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Best Backpacking Rice:
How To Pick
The Right One For You

The best backpacking rice costs and weighs almost nothing, cooks fast, and fills your belly, right?

That makes instant white rice the winner in most backpacking menus.

But wait just a minute.

You don't want to overlook taste, satiety, and good nutrition, do you?

I didn't think so ;)

That's why I created these tips on picking the very best backpacking rice for your hiking menus, based on your individual needs.

  • Because every delicious backpacking menu deserves a few tweaks before you head out onto the trail.
Rice is a staple in backpacking food. But do you know how to choose the best rice for your hiking needs? Find out how at Hiking For Her. #hiking  #backpacking  #backpacking food

Rice is nice
for backpackers

To fuel your day long exertions, and to be able to do it again the next day and the day after that, you need your hiking food to contain sugars called carbohydrates.

Besides delivering lots of carbohydrates, rice in your evening cook pot provides a bit of protein and the ability to blend well with whatever else you throw into the pot.

It's also easy to dehydrate (i.e. pull all of the water molecules out of it), so expect it as the foundation of many freeze dried backpacking meals.

In addition, this ancient grain is gluten free and not a source of other dietary allergens, making it a good choice for nearly everyone on the trail.

Did you know there are
over 40,000 varieties of rice?

Wow!

So let's make this easy and stick with the merits and drawbacks of four basic choices you can make with rice, as we compare one cup (~195 grams):

  • white rice
  • brown rice
  • black (purple) rice
  • red (Bhutanese) rice

Regardless of the color of the rice, you'll be getting about 200 calories from it as you digest and relax after your meal.

Cooking times are left out of this discussion, but be aware that high altitude and cold temperatures will increase the amount of stove fuel and time you need to cook your rice.


Rice descriptive words
you need to know

There are three basic descriptive categories to pay attention to as you're selecting rice for your backpacking or camping trip:

Size of the grain:

  • short
  • medium
  • long

Amount of refinement:

  • none, as in whole grain rice of darker hues
  • refined, or polished, as in white rice

Varieties:

  • basmati
  • jasmine
  • arborio
  • sweet

Example: Long grain brown or white jasmine rice

So when choosing the best backpacking rice, pay attention to the lingo so you'll get the results you expect.

Tip:

  • If you crave the complexity and carbs of creamy risotto (arborio rice) on your trip, let Good To-Go do the hard work for you.

A note about wild rice

Sorry, it's not a rice, although it looks like long grain rice.

Botanically, it's the seed of a wild grass.

Which means it's laborious to harvest, and therefore more expensive than some of the rices.

Humans mix it with long grain brown rice when they want its nutty chewiness.

  • Backpackers can use it that way too, if the budget allows.
  • But consider it an add on, not a stand alone menu choice.


Is white rice the best
backpacking rice?

First, let's look at the good news about a common candidate for one of the best backpacking rices: white rice.

The first thing to note is that this rice has been stripped of its outer hull, where the bran & germ are located (fiber, nutrients and oils).

This gives you advantages and catapults it to the top of the best backpacking rice list for many backpackers.

And here's why!

It is your best choice if you're going for cheap, fast and filling backpacking food at the end of the day.

Tip:

  • Short grain white rice has the highest starch (sugars, as in carbohydrates, as in energy for your body) content.
  • Also the shortest cooking time.

Another benefit of white rice sold in the United States: although its outer hull and associated nutrients have been stripped away, by law it must be enriched with B vitamins (folate, niacin, thiamin) and iron.

  • Read why folate is important for young women here.

That makes it an excellent source of blood building nutrition, which any female in her reproductive (menstruating & childbearing) years will appreciate.

Males don't need external sources of iron, so it's not beneficial in that regard.

  • The B vitamins are the main story for male hikers.

White rice doesn't have as much potential to become rancid, because its natural oils have been stripped away.

  • This translates into a longer shelf life when you return from a backpacking trip with uncooked white rice.

Tip:

Give it the sniff test to detect unpleasant odors before you decide to use it on a subsequent trip.

White rice cooking tip

Bring along some vegetable, chicken or beef bouillon to add to the cooking water, for a more robust flavor and to boost white rice higher in the best backpacking rice category.

  • Be sure to guard the bouillon (and other cooking seasoning) from moisture, using a small container like this one.

You can cook any of the other rices this way as well, with more water and a longer cooking time. Adjust the amount of bouillon accordingly.


No!
Brown rice is a better
backpacking rice

White rice isn't a good choice if you're looking for fiber, nutrients such as B vitamins in their natural form, or generous amounts of trace minerals like manganese, selenium, or copper.

Why the heck would you want these?

  • If you're pregnant, menopausal, or simply want to support your nervous and digestive systems on your backpacking trip.
  • If you're interested (and you should be) in proper enzyme function for high performing body systems.

