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If you’re wondering what the heck to eat when you go backpacking, or just looking to switch things up, I have some great backpacker food ideas for you in this post!
Whether you just want some simple backpacking meals, or you want to get creative and start making your own snacks and dehydrated dinners, this post has it all.
I’m not one of those backpackers that can eat the same boring protein bar for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I like some variety while I’m out on the trails and I don’t think you need to sacrifice flavor while backpacking.
This post is loaded with simple and satisfying backpacking meal and snack ideas for your next trip.
What Makes Good Backpacking Food?
There are a few things that I look for in the foods I choose to take backpacking:
- Shelf-stable: Of course, you don’t want the food to spoil without refrigeration, so I pack foods that can safely be stored at room temperature.
- Calorie Dense: Backpacking burns a lot of energy! I want to choose foods that are going to give me lots of calories for the size and weight of the food. For example, nuts are very calorie-dense.
- Lightweight & Packable: You have to pack and carry the food you’ll eat on your trip, so foods that are lightweight and packable become an important consideration. For example, a can of beans is neither lightweight nor packable.
- Minimal Cook Time: Lastly, I want meals that have a short cook time so I don’t use up too much of my fuel for cooking. Meals that you just add boiling water to are my favorite.
How Much Backpacking Food Should You Pack?
How much food you pack depends on a few different factors, but I always pack a little more food than I think I’ll need.
A calorie counter on Backcountry.com suggests that for a long strenuous day of hiking, you should aim for 25 to 30 calories per pound of body weight, per day. This of course is just a rough estimate.
Things like your personal appetite, how much you’re hiking, your trip duration, how heavy your backpack is, and how strenuous the hike will all factor into how many calories you need to replenish your body and fuel your hike.
You’ll definitely be needing more food when compared to how much you eat on a typical day at home. On top of that, I typically pack an extra day’s worth of food in case of an emergency.
One of the ways I stay organized for multi-day trips and make sure I don’t forget anything is to actually write it down.
Plan your backpacking meals:
I actually write down what I’m going to eat for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner for each day of my trip. This will make your life so much easier – especially on longer trips.
It’s really helpful to see things written out day by day. When I go to pack my food for a backpacking trip, I have my written list and make sure I pack everything, meal by meal, day by day.
I don’t stick to any sort of strict meal schedule when I’m actually out in the backcountry, but I do use the list as a way to make sure I have enough food and that I don’t forget anything.
Backpacking Breakfast Ideas
Let’s start with my favorite meal of the day, breakfast!
Homemade Oatmeal Packets
Oatmeal is the perfect backpacking breakfast because it’s delicious, filling, and so customizable.
There are a million ways you can change up oatmeal, so even if you have it multiple days in a row, there’s still some variety there.
This blog post with 3 backpacking oatmeal recipes is the perfect place to start. I usually mix quick-cooking oats with dried fruits and nuts. At camp, I add boiling water, nut butter packets, and/or honey packets.
If you don’t want to make your own combos, you can easily pack pre-made instant oatmeal packets instead.
Cereal with Powdered Milk
If I’m not having oatmeal, then I’m probably packing cereal with powdered milk. At home, I mix together my favorite cereal and powdered milk.
At camp, all I have to do is mix in cold filtered/purified water. This breakfast works best if you have a cold water source like a river or alpine lake to filter water from.
This is another no-cook backpacking breakfast idea. Simply pack in a tortilla, a nut butter packet, a honey packet, and some granola or trail mix.
Layer the nut butter on the tortilla followed by the honey and granola. This will keep you going for a while!
Store-bought breakfast options
You can also buy freeze-dried breakfasts such as this Peak Refuel breakfast skillet.
Pre-made granola and powdered milk breakfasts can also be purchased.
This hot Blueberry Walnut Oat and Quinoa Cereal is another option!
I tend to not buy these breakfast options because they’re expensive and take up more space in my backpack compared to the cost of the other options I listed above.
While coffee is not really a food, it is an essential part of my backpacking breakfast! There are so many different ways to get your caffeine fix while backpacking.
My favorite way is to use the MSR MugMate coffee filter and pack in ground coffee. It’s a little more involved, but it makes a really good strong cup of coffee.
Instant coffee is another convenient option for backpacking. Luckily, I did a blind taste test of the most popular instant coffees so you don’t have to.
Backpacking Snacks and Lunch
For lunch when backpacking, I like to keep things light and simple.
Sometimes I don’t even eat lunch when I’m backpacking, I just eat a bunch of snacks in-between breakfast and dinner.
