Backpacking Food Ideas

There will be trade-offs among the top 3 factors in backpacking food ideas: weight, flavor, and nutrition.

Here's the compromise I've reached: I carry dehydrated food for breakfast and dinner, and make lunches out of tasty non-dehydrated foods.

In addition, I pack a multivitamin and other nutritional supplements, "just in case".

I go into a multi-day trip realizing that I will come out the other end with intense cravings for fresh salads, fruit, and hot home cooked meals. I chalk up the cravings as the price of admission to the back country, a price I am more than willing to pay.

Plus, it feels so good to finally eat whatever I'm craving! In a perverse way, I almost look forward to the deprivation.


If you want to calculate the exact amount of calories you'll need for your trip, and get many more hiking nutrition tips, take a look at this.



Breakfast backpacking food ideas: When I get up in the morning, I'm in a "let's-get-on-the-trail" frame of mind, so speed is of the essence.

Boiling water added to instant oatmeal, plus a mug of green tea, do the trick.

I also throw a handful of dried fruit & nuts into the oatmeal, which ups the nutritional value and keeps my taste buds from grumbling about bland old oatmeal. Note that this combination balances the 3 major fuel sources: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

My favorite instant oatmeal: McCanns Irish oatmeal, maple and brown sugar variety.

My cheapest instant oatmeal: from the bulk bin at my local food coop.

Bonus points for adding a tablespoon of ground flax seeds, or chia seeds!


Lunch: By the time it's time to find a great sit-spot, I'm famished. I pull out the sandwich I made that morning, and munch away while enjoying the view.

I follow the sandwich with some high protein cookies (think nut butters or nuts), a chunk of chocolate, or a slab of cheese.

NOTE: Packing bread on a long backpack trip may strike you as a frivolous waste of space. In my defense, it's lightweight and nutrient dense (at least the kind of bread I bring). I leave behind a few other things to make space in my pack for my bread.

Another backpacking food idea for lunch: rice crackers smeared with nut butter. Just guard the crackers from inadvertent "smush" events.

I realize that some hikers prefer the cheese/salami/crackers route, or just trail mix and granola bars as classic backpacking food ideas.

I used to do this in my long-ago 20's and 30's, but found that salty, processed, heavy foods did not agree with my digestion as I aged.

I've hiked with people who only munch on trail mix for lunch, and they seem to do just fine.

I've also watch lightweight tins of easy-open sardines or herring in very tasty tomato sauce or oil appear from the bowels of a backpack. Paired with crackers, quite tasty!

To each her own....


Dinner backpacking food ideas: Ah! First the boots come off, then the stove gets cranked up to boil water.

I use the Backpacker's Pantry line of dehydrated food, because they are lean on artificial additives but high on flavor and nutrients (some even have vitamins and minerals added).

Compare their ingredient lists to Mountain House, and you will see what I mean.

I go to this company for great backpacking food ideas - lots of entrees, vegetables, and desserts for you to scope out. I think they're a viable backpacking food option.

Email me if you're curious about my favorites, or perhaps more importantly, my least favorites!

Antioxidants can be hard to come by after a few days on the trail. Usually you get these plant-derived protective molecules (a.k.a. "phytonutrients") in salads, cranberries, apples, red wine. On the trail, turn to peanuts and dark chocolate to keep your cells protected from damaging free radicals (highly energetic little guys, looking to cause trouble on a molecular level).

A note about a hearty dinner: you want to eat enough food to keep up your core temperature throughout the night and to replace the water you sweated/peed out during the day.

While you are in "rest and digest" mode, dominated by the parasympathetic nervous system, the nutrients from dinner are being used to rebuild glycogen reserves for the next day's hike.

Also, your body is repairing damage to muscles, tendons, and bones from lugging your pack up the trail.

As an additional benefit, you won't wake up at 2AM with hunger pangs if you take the time to prepare and ingest a hot dinner.



Bottom line for backpacking food ideas for your next trip? Fall back on the mantra of the 3 major classes of fuel biomolecules: carbohydrates, proteins, fats.

If you need some guidance on percentages (based on your age, activity level, & other factors), send me an email and I'll share some resources with you.

Here's an idea to try in order to gauge how you are doing, nutrient wise: keep a daily food log on the trail. Note which backpacking meals or foods were especially satisfying, which brands or flavors you loved, and any weird cravings you had.

This takes only a few seconds, and yields valuable insight when you look back over it months later as you prepare for another trip.

If you're prone to drama, you can also doodle the names of the things you hated and embellish them with exclamation marks (or worse), just for fun.

If you want feedback from body parts beyond your taste buds, be sure to compare pre-trip body weight with post-trip weight, plus keep track of your daily energy level, recovery time, and other data. This builds a complete picture of how your "fuel burning plan" (a.k.a. "backpacking food list") worked out.

Tweak until perfect!

{Wow! What a great way to justify lots of trail time!}

If you like to be creative and devote precious outdoor time to cooking & cleaning up (see my bias?), there are tons of great recipes for backpacking food ideas, from talented outdoor chefs, to try! I've collected them into a list, drop me a line if you're interested.

For me right now, in an aging hiker's body, the bottom line is nutrition, rather than taste.

I found this entertaining way to decide whether you're a minimalist or a gourmet back country chef: enjoy!

So I'm probably in the minority: a cooking minimalist. I humbly accept my outcast status, because to me, the entire point of going into the back country IS the back country!

But ya gotta eat, right?

Try this information on fast backpacking foods and recipes.


One last little tip: I always trust the wisdom of my body when I get home from a backpacking trip.

If I crave pickles on toast with a side of bacon, that's what I eat until the craving disappears!

It's just my little "thank you" to the muscles and bones which got me up and down the trails, and back home safely.

So honor your cravings! They might be little postcards from your digestive system to your brain, saying "Pick up a loaf of bread (or whatever) on your way home, honey."


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