Blood sugar regulation heads up

If regulating your blood sugar within normal limits (diabetic or pre-diabetic) is a problem for you, avoid the fast release of carbohydrates from white rice by using the other, low glycemic rices in your backpacking recipes.

How to shorten brown rice cooking time

Brown rice can take 40 or more minutes to cook at sea level, and for a backpacker, that translates into a lot of fuel for the stove.

  • And lots of hunger pangs as you wait.

There is such a thing as "instant" brown rice, meaning it has been parboiled to reduce the cooking time you face when you use it.

Its nutritional value will be lessened, but you save time and fuel.

  • Don't expect miracles: still around 10 minutes give or take according to conditions.

So parboiled brown rice could be ranked at near the top of the best backpacking rice choices for you.


Smart brown rice choices
for backpackers

Brown rice begs for a long(ish) simmer time, a bit of salt, and up to 2 1/2 cups of water.

Which means it's an investment meal, not something to hurry through to quickly fill up your stomach.

Tip:

Undercooked brown rice (crunchy, not soft) is going to set you up for digestive upset, so make sure you've got enough time, fuel and water before you begin cooking it.

Jasmine brown rice cooks up soft and aromatic, meaning lots of bulk in your stomach and a wonderful aroma that doesn't need to be masked or enhanced with a lot of spices in order to make it palatable.

  • Thanks, 2-acetyl 1-pyrroline, for the lovely aroma!

Basmati brown rice has a light texture and a subtle flavor, so you can play around with spices and additions and not harm its contribution to the meal.

Short grain brown rice is a workhorse, delivering lots of carbohydrates and nutrients in a small package. It's cheap, plentiful and tasty in its own right, which makes it one of the best backpacking rice choices all around.

Tip:

Always cook rice with the lid on the pot, and avoid the temptation to take off the lid to stir the rice.

  • Timing is important to keep track of with any rice, but more so when it's a slow simmer type of meal.


White versus brown rice:
quick comparison of benefits

Let's sum up before we look at other best backpacking rice options.

Choose white rice when you want:

  • easy cooking preparation,
  • a filling meal that you can hack with spices and herbs,
  • a cheap source of carbohydrates,
  • a ready source of iron and folate,
  • easily digested backpacking food without allergens.

Choose brown rice when you want to guard your nutrient stores, because it provides you with:

  • three times the amount of manganese & phosphorus,
  • double the amount of zinc, copper, niacin,
  • four times the amount of magnesium, so important for proper muscle function,
  • antioxidants such as phytate and ferulic acid,
  • lignans which convert in the gut to phytoestrogens,
  • plenty of fiber,
  • and a modest amount of protein, which can give you an edge in terms of endurance on a long backpacking trek.

Best backpacking rice:
one useful attribute shared by both

If you allow your cooked rice to cool in your cooking pot while you prepare other parts of your meal, or reheat it the next day, it will form a type of fiber called resistant starch.

Why do you care?

  • This fiber is part of good gut health, and most of us backpackers agree that digestive upsets are no fun on the trail.
  • A steady diet of rice allowed to cool before ingesting it will help you avoid the dreaded "stomach" upsets.

Can purple rice
earn a place on the
best backpacking rice list?

Purple rice looks black when dehydrated, turning a dark purple hue as you simmer it in your camp pot.

Called Forbidden Rice (because allegedly only the Chinese emperor was allowed to eat it in antiquity), this rice delivers an amazing flavor some people describe as sweet, others call nutty.

  • Let's just call it delicious!

Its sticky texture creates chewiness, meaning your meal will last longer and allow your brain to signal fullness (satiety) without you having to gulp down a lot of fluids.

Its deep dark color is due to an antioxidant called anthocyanin, also present in blueberries.

  • Antioxidants are a great idea on a backpacking menu, and purple rice is the best backpacking rice if you're looking for those additional health benefits.

And beyond that, bite for bite, purple rice delivers more fiber and protein compared with white or brown rice.

  • If that isn't a vote for "best backpacking rice", what is?

Now for the drawbacks
of Forbidden Rice

Purple/black/Forbidden Rice costs more than other rice, at least in the United States.

Tip:

Look for bulk bin stores and ask when (if) this particular rice variety goes on sale. Store your bounty in the refrigerator to protect it from rancidity until you can use it.

This rice takes a long time to cook (20 minutes or more), and takes a lot of water (at least 2 cups, more for softer texture) to reach its correct texture.

  • So if time and water availability are limiting factors for you, skip this rice.
  • Makes a great entrée when weight and time aren't an issue: car camping or base camping, for example.

Here's the main drawback:

It's addictive!

[At least I think so. You've been warned.]

  • The flavor and texture will make other rices look kind of bland and visually dull.

Best backpacking rice tip

Use well cooked, cooled black rice as a satisfying dessert, with a bit of fat and dried berries mixed in, and chew it slowly.

You'd be surprised how wonderful it is at the end of a meal!