My Favorite Backpacking Snacks:
- Power Crunch Protein Bars
- Beef Jerky
- Oatmega Protein Bars
- RX Nut Butter Packets
- Homemade Trail Mix (see below)
- Chomps Jerky Sticks
- Epic Bison Bars
- Dried Fruits (mangos are my favorite)
- Tuna Packets (see below)
- RX Bars
- Peanut M&M’s
- Creminelli Whiskey Salami Mini Snacks
- Dukes Shorty Sausages (these are so so good!)
- Moon Cheese
- homemade coconut date energy balls
- olive packets
No backpacking trip is complete without the trail mix, right?
You can definitely buy trail mix at the grocery store (Trader Joe’s has some great options), but I prefer to make my own.
Making your own trail mix is really easy, especially if your local grocery store has a bulk section.
I love to pick out a few nuts and dried fruits and toss everything together. It’s so simple, and then you get exactly what you want!
Some of my favorite trail mix recipes:
- Tropical Trail Mix
- Maple Cheddar Trail Mix
- Strawberry Banana Coconut Trail Mix
- Blueberry Walnut Trail Mix
If you need even more trail mix recipes, make sure to check out my homemade trail mix blog post with more ideas.
This is the lunch I reach for the most when I’m backpacking.
I buy the flavored tuna packets and eat them right out of the pouch with a spork, or I scoop the tuna with some crackers.
There are many different flavors and brands to choose from, so I pack different flavors for each day. I love that they are high in protein.
Electrolytes for Hydration
I always want to stay hydrated when I’m outdoors. I make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day, but sometimes adding electrolytes to my water goes a long way to keep me hydrated.
Electrolytes help your body retain water, so I always pack them on backpacking trips.
When it comes to backpacking dinners, there are so many options!
From store-bought freeze-dried meals to homemade dehydrated meals, we’ll go over the options below.
Freeze-dried vs Dehydrated
There’s a difference between freeze-dried meals and dehydrated meals. You can buy both online or at your local gear shop.
Freeze drying is a low-temperature dehydration process that involves freezing the product, lowering pressure, then removing the ice.
Dehydrated meals use the conventional method and evaporate water from food using heat.
For our discussion of backpacking food, there are a few key differences in the end product (your meal) that are worth noting.
Freeze-dried meals will generally rehydrate faster than dehydrated meals, but I think the taste and texture are usually better with dehydrated meals.
On average, freeze-dried meals will take 5-10 minutes to rehydrate, while dehydrated meals are more like 20-30 minutes. This will vary depending on elevation as well.
PROS of pre-made backpacking meals:
- quick, easy, and convenient
- no cleanup – simply eat right out of the bag
- just add water
CONS of pre-made backpacking meals:
- can’t control serving size
- they can get expensive
If you want convenience and as little prep as possible, buying meals might be the way to go for you.
Good-to-go is one of my favorite backpacking food brands that I’ve tried so far. Their meals are dehydrated so they take about 25 minutes to fully rehydrate (maybe longer at higher elevations), but the taste is so good!
There are many different dishes to choose from and they sell single-serving packets or double-serving sizes.
Other Popular Backpacking Meal Options:
- Mountain House Mac & Cheese
- Mountain House Lasagna w/ Meat Sauce
- Peak Refuel Chicken Pesto Pasta
- Peak Refuel Beef Stroganoff
- Backpackers Pantry Kathmandu Curry
Making Your Own Backpacking Meals
Believe it or not, it’s actually easy and fun to make your own backpacking meals!
I love to cook and I wanted to be able to control things like serving sizes and the quality of ingredients, so I bought a dehydrator and started dehydrating my own food.
It ends up being so much cheaper in the long run if you go backpacking a lot. I have a Cosori Food Dehydrator and love it.
Check out this guide to homemade backpacking food where I show you exactly how I make my favorite meal – spaghetti!
Homemade Backpacking Meal Recipes:
There are plenty of backpacking dessert options from chocolate pudding, to fruit crisp, to freeze-dried ice cream!
These are some options to try:
- Cinnamon Apple Crisp
- Dark Chocolate Cheesecake Mix
- Peak Refuel Cookie Bites
- Freeze-dried Ice Cream Sandwich
While I love dessert, I typically don’t pack big freeze-dried backpacking desserts. They often take up too much space in my food bin and the serving size is too big.
Instead, I prefer dried fruits, peanut M&M’s, gummy bears, snickers bars… stuff like that. These options are a lot smaller and perfect for a little something sweet after dinner.
Good Reusable Bags
I get a lot of questions about the reusable bags I use for packing my hiking snacks so I thought I would highlight my favorite ones here:
ReZip Sandwich Bags – These are my go-to for things like trail mix, dried fruit, and homemade energy balls. They are durable, lightweight, and have a great seal. I use their smaller-sized bags for packing the oatmeal breakfasts I described above.
There you have it – tons of backpacker food ideas!
What are you packing on your next trip? What are some of your favorite meals and snacks? Chat with me in the comments below!