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Backpacking Meals: What to Eat on the Trail

Backpacking meals
Photo by Dave Giordano

One of my personal battles with backpacking is always the question, what am I going to eat on the trail? I love hiking long distances and setting up camp but I don’t love freeze-dried backpacking meals. I used to pack my backpack full of granola bars and trail mix and try to make it as far as I could. With a 200+ mile trip on the John Muir Trail coming up, I started doing a little more research on easy, lightweight and good tasting backpacking meals.

I’ve found that backpacking meals don’t have to taste bad. It is possible to make easy lightweight meals that are filled with the nutrients you need to keep moving on the trail. I’ve found rice, quinoa, and dried potato flakes all make great bases for an easy meal. If you add spices such as dried soup packets or homemade concoctions, you can make a great tasting meal. Add in some pouched chicken, pouched tuna, beef jerky or dried vegetables and you’ll surely have all the vitamins and protein you’ll need.

I’ve made a beef and noodle meal with beef jerky, a chicken and stuffing with canned or pouched chicken and even a tuna noodle casserole all on a small backpacking stove. If you follow the basic formula of a lightweight base such as rice, add an easy spice packet, then add a source of protein, you can get quite creative with your backpacking recipes.

Here are some ingredients that are great for creating easy backpacking meals:

  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Dried potato flakes
  • Stuffing
  • Beef Jerky
  • Summer Sausage
  • Packaged Peperoni
  • Dehydrated Vegetables
  • Pouched Tuna or Chicken
  • String Cheese
  • Dried Soup Packets
  • Pasta Noodles

There are a lot of different backpacking recipes you can put together using the above ingredients. Summer sausage and packaged peperoni can stay in a backpack for a few days, it only needs refrigerated after it is open. Likewise, string cheese is okay for a day or so without refrigeration and it melts okay if you cut it into little discs. You can do a lot of different backpacking recipes without relying on dehydrated or free-dried ingredients.

For more backpacking meal ideas, check out these recipes: Tuna Noodler, Pizza Taters, and Backpacking Beef and Noodles.

Do you have a favorite backpacking recipe? Let us know about it in the comments below.

Editor’s Note: Please join me in welcoming Andy Hawbaker as a guest blogger on Brian’s Backpacking Blog. Andy enjoys hiking, backpacking, camping and exploring the Rocky Mountains. When he isn’t on the trail, he shares his experiences on the Sierra SocialHub.

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  • dombro

    Real rice or converted rice? Big difference in cooking.

    • By “converted rice” do you mean pre-cooked and dried?

  • Vincent

    Pre-cooked/dry/flavoured lentils ! Ultra quick and big amount of calories/proteins. There is only one brand making that in France so I don’t know if it is available in the US

  • Love rice :) Great recipe ideas

  • i have several things i eat on the trail

    some of the things i eat that are not mentioned are

    ~3 min quick noodles
    ~mac and cheese with the powdered cheese
    ~ tortillas

    there is alot more ya just gotta think outside the box and test alot at home in freezer bags

  • Daniel

    For dinner I like a presto tortellini meal that uses:
    -Barilla dry tortellini stuffed with spinach and ricotta
    -powdered pesto sauce mix and powdered milk
    -pepperoni slices
    -sun-dried tomatos

    I think it’s pretty easy to make and fairly light as well. The dry tortellini isn’t always available in every store, but I can find it most places, and the pesto sauce can be found in the powered soup area. There are some other sauce that you can switch it up with too like Alfredo, Bearnaise, garlic butter, etc.

    For lunch or sometimes dinner I make little tuna wraps where I use a pouch of sweet and spicy tuna made by starkist with some mayo, pepperoni, and whatever cheese you like to carry. I a lot of times just buy a block of pepper jack or sharp cheddar and keep it in a ziplock bag. It seems to be just fine for probably three days unrefrigerated, but I usually eat it faster than that anyway. The mayo I usually just grab a couple packets of it from the deli where I’m resupplying.

    I once meet a hiker eating a bag of chocolate muffin mix batter that was just add water to the powder. MASSIVE calorie payout with very low weight. Not sure I could ever go that low though…

  • Brian, thanks for posting this! i’m going to try out a few things at the end of this month on a weekend trip! I’ll share some ideas when i get around to testing things!

  • Joe

    Couscous is a great base for backpacking.