Fully Experience Your Backpacking Trek with Meals that Fuel Your Adventure and Still Taste Great
You did it! You booked that weekend backpacking trek with your crew. Now you need some ideas for backpacking meals. But meal planning for a backpacking trip can feel a little intimidating.
After a day’s hike, your feet are aching. Your thighs are burning. And your breasts are starting to chafe from being pressed together by your backpacking strap — seriously, when is someone going to fix that design flaw?
Your body and mind deserve the comfort of a good meal. While you don’t expect 5 star dining while you’re backpacking, that’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a few expedient comforts.
Seriously, why should you feel your muscles becoming more and more exhausted because you don’t want to carry the weight of sustenance?
I’ve been there, done that, and there’s nothing worse than getting to your gorgeous destination only to be too tired to fully experience it.
Backpacking is about balancing what your body needs with what you want.
You want backpacking meals that are quick and easy to make, but also delicious, comfort food after a long, hard day.
You need food that replenishes your muscles, refuels your cells, and renews your mind.
Oh yeah, and they need to be lightweight without a lot of packaging that turns into trash that you have to pack out.
Is that so much to ask?
First, let’s tackle 3 keys to easily make gourmet backpacking meals that fuel your adventure and still taste great.
Pre-package meals together
Prepare your meals simply
Easy Gourmet Backpacking Meals:
Step 1: Pre-mix your ingredients and spices.
What takes the most time when you’re cooking a meal?
The prep work.
You’ve got to trim your meat, measure out spices or dry ingredients, chop your veggies, etc. And that goes double for gourmet meals that have a lot of ingredients.
Lugging around a bunch of different spices and veggies isn’t a good idea when you’re backpacking. But that doesn’t mean you have to settle for bland food.
Pre-mix any spice combination, dry goods, or baking mixes before your trip.
Use a grain base for your meal that only requires water to rehydrate like quinoa, rice or pasta. With all of the measuring done beforehand, the only thing you have to do in camp is boil water and put it all together.
Step 2: Pre-package Backpacking Meals Together
Keeping all the ingredients you need for one meal packaged together, keeps your pack organized and makes unpacking your next meal easy.
Pre-package one meal together with as little material as possible. I’d also suggest labeling it with the day and mealtime as well as what it is.
If it’s all going into one pot, you can just put it in the same bag.
Step 3: Prepare your Gourmet Backpacking Meal on the Trail
Great job! You’ve made it to your first campsite and you’re ready to prepare your meal.
You’ve already done all the hard work. Now pull out the pre-marked meal, and start boiling water. Follow your recipe’s instructions, and bon appetit!
Those are the keys to making easy backpacking meals, but how do you make sure those meals replenish your body and still taste good?
What Cooking Equipment Do I Need to Make Gourmet Backpacking Meals?
Some Things Are Worth the Weight
I’ve back packed with the bare minimum of an oversized camp mug, camp knife, and water bottle. It worked out just fine, but it also taught me that some things are worth the weight.
Here’s what I use now:
1. Aluminum Mess Kit
Aluminum is lightweight, and heats up quickly. Bring at least the top and bottom of the mess kit, so you can then steam bake goodies on the trail.
2. Silicone Baking Cups
These beautiful inventions make baking on the trail possible. They are light, durable and easy to pack.
I keep my utensils simple. A lightweight combination fork and spoon, and my trusty camp knife.
4. Camp Stove and Fuel
As much as I love cooking over a campfire, you may find yourself in a circumstance where you’re not allowed to build a fire. It may be because there’s a drought in the area, or it may be the policy of that particular park.
So find a camp stove that fits your needs. For my backpacking meal recipes, I like to have a steady fuel source, so I prefer a compact gas stove.
What Food Should I Bring while Backpacking?
Bring Food that You Love
Contrary to typical backpacking wisdom, the most important factor in the food you bring while backpacking is not weight or type or packaging.
You see, the most important factor in choosing what food you should bring backpacking is whether or not you will actually eat it. So bring food for meals that you love.
Yes, I know oatmeal, boxed mac-n-cheese, and chicken and rice are some of the easiest and lightest foods you can bring backpacking, but they’re also the reason that I hated meal times when I was in Scouting — yes, I’m that picky eater.
What about Backpacking Nutrition?
Proper nutrition while backpacking lets you enjoy the journey — not just endure it
I used to look at my trips as purposeful deprivation to see how much I could endure. While it was certainly character building, it was also needless.
Sacrificing nutrition kept me from fully experiencing the places I got to see because I was always too tired to actually explore them.
Aside from bringing food you like, you should also bring the food with the nutrition that your body needs to replenish your muscles and renew your cells¹.
Ever experience leg cramps toward the end of your trails? Yeah, that’s your muscles not getting enough magnesium.
Can’t poop? That’s because you’ve been eating protein bars and chicken and rice for three days with little to no fiber and not a lot of fat.
When you choose not to replenish your body, you risk chances of serious injury when your muscles give out.
You need food that’s lightweight, won’t spoil, and is nutrient-dense. That’s actually why I don’t recommend bringing rice and traditional pasta.