  • The slow chewing releases the most starches for your taste buds to detect, so don't rush through it.


Bhutanese red rice

Now here's something different to jazz up your backpacking menu!

In fact, many backpackers don't know to include it on the list of best backpacking rice choices.

This red rice from the Himalayas has a distinct taste, best described as earthy or nutty.

  • A little goes a long way if your palate is not expecting this rice.

Its color and size are distinctive as well, when compared to the other rices mentioned here: reddish brown and smaller grains.

Its drawbacks are similar to black rice, in terms of cost and preparation.

Slow chewing and thoughtful preparation time, as with black rice, is required to wring the goodness out of every mouthful.

Tip:

After a few evenings of standard backpacking fare, surprise your brain and taste buds with this unique and tasty rice.


Why think outside the box
when choosing the
best backpacking rice?

There are lots of boxed and bagged, as in pre-packaged, rice options on the market, making it easy & inexpensive to grab and go.

Some of the tastiest pre-packaged rice dishes include garlicky vegetable rice mix and seasoned rice medley.

Love heat in your food? Try this spicy Korean mixed rice dish!

And if you'd like to incorporate rice into your backpacking lunches and trail snacks, try my affordable favorites from Trader Joe's:

Best backpacking rice heads up for
hikers with sodium dietary restrictions

If you need to avoid excessive amounts of sodium in your diet, be aware that many of these pre-packaged rice entrées and snacks can be high in salt.

  • Most hikers need extra salt after sweating all day on the trail, however.

Spice it up!

Plain rice is boring after a long day of hiking.

A few flavor ideas for spicing up your pot of rice will get you thinking about creative ways to get your carbs after a long day on the trail.

White rice plays nicely with...

...foil pouches of chicken, tuna or salmon.

Dump these protein sources (including any juices or oil) over your hot white rice, making an excellent fast meal that will fill you up.

If you've simmered your rice in flavorful veggie or chicken or beef bouillon, just add some chopped nuts and golden raisins for crunch and sweetness, and call it good.

But why not begin to think of white rice as a blank canvas, and herbs and spices as your paintbox?

If you're going for a lot of action on your taste buds, use these spices:

  • curry
  • garlic
  • red pepper flakes
  • tamari soy sauce

If your digestion is a bit off, and you want something more mild and soothing, use these spices and herbs:

  • spearmint (really! try its cooling effect)
  • dill
  • fennel

Dried mushrooms weigh nothing but can punch up the flavor, add nutrients, and provide a sense of meatiness to your rice without fighting other flavors.

If you're tired and just want to roll into your sleeping bag for sweet dreams, eat some of the rice plain (fast, filling, easy digestion) and save the rest as breakfast rice.

The next morning, perk up your left overs as you sip a mug of the best backpacking tea:

  • cinnamon
  • nutmeg
  • sweetened cranberries
  • raisins
  • Or add a bit of cheese (long lasting calories and a more assertive flavor) if you're not into morning sweetness.

Brown rice additions

Brown rice has a lot of personality all on its own, and you don't want to have a clash of flavors in your cook pot, right?

So a quick rice pilaf is a great idea:

  • a handful of chopped roasted hazelnuts or almonds
  • a subtle spice such as dill or parsley
  • dried fruit of your choice
  • a dash of EVOO
  • salt and pepper

You can also make the breakfast recipe mentioned above, yielding a sweeter, more substantial meal.

Or go for rice pudding as a dessert, using a bit of sweetener and dried fruit.

Ever try seaweed as a backpacking source of nutrients?

  • Read this, and then sprinkle some nori on your brown rice for additional texture and saltiness (and a big dose of nutrients that are super easy to pack and deploy).


So what's your
best backpacking rice?

Which rice is the perfect choice for your backpacking menu? Find out at Hiking For Her.  #backpackingfood  #hiking  #trailfood

You might agree with the answer "it depends" after reading this page.

It depends on who you are, the type of backpacking you are doing, and how much time, money, fuel, water and energy you have for your backpacking menu.

A few last tips

Match your rice to your hiking itinerary.

  • On days when you'll be pulling into your camp site early and have abundant water, go with long simmer brown, black or red rice entrées.
  • On long days, or when the weather turns unpredictable and the temperature or altitude is a factor, go with fast cooking, easy to rehydrate white rice so you can get into your tent faster.
  • Near the end of your trip, when water soluble vitamins and trace minerals and other nutrients have been depleted, use whole grain rice options. 

Don't blend the 4 types of rice together on any one day, because your cooking time will be screwed up and some grains of rice will be crunchy while others fall apart.

  • You want your gut to do a thorough job of extracting nutrients from every grain of rice.

Now you have all the facts to dial in the right rice as an important part of your hiking menu.

Need more ideas on how to feel full on a backpacking trip?


Home page > Backpacking Nutrition Tips >

Best Backpacking Rice Choices



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