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. Spring is around the corner and so are a lot of our backpacking trips we have coming up! So we wanted to share a few of our favorite meals we eat on the trails!

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. A few of our favorite brands are Mountain House, Peak Refuel and AlpineAire.

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.

Breakfast

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! This is also something my kids will eat!!

Lunch

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

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 help 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. When we have our kids with us on backpacking adventures their favorite meal is definitely an Annie’s Mac + Cheese cup 🙂

Snacks

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.

San Rafael Swell, UT

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 your pack you will be good to go! What are some of your favorite meals to eat on the trails? If you have any good recipes drop them in the comments!

22 thoughts on “Favorite Backpacking Meals

  1. Yu have no idea how useful this is Melanie! Well, maybe you do BUT I am always on the lookout for what other backpackers eat on the trail and this is so helpful. For breakfast, I usually do the same, oatmeal with some dried fruit. Lots of times I’ll just do granola too so I can get a quick start to the day. Ramen is often my go-to dinner since it’s light and packs well, but I hear so many good things from all the backpacker meals, so I’ve started getting invested in those!! Thank you for this!

    1. I’m a huge ramen fan 😂 some of the dehydrated meals we’ve tried haven’t been that great- but most of the pasta ones actually aren’t that bad! You should try them! They are just as easy to cook you just boil water and add it to the pouch but they can get pricey which is the downside. If you try some let us know which ones you like!

      1. That’s so good to know. I’ve seen my friends use them, and it seems reallyyyy easy. Will definitely have to try it out at least once!!

  2. It is amazing how good some of the dehydrated meals can taste. We had many hits on our 3 day backcountry hike and only a few misses. We took along Carnation hot chocolate mix and Starbucks instant coffee packs. Mixed together they make a good trailer park mochaccino. For the peanut butter, I used a bottom fill tube similar to a toothpaste. I also mixed some peanut butter in with the instant oatmeal in the morning. Having clean water or water purification products with you is key. Stay well Melanie. Allan

    1. Oh yum! I love peanut butter in oatmeal! It feels like a great that way and great for energy! I agree most of the dehydrated meals we’ve tried have been great but we have had some we aren’t too fond of! Thankfully they’ve made lots of improvements over the years!
      Having clean water is always so important to think about! Purification systems are great so you’d rent packing all the water with you! Thanks for reading Allan

  3. Oatmeal and dried fruit is a definite winner early in the morning. Beef jerky is a great snack (we call it “biltong” here in South Africa). And it’s an absolute YES to fruit bars, nuts and peanut butter sachets to eat on the go. We discovered a dehydrated meal (Forever Fresh – South African brand) that taste like a home cooked meal – just what you need after a long day on your feet!
    You have a great selection here – thanks for sharing.

    1. Ahh I love hearing about other counties! I’m going to start calling beef Jerky biltong 😃 so many good options for food on the trails aren’t there? thank you for reading!

  4. We always bring tortillas with us when we go backcountry camping too. They are so much easier to pack than bread and you don’t have to worry about them getting squished. Dehydrated meals have come a long way. There’s some pretty tasty options out there and a great variety.

    1. Yes they definitely have come a long way! The first few I tried years ago I wasn’t too impressed- but thankfully the options out there and especially the taste is a lot better! Tortillas are the best aren’t they? We love taking them with us! Thanks for reading!!

  5. Thanks for this, it’s always nice to get some new meal ideas. I have a couple backpacking trips planned this summer and I’m trying to figure out how to maintain some variety in my food choices. This will help!

    1. You are welcome!! I love hearing what other people eat to add some variety to our meals too so I thought it would be good to share some of our favorites! I hope to see your backpacking trips blogged about so I can follow along! Thank you for reading!

      1. I will definitely be blogging all about them! Won’t be for a few months though since they’re not until July or August.

  6. These are all great 🙂 I am going to need to mix coconut and chia into my oatmeal next time – thank you for the idea. You folks do about the same that my son and I do – we pack a mix of freeze-dried backpacking meals and grocery store sourced dehydrated foods. One hack my son and I discovered by accident (but then found out we were not the only ones to figure this out by a long shot…) is to cook up an envelope of Knorr “Sides” (we especially like the Spanish Rice), and mix with a packet or two of some kind of seasoned chicken. We then dump in a mix of our favorite spices that we bring on every trip to jazz things up (heavy on the cumin and red pepper flakes). It’s a pretty hearty meal, and makes a good hot trail lunch or dinner. Ramen can be substituted for the Knorr “sides” and cooks up a bit faster that way. Someone out here on WordPress shared a backpacking Pad Thai recipe that I’m dying to try this year, too.

    1. Oh yum! I’ve actually never tried the knorr sides but I’ve heard a lot of people love them! We need to try them out this summer- we love trying to find ways to have warm hearty meals on the trails! Thanks for the suggestions!! And thanks for reading! If you try the pad Thai recipe make sure to share!!

  7. I haven’t backpacked since the 1960’s! Back then the packs were canvas and wood and the food was in its regular state. When I had kids I tent camped with the cooler next to the car! I love how far things have come since then.

  8. I love the Radix nutrition brand of dehydrated meals – they ship everywhere I think. Very tasty and nutritious. Great post, love your lunch ideas as I’m always looking for something a bit different and had never considered just taking some bread and peanut butter – seems like a no brainer but I’m such an over thinker

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