Small pot cooking backpack food

Best Backpacking Foods: 36 Delicious Ideas for the Trail

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Originally published on June 19, 2017. Updated on April 8, 2019.

Trail diets.

Not that sexy of a term and the sound alone brings to mind freeze dried food, oatmeal, lentils, and rice. Backpacking foods have evolved as the backpacking industry has evolved, making the grind of a long distance backpacking trip a little more flavorful.

Your backpacking food needs to be high in nutrition, lightweight, and easy to prepare with no more than a small flame.

What makes the best backpacking food

While steak, potatoes, and a fresh salad is a meal that fills the dreams of long distance backpackers all around the world, the reality is, backpacking food is much less glamorous. That doesn’t mean that you have to eat rice and lentils for every meal, however, it does mean that you really have to get creative.

Lightweight

The key to any backpacking trip is keeping your overall weight as low as possible. Besides your big three pieces of gear, food is going to be the largest source of weight. While it does go down over time as you eat, it’s important to keep it all as light as possible.

Water weight is a huge contributor, so any food with water should be kept to a minimum. It’s a good practice to pack dehydrated food to eliminate water weight which you can easily rehydrate as you go.

Calorie dense

When your backpacking you burn a ton of calories, some reports say up to 500 calories a day. Outside Online has a nifty little burn rate calculator they put together to get a more accurate estimate based on your weight and your packs weight.

Basically, you’re going to burn a ton of calories, so throw any calorie counting you’ve done in the past out the window. Look for foods that are high in calories and low in weight, they won’t always be the “healthiest” options, but you’ll need every single calorie, if not more.

Easy prep

You’re not going to have a full kitchen on the trail, in fact, you’re only going to have a burner and a few other essentials. Being able to whip something up in a few minutes after putting in 15-20 miles day after day is going to save you precious time and your sanity. Every once in a while, making a good meal is worth it, but most of the time getting the meal made quickly is the most practical solution.

Backpacking breakfast ideas

Breakfast of champions or something like that, I think that’s how it goes. When we’re talking about breakfast on the trail you can’t deny the importance of a nice little energy boost in the morning.

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, maybe it’s the cup of coffee that goes along with it. Either way, breakfast kicks ass.

1. Nuts

Nuts are a fast and easy snack at any time of the day. They are full of protein and on top of that have a number of benefits for your heart, unless you have an allergy, grab a handful and get busy.

2. Oatmeal

Instant oatmeal, to be more precise. It’s a trail classic, it’s easy to prepare with just a little bit of water and a packet of instant oats. Oatmeal is a healthy way to start your day, oatmeal lowers bad cholesterol and eases constipation.

There are brands that make instant oatmeal in packets that you just add water to, no dishes, just a little bit of trash to pack out. Pretty sweet, huh?

3. Dried Fruits

Dried fruits are a perfect backpacking food, they are light, tasty, and take zero preparation. They offer the advantage of lasting longer because they are preserved and can last for months.

Dried fruits also have multiple health benefits (and let’s be real, they simply taste awesome. They are a sweet and sugary snack that makes a great treat on the trail.

4. Whole Grain Cereal

The whole grain diet is nothing new, I imagine that people have been eating them for hundreds if not thousands of years. On the trail in the morning, they are a quick and easy way to fill up before hitting the road.

Whole grains are rich in Vitamin C, a great source of minerals, and reduce inflammation in the gut.

5. Dehydrated Milk

Dehydrated or powdered milk as it is commonly referred to is a great addition to your backpack. It comes in a number of different forms just like real milk, nonfat, skim, whole, and buttermilk.

It’s versatile and can be added to dress up a ton of trail recipes throughout the day, from breakfast to dinner. Powdered milk is high in vitamins, proteins, and amino acids.

6. Coffee

Can’t possibly leave coffee off of the list, everyone (except for weirdos) loves coffee. A fresh cup in the morning is a perfect way to start a morning, a nice little energy boost before you jam out for the day.

There have been recent signs that coffee has a number of health benefits when consumed in small amounts, not that you need any more excuses to enjoy coffee.

7. Grits

Grits are a popular dish in the Southern United States and are made from crushed or dried corn maize and then cooked in a liquid. Typically, they’re cooked in hot water, milk, or broth until they reach a creamy consistency similar to porridge.

8. Dehydrated hashbrowns

Dehydrated hash browns are lightweight and can be whipped up in about 5 minutes. You don’t want to have to carry around a box, so grab a large Ziploc bag and fill it up with enough hash browns to last a few days. Now you can enjoy the backpackers version of eggs and hash browns

9. Powdered eggs

Powdered eggs are a replacement for fresh eggs, but lack the consistency and texture of fresh eggs. They aren’t for everyone and we suggest you give these a test run before making them a backpacking breakfast staple. That being said, they are a convenient and nutrient rich addition to spice up your backpacking breakfast.

