Backpacking Food Ideas
For the Big Days, Chill Days, and
Everything in Between
Nothing tastes better than the first bite of dinner when you’ve just hiked 10 miles with 35 pounds on your back and you’re hungry enough to eat a pinecone. Thankfully, with this backpacking food planning guide, you won’t have to! Figuring out how to eat while backpacking can be as simple or as complex as you like; there isn’t a right or a wrong way. As long as you’re nourished, satisfied, and ready to hit the trail in the morning, you’re doing backpacking food right.
How do you plan for backpacking meals?
It’s best to break down a backpacking meal plan in stages. Start with how many days and nights you’ll be out there. Figure out how many meals that’ll mean. Then, decide what kind of trip is it. Are you planning huge mile days with massive vert gains? Best to keep your food lightweight, calorie-dense and simple to prepare. A casual romp on flatland? You can make more complex meals because you’ll have more energy at the end of the day, and a little extra weight from more ingredients won’t feel as punishing.
How much backpacking food should you bring?
Plan on breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks daily. Roughly 3,000 to 4,000 calories per day per person is a good, healthy starting point, since even a mellow backpacking trip means hunger-boosting exertion. Count up the meals, then plan enough food for backpacking one extra day—unexpected nights out can happen. Bringing a little too much food is always better than too little. Plus, it means you can pig out on the last night.
Food Packing Tips for Backpacking
Containers are key
You’re gonna want to get inventive with containers. We use MiiR canisters for keeping soups, stews and grains hot. Reusable plastic bottles are good for olive oil and hot sauce—seal them in reusable baggies. Same for nut butter, honey, anything that could leak inside your pack. Baggies work for salt, pepper and a few tablespoons of a versatile spice like our Organic Taco Seasoning Spice Blend; mayo and mustard packets can go in baggies too. Are you bringing alcohol? If so, you’ll want to tote it in small plastic bladders to save weight.
Bonus tip for cleanup: A small bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap is a must. You can wash pots, plates and utensils with it as well as your hands and face. And never, ever, go backpacking without a trusty microfiber towel for drying.
Packing it up
Food will often be the heaviest thing you bring, so it’s best to store it in the middle of your pack to keep the weight centered on your back. Store snacks where you can easily reach them, in stash pockets, hip belt pockets and the top lid of your pack. If you’re bringing a bear-proof canister, stuff everything in that. If not, keep food in a closed dry sack.
How to Store Food While Backpacking
First thing to do is check requirements for food storage where you’re headed. Even if bear- proof food canisters are not required, they’re generally a good idea anyway: They protect your food from being crushed, prevent spills, and keep other non-bear critters out of your stash.
Note: In bear country, according to the National Park Service, always store your food 100 feet from your tent, sealed in a canister or a food locker. Bears have a keen sense of smell, and anything with a scent will draw them—soaps, cosmetics, toothpaste, trash, sunscreen, bug repellant, fuel, and even canned goods. Store these in canisters or lockers too.
Backpacking Meal Ideas
If you’re humping big-time miles, it’s best to keep things nice and simple. Breakfast can be a couple of nutrition bars; lunch some hard cheese, nuts, and dried meats and fruits; and dinner a simple rehydrated meal that’s big on calories and requires little more than boiling water and stirring. If you’re on a more casual backcountry trip, hot breakfasts of cereals or powdered eggs are a nice camp luxury; sandwiches or wraps with condiments are great lunch; and a dinner that requires a bit more effort to prepare, with more ingredients to pack, will be well worth it. Backpacker food should be stuff you can eat right out of the pack while you’re on the move. If you’re in a group of at least two people, bring two backpacking stoves. That way you can boil water in one and cook something in another, especially useful at breakfast when coffee is just as important as food.
We’ve laid out some of our favorite backpacking meals below. Fatty, salty, highly processed food might taste great after a long day on the trail, but you’ll want solidly nutritious meals instead, to boost your stamina for whatever the following day may bring—including a hike out of the backcountry to that favorite burger joint.
Backpacking Breakfast Ideas
Organic Breakfast Grains topped with dried raspberries and walnuts
Our Organic Creamy Banana Breakfast Grains cereal cooks up in minutes for a hearty meal on its own. Add dried raspberries from your snack stash and a handful of Old Dog Ranch Maple Walnuts for a sweet, crunchy bonus.
Eggs and Black Pepper Wild Pink Salmon Wrap
Boil water, pour it over powdered eggs, stir, and presto—surprisingly serviceable scrambled eggs, no frying pan needed. Flake in some of our Black Pepper Wild Pink Salmon, wrap it all in a warmed flour tortilla, and you’ll forget you’re a dozen miles from your car.
Apples + walnut butter
When you just wanna hit the trail at dawn, apples will do the trick deliciously—either sliced fresh or from a bag of Sauk Farm Organic Dried Honeycrisp Apples. Eat ‘em with a few spoonfuls of Organic Just Walnut Butter.
Backpacking Lunch Ideas
Tinned anchovies and crackers
Simple but elegant. Just open a tin of our Roasted Garlic Spanish White Anchovies and scoop them up with crackers.
Almond butter + honey on pita
For a satisfying energy boost with a sweet pick-me-up, stuff some knifefuls of The Philosopher’s Stoneground Naked Crunchy Sprouted Almond Butter into a pita’s pocket with some smears of Organic Moloka’i Honey. Nut butters and honey can be stored in small, lightweight plastic containers and pita will last a few days in a backpack.
Venison Links, dried fruits + parmesan
As easy as a backpacking meal gets. Pick out a flat rock, spread out a bandanna and assemble a mini charcuterie board, loaded with our Lightly Smoked Venison Links and your favorite dried fruits along with a few hunks of parmesan. Hard cheeses will be just fine in a backpack for days, provided the weather isn’t sweltering.
Backpacking Dinner Ideas
Lemon Caper Mackerel and Organic Tsampa Soup
Organic Red Bean Chili with crushed corn chips
Chili is fantastic after a strenuous day on the trail—tasty and filling. Load a hot bowl of protein-rich red-bean chili with your favorite corn chips for a satisfying crunch. If your chips get crushed in your pack while hiking, that’s great; your pack is like a sous chef.
Meals on the last night of a backpacking trip can often mean scrounging for whatever you have left, but don’t do that. Instead, plan ahead and savor the hike’s final evening with a luxurious seafood “paella” that’s far easier to prepare than it sounds.
Backpacking Snack Ideas
Dried nuts and fruit
Make your own trail mix by combining Old Dog Ranch Golden Herb Walnuts with your favorite dried fruits for a sweet-and-savory mix.
Fresh fruits and veggies
Hard fruits--like apples, not-quite-ripe pears and oranges--and sturdy veggies like carrots and snap peas will keep just fine in a backpack for a few days.
A Backpacking Food Plan Your Way
Backpacking isn’t exactly the time to dive into complex culinary adventures, but it also doesn’t have to be one sodium-bomb after another of ramen or boil-in-a-bag dehydrated meals. Backcountry trips will be more enjoyable if your meals are something you look forward to, rather than fuel-ups to be endured. Plan to eat well, stick to that plan, and your food will help make the trip a great one.