Backpacking food goals
- Lightweight (to carry on the trail)
- Convenience (ready to eat)
- Nutrition/protein (to refuel your energy and muscles)
- Do I have access to water? (water to cook meals)
- Do I have access to a bear box? Are there bears in the area I am going? (If bears are a concern, you need to potentially limit any food to freeze-dried with no scent and bring a bear bag to hang trash away from the campsite for safety)
- Does this food weigh too much? Check the weight of your pack with all the gear.
- Does this food have enough nutrient density for me? The ideal range is normally 120-130 calories per ounce total.
- Is this enough food for me (caloric intake)? Bringing too much or too little food is often a beginners mistake for backpacking. Plan out your meal schedule with snacks for each day of your trip for each person going. Hikers burn through 3,000-4,000 calories per day, generally speaking. But hikers doing more intense trails and hiking 20 miles can burn up to 5,000-6,000 calories.
- Is this food packable in my bag with my gear? Is the food compact enough to fit?
Breakfast & Snacks (bars, granola, oatmeal, nuts & trail mixes, dried fruit mixes)
Breakfast is generally a backpacking meal you want to be light but protein packed. I normally use bars for breakfast. I have used oatmeal in the past and still do for longer hikes and mileage for better energy. Coffee as well in the morning is helpful for energy. If I’m base camping, then I like to have eggs and
Peanut or Almond butter (Packets)
Oatmeal sticks in the gut, providing good energy and calories.
Powdered milk (for granola and oatmeal)
Dried fruit mixes
I personally like to pack peanut m&ms because they include nuts and
Energy Chews ( Cliff Bloks)
These are my favorite! I came across these when I was training for my first marathon and found these to be delicious and also super helpful with long runs energy as well as during my race. I used these as a marathon race snack that I believe helped me accomplish my goals and maximize my training. I love these as an energy snack that doesn’t taste disgusting but is more like a delicious jelly candy.
I have used these as well for years in being a runner and training. Every marathon I normally use a combination of chews and gels. The gels go down easier and aren’t as hard to get down as the chews definitely for something like running. For hiking it is nice because I normally do the chews more since I can stop and actually eat them.
Meats, cheeses, and some type of bread, for carb intake, are great things to incorporate into a trail time lunch. Having a cold lunch on the trail is generally easier and more practical for time and helps you avoid eating something heavy that will give you side aches. This also saves money on your budget because you can save the more expensive freeze-dried meals for your dinners.
Freeze Dried Meals (dinner)
There are so many selections of different brands and styles of freeze-dried meals for backpacking. I have reviewed my top two favorite brands below. You can also check out this great article with even more thorough research laying out all the options for companies and meals here.
Mountain House are the best nutrition for your money. Each meal is protein heavy and costs $8-10. The calories per ounce are 129. Most backpacking pouch meals start at $10, especially for bigger portions with meals including more protein and meat options. They are my favorite because they are budget, delicious, and can be found in your average Target, not just outdoor stores. I have tried other brands and this is my favorite because I genuinely enjoy the meals and would eat them outside of the mountain (gasp)! These pouches take 8 minutes to cook. Most companies when compared pack in 11 calories less than Mountain House which on the trail makes a huge difference! They are criticized for not being the most organic of the backpacking meals and not having much selection or fancy choices.
Backpacker’s Pantry freeze-dried meals are my other favorite besides Mountain House. They are another one of the best for your budget because they run from $5-$10 dollars a meal. The meals take a bit longer to cook, around 15-20 minutes which almost double the time of Mountain House. Calories per ounce is 111. So the calories are less than Mountain House as well. However, this company is known for having one of the largest selections on the market. They definitely take the most time to cook but are delicious too. This company actually has vegan and gluten-free options as well which is rare. They are known for having more foodie options like Jamaican jerk and chicken piccata, rather than just the basics. These are MSG free and a healthier option. Thee packs themselves are also very flat and packable. It’s hard for me to choose between Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry. I love them both. They both have great portions and are delicious. I don’t like Alpine Air and don’t think they taste even close to Mountain House or Backpacker’s Pantry.
Budget DIY dinners
If you don’t want to spend the money on freeze-dried meals, there are great meals you can still pack but they will be much heavier and harder to pack. If you are taking a shorter trip, these are possible, but it also depends on the time of year because some foods will spoil with the heat.
I have pre-made meals many times before in individual bags with meat and vegetables and rice and freeze them in meal portions.
Mac and Cheese (Kraft three cheese is the best by far)
Spaghetti (any form of pasta/noodles are easy and cheap to make at camp)
Backpacking Meal Tips
- Bring small condiment packets to add a little spice to your meal that is light to carry. You should gather these whenever you are in public and go to a restaurant or get fast food. Also, condiment packets can be bought in the store as well to keep in your camping and backpacking equipment.
- You can put non-perishable spices and condiments in little containers that will be light to carry and easy to pack. Pepper and salt are already usually small and available everywhere.
- Canned foods are too heavy and generally should be avoided.
- The freeze dried packs are super light and you end up loving those meals options because they help you have a light pack for an easier trip.
- Some people get
a fooddehydrator and make their own freeze -dried meals.
- Taking food out of its original package is another creative way to fit and pack things that wouldn’t fit otherwise. Get creative!