Why calorie density is vital for hiking and running

Whether you’re looking for the best food to eat before running, the best backpacking food, or simply food to take camping, you’ll be interested in the most calorie dense foods you can get your hands on.

What is a calorie dense food?

Food that is calorie dense has a lot of calories for its weight.

Consider raisins and grapes. Raisins are dried grapes; you might think they have essentially the same nutrients in them. But 100g of raisins gives you 300 calories, whereas 100g of grapes gives you 67g. Why? We’ve removed the (zero-calorie) water, making raisins an ideal calorie dense snack (and grapes much better than raisins if you’re trying to lose weight).


A rough guide to whether a food is calorie dense is to look at the calories per 100g (about four ounces), or calories per ounce (about 28g). Over 100 calories per ounce, or above 350 calories per 100g is calorie dense.

Over 350 calories per 100g is calorie dense.

Oils, nuts, chocolate are well over this benchmark. Dried rice and pasta come in just over the benchmark. Even dried fruits are only just in this range.

Why is the calorie density important for camping?

Being smart about which foods you carry is simply the best way to cut down pack weight and go further when expeditioning.

If you factor in 2400 calories a day, that would equate to 24 ounces, or 700g of calorie dense food. To get the same calories from fresh fruit and vegetables, you’d be eating 10 pounds or 4 ½ kilos of them!

Also, that extra water, fiber and roughage in fresh fruit and vegetables fills you up. If your body needs calories fast, eating low calorie density food isn’t the quickest way to do it.

Are high calorie foods unhealthy?

Our bodies crave calories. Once upon a time, it motivated us to hunt and gather. Calories aren’t unhealthy in  themselves – we need energy to survive. In today’s abundant world, it’s easy to eat more calories than we use, leading to weight gain.

But the rules change when we are being very active. That’s when we need the best foods for running, or the best foods for backpacking.

Healthy calorie dense foods are ones with lots of the other nutrients we need when we’re being active, like protein and calcium.

What are the most calorie dense foods?

Check out my short video of my top ten calorie dense foods for camping and hiking:


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