Easy Trail Foods You’ll Love: Backpacking Meals From Homemade to No-Cook, Vegetarian to Trail Mixes
So this is it! The backcountry is waiting for you with the escape that only the outdoors offers. For the best time, and happiest body, you want to pre-plan everything prior to your departure including foods you’ll carry on your backpack. Know this: your backpacking meals are as important as you plan for routes, gear, logistics, and supplies. When it comes to your trail food, preparation is a must.
Also, many great camping foods exist in the grocery store, you don’t need expensive freeze-dried food to enjoy the outdoors. I once did a WEA training trip 28-day hike and paddle in Alaska with one resupply, we didn’t eat anything backpacking that isn’t in everyday supermarkets, it really opened my eyes beyond those shiny freezes dried packets.
A quick thing you need to know…
On average, you may need 400 to 600 calories an hour. Aim for 1.5 to 2.5 lbs. of food offering you 3,000 to 5,000 calories per person per day which varies with exertion level and your size and weight. While good old chocolate bars should be on your backpack, you need the right amount of calories for energy which the best backpacking meals can provide.
Good planning will allow you to prepare easy backpacking meals of at least 3,000 calories per day. Essentially, your backpacking meals must be nutritionally dense and non-perishable to survive for days on the trail.
From breakfast to snacks, trail mixes to no-cook quick fixes, we got you covered. We compiled for you these lightweights, simple and easy to prepare foods that won’t easily be spoiled on your trip.
But before that, let’s know the basics.
“What type of foods should I carry with me?”
Trekking with a heavy pack through hills and slopes, you should know the ideal amount of food to carry. It’s possible to overpack just as easily as under pack. If you are hiking for days, you need to have enough supply and some extras just in case of an emergency. Ideally, you can go for two pounds of food with about 4500 calories per person each day depending on your weight, size, exertion level and trail. This leaves you a margin but not overpacked. But, do not overdo the food you carry as bulk and weight can lug you down. Instead, you can re-supply along the way. (Learn how to do it at the end of this article). In a big group is easier to get the average right, as appetites vary, the smaller your crew the more you want to think it through based on the individuals.
Keep in mind that your backpacking meals should be something you like. Never try to bring foods you don’t like off the trail because you won’t suddenly like them on the trail! On long journeys, your food supply should be low bulk, lightweight and easy to carry. Don’t forget resealable bags or Ziplocks to carry a meal onto the trail.
Backpacking Recipe Foundations
You want a good foundation of carbs, starchy veggies and grains, as the body can quickly process them into energy. Think about:
- Instant Oats and Grits as breakfast foundation.
- Instant rice noodles, ramen, couscous for potential no-heat lunches.
- And Instant potatoes, rice, bulgur, and quick pasta (thin-walled) for evening meals.
Breakfast meals for backpackers
Any season backpacker out there would agree that the ideal foods have to be lightweight, requires minimal preparation, can last longer and have a high level of nutrition — these specifics are most essential for breakfast. Breakfast is the fresh start to boost your energy and hot meals are perfect for cold mornings.
With this, we recommend you consider packing some just add water pancake mixes. Put the mixture into your sports bottle. In the morning, add the right amount of water, shake the bottle vigorously to make the batter. Cook with oil or use butter in your camping skillet.
How about some hangdog oatmeal? Mix two and a half cups of oatmeal with two tablespoons of brown sugar. Add half a cup of banana powder and 3/4 cup of chocolate chips. Mix ingredients into your favorite zip lock bags. On the trail, boil four cups of water into a separate pan. Stir contents and reboil. Remove from stove and set aside to cool and off you go with a quick morning fix.
Backpacker meals for lunch
At lunch, instead of a prolonged break to prepare your meal, it’s better to strategized and settle for quick ones that don’t require you to unpack, prepare, clean up and repack.
For the first day of the hike, you can go for sandwiches pre-packed at home. Next days you can opt for salami; kept them whole and not pre-cut to make them last longer on the trail. Fresh fruits and veggies like cucumber, celery or carrots are also good options for lunch but only practical for shorter trips as they may spoil. As for bread, have pita or mountain bread ready for your active midday.
Dinner for backpackers
Consider dinner as a reward at the end of the day. So why not prepare a good backpacking meal to savor?
