Getting Started With Backpacking Meals

Cooking Food on Campfire

When going backpacking, food choices are just as crucial to a successful trip as your gear itself. In fact, some of your most strategic planning and preparation should center around the backpacking meals you are bringing along.

While it’s true that some see backpacking food as a sort of bland sustenance and not much else, the reality is that you can easily create some tasty food options to bring along with you that are not only very high in nutrition, but delicious as well.

Once you get the planning and preparation aspect down, your backpacking experience will be even better, as you traverse each day knowing that you actually have food you can look forward to eating that is also easy to make -- and provides you with the energy you need.

Things to Consider with Backpacking Meals

There are a variety of factors involved that can determine your meal plans. Here are the aspects that you should be most mindful of.

Three Girls Cooking Outside

How Much Food Should Bring

A standard amount is 1.5 to 2.5 lbs. of food (or 2,500 to 4,500 calories) per person, per day. This can fluctuate depending on your size, weight and how strenuous your trek is that day. While trying to pack light is always a goal, it’s best to err on the side of bringing at least a little extra food along just in case.

Other Factors

  • Taste - Eat the things you know you like. Don’t pick backcountry travel as the time to make yourself try new things.
  • Calories - You spend your whole life being told you should cut calories, but this is not the case when it comes to backpacking. You need as much as you can get to replace what you’re burning off.
  • Nutrition - A candy bar or two isn’t going to hurt you, but focusing on complex carbohydrates and protein is strongly encouraged.
Few Chocolate Candy Bars on Table
  • Weight and bulk - Keep things light. If possible, keep your food in ziploc bags for protection.
  • Ease of preparation - While some semi-elaborate meal plans may sound perfectly fine when you’re at home and packing, they aren’t so fun when stopping to eat lunch or making dinner at camp after a long day. Keep things simple.
  • Availability of water - An abundance of nearby water on your trip opens up some possibilities. If water is scarce however, try to avoid foods that need a lot of it to cook.
  • Fuel - Double check the cook times for the majority of your food and make sure it matches up with your fuel supply. Noodles, soups, and rice can require long cooking times.

Easy Backpacking Meal Ideas

The best backpacking meals don’t have to be a chore when you’re out in the wild. In fact, most or not all of the prep work can be done at home prior to leaving. Here are some easy homemade backpacking meal ideas you can try out on your next trip. (All recipes are for one individual serving.)

Preparing Camping Breakfast on Campfire

Breakfast

The start of your day requires easy-to-make food that will also give you a burst of energy to help get you going. Simplicity and speed is the goal here.

Fruit & Nuts Oatmeal

The great thing about oatmeal is not only is it easy to make, but very versatile as well. You can pretty much put whatever you want in it. Fruit and nuts are two of the more popular choices, and also among the most nutritious.

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 instant oatmeal packets
  • ¼ cup dried fruit (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, etc.)
  • ​¼ cup nuts (walnuts, sliced almonds)
  • Any extra items you want to include (chocolate chips, dried cranberries)
Holding Fruit and Nuts Oatmeal

Home Prep Work - Combine all of the added ingredients into their own ziplock bag, and store with the oatmeal packets. Label accordingly.

Cooking Instructions - Heat water as you normally would (doing it while getting ready is more efficient.) Add to oatmeal, and then add remaining ingredients. You’re all set.

Pancakes

Who doesn’t love pancakes? These are very easy to make, and can be a much welcome comfort breakfast that is also filling. Bring along a mini-bottle of syrup if you’re really feeling it.

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 cup biscuit mix
  • 1 Tbsp dry milk
  • ​1 Tbsp sugar
  • ​⅔ cup water
  • 1 packet squeeze margarine (extra packet for pan if desired)
Making Pancakes on Campfire

Home Prep Work - Combine biscuit mix, sugar, and milk into a quart-sized ziploc bag. Shake well.

Cooking Instructions - Heat your pan up, grease it with margarine, and then add the water and margarine to the bag. Reseal the bag, and then use your hands to mix it all up by kneading and squeezing it. Cut a hole in the corner of the bag, and use to squeeze onto pan. Flip when bubbling.

