stuff has taken the place of a more traditional lunch meal.
Bars and other quick calories can stave off a bonk when you’re on the move, but most experienced tourers advocate actually stopping for a dedicated lunch meal. If you’re touring near civilization where there are occasional resupply spots or — what do you call them? — restaurants?, then you’re golden, but if you’re in the backcountry then you gotta bring it all with you. Tortillas seem to be the most popular way to get everything you wanna cram into your face contained in your hands. Makes sense. They pack well, flat or rolled, they’re surprisingly durable if fresh, they don’t weigh a ton, and they’re delish with both savory and sweet stuffins. Blaire’s choice? “My favorite packable meal is a strange twist on the breakfast burrito. I take an oversized tortilla and smear it with Trader Joe’s cookie butter, slice up a banana in it and then add cooked oatmeal and roll it all up! It’s a hefty punch and I have never (knocking on wood) bonked when I brought one of them with me.”
For dinner, pre-packaged dehydrated meals have been on the market for years. Some people love ’em, some not so much. We got a couple hot tips on brands and meals though, so we’re passing that along. Our bud Covey says, “In order to cut down on weight and space, I love just-add-water meals… it’s amazing the quality, sustainability, and nutrition that’s out there these days. The organic/woman-owned Fernweh is my favorite!” Ben from Back Alley Bike Repair just around the corner from us here in Seattle vouches for Mountain House, “I even turned my partner on to the beef stroganoff. Versus the time it takes to prep/cook/dehydrate a meal at home, I’ll leave the cooking to Mountain House while I tend to the mechanical needs of the bikes.”
A similar but alternate take on the dehydrated meal that got lots of props from our panel is instant ramen. Combining the umami/savory/saltiness that satisfies at camp with the carbs of a noodle-based meal, lots of liquids to rehydrate, and low overall weight, lots of folks have found this to be the quick-prep, delicious dinner of choice! The author likes to remove the noodle-cake-thing and the flavor packs from the styro-cup, and put in a ziploc bag for better packability. Throw in 1 or 2 vacuum-sealed tuna/salmon/chicken packs while it’s heating up, and it’s a surprisingly hearty and satisfying meal!
An unexpected popular response to our survey: PICKLES! Wasn’t aware of the widespread adventure biking pickle love until now. Mitch from Black Saddle Bike Shop gets the gold for this brilliant tech! “I fill a small water bottle with ice and pickle juice (I’ll add a pickle or two in the bottle) and stash that deep into my seat bag or somewhere dark. On long, hot days I find that when the going gets tough, that bottle of cold pickle juice keeps me alive and moving. Chug it.”
Silver medal for non-pickle-related snack tech goes to Brian L for his potato dust recipe: “Potato chips!!! Let the air out of the bag, crunch them up into a powder or crumbs, then put it on top of everything savory for a perfect kick of salt, flavor and calories.” I might just have to try this at home today!
And finally, our pal Watson gets snack-tech bronze for this simple, Radavist-approved luxury: “I buy a frozen pizza, cook it, then slice it up to 3″x3″ squares and eat it as my on-bike snacks.” Definitely doing this on my next outing!
Clearly there are infinite ways to approach your adventure diet when you’re out on the road. These responses hit on some common ones and some great ideas for how to plan for taking care of your engine so you can make the most of your multi-day adventure. We hope this inspires you take the food planning part of your adventure seriously — but not too seriously! Don’t bonk!