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As you plan your next backpacking itinerary, eating wholesome, nutritious meals should be a top priority. But what kind of food should you bring on a backpacking trip, and how do you make your own backpacking meal?
To make your own backpacking meal, bring along lightweight, easy to cook, healthy, and nutritious foods like fruits and veggies, dried meats, nuts, and seeds. Also include snacks, bread for sandwiches, and dry foods but minimize bulky food to reduce your overall weight.
For you to have a successful backpacking trip, there are several things you need to consider, and your meals form an essential part of this. Read on for ideas and tips on how to make your very own healthy and flavorful backpacking meal.
The Type of Food to Pack for Your Backpacking Trip
To determine the kind of food to bring along for your trip, you need to bear a few factors in mind. Most importantly, you want to limit yourself to carrying lightweight, portable foods that you will enjoy eating. As such, you need to think about the below:
- The duration of your trip. Will this be an overnight trip, or will it cover 2-3 days? A long trip means more food supplies; hence you might need dehydrated meals in addition to your regular foods and snacks.
- The type of activities you plan to engage in. Will you be hiking many miles over rugged terrain? If so, you may want to have heavy breakfasts, munch on snacks along the way, and make simple, hassle-free dinners when you’re tired at the end of the day.
- The type of weather you expect. If your trip is during cold weather, you will need extra calories for your body to keep warm.
- The number of people on the trip. Will you be traveling alone, with your family, or as part of a large group? You can make simpler meals if on a solo trip. While as a group, you can split food and cookware amongst yourselves to help manage the weight.
So, to make a delicious and inviting backpacking meal, the following tips and tricks will come in handy.
Consider How Much Food to Bring
You’ll want to consider how much food to bring since you need to maintain a healthy balance between too little food and too much food. Carrying too little food is obviously bad, and could be dangerous while you’re in remote locations. Carrying too much food creates unnecessary weight to carry in your pack.
Consider how much food to pack depending on how challenging your hike might be or what distance you plan to cover per day. If you’ll be doing easy trails, a few extra packs of freeze-dried meals or jerky can be a good buffer.
If you’ll be going all-out on difficult trails, you might consider bringing enough food for a couple of extra days. This is also great so you can stay on the trails a bit longer than you planned, or if your pace is slower than expected.
Carry What You Like to Eat
Are there particular comfort foods you enjoy eating? Are there foods that you feel give you energy? Bring along the types of food that you’d look forward to having after a long day of hiking.
Your meals don’t all need to be packaged or dehydrated– you can prepare fresh favorites at home to cover Day One on the trail. We recommend picnic-style foods that stay safe in warm temperatures. Think mayonnaise-free salads, grilled vegetables, hummus and pita, chips and salsa, and fruit desserts.
Pack a Variety of Foods
This will keep you motivated as you hike or engage in your chosen activities. Besides, eating the same food day in day out will demotivate you.
Play with different flavors and textures to avoid monotony – especially if your trip spans a couple of days. This is true whether you’re eating repeat meals or creating new dishes each day.
Carry dry spices or flavorings that don’t spoil (like ginger and garlic) to flavor food without creating extra weight.
Opt for Nutritious and Accessible Food Choices
Healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive – or tedious. Think simple, whole foods. Apart from energy, your body also needs to repair itself. Some of the foods you can bring to make your meals include:
- Grains and legumes.
- Healthy fats like olive oil or coconut oil.
- Nut butters like peanut butter.
- Dried fruits, granolas, muesli, and trail mixes.
Include Fresh Foods Too
Backpacking meals don’t have to consist of processed, packaged, or sugary foods. Try to be deliberate about consuming whole foods, minimizing processed sugars, and upping your intake of fruits, nuts, and vegetables.
Therefore, try to incorporate fresh foods into your menu. As this may translate into some extra weight and/or bulk, opt for a healthy mix of fresh vs more convenient packaged foods.
Include fruits and vegetables like apples, oranges, broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, and onions, as well as seeds and nuts like pumpkin seeds, peanuts, and almonds.
Consume perishable foods (generally those with a high water content) on the first and second day – this will also reduce your load.
Then save hardy foods like nuts, seeds, potatoes, and onions for later on in the trip.
Maximize Energy With Protein and Complex Carbs
Backpacking requires loads of energy to enable you to hike for many hours. You will burn lots of calories every day. Therefore, pack foods high in calories, protein, carbs, fiber, and electrolytes to nourish and replenish your body.
