By: Melanie Gagon
Whether you are planning a backpacking trip for the first time or are a seasoned hiker getting ready for another long thru-hike, the food you take plays a huge role in how successful your trip will be. Food will be your fuel and good nutrition can be the difference between an amazing adventure in the back country or a miserable experience.
When we plan out our meals for a backpacking trip we try to focus on the right type of food that is nutritious and calorie dense to help our body function at its optimal best…but also food that tastes good. Protein and good carbs are important so your body gets the nutrients it needs to recover properly each day. You will burn a lot of calories hiking, so make sure to pack enough calories that will last and help you recover.
The first thing most backpackers think when adding anything to their pack is, “how much weight will this add?” Which is why dehydrated meals are so popular. They pack light and cook quickly just by adding hot water to them. One day I hope to be ambitious enough to dehydrate my own meals…but for now we just buy ours. There are many different brands and meal options now on the market so there is practically something for every palette.
Some other things to consider when packing food besides weight is the duration of the trip, the distance and elevation changes on your hike, overall backpack weight and how much food you generally need to consume daily (like your personal appetite.) For example, I eat a lot more than my husband does throughout the day. While I need 3-4 good meals a day plus snacks - he is usually content with 1-2 meals. :) Even though we like variety we still like to keep it simple. At the end of a long day we are tired and hungry and like to have an easy meal to eat before heading to bed at night. Here are some of our favorite backpacking meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Oatmeal packets with dried fruit or coconut flakes. I also like to bring chia seeds to stir into my oatmeal. These pack light and add in healthy fats that keep me full longer. Dried fruit is a great option to add to meals (or use as snacks) because it doesn't take up as much room or add weight like fresh fruit does but it still adds variety and flavor!
One of my favorite things to eat hiking is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich - but if it isn’t eaten the first day the bread can get soggy and gross. So to enjoy a yummy sandwich we pack everything separately and make it on the trail when we are ready to eat. Peanut butter and non refrigerated jam or jellies can be stored easily in a Ziploc bag, or there are also prepackaged single serving nut butters you can buy that work as a great option too. When you are ready to eat your sandwich just cut the corners off the baggy and spread your peanut butter and jelly over the bread! Fresh and tasty PB&J!
Tuna pouches are also a great source of protein that doesn't take up much space in your pack (they also have chicken pouches as an alternative if fish isn’t your thing.) Bring some mayo packets to mix in with it and make some tuna salad and spread it inside of a tortilla for a yummy sandwich wrap.
Avocados can also be spread on tortillas or eaten with salty chips and are a great source of calories and healthy fats. While they can add some weight to your pack it is one of the luxury food items we like to add to our meals!
Dinner is usually when we eat our dehydrated meals because we have stopped for the day to set up our camp and it’s more convenient to pull out a jet boil or build a fire to cook them. Some of our favorite dehydrated meals that taste great are:
Beef Stroganoff with Noodles
Biscuits and Gravy
Chili Mac + Beef
We also like bringing tortillas to eat with dinner too (we use tortillas a lot because they pack so light and stay fresh longer than bread.) Instant rice and beans can be added to a tortilla for an instant burrito. Hot sauce packets come in handy for meals like this and can add a little spice to what may seem like a boring meal.
For snacks we love granola and protein bars that are easy to grab and can be eaten on the go as are nuts, seeds, beef jerky and trail mix.
Single serving firm and semi firm cheese (Like Babybel) can be great for backpacking because they will last longer in your pack than a soft or moist cheese. Just be cautious when you are in extremely hot temps as it will spoil faster.
While it may feel intimidating to pack your own food to eat on the trail for a few days it doesn’t have to be over complicated. As long as you focus on food that packs light, is easy to cook, keeps well and won’t spoil in our pack you will be good to go! Happy Trails!!
About the Author: Melanie Gagon
Melanie was born and raised in Utah and has been exploring the outdoors and going on adventures with her family for years. She has a BA in American Literature and a passion for writing. She’s a mother of two energetic boys that love the mountains and Utah desert just as much as she does. Her and her husband enjoy the simple life and love raising their family in the wild outdoors.