In order for my backpacking trips to be successful, I need to work on eating enough to fully replenish my body. At home, I don’t have any problem eating enough, but when I’ve been exerting a lot, especially during prime alpine backpacking season when it’s hot and my energy is easily depleted, I have a hard time wanting to eat. And I’m a picky eater, so that makes it even harder! I need food that I’ll want to eat every day, so I make a lot of my own breakfasts, dinners and snacks.
Updated: May 2019
How much food is needed for a backpacking trip?
In general, I find that I need about 1.5 pounds of food per day of a trip. Of course, this will vary from person to person and be based on your overall body size and the calories needed to sustain you. I’m a small person (5’1″ and 108 lbs.) so I tend to eat smaller meals than most people. I also need to snack frequently to prevent hypoglycemia, so I make sure to carry plenty of snacks in my backpack’s hip belt pockets.
The best way for me to figure out if I have enough food is to lay out all that I think I’ll need on a table or countertop, with one row or column for every day. This way, I can visually see how much food there is and make sure I’m not leaving out any meals. It helps to package snack items into individual plastic bags instead of the larger bags they are purchased in.
Here is food for a four night trip:
Surprisingly, I don’t get tired of eating the same thing for breakfast every day. For backpacking, I love instant oatmeal. By itself, though, it’s not enough to sustain me for long so I add sliced almonds, hemp seeds (or chia seeds), whole milk powder, and freeze-dried berries. I had to give up coffee, so now I bring tea to drink with breakfast, usually a Breakfast Blend or Chai tea that I add sugar and milk powder to.
- recipe: almond berry instant oatmeal
Lunch is usually snacks to be eaten while hiking:
- crackers (pita or bagel crackers tend to not get smashed as easily as others)
- jerky or salami
- cheese sticks
- trail bars (my favorite are these Kind Bars)
- roasted & seasoned chickpeas or broad beans (a great protein source in a salty snack)
- Black Forest Organic Gummy Bears (fruit-based and without food coloring!)
- Trail Butter (besides the great flavor, I love the easy to dispense and easy to close container)
- I also buy a lot of snack foods at Trader Joe’s. They have a wide variety of options so you don’t get tired of the same thing. I especially like their rice crackers, yogurt covered pretzels, Inca corn snacks, salted peanuts, and mango slices.
DYI Trail Bars
I’ve been trying out recipes for trail bars from the Power Hungry cookbook. I especially like the recipes that replicate Kind Bars and Larabars. While they take time to make, they cost much less than purchasing from the store. Plus I get to customize the flavor for exactly what I like. My favorite so far is a recipe I modified by adding candied ginger, ground ginger, and cardamom to a crunchy nut bar. Mmmm. I also made a PB&J bar using dates, almonds, and dried cherries. These bars aren’t too sweet and they stay soft, which is a nice change from crunchy bars.
Dinner: make your own dehydrated meals
So far, I’ve only tried a couple of commercial freeze-dried meals but haven’t found much that I like. Plus, I’m not used to eating food with preservatives or additives, so I’ve been making my own food for backpacking dinners. When I first started, I made curries, ramen, and other spicy Asian dishes. But my stomach doesn’t like anything even slightly spicy when I’m backpacking, and my taste buds crave something simple and home style. Especially starchy foods like rice, pasta, and potatoes.
To prep for this year’s trips, I’ve been working on several new recipes over the winter months. I’ve been taking my backpacking stove on hikes and cooking a hot lunch to test the recipes. So far, I’m really liking these meals and think that I’ll want to gobble them down each night instead of pawning them off to my campmates. I’ll be adding a few of these recipes to this website after a bit more testing and tweaking (and remembering to take photos before I finish eating). : )
My dinner recipes:
- Chicken Piccata with Pasta
- Loaded Mashed Potatoes
- Stuffing with Chicken and Vegetables
- Thai Red Curry Rice Noodles with Chicken
- Garlic-Basil Linguine with Chicken and Sun-dried Tomatoes
- Yellow Curry Chicken with Rice & Veggies
Recipes I’m currently working on:
- Cheesy Broccoli Rice with Chicken
- Lemon-Ginger Lentils and Rice
- Bean and Cheese Burritos with Salsa
- Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
- Jerk Quinoa with Chicken
- Mushroom Stroganoff with Pasta
- Garlic Pepper Chicken Ramen
- Macaroni and Cheese
- Queso & Bean Dip with Tortilla Chips
- Chia Pudding with Matcha
- Rice Pudding with Cardamom and Ginger
- Hot White Chocolate using coconut milk powder
Dinner: pre-made meals
While I normally make my own meals, there are a few companies making good food for backpackers. There are all foods that I’ve tried and liked, and they are healthier than other meals available that have too much sodium, preservatives or additives.
