If you are out for a long (or short) day hike in the wilderness you will need some sustenance. Finding the perfect day-hiking lunch is always a little tricky. You have to consider the temperature outside so that you can consider the temperature your food will be once you take it out of your pack to eat. If it’s a hot day you don’t want anything that will get too sweaty and in the winter you don’t want anything that will freeze.
You also have to consider that you want to get carbohydrates and protein in your meal to keep your energy level up for the rest of your journey. I know the mainstream diet media likes to tell us carbs are bad but they are so important while hiking. Carbs are what is fueling your body up the side of a mountain, they are your friend!
Of course, you also need to consider weight and the logistics of putting your food item into your bag. Usually assembling food at home and not just stuffing a few cans of cold chili and a can opener in your bag does the trick for weight but also make sure you don’t pick something that will get smashed in your pack. Simple remedies for this include putting your sandwiches in Tupperware and avoid bringing soft fruit like bananas.
I also want to note that everything on this list is vegetarian; however, most things can be easily altered to appease a vegan or meat-eater diet. I hope I give you some new inspiration to spice up your hiking meals!
Vegetarian Day-Hike Lunch Ideas
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Let’s start at the most classic option, a tried and true hiking and traveling pal, the sandwich. I am pretty sick of sandwiches so when I do take one with me I make sure to spice it up a little, this means simply upgrading the ingredients.
Throw in some sprouts rather than lettuce and get some nice thick bread or a bagel to put ingredients between. I also like to fill my sandwich with tofurkey or hummus for protein then stack on the veg.
I always put my sandwich into a Tupperware container rather than a plastic bag so that it doesn’t get smashed in my pack, and as a bonus, it’s better for the environment! I also make sure I always put things that might make my sandwich soggy in a separate container (like tomatoes). Upgrade your sandwich game!
Sandwiches sister. Wraps can have anything in them that a sandwich can, but it’s nice to change things up. Some good fillings are rice and beans, cream cheese and tofurkey pinwheels, hummus and veggies, falafel and tzatziki, mashed chickpeas with buffalo sauce, and many more. Again these can get easily smashed in your pack so make sure you put them in a Tupperware.
3. Grab’n’go Mezze Platter
If you are in a rush and have no food in your fridge or are traveling and don’t have a kitchen, there are some great day hike options that you can just grab from the store and get on your way.
Pita and hummus are my go-to, along with some veg like baby carrots or a nice veg combo pack if they have it! Make it extra fancy if you can find a little packet of olives to bring with. Toss everything in your pack and have yourself a little DIY mezze platter at the top.
4. Grab’n’go DIY Lunchables
Another great option is DIY Lunchables. Grab some cheese (hard cheese will last, soft cheese will not), crackers, some tofurkey slices, and an apple or pear if you want to be a little fancy.
Make sure you remember to bring a sharp knife with you or else this meal will be quite disappointing when you get to the top and realize you have to take bites out of a block of cheese.
Just grabbing a premade Lunchables is also acceptable if you want to relive your childhood and are not up for putting in the extra time or effort to make the DIY version.
Another grab-n-go or make at home option. A bagel with some cream cheese will give you the protein and carbs you will need. Most grocery stores with a deli/bakery seem to have those mini packets of cream cheese and will slice your bagel for you. Add in some tomato and capers if you are feeling fancy.
The best cold day hiking lunch, soup. You will have to have a thermos for this one or take your camp stove up with you to warm it up.
Just heat your soup on the stove in the morning at home and put it in a thermos that has good heat control and voila, something yummy and warm at the top of a mountain. Throw in some nice bread and you’ve got a feast.
My favorites are tomato soup with rice, vegetarian chili, tortilla soup, mushroom barley, broccoli, the list could go on forever.
With a good thermos, keep in mind that you can bring anything hot with you, mac and cheese, curry, rice and beans, etc. (just make sure it’s nothing that will get soggy over time).
A half grab-n-go, half soup option. Grab your favorite brand of instant noodles (I love Thai Kitchen), make sure it is the kind that comes in a bowl, then bring along your hot water in a temperature-controlled thermos. When you hit your lunch spot on the trail simply add the hot water to your cup of noodles, cover, let soak, and enjoy! Be sure to pack out all of that plastic packaging though.
Pro tip: if you are traveling and staying in a hotel room and don’t have a kettle or stove you can make boiling water by running a coffee maker without any coffee in it!
8. Fancy Cup-of-Noodle
If you are interested in putting in a little more work, you can make your own ramen at home. In a heat-safe jar combine cooked ramen noodles and all of the other dry ingredients you like in your soup (mushrooms, green onion, peppers, carrots, etc).
