Food and water should be your top priority when you plan your Grand Canyon hike. The trails are long and rigorous so you’ll be using up a lot of energy and burning a lot of calories. It’s recommended that you eat about 500 calories an hour. However, you should eat in small amounts so your body can process the food more efficiently. There’s no doubt that you’ll be taking a lot of breaks during your hike for pictures or for resting your muscles. This would be a good time to drink water and munch on a granola bar or salty snack. Even some some cookies or salty chips will work but remember they crush easily in your pack. I really DO NOT recommend bringing energy bars if you’re hiking during the hot weather. We learned the hard way that the hot Grand Canyon weather will quickly turn a bag full of energy bars into a blob of warm chocolate goo in no time.
We brought enough food for 2 full meals a day and enough snacks to last us in between. For my full meals (breakfast and dinner), I brought with me MRE’s (Meal Ready To Eat) which are used by the military as survival food. The civilian version are called “A Packs”. I like MRE’s because it’s a complete meal in one package. You can eat it cold or you can heat them up with an MRE heater which it usually comes with. With the MRE heater and a little water you can heat up your MRE up to 200°F. No need for fire. To me, MRE’s taste a lot better heated up. Even though the weather can get really hot at the Grand Canyon, there’s nothing like rewarding yourself at the end of a long hike with a nice hot dinner. A nice hot MRE for breakfast helps get you going as well. Another good thing about MRE’s is that each meal is contains about 800-1000 calories.
One disadvantage of MRE’s/A Packs is that they get heavy. I also brought along some Mountain House Freeze-Dried Food. The Mountain House meals much lighter to carry and they do taste pretty good. However, you have to make sure you add the right amount of hot water and of course a way to heat up the water. It’s a good a idea to test out a couple MRE’s/A Packs and Mountain House meals before your hike. That way you know how to heat them up, the right amount of water to use, and if you even like the taste. You don’t want to be in the middle of your hike trying to figure out for the first time how to heat up your food.
So the food that I originally brought consisted of 2 MRE’s/A Packs per day for breakfast and dinner. Snacks included packets of tuna, crackers, energy bars (they melted!) packets of fruit, and beef jerky. I’m ashamed to say, I also brought a can of cheese whiz, a couple of SPAM singles, and powdered Gatorade, and cooking oil. Why did I bring those? I had this wild notion that I’ll be sitting happy at camp eating cheese and crackers and then cooking up pancakes (which Juan brought) in the morning. That wasn’t the case. I was so tired after day one all I thought about was the added weight of the extra weight. I also had the bright idea to store the crackers and oil in Tupperware. Another bad idea. It just added more bulk and more weight and the crackers were still crushed and oil leaked everywhere! Oil spilled inside your pack cooking in the Grand Canyon sun did not give a very pleasant odor. Lessons learned.
At the last minute brought a couple Mountain House Freeze-Dried Food meals just in case. The first time I tried them was during our hike and I had no idea what I was doing. The first one came out very watery and cold. That’s why I recommend testing everything before you’re hike.
NOTE: When you’re at camp, be sure to secure your food in a stuff sack and hang it up to keep animals from getting to it. Depending on the campsite, there could be storage containers that you can use.
So, for our next Grand Canyon hike, my food list will still include MRE’s but because they are so heavy I might limit it to one a day and bring more Mountain House meals. The fruit packets I brought ended up becoming heavy so I may try bringing dried fruit instead. I’ll also add more crackers, trail mix (no chocolate because it melts), and some granola. This isn’t set in stone yet but the goal is to stay as lightweight as possible and only bring food that will provide energy and nutrition. Also, this time we might consider having dinner at Phantom Ranch located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. If you reserve early, Phantom Ranch will have a dinner waiting for you when you reach the bottom. They offer a steak, veggie, or stew. A great reward for a long hike. They also provide sack lunches for the next day to take with you as you continue your hike, again, you have to reserve early. Snacks, first aid items, and souvenirs are available too but quantities are limited and with a high price. Be sure to bring money. Consider taking advantage of the food at Phantom Ranch. It’s less you have to carry. REMEMBER to reserve early.
NOTE: If you’re hiking during the hot months, don’t bring anything that’s perishable.
Remember food and water can either make or break your Grand Canyon hike. Not only do you need to eat, but you need to eat foods that will give you the energy. You’ll need to replace the salt that you will be sweating out during your hike. Salty snacks and sports drinks will take care of that. Finally, consider the weight of the food you’ll be carrying. Bringing too much food will make you’re backpack heavy and if not eaten, it’s more for you to carry back up.
Stay hydrated! It doesn’t matter if it’s snowing or 120 degrees(f) at the Grand Canyon, you have to remember to stay hydrated when you go on your hike. Even the fittest athletes overestimate their own capabilities and underestimate the Grand Canyon. (Read about the tragic story of marathon runner, Margaret Bradley.) According to the NPS, during the summer Rangers respond to heat exhausted hikers everyday. Don’t trust that there will be water along the trail.
So how much water should you bring on your hike? The rule of thumb is to drink at least 1/2 to 1 liter of water or sport drink for every hour you’re going to be hiking in the the canyon. Remember to drink water before you start getting thirsty.Once you start getting thirsty, you’re already in danger of becoming dehydrated.
On my hike I carried 7 1/2 liters (two gallons) of water and about 3 liters of Gatorade. Plus I had 1 liter in my Camelbak. That’s roughly 11 1/2 liters or 3 gallons of liquid. This was in August where temperatures reached well over 100 degrees(f) so I wanted to make sure I had more than enough to stay hydrated. Even though I was drinking every chance I had and used a spray bottle to wet down my head and hat, I still had a few bottles left when we finally reached the bottom. However, we lucked out because there was a lot of cloud cover so the temperatures weren’t as hot as we expected. That made a huge difference.
In addition to water, its recommended that you carry salty snacks to help retain the water you’ll be losing.
What was really useful was the hydration feature of my Backpack. It’s similar to a Camelbak and I highly recommend that your hiking backpack has this feature. No fumbling for water bottles or having to remove your backpack to search for your bottles. Plus, it keeps your water a few degrees cooler which makes a big difference. The one I had only held about one liter. The largest one I’ve seen carries about 2 liters. One disadvantage was that once it was empty it was a bit of a pain to refill since you had to take some stuff out of your pack to make room. But, you don’t have to do that very often and I’d rather go through that than hand carry a water bottle.