Here are some nutrient-dense options that will take your backpacking meals from bland to gourmet:
1. Freeze-Dried, Dehydrated, or Sun-Dried Foods:
These foods are lightweight and delicious. Some dehydrated foods rehydrate really well, like sun-dried tomatoes — especially when you add balsamic vinegar and basil pesto. But we’ll get there in a minute.
Complete proteins are valuable sources of protein and fiber along with other essential nutrients like magnesium, iron, Omega 3s and B vitamins.
Quinoa, Flaxseed, and Chia seeds are good examples of complete proteins that are great substitutes.
And because they’re more nutrient-dense, a little goes a long way.
There are also a number of meats and cheeses that don’t require refrigeration and add tons of flavor to your meals.
Think pepperonis, bacon bits, parmesan — do you see where I’m going with this?
Nuts are a great source of healthy fats as are flaxseed and chia seeds, but don’t be afraid to pack some additional fat like whole coconut milk or olive oil. Yes, it’s heavier, but if you pre-mix properly you’ll find you’re not bringing a lot of extra weight.
4. Individual drink mixes:
While water should be your main source of hydration on the trail, having an electrolyte drink on hand in case of dehydration is a good idea.
Now that you’ve got a general idea of backpacker-friendly foods, let’s get into how to put together gourmet backpacking meals you’ll love.
How Do You Make Gourmet Backpacking Meals that You Actually Like?
It’s actually easier than you might think to come up with fresh ideas for backpacking meals. Chances are you already have the recipe, you just need to make backpacker-friendly substitutions.
First, make a list of all your favorite meals. Then, go through that list and narrow down all of the ones that are just not possible.
Once you’ve narrowed down the list, see what backpacker-friendly substitutions you can make to achieve the same tasty sensations of your favorites.
Here’s an example...
Chicken Caprese Pasta is a great example of a healthy, gourmet backpacking meal
A favorite meal of mine is Caprese. The combination of anything tomato, basil, mozzarella and balsamic vinegar is simply irresistible to me.
My Caprese Pasta recipe normally uses:
Balsamic and Olive oil dressing
Now, fresh tomatoes are too squishy for backpacking, so I substitute them for sun-dried tomatoes.
Spaghetti breaks too easily, so I exchange that with a short whole wheat or legume pasta like bowtie or shells.
Legume pastas use lentils or chickpeas in the pasta dough giving the pasta more protein and fiber than your traditional pasta.
Mozzarella is out because it’s a soft cheese that requires refrigeration, but parmesan works well — especially when you combine it into a pesto.
That’s right. I premix the rest of the ingredients and the parmesan cheese into a pesto. If you like pine nuts you can certainly add those too.
Now, all I have to do in camp is cook my pasta, drain most of the water, add my sundried tomatoes and fully cooked chicken to heat through, and then toss the pasta with the pesto.
Voila! Chicken Caprese Pasta on the trail. It’s an easy, nutritious, filling, delicious backpacking meal that is lightweight, inexpensive, and quick to cook. Oh, and this is also great with bacon bits. Yummm…
That was a fun example. Now, let’s sweeten the pot. Because a hard day’s work deserves dessert!
The Best Backpacking Dessert I’ve Ever Ha
It’s no secret that I have a sweet tooth and a chocolate addiction. So I figured out how to make my favorite dessert while backpacking: Chocolate Coconut Cake
Remember those silicone cups? Yep, this is their main purpose. Using a steam bake method, I can bake cupcakes, muffins, dumplings, and biscuits on the trail.
I cut down the regular recipe to just 2 servings and pre-mix all of the dry ingredients beforehand. It comes out to about a cup of dry mix, and half a cup of liquids.
And it’s worth every ounce!
Normally this cake uses eggs, but they’re hard to subdivide and harder to pack, so I use milled flaxseed instead.
I bring a carton of unopened coconut milk that doesn’t need to be refrigerated. I use most of it to make a creamy sauce at dinner and reserve a couple tablespoons for the cake.
At camp, after I make dinner, I put a little water in my mess kit to boil, then I set the batter-filled silicone cups into the boiling water. Make sure the water isn’t more than half way up the cups or else you’ll get soggy cake instead of fluffy, moist, amazing cake.
Finally, I put the lid on and let it bake for about 10-15 minutes while I eat my dinner.
Now you may think that the cake will come out sticky instead of fluffy because of the steam, but trust me it doesn’t! — remember? I’m picky.
It comes out better than when I make it at home because I’ve never had my cakes burn while I’m steam baking.
Ideas for Backpacking Meals Are Endless...
You are a queen! Don't deprive yourself when you’re backpacking.
Use this guide to get the most out of your next backpacking adventure.
Open your mind to more creative ideas for your backpacking meals that you know you’ll already love. There really is no limit to what you can replicate on the trail depending on the place and time of year.
Elon Jones is a former Venturing Silver Award Scout who grew up in Tampa, Fl. She believes in good food, good friends, while being a good steward of the Earth. She loves her husband and chocolate with about the same degree of passion.