Backpacking lunch ideas

It’s hard to imagine anyone breaking themselves down to prepare a meal in the middle of the day. It slows progress down quite a bit and just isn’t a practical solution to eating in the middle of the day.

Lunch on the trail ideally is going to be something that involves little to no preparation, it may even be a snack bar or some dehydrated meat.

10. Dehydrated meat and beef jerky

Dehydrated meats are awesome even when you aren’t walking all day long, they are especially awesome 3 days in. Dehydrating meat and making jerky not only preserves the meat, but it also gives you the chance to add any flavor your heart desires.

Let’s face it, jerky is great unless you’re a vegan. The fact jerky is high in protein, vitamins, minerals, and good for your heart makes jerky a go-to option.

11. Multi-Grain Crackers

Multi-grain crackers are a quick and easy snack to grab throughout the day, and add that with a little jerky and boom! You just won yourself a super dry pseudo- sandwich.

Multi grain crackers have a number of health benefits that include being high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

12. Dehydrated hummus

Let’s be honest, plain crackers are about as boring as it gets. With dehydrated hummus, you just add water and stir for a couple of minutes and you have the perfect spread to add to tortillas, bread, or crackers.

13. Tortillas

Packing a loaf of bread is not always possible, it’s large and challenging to find a good spot for in your backpack. Tortillas on the other hand are flat, compact, and can be rolled up and stuffed into anywhere in your bag. Plus, if you add a few condiments you have a tasty makeshift sandwich on the go.

14. Canned tuna

Tuna is one of the most popular foods for long distance backpackers and has been a staple for many years. The cans are easy to carry, don’t weigh very much, and are a quick snack by themselves. Tuna is high in Omega 3 fatty acids, which have been linked to reducing inflammation, warding off cognitive decline, and lowering the risk of heart disease.

15. Cheese

Cheese is one of life’s gifts given to us from the milk of animals. No, it doesn’t last forever, so that just means you get to eat it fast.

Cheese is a great addition to the super dry sandwich we talked about earlier. Throw it in with some crackers and beef jerky and you got yourself a powerful little snack. Cheese also contains a host of nutrients, boosts your immune system, and may make you live longer.

16. Protein Bars

Protein bars, snack bars, healthy snack bars, whatever you like to call them. They are all essentially a small and powerful snack to replenish energy and keep you chugging along.

You can pack a bunch of them and snack on them throughout the day with ease, the only downside would be the garbage. Overall snack bars are another great option for any backpacker, as protein aids in the growth of bones, muscles, skin, and blood.

17. Whole Grain Bread

For the ultralight backpacker this would most likely be absurd, however, you can’t be mad at having a little bread to go with your lunch. The one downside would be smashing it in your pack, you can try tying to the outside to avoid smashing the shit out of it.

On top of being a great addition to not only lunch but every other meal. Whole grain has a variety of health benefits, ranging from lowering your blood pressure to reducing inflammation.

18. Cous cous

Cous cous is a North African delicacy that has spread as a healthy snack to the rest of the world. It’s a grain product that’s been processed from small grain balls of durum wheat or semolina flour.

It only takes about 5 minutes to cook and has a slightly different texture than rice or dried noodles. Cous cous is also is rich in Selenium, boosts your immune system, and a good source of plant based protein.

Backpacking dinner ideas

Dinner on the trail is a time to wind down and enjoy the evening and the accompanying sunset. It’s a time to reflect if you are by yourself or share stories and dreams with the others on the trail.

Dinner on the trail isn’t going to be gourmet, but that doesn’t mean that it is going to be bland either. With a little preparation and planning, dinner will be something that you look forward to and gives you a little inspiration throughout the day.

19. Instant potatoes

Instant mashed potatoes are a favorite for backpackers and hikers alike. They come in a box or pack that is lightweight and easy to carry. In terms of prep, you just add a little hot water and you’re good to go.

Believe it or not, instant potatoes retain most of the healthy parts of a fresh potato. Yes, you sacrifice on flavor, but it’s a nice little side dish for most meals on the trail.

20. Dried Noodles

Dried noodles, not like the ones above obviously, are a nice way to mix and liven up your dinner when you get tired of instant mash potatoes. Most likely it’s going to be a ramen-style noodle, they are just easier in all ways.

As far as the nutritional value of top ramen, I don’t know or care, it’s just nice to have noodles for a change of pace.

21. Dehydrated Vegetables

Dehydrated vegetables or vegetable chips are a healthy option to go along with any backpacking dinner. You can buy the or do it yourself, either way, they last a long time and work as a healthy snack.

When you dehydrate food you take all the water out, therefore, you will lose some nutrients it just won’t be a significant amount (source).

22. Lentils

Lentils are not exactly the best-tasting thing on the planet in my opinion, but I have eaten my fair share. They are high in nutrients and easy to make, just have to boil them for about 15 minutes.