Plan to have complex carbs at breakfast time. These carbohydrates are excellent for breakfast as they digest slowly, allowing your body to retain stable energy for a long time. They also keep you feeling sated, avoiding a crash after a few hours of hiking.
For breakfast, think oatmeal, toast or sandwiches from multigrain bread, and legumes.
For lunch, stick with meals-on-the-go like sandwiches and wraps (hello PB&J!) Chances are you’ll want to keep up your momentum, and won’t want to stop to prepare a meal. We recommend preparing your lunchtime foods at breakfast, so that they’re ready to go whenever you get hungry.
Some adventurers don’t eat a dedicated lunch meal in order to minimize downtime. They instead have high-energy snacks throughout the day like granola bars, protein bars, dried nuts and fruit, jerky, and trail mixes.
You can also consume protein powders throughout the day for extra protein. You may also want to add powdered electrolyte mixes to your liquid intake in order to boost electrolytes and prevent dehydration.
For dinners, try simple one-pot meals like pasta or chili. These will be easy to prepare when you’re fatigued after a long day of hiking. They’ll also be packed with energy, to allow you to recover and recharge before the next day’s activities. (Plus they minimize dishes!)
Also at dinner, consider adding fats to your meals like nut butters, oils, or cheeses. These will maintain your energy during the next day. They help you feel full and allow you to sleep better. We like Baby Bel as a single-serve, non-perishable cheese option.
Of course, don’t forget snacks, drinks, and dessert too!
Make Easy-to-Prepare Meals
After a full day on the trails, you will be looking forward to a nice warm meal – but you might not feel like preparing one. Hence, you need to plan for easy-to-make meals, such as one-pot meals or those that require minimal-to-zero cleaning.
There are many great meals that are filling, simple to prepare, and will allow you to get some well-needed rest. Here are some ideas:
- Pasta (pair with some cheese or a slice of multigrain bread)
- Rice (make a one-pot rice pilaf complete with veggies, nuts, or meat)
- Baked potatoes (add bacon bits or eat with jerky)
- Instant noodles (try adding some seeds, chopped veggies, or dehydrated meat to make a full meal)
- Stews (combine potatoes, meat, and carrots, then let it simmer while you relax)
- Hotdogs (don’t forget the ketchup and mustard!)
- Dehydrated meals
Consider No-Cook Meals
A heavy backpack is every hiker’s nightmare. Lessen your load by planning for meals that require minimal or no cooking. This will reduce the number of cooking utensils you need to carry. For instance, dehydrated meals only need you to add boiling water, plus you can often turn the packaging into a bowl.
Also consider meals that only require a simple saucepan. You can then perform all your cooking with a single dish: heating water, preparing oatmeal, cooking rice, boiling pasta, or making coffee.
Avoid Heavy, Bulky Foods
Canned foods make high-energy quick meals. Unfortunately, packing several cans will make your backpack significantly heavy. Cans also don’t let you maximize space. Moreover, they leave you with the unwelcome task of carrying around the empty cans in a bid to leave no trash behind.
If you tend to overpack and are tired of lugging around a heavy bag, opt for freeze-dried meals since they are light in weight, can be packed efficiently, provide sufficient energy, and come in various real meal tastes.
Avoid Sugary Foods
While it’s true your body needs sugar, too much candy and sweets can give you a sugar high that’s quickly followed by a massive energy crash later. This will make you feel tired and sluggish. Therefore, choose food sources that contain high-energy and long-lasting carbs. Pair these with healthy fats and no added sugars to carry you through your days.
Making your own backpacking meal can be lots of fun if you work with your own food preferences, consider the length and difficulty of your adventure, and keep meals simple.
Using this article as a guide, plan your meals based on your activities and the kinds of food that suit you best. If you plan ahead, you will no doubt come up with hearty, flavourful meals.
- Rei: Meal Planning for Backpacking
- Rei: Eating Right on the Trail – Healthy Backpacking Foods
- Wildland Trekking: Best Foods to Eat While Hiking
- Eat Right: 5 Food Tips for Camping and Hiking
- Clever Hiker: Best Lightweight Backpacking Food 2020
- Clever Hiker: 13 Great Backpacking Meal Recipes & Food Dehydration Tips
- Backcountry Cuisine: About Freeze Dried Meals
- Self: 6 Food Packing Tips to Fuel Your First Backpacking Trip
- Young Adventures: 10 Food Mistakes Every Beginner Makes When Hiking