So you decided to head out on a backpacking trip. Maybe you’re taking some friends, or the family. All of a sudden you have no idea how to plan meals that don’t consist solely of “Mountain Home” dehydrated food bags.
Well… we’re going to change that. While we’re at it I’m also going to suggest you look into Freezer Bag Cooking – a method of meal prep which requires nothing more than adding boiling water to a packet of your own pre-made food.
We’re going to break down some backpacking food ideas. Some will be full meal ideas and some will be ingredient suggestions with great flexibility and use for any backpacking meal plan.
Use these links to navigate to your favorite section of backpacking food ideas:
Yeah, I know, boring!
Just go for those instant oatmeal packets that are pre-flavored and avoid anything labeled “plain” or “original” because it tastes like hell. And don’t forget to bring the fuel pump for your stove (I did this once) or you’ll be eating oatmeal packets raw and washing them down with mountain water.
Make sure you pack these inside a Ziploc because they’ll get soaked if it rains and they’re not waterproof by themselves.
Spice it up by bringing a small snack bag of chocolate chips to sprinkle on top. (After it’s cooked).
This one is anything but boring. These little guys come in a couple flavors and will have you buzzing up the trail on a sugar high.
The packet advertises “vitamins” and “nutrients” but I’m pretty suspicious of any real nutritional value outside of the sugar high. Be careful how many you drink or you’ll by running around like Beavis with your shirt over your head.
I like to pair this with a packet of instant oatmeal. Mix and drink your instant breakfast in the same bowl you ate oatmeal from to help clean out the oatmeal leftovers.
Peanut Butter Pancakes
As if syrup covered cake patties don’t have enough calories in them already, we suggest you smother them in peanut butter too!
Nuts are high in fats (read: calories) and on long backpacking trips you need as many calories as you can get. In order to pack in more energy to your breakfast try covering your pancakes in peanut butter, then syrup.
Note: Making pancakes requires a stove with good flame control and a large skillet. Not the best option if you’re ultralight like me.
Fried Breakfast Bagels
There’s a name for this meal I learned out in Massachusetts but alas… I have forgotten it.
Here’s the idea: take a delicious bagel (cinnamon raisin) and butter up the flat sides. Fry it flat side down in a skillet and then flip it over when golden brown for a hefty coating of cinnamon and sugar.
Warning: you will want to eat too many of these and may need your partner to roll you down the trail.
Cereal & Powdered Milk
Several cereals are actually quite high in calories when measured by density (see my personal article on caloric density). You’ll want to be careful to avoid cereals with low caloric value and high volume (puffed cereals) unless you want to use your backpacking trip as a weight-loss program.
One of my personal favorites is Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I fill up a sandwich Ziploc about halfway and take a scoop of powdered milk – toss it right in with the cereal. When you’re ready for breakfast just pour water over the cereal (in a bowl) and mix it up.
Pro Tip: Use Nido, a whole milk derivative from Nestle, for the highest calorie content.
While this doesn’t count as food in a strictly caloric sense… we’re pretty sure many of you will find it necessary to function.
Take extras, you’ll find that this is an excellent way to make friends and earn favors, coffee packets are the currency of the trail in some parts.
Pro Tip: If you’re boiling water for oatmeal, instant coffee, and a dinner every day you’ll go through gas like crazy! Keep tabs on how much gas you’re consuming as it will leave you without fuel quickly.
This Mediterranean food makes for a great and unique lunch on the trail!
Take a pita, cheese, and a cucumber for a full meal. Cut the pita in half, fill with tabouli, and top with cheese and cucumber.
Warning: kids may not appreciate the new unusual food as much as you do.
Pits are a versatile addition to your backcountry kitchen. You can make pita pizzas, tabouli sandwiches, or cover them in (reconstituted) powdered hummus!
Get creative and look for recipes you can adapt to use with pitas.
Fry in light butter, top with pizza sauce, pepperoni, and cheese for a favorite dinner pizza!
This is no joke – cheese is sometimes large portions of meals on the trail.
A block of cheddar will last half a dozen people for a single meal and can stay fresh for days in the summer heat.
I’ve carried cheese blocks on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina in mid-July. They’ll get a little mushy but they stay edible for a good while. I wouldn’t suggest carrying them more than three days before consuming, however.
Try cheese, crackers, and jelly of your favorite flavor for a cheesecake-eque surprise!
Find your favorite premixed Italian pasta salad and take it with you into the backcountry.
I suggest carrying walnuts and sun dried tomatoes for a tasty fresh addition.
Add the suggested water to your pasta the night before without even heating it up. By lunch the following day it should be ready! Crunched for time? Just add boiling water to a bag with the pasta salad mix and let it set for an hour or so.
