When it comes to planning meals for a backpacking trip, a person has countless options from pre-made dried packages to meals you can make yourself. It can be hard to decide what kind of food to bring, how much, and the trail gear needed. Taking time finding the right backpacking meals can be a very enjoyable process. However, the general rule of thumb is to keep it light, condensed, and non-perishable.
Then follows nutritional value, calorie density, and price among other factors. Less volume is better. A pouch is better than a box as it takes up less volume and easier to crush after consuming. Canned food is not recommended for backpacking meals as they are bulky and contain liquid adding excess weight. You can get by with simply having a small burner and cup to boil water. More extensive gear lists would include additional pans, plates, and utensils for cooking. Here is a list of 10 of the best-recommended meals for your next backpacking trip.
Freeze Dried Dinners
When you reach the backpacking meal section of outdoor gear outlets like REI, you’ll see there is a range of lightweight freeze-dried meals at your disposal. You can find an assortment of flavors and ethnic options from beef stroganoff to pad thai to organic curry. These are popular being especially light and easy to make generally requiring you only add water. Average cook times range between 10-15 minutes once mixed. Most of these are calorie-dense and sufficient for one or two people. The only caveat is the price factor which is around 8-9 dollars per package.
When comparing this to other options you can find lower for dried food at the grocery store for dried food. However, the calorie density, nutritional value, and taste of the products and may take up more space. The packaging itself is strong enough to handle boiling water and easy to eat directly from the pouch. High protein content alone may make this one of the best easy meals for backpacking.
Also, mountain House, Picket Gourmet, Good To Go, and Peak Refuel are some of the most well-known brands for pre-made dried food. They can be ordered easily through Amazon. There are a few trail gears needed for freeze-dried pre-packed meals. This includes a stove, utensils, and boiling pot making for an easy meal.
Backpacking Meals: Couscous
One of the easier made backpacking meals is couscous which tends to be lower in calories than rice. These are some of the most nutritious foods you can bring while backpacking. They are rich in selenium providing powerful antioxidants to help your body repair damaged cells and lower inflammation. Selenium plays a key role in thyroid health. It protects it against damage contributing to hormone function. Couscous has been proven to boost your immune system with a higher level of antioxidants. They are a great source of plant protein which may be essential in vegan diets. Dried fruit or nuts can be added making it more flavorful.
Backpacking Meals: Quesadillas
For those who don’t mind a little bit of preparation and have the right kind of trail gear, quesadillas make for a filling and more tasty option. Tortillas are lightweight and easy to carry. Also, they are not easily damaged. Tortillas can be used to make wraps or breakfast burritos as well. Choosing cheese may pose more of a challenge as most cheeses are perishable. Blocked cheese is fine for the shorter trips and said to be used at your own risk for the longer ones.
Also, cheese is calorie-dense and provides a high dose of energy. However, some types of cheeses such as Babybel don’t require refrigeration. Hence they can be brought on longer trips. Simply having cheese and tortillas can suffice for a meal. For example, a gourmet option could include adding guacamole mix or bringing avocadoes. A mix of chopped tomatoes and onions stored in a container will make an enjoyable meal. Also, a flatter pan and burner are all that are required to make quesadillas and are made in a small amount of time.
Instant Rice With Beans
Similar to having couscous, instant rice is quick and easy to make. These are often found in soft packets along with boxes. These are simple and cheap. To add substance and flavor it is easy to combine beans often produced in soft packets as well. Beans are a great way of improving the nutritional value and adding taste. They are high in vitamins, zinc, copper, selenium, protein, and fiber. Also, beans are highly recommended to accompany most backpacking meals.
Backpacking Meals: Oatmeal
A popular and delicious meal that has several variations is oatmeal. For the fastest and most delicious breakfasts, one can simply buy instant oatmeal found in packets. These are easy, light, and come in a variety of flavors. Oatmeal mixed with many other ingredients such as peanut butter, granola, chocolate, dark cherries, and more, make for dense, high energy producing meals.
However, you can also use trail mix or other snack mixtures with oatmeal. Patagonia Provisional Hot Cereal is a well-regarded backpacking meal that includes flax seeds, barley, and rolled oats, among other ingredients. Only boiling water is needed in preparation for these meals.
Backpacking Meals: Ramen
If keeping costs as low as possible is a priority and has plenty of room for carrying food, ramen noodles may be the better option to consider. Ramen packages come in several flavors and brands. They are easy to make requiring boiled water, a pot, and spoon. These are less dense and take up more space than other options. As they break and crush easily they may be less enjoyable over more expensive denser foods.
Backpacking Meals: Pasta
For another low-cost option commonly brought hiking food is pasta made quickly with boiling water. Instant pasta can be used to save more time. Adding freeze-dried ingredients with packets of tuna or salmon make for a well-rounded meal. Also, some types of pastas are easier than others to carry. For example, smaller noodles are easier to carry than longer brittle noodles. Buying whole wheat or spinach noodles offers more nutritional value. Those who are ready for backcountry cooking can bring spices to add making your own variations. Also, the added sauce is useful to include with pasta. Pasta can be made with a lower amount of trail gear being a small pot and burner.
Instant Mash Potatoes
For a hearty backpacking meal, instant mash potatoes are also a light and easy option. Mash potatoes by themselves may be a bit basic but can easily be added to other dishes or mixed with dried food. Freeze-dried vegetables go well with mash potatoes making for a nutrient-rich meal. Adding instant hummus or straight chickpeas further increases nutritional value. Whole milk powder can be added for those wanting to increase dairy and protein. Your gear list for mashed potatoes is not much more than a burner, a pot for boiling, and a spoon to eat.
Backpacking Meals: Wraps
If you’ve already brought tortillas a simple backpacking meal is a wrap. Peanut butter and jelly is possibly the easiest wrap with high-calorie intake. As peanut butter is one of the densest foods to bring it makes for a useful lunch for a break. Pizza wraps are easily made with pepperoni, parmesan packets, and tomato sauce. Packaged salmon mixed with a tube of pesto with cheese makes for a delicious lunch. For vegetarians, hummus packets can be combined with sliced peppers and pepper jack cheese.
Dried salami combined with packets of honey mustard makes for a more common deli sandwich. Spinach, wheat or tomato basil tortillas can always be used in place of standard tortillas. Breakfast burritos are easily made with tortillas and eggs found in a carton though this can add more weight than desirable.
Backpacking Meals: Soup
Along with wraps for a hearty backpacking lunch, soups are easily made from packages adding boiled water. Again, canned soup is not recommended for backpacking meals as they add too much weight. Pre-made dry soup mixes often in a cup or package can be found in most stores. You also have the option to make your own mix buying powdered soup mix and dried ingredients. Many dried soup recipes include instant pasta, rice, or couscous. Making a variation from the above food mixes can easily be made into soup. Dried bullion combined with dried spices is what makes for a unique taste. A similar gear list is needed for soup as with other recipes.
Putting together backpacking meals can be one of the most enjoyable parts of a backpacking trip. Meeting the challenges of putting food together that is suitable, tasty, and fits your backpack comes with their rewards. Spending time looking for the right lightweight trail gear to make cooking easier may be worth the investment if you plan on hiking regularly.