Lentils are a healthy option and a good source of protein, along with that, they contain folic acid, protect heart health, and high in nutrients.

23. Instant Rice

Instant rice is another staple when backpacking. It’s lightweight and super easy to make, again, another great addition to any meal. Rice by itself is bland, it’s easy to spice it up with a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

It is still eaten by a number of cultures all over the world and there’s a good reason for that. Rice has a number of health benefits (source) and being so readily available and lightweight it’s the perfect option for backpacking.

24. MRE’s

If you have any friends in the military ask them about MRE’s, I’m sure you’ll get a similar response as I did. They are pretty straightforward, you just add water and go, and hope for the best.

There are backpacker varieties that are not as bulky as the military issue MRE, they just have calories per package and come in a smaller package.

25. Freeze dried meals

Freeze dried meals are an all in one solution and as close to a full meal in a bag as you’ll get. There are a bunch of different meals to choose from and the best part is, all you do is add hot water, stir, and seal for a few minutes. The fact that they include everything you need for a full meal is the biggest appeal to backpackers, quick and easy.

Backpacking snacks for the trail

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner covered a good portion of what will make up the largest portion of your meals when you’re backpacking. There are always going to be a few things that you can bring along with you to spice up a dinner or dress up some crackers.

26. Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is a quick and delicious snack when you’re on the go. It’s an easy addition to a sandwich, crackers, or just by itself. You can find a jar of it in nearly every backpack that you come across.

Along with being a nice little snack, peanut butter comes along with a number of healthy reasons to keep chowing down. Peanut butter is full of healthy fats and proteins and tastes pretty damn good too.

27. Pork rinds

Pork rinds are a salty snack that’s high in sodium and fat and low in carbohydrates. Their chip like consistency and spicy flavor are a great way to mix up your trail diet. The bags tend to be large, so this is going to be more of a luxury item.

28. Energy chews

Sometimes you just need a sweet snack on the go and energy chews are a great way to fill that need. They contain vitamins, electrolytes, caffeine, whatever your heart desires.

29. Seaweed

Most of us are familiar with the seaweed found in sushi, however, they have dried sushi that offers most of the health benefits of fresh seaweed. They are about as lightweight as a snack can get and is the quintessential trail superfood.

30. Hot Tea

Hot tea in the afternoon with some crumpets, whatever the hell that means. I love tea, without sugar and simply bitter. Tea has been around for thousands of years and goes well with breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

People have been drinking tea for thousands of years and logic would say there has to be some sort of evolutionary health benefit. Sure enough, science has shown that tea has awesome health benefits.

Extras for the trail

There’s always a few things that you can bring that are just great to have. Sweets, vitamins, and a little something to spice up your meal.

31. Honey

Honey makes me think of Yogi Bear, bees, and cartoons. I digress, honey is basically awesome in every way, shape, and form.

As sweet and savory as honey is, you wouldn’t think that it had many health benefits, and you’d be wrong like me. Honey works wonders on your system in a number of ways such as preventing cancer, heart disease, and reduced ulcers.

32. Chocolate

Chocolate is a luxury that is worth its weight in gold and is another one of those things that aren’t necessary but should be required. Dessert is a thing for a reason, you don’t eat chocolate for the nutritional value.

33. Spices & Herbs

Spices are the oldest currency or something like that, maybe it was just salt, I dunno. I do know that spices are an important part to add to any of our backpacks, their extremely lightweight and easy to pack.

Spices do have health benefits, it’s hard to say that every spice gives you one particular benefit, that just wouldn’t be true. Different spices have different health benefits, so go with your gut on this one, literally.

34. Multi vitamins

Sometimes you need a little artificial supplement, this is especially important when your diet is limited from a long distance backpacking trip. A good multi day vitamin provides you with the necessary nutrients that you may not get from a standard trail diet.

35. Cookie or brownie mix

While you won’t be able to make a complete pan of hot brownies, you can add cold or hot water for a powerful snack. Brownie mix is a popular choice for thru hikers that pump out serious miles because they’re a quick and heavy energy boost.

36. Olive oil

Olive oil is essentially healthy liquid fats with a high caloric density. It’s a great way to add flavor to any of your meals and it packs a punch. Packing a 16 ounce bottle isn’t practical, so just plan on using a smaller 5 or 6 ounce bottles on the trail.

Conclusion

Backpacking food doesn’t have to be bland and boring as it has been in the past. It’s never going to be gourmet so as long as you don’t have any misdirected preconceived notions, backpacking food can be awesome.

You can drink beer and eat crackers with cheese, this sounds counterintuitive to the idea of taking a long walk outdoors. Keep in mind on any of the major three trails you won’t be away from a supply point for more than 5 days, in most cases.

Get outdoors and get lost. Hiking and backpacking is a shortcut to a time in our past when a walk was the only way to get away.

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