Ramen-on-the-go is a perfect easy backpacker meal to end the day. For a simple ramen meal, you need a pack of your favorite Ramen noodles, dried peas, red pepper flakes, and ham. Simply repack ramen and dried pease into your lock bag without using the pre-made flavors. In a separate bag, mix cheese, pepper, and ham. On the trail, cook the noodle mixture in boiling water. Once done, drain and mix in cheese, pepper, and ham. Delicious!
How does spicy and sweet tuna couscous sound? Yes, it’s possible to make one on the trail. You need 2 tablespoons of dried mixed vegetables, a 5-ounce package of sweet and spicy flavored tuna and 1/3 cup of couscous. At home, combine vegetables and couscous into a zip bag. On the trail, add water and stir. Set for 5 minutes and add tuna before serving.
No caffeine or alcoholic beverages for the night especially if you are on another trail the next morning. You need to get as much good night’s sleep as possible.
Quick or No-Cook Backpacking Meals
While on the trail, your foods should be easy to prepare. For trips where time is limited, you should include no-cook and quick-cooking backpacking meals. If you are bringing things like pasta, dried potatoes or rice make sure to check the cooking time and create your cooking time-frame plan.
Here are a few no-cook backpacking meals you can create on-the-go, it’s not an everyday choice but sometimes it’s good to be ready for a no-fire / no-stove morning.
- Caffeine concoction without cooking. For many backpackers, a dose of caffeine is a way to kickstart their day. You can make a good caffeine concoction even away from home. You just need to blend altogether the following: instant coffee, oats, and Carnation Instant Breakfast Mix. Combine all these in a secure bag before you leave home. Get 1/5 of the portion into your morning cup, add water and drink. It’s not your local, but on the right day, it will make all the difference.
- Cereal on the trail for breakfast. If you don’t want caffeine for breakfast, you can go for your favorite cereal. Simply pre-pack your favorite instant cereal, add milk and on the trail, add your favorite dried fruit, if any. Add water and there is your cereal on-the-go.
- No-cook lunches. You could go for dehydrated beef jerky or pepperoni for lunch. Tortillas are a perfect pair for powdered hummus. These are quick midday fixes to replenish your energy needs for the rest of the day.
- Peanut butter and crackers for snacks. Perfect for those quick sit-in breaks, this pair is dense and gives easy nutrition. Filled with protein, calories and fat just as you needed for your hike. Lathered your favorite peanut butter to crackers.
- Jerky mashed potatoes as backpacker’s dinner. You’ll need 2 oz. of beef jerky, 4 oz. of pre-packed mashed potatoes, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 24 oz. of water and 2 packets of apple cider mix. Break beef jerky into pieces, set aside. Boil water, pour about 8 oz to the mug with cider and mix. Add olive oil, the beef strips and potatoes to the remaining boiled water in your cooking pot and stir. Cover and transfer to a pot, let it sit for 5 minutes. Puff, top it up with your cider syrup and enjoy your jerky mashed potatoes as a reward for a day of the walk.
Vegetarian backpacking meals
Whether you’re a vegetarian or simply want to bring nutritious greens with you, there sure are alternative trail foods for you. In average daily training, you burn somewhere between 2500 to 4000 calories. That simply means you have to match that nutritional food supply for your trip.
Go for the Good Ole Raisins and Peanuts (GORP). It’s every hiker’s classic snacks. You can add other dried foods, pretzels and raisins to make it even better. You can mix your own GORP at home. Forget buying it pre-made from the grocery store. Like granola, GORP is easy to make at home and oddly expensive in the supermarket. Did you know granola can run $5-6 a pound at a Trader Joes or Whole Foods but cost you $1 a pound to make! And it’s only slightly harder than making toast…
Banana chips are vegan goodies that you will love for their lightweight and high-energy giving power. They’re available at the groceries or at Asian food stores. Dehydrated and gluten-free, banana cheap is a good source of calories for all your trail types.
Homemade backpacking meals in the grocery store
When you’re out there, surely you want to enjoy more of the great outdoors than prepping for foods, right? So make the most of your trails and be ready with all these nutritious, easy and fast-to-prepare backpacking meals. They taste even better when they’re homemade!
Creating your own backpacking meals at home means you save money compared to buying dehydrated or frozen meals for your trails.
First reorient your mind in the supermarket, start looking for that word ‘instant’ it’s your friend on the trail. Do you eat ‘instant’ potatoes at home? Probably not, but on the trail, they are your friend. Hunt out ‘instant’ potatoes, pasta, stuffing, soups, and sauces.