Don’t forget the extra olive oil or you’ll have a weird meal.
Again, to piggyback off the last suggestion, sun dried tomatoes belong in almost every backcountry meal if you ask me.
These delicious, sweet treats are the perfect addition to any savory pasta meal in the backcountry. They’re a bit pricey so use sparingly but they’ll really transform a bland meal into a winner!
This brilliant creation weighs hardly anything and, when hydrated, transforms into glorious quantities of food. Perfect for the overly hungry backpacker and friends.
Use with chips, pitas, Frito, or anything else you can think of to dip the bean spread.
A note about hummus: you’ll want to find a seasoned flavor of powdered hummus or bring spices. Plain hummus is a let down.
Another hard to find food that you’re just better off ordering in bulk online. Falafel is a wonderfully versatile powdered food with great flavor and spices.
I like to make falafel burgers- just re-hydrate the falafel, press into burger patties, and fry ’em up.
Smother in hot sauce of your choice, top with cheese, and slap a bun on that bad patty and you’ll have the whole campsite salivating.
A staple of the backcountry pantry, minute rice is a great staple for many meals. My personal favorite and a long-time winner in my book is the beans and rice freezer bag meal. Here’s how to make it –
Grab a gallon Ziploc and put in a serving of minute rice, dehydrated refried beans (try GFS), and sprinkle in taco seasoning. In a small snack bag crush up a pile of Fritos and toss it in the bigger bag.
Once on the trail, just add boiling water to the gallon Ziploc and let it re-hydrate. After it’s ready, sprinkle the Frito pile on top and eat up!
Dehydrated Refried Beans
In case you failed to read through the minute rice segment, I’m going to do you a favor and reinforce the greatness which is dehydrated beans.
Head over to somewhere like Gordon’s Food Service, or any major commercial food supplier, and you’ll find dehydrated beans.
These are wonderfully lightweight and can be used in tons of meals! Get after them!
Yeah, I know, this isn’t a meal. Just hang in there.
Olive oil is one of the absolute highest calorie dense foods on the planet. Why does this matter? It means you should avoid it when dieting and include it when backpacking.
For its weight, olive oil provides a huge amount of calories. I add it to all of my dinners – beans and rice meals, falafel burgers, etc. Add olive oil anywhere you can to keep your energy levels up on long trips.
Walnuts (or any nut)
If you paid attention earlier then you already know nuts are absurdly calorie dense. Calories are just a measure of energy contained in something (it’s actually a measure of potential heat energy).
Pick your favorite nut and find ways to include it in anything you make. One of my all time favorites is instant potatoes, olive oil, spices, and walnuts.
Get the spicing right on that meal and you’ll have a real winner-dinner.
This is an awesome little creation. Find fruit leather made with real fruit, or learn to make it yourself. It’s basically pureed fruit dried into thin strips.
If you find good makers of fruit leather it actually has the potential to contain decent nutrients and not just refined sugar. Shop around.
One of my favorite additions to the trail menu is a Pro Bar. This company makes great products that I love thoroughly and have used to help bring in hard-to-get nutrients to my longer trail adventures.
I love biting into a bar and finding an entire strawberry to eat. It’s delicious!
My only complaint is that there’s a lot of “syrup” ingredients in the bars.
Hazelnut Spread (Nutella)
Add hazelnut spread to just about anything or simply eat it with a spoon. It’s high in calories and amazingly addictive. You’re welcome.
I’ve mentioned them before but Fritos are high in calories and delicious. Shamelessly consume huge quantities of these at all times. There is no real nutritional value…
These are again, quite tasty, and also high in calories. There is no good nutrition in here – it’s no wheatgrass smoothie but it is easy to pack, easy to eat, and full of energy.
At one point I was budgeting two of these per day for snacks along with two Pro Bars, and three meals.
Yogurt Covered Pretzels
I love eating these by the pound on high intensity trips. If you can’t tell – I’m a proponent of high calorie foods for backpacking.
Try checking out Nuts.com for bulk orders of these delicious treats and be careful not to over eat.
These sugar-filled treats are tasty and great in GORP or granola. Eat them straight, that’s fine too. Don’t forget to take enough for friends.
I’m not a huge fan of jerky (being vegetarian) but it warrants inclusion because, let’s face it, jerky is delicious. Very expensive for any real nutrition and lacking in much real value as a food (neither calorie or nutrition rich).
Take a few slices with you to satiate your carnivorous urges.
Did we miss one?
Do you have a fave backpacking food item that we didn’t include on this list? Tell us about it in the comment section below.