Lunch

Lunchtime should be fast and efficient, saving you plenty of time while also refueling you for whatever is left to encounter that day.

Man Preparing Camping Lunch

Hummus

Hummus is very filling and provides plenty of energy to last you the rest of the day. It can be had with a wide range of other foods as well, such as crackers, pita, tortillas, bread, and vegetables such as cucumber and bell peppers. Looking to save weight? Use a powdered mix instead.

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 12 ounce cans of chickpeas
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • ​4 garlic cloves, minced
  • ​Juice of 3 lemons
  • ​6 Tbsp tahini

Home Prep Work - Begin by mashing chickpeas with a fork, and then add juice, tahini, and olive oil. Blend slightly, and then add garlic. Mix and blend until desired smoothness. Use a blender for a more whipped and smooth texture.

Finished Camping Farmers Hummus

Cooking Instructions - None, simply serve with desired side. The hummus will keep for a week in mild conditions.

Other Quick Lunch Options

Beef jerky, tortilla, salami, and hard cheese, peanut butter sandwich.

Dinner

Dinnertime presents you with the opportunity to be a little more elaborate and spend a little more time during the cooking process, not that you have to. Still, you can sit back and enjoy your dinner a little more, while preparing to rest up for the next day.

Tuna Spaghetti (Two Servings)

This meal features many different ingredients for a tasty and filling meal, with just a moderate amount of work.

What You’ll Need:

Tuna Spaghetti in Bowl
  • 1 8-ounce package angel hair pasta
  • 1 6-ounce can or packet of tuna in oil
  • 8 dried tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder

Home Prep Work - Mix basil, oregano, cheese and garlic powder together in a ziplock bag. Store the remaining items separately.

Cooking Instructions - Start off by soaking the dry tomatoes in 4 cups of water for 15 minutes to rehydrate. Remove the tomatoes and boil water. Add pasta after breaking in half. Cook pasta until done, drain. Add tuna, tomatoes, and the cheese/spice bag to the pot, stir well, and serve.

Cheesy Bacon Potatoes

Another filling meal that includes a range of ingredients all in one dish. You’ll end up looking forward to this one most nights.

Cheesy Bacon Potatoes Ingrediants on Table

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 ¼ cup instant potatoes
  • ½ cup instant dry milk
  • 1 packet Butter Buds
  • 1 ½ Tbsp dried parsley flakes
  • 1 ½ Tbsp dried onions
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ¾ cup crumbled bacon
  • 1 package powdered cheese spread

Home Prep Work - Add every ingredient into quart size ziploc freezer bag.

Cooking Instructions - Boil 4 ½ cups of water. Add the water to freezer bag and stir until mixed well. Let stand for a few minutes, and add more water if needed.

Cheesy Bacon Tomato in Plate

Dessert

Why not? You deserve some after a long trek. Plus, you get extra calories.

Trail Pudding

This is one of the easier desserts you can make. While still very much a dessert, the nuts help make this pudding more nutritious.

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 3-ounce box instant chocolate pudding
  • 2/3 cup powdered milk
  • ​1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • ​1/4 cup mini marshmallows
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips
Trail Pudding in Bowles

Home Prep Work - Combine pudding mix and powdered milk into a ziploc freezer bag. Store the nuts and marshmallows into their own bag.

Cooking Instructions - Add 2 cups of water to your pudding/milk mix. Once the pudding mix has set, add the nuts, chips, and marshmallows on top.

Specialized Backpacking Food

One of the most convenient ways to ensure that you have a variety of foods using as little weight as possible is to pack food that has been made specifically for backpacking.

Harmony House Foods in Stock

Products such as Harmony House Food's assortment of zip pouch foods features a huge assortment of beans, lentils, and vegetables that have been dried to save weight. Each food item is compressed and packen into a lightweight zip bag that gives you easy access whenever you need it. To use, simply add water and you’re all set.

Using food packs like this one provides you with a wide range of choices that can easily help you create well-rounded and great-tasting meals throughout your trip. Use them to add on top of other foods such as rice and noodles, or use them in soups. The endless possibilites are a welcome luxury when you are trying to get the most out of what you have on hand while saving space and weight in your pack.

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