- Food for the Sole: based in Bend, Oregon, Food for the Sole makes meals that are vegan and most are also gluten-free.
- Bushka’s Kitchen makes freeze-dried meals with clean ingredients that look and taste like real (tasty) food. See my review of two of their meals
- Good to Go: recipes are created by a chef and are gluten-free and without preservatives.
Sourcing the ingredients
- Packit Gourmet is a small family-run business in Austin that sells dehydrated, freeze-dried and ready-made meals for backpackers. They don’t use additives or preservatives in their dried ingredients, which is much preferred over products typically found in grocery stores.
- Harmony House sells freeze-dried and dehydrated fruits and vegetables, soup blends, and TVP products for vegetarian or vegan meals.
- Thrive Life offers a wide selection of snack foods as well as freeze-dried and dehydrated ingredients.
Ingredients used in my recipes
- instant mashed potatoes: from Bob’s Red Mill (no additives, just potatoes!)
- freeze-dried mozzarella cheese: from Packet Gourmet
- butter powder: from Packit Gourmet
- sour cream powder: from Packit Gourmet
- powdered chicken stock: from Packit Gourmet
- crystallized lemon: from Packit Gourmet (or you can use a small packet of lemon juice)
- freeze-dried chicken: I buy Mountain House freeze-dried chicken in a large #10 can and split it up amongst my recipes. I keep the unused portion in a sealed plastic bag in the freezer so it will keep longer.
- pasta: for better rehydrating, use a pasta that cooks in 5 minutes or less. Whenever I use pasta that needs a longer cooking time, I pre-cook and dehydrate it for use in recipes. This way, it will fully rehydrate better and not need to be cooked separately from the other ingredients.
Dehydrating meals & ingredients
It’s easy to dehydrate ingredients at home! I use a Nesco Snackmaster dehydrator with temperature control. I purchased additional fruit leather trays for every tray in the dehydrator so food doesn’t fall through the standard trays. It usually takes 6-8 hours to dehydrate chopped vegetables, longer for foods with more liquid or for meats. It’s even possible to dehydrate soup. Just make it a little thicker than usual and spread the cooked soup on a fruit leather tray.
It’s important to thoroughly dry everything until there’s no moisture left. To help food rehydrate faster, cut foods into small equal size pieces before dehydrating.
I regularly dehydrate green onions, mushrooms, pasta, and rice for use in my recipes. To dehydrate pasta or rice at home, cook as normal, then spread in thin layers on plastic dehydrator trays used for fruit roll-ups. Dehydrate for 8-10 hours until all moisture is removed. I usually turn the rice or pasta partway through the drying process. If it sticks together after it is dried, break it apart before storing. Store dehydrated ingredients in a glass jar or plastic bag in a cool and dry location.
After assembling individual meals, I use a vacuum sealer and store the meals in the freezer until I’m ready for a trip. To help keep track of how much I’m eating, I like to package all of the food for each day into a separate gallon-size plastic bag. I pack all of my snacks for lunches into individual serving bags, then place one days worth into a quart-size bag. This way, I can find all of the snacks that I intend to take on a day hike and know that I still have enough for the remaining days on a trip. And I can easily track to make sure I’m eating enough each day. The gallon-size bags can also be used to do laundry or store trash.
Storing Food at Camp
Proper storage of food while backpacking is critical, not only for protecting your food, but also to make sure that wildlife doesn’t become accustomized to looking for food from humans. When a bear learns that humans equal food and they become a nuisance, they may have to be killed. Please do your part and store your food properly to protect wildlife!
On most trips, I take a waterproof food bag for hanging from a tree, but I also take a bear canister on trips where bears are more likely. When using the food sack, I place all of the food in an odor-proof plastic bag and then put that in the food sack. This helps to keep animals from smelling your food and messing with it. Bears aren’t the major concern… it’s the small critters like mice and chipmunks and marmots that are much more frequently trying to get into backpacker’s food. I recently started using an Ursack and will be switching to it for everywhere that bear canisters are not required.
- Zpacks Bear Bagging Kit: my favorite food storage bag is ultralight and comes with a rock sack, cord and a carabiner for hanging your food.
- Ursack Major and Major XL: available in two sizes, these bear-resistant bags are made from bullet-proof material. They are not approved for use in area where hard-sided bear canisters are required. Check on regulations for the area you’ll be visiting.
- Wild Ideas Bearikade: the lightest option for hard-sided bear canisters, the Bearikade is offered in several sizes (I have the Scout) and is made from carbon fiber material.
Backpacking food cookbook
I’m currently working on a “How to Get Started” backpacking book, and after it is published, I’m starting on a backpacking cookbook. I’m teaming with a friend who is a great cook, so look for more info coming soon.
I’d love to hear about backpacking recipes you’ve tried and liked!
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