by Diane Spicer
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 hiking rice for your backpacking menus, based on your individual needs.
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):
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.
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:
Amount of refinement:
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.
First, let's look at the good news about a common candidate for one of the best backpacking rices: instant 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.
It is your best choice if you're going for cheap, fast and filling backpacking food at the end of the day.
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.
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.
White rice doesn't have as much potential to become rancid, because its natural oils have been stripped away.
Give it the sniff test to detect unpleasant odors before you decide to use it on a subsequent trip.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
So parboiled brown rice could be ranked at near the top of the best backpacking rice choices for you.
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.
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.
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.
Always cook rice with the lid on the pot, and avoid the temptation to take off the lid to stir the rice.
Let's sum up before we look at other best backpacking rice options.
Choose white rice when you want:
Choose brown rice when you want to guard your nutrient stores, because it provides you with:
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?
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.
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.
And beyond that, bite for bite, purple rice delivers more fiber and protein compared with white or brown rice.
Purple/black/Forbidden Rice costs more than other rice, at least in the United States.
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.
Here's the main drawback:
[At least I think so. You've been warned.]
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!
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.
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.
After a few evenings of standard backpacking fare, surprise your brain and taste buds with this unique and tasty 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.
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:
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.
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.
...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:
If your digestion is a bit off, and you want something more mild and soothing, use these spices and herbs:
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:
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:
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?
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.
Good thing we stuck to the basic 4 types here.
But the good news is that you'll never run out of backpacking rice options!
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.
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.
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.
Choose a backpacking stove that can cook your rice the way you want it, either via boiling water or a nice slow simmer.
Now you have all the facts to dial in the right rice as an important part of your hiking menu.
Best Backpacking Rice Choices
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About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She's been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for 5+ decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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