Bring your broth along in the same temperature-controlled thermos we used in the last two food items and simply add it to the noodle when you reach the top, give it a minute or two to heat the cold noodles, and enjoy. Don’t try to skip a step and bring the broth and the ramen already mixed together, the noodles will get very soggy and won’t be very tasty anymore.
Pinterest has a plethora of ramen in a jar recipes for you to browse, or just google.
9. Cold Pizza
This is such a great hiking treat. I’m always jealous of other hikers when they have cold pizza and I don’t. Just wrap up that leftover pizza and eat it cold on the mountain top. This is seriously so satisfying, you have to try it sometime.
10. Pasta Salad
Pasta Salad has been my go-to for a long time. A base of any pasta (I like fusilli) with just whatever veggies you have in your fridge. I also like to add cheese and some crispy veggie sausage slices to mine.
Top with some sort of dressing (I like Italian or Greek-style) and you are good to go! An excellent make the night before option. I recommend perusing Pinterest for different combos.
11. Grain Salad
Pasta salads sister. I like these grain salads/bowls a lot. Similar to pasta salad but instead of pasta you can use a plethora of different grains. I like giant couscous, kamut, or barley.
I usually cook the grain in veg stock, let it cool, then toss it with some Italian dressing and add in feta, chopped spinach, tomatoes, cucumber, olives, and red bell pepper, or any combo of whatever veg I have in the fridge. I usually end up with some sort of Greek salad but with the added grain.
12. Sesame Noodles
A family member of both the pasta salad and the cup-of-noodle. When I was in college the co-op deli always had sesame noodles at lunchtime and they were always delicious and dead cheap and I’ve had a love affair with them ever since.
Cook up your favorite ramen or rice noodle then top with sesame sauce, which is usually just soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and some siracha (tomato paste works well as a siracha substitute if you don’t like spice) add some more sesame seeds on top along with some green onions.
Other great add-ons are seasoned tofu and thinly sliced veggies like carrots or bell peppers. The best part is they are better cold than hot so it makes for a great hiking meal.
13. Rice Balls
These are a fun option and will impress your friends if they aren’t from somewhere that makes these frequently. Make some sushi rice (make sure you use the right ingredients, it took me a long time the first time I made it so be prepared). Put some ingredients in the middle (such as avocado, yams, or tofu) then envelope them in a ball of sushi rice. You can then fry them a little to make them crispy if you like. Serve with a gyoza dipping sauce.
Rice Balls are some combination of a sandwich and sushi and they give you that carbohydrate boost your body will be seeking.
14. Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls
Another one to impress your friends! When I first tried to make these I was a little intimidated but turns out they are quite easy and basically like making burritos.
Get some rice paper wrappers (find them on almost any international aisle in the grocery store), dampen them, and fill them with thinly sliced veggies, marinated tofu, and cooked rice noodles then wrap them all up in the rice paper like a little burrito! Serve it with some kind of peanut dipping sauce, and they are so good.
They can get a little stiff if not eaten immediately so I’d recommend wrapping them in a damp paper towel or cloth before putting them in your Tupperware.
I have noticed lots of people just like to bring a bunch of different snacks with them on the trail for lunch. It’s easy to just grab and go and not have to worry about cooking beforehand. I usually am disappointed with myself at the summit whenever I do this and leave feeling unsatisfied. However, I know a lot of people feel sluggish after eating a full meal on the trail so they prefer to just snack and refuel gradually as they walk. You will have to experiment and see what’s best for your body.
I always bring snacks along with my main meal on a big hike so I can easily grab something if we are halfway to the summit and I am starving. I always throw something small in my pack if I know I will be going hiking for just a couple of hours as well.
I like to stay pretty classic with my snacks, some of the things I usually bring are trail mix, fruits (choose something hard like an apple, soft fruits like peaches and bananas might get destroyed in your pack), vegetarian jerky, granola, and for some reason lately I have been obsessed with pretzels. I had some in a trail mix once and by the end of the hike, they were the only thing eaten out of the mix. Salt and carbs are a great combo. My partner always brings a little bag of jellybeans or something of the like to keep his blood sugar up. He swears by it. Find what’s best for you!
These are also great options to take to work or school or even on a road trip! They are all things that will last without refrigeration for at least a few hours.
I have been hiking for years and I have still only found these few meals to be excellent for day-trip meals, I know there are more out there, but I have yet to discover them, if you have more ideas please let me know in the comments so I can up my hiking lunch game! Happy hiking!
Welcome to Alpine Feeling! My name is Talon, and I am a Vancouver local who loves hiking and all things outdoors. I am here to do my best to provide you with outdoor guides to the Vancouver area and beyond.