With summer right around the corner, I've been thinking about my next outdoor picnic experience. When it is warm and sunny outside, I'm always trying to spend more time outdoors in parks and on hikes. Naturally, food is an essential accompaniment. I personally look for spill-free, tidy, compact foods that can survive being unceremoniously stuffed into my backpack alongside jackets and water bottles. At the same time, I like to have a mini-feast, complete with drinks and desserts. Read on for the key components of the perfect summertime meal—and a few suggestions!

1. The Drinks

jam, sweet, marmalade, gelatin, juice, tea
Emily Genzer

If you're going to be outside, you should always have water. I also like to pack some electrolyte tablets in case it's hot outside. Essential items aside, summertime is sangria time—if you're 21+, of course. You might wonder how to pack a mixed drink for the outdoors—I personally like to make the drink in a thermos and latch it to my backpack. Mason jars are also relatively spill-proof. If you are looking for a non-alcoholic option, try one of these lemonade recipes.

2. The Appetizer

date, raisin, sweet, jujube, candy, sultanas
Kristine Mahan

Imagine this: you're halfway up a mountain, sweaty, exhausted, and worst of all—hungry. If only you had a snack tucked away in your heavy backpack. Mid-hike snacks are essential. They fuel you for the last push and remind you that you're in nature to enjoy it. For these "appetizers," it's best to have something small that is convenient to walk with. I like trail mix, a couple of dates, or maybe an orange. If you want to make something a little fancier, try these healthy energy bites.

3. The Main Course

peanut butter, peanut, butter, bread, wheat, cake, jelly, jam, sandwich, plate, slice, bite, pb&j, peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Caroline Ingalls

Albeit mundane, sandwiches are the best hike lunch. They have carbs, protein, and fats and can be so satisfying. I prefer a simple sandwich during hikes—a pb&j or a simple cheese sandwich with some lettuce, mayo, and mustard. If you're sick of the classics and looking for something nontraditional, try different spreads and toppings like a roasted eggplant spread or a new bread, like rye or pumpernickel! It sounds simple, but it's foolproof. 

4. The Dessert

sweet, bread, cake, biscuits, pastry, cookie, butter, dairy product, pancake
Jocelyn Hsu

For me, dessert is the most important part of any meal.  Unfortunately, you can't carry whole cakes or tubs of ice cream on long hikes, but don't worry, there are more options. My personal favorite hiking sweets are Rice Krispies treats and Trader Joe's Powerberries. The powerberries are a berry juice mixture covered in dark chocolate—their tartness and bitterness compliment the sweetness making them the perfect hike snack/dessert. Rice Krispies are mainly just sweet, but I love the sickly sweet, chewy snack at the end of any hike. If these don't appeal to you, take any packable, sweet snack. Snickerdoodle's are a classic, delicious cookie to take on a hike. When in doubt, cookies are a good fit.

It might not be summer yet, but it's never too early to start planning your eating escapades. Be sure to plan a couple of hikes with well-planned snacks to get you through this summer!