Pro Tip: Spices become even more valuable on the trail. It’s easy to forget them calorie counting but get yourself some small containers, clear travel size shampoo bottles work great, and make sure you have the basics plus your favorites. At home you might use fresh, but things like onion and garlic powder also come in handy to get the flavor going.
Dehydrated veggies. Not everyone has this locally, but many grocery stores with ‘bulk’ sections sell dehydrated veggies which you’ve probably walked by and thought ‘who would eat those’ now you know. These are killer on the trail. Or if you have a food dehydrator, dice your favorites vegetables like pepper, tomatoes, and onions and you’re good to go. You can use them as add-ons to your trail foods or eat as standalone meals. These veggies will help provide the nutrition you need.
Eat on the Go Trail Mixes
Snacks are as essential as your main meals. Trail mixes are everyone’s best friend and companion for backpacking. Here are recipes that you can easily create at home.
Quick Mountain Trail Mix
You just need to mix these all together and put it on an airtight container ready for your trail. This mix helps replenish your energy, perfect as afternoon snacks. ProTip: for the less expensive nuts head right to your bulk discount store (Costco/Sams Club/etc).
- a package of your favorite candy-coated milk chocolate
- 1/2 cup of cashews
- 1/4 cup of peanuts
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/4 cup of almonds
Crunchy Trail Mix
Something to munch, something to crunch along those trails. No chocolate involved, just some crispy crunches to your mouth. Simply combine and pack in your favorite container. You will need:
- 3 cups of your favorite crunchy cereal
- 1/2 dried cherries
- 1/2 cup of roasted, unsalted pistachios, and
- 2 cups of whole-grain Rex Chex
And… don’t forget the protein!
Protein should be in a backpacker’s nutrition pyramid but is often overlooked as we focus more on calories. Multi-day excursions can make use of proteins to help refuel strength and for lasting energy. Here are some protein-rich foods that you should be in your backpack too!
Foil Pouch Meat & Fish
Freeze Dried Meats and Cured Goodies
- Summer Sausage (Protein: 5 grams/ounce)
- Shelf-Stable Bacon (Protein: 10 grams/ounce)
- Freeze Dried Turkey (Protein: 21 grams/ounce)
- Freeze Dried Diced Beef (Protein: 17 grams/ounce)
- And Freeze Dried Ham (Protein: 20 grams/ounce)
- Mozzarella String Cheese (Protein: 8 grams/ounce)
- Dry Aged Cheeses (Protein: 11 grams/ounce)
- Grated Parmesan Cheese (Protein: 11 grams/ounce)
- Powdered Cheese (Protein: 5 grams/ounce)
- Peanut Butter (Protein: 7 grams/ounce)
- Cashew Butter (Protein: 5 grams/ounce)
- Honey Peanut Butter (Protein: 6 grams/ounce)
- Maple Almond Butter (Protein: 5 grams/ounce)
Nuts, Legumes, and Seeds
- Almonds (Protein: 6 grams/ounce)
- Cashews (Protein: 4 grams/ounce)
- Peanuts (Protein: 7 grams/ounce)
- Roasted Chickpeas (Protein: 5 grams/ounce)
- Sunflower Seeds (Protein: 6 grams/ounce)
- Pumpkin Seeds (Protein: 8 grams/ounce)
- Sesame Seeds (Protein: 5 grams/ounce)
- Flax Seeds (Protein: 5 grams/ounce)
Hiking Food Resupply
If it is a long journey, specifically one that takes more than a week, you want to re-supply instead of carrying all your foods at once. Calculate and ration your foods accordingly. You can either send yourself foods or de-tour to a possible shop along the way.
Remember that many factors can affect your eating routines including trekking mood, the pace of your track and your trip objectives. These all affect your food consumption.
You can send food resupply to yourself to a specific pick up point. You can specifically note to the logistic company as to when you want your box to that specific location. Your food supply should be enough until the next resupply point
You can do buy-as-you-go if your trip happens to have frequent intervals. Generally, your resupply may come from the local supermarket or small convenience stores, gas station or resort snack shops.
Or you could do both re-supply strategies; whichever work for your specific trail.
Overall just make sure you keep in mind the calorie count for each day and aim for that 3,000-5,000 calorie area. It may seem like a lot, but your body will thank you for the preparation. It’s a different mindset thinking of food as fuel and pushing as many calories as you can into the lightest smallest form, but the key thing is to begin and each trip remembers what works for you. Over time you’ll develop your own favorite backpacking meal list.