“What food should I take backpacking?” This is one of the most common questions from new backpackers. And for good reason! You can't exactly take many perishable items which can make your options feel limited.
Luckily, more and more convenient food options are becoming available to backpackers. Calorie-dense packaged meals and snacks aren't a great way to eat at home. However, they're a great option out on the trail when you're burning lots of calories.
So, what food should you pack for your backcountry trip? We've outlined some calorie-packed and healthy options for every meal below, including snacks. Plus, we've included some tips for packing, choosing food, and more.
Backpacking Breakfast Ideas
- Coffee - Instant coffee packs are very convenient. Tea bags are another option if you don't drink coffee.
- Dehydrated milk - Great addition to your coffee or cereal/granola.
- Powdered water mixes - These are great if you're not a coffee drinker, but need an extra kick in the morning. Some have added caffeine and are sugar-free.
- Protein/nutritional shake mix - Just add water!
- Instant oatmeal - Mix up your own or buy a box of the Quaker instant oatmeal packs at the store.
- Trail mix - This one might be better as a snack later in the day, but makes a quick and easy breakfast if you need to start early.
- Dehydrated, freeze-dried, or fresh fruit - Alternatively, fresh apples and oranges will hold up well for a few days in your pack.
- Energy or fruit bars
- Cereal - Some cereal tastes better without milk!
- Dehydrated trail meals - Mountain House and Backpacker's Pantry have some pretty tasty breakfast options. The Biscuits and Gravy is a favorite among hikers.
- OvaEasy Eggs - Yes, there are even powdered eggs now!
- Pop-tarts - A simple and easy way to start your day!
Backpacking Snack Ideas
- Trail mix - There are tons of varieties and you can also make your own. Just visit the bulk foods section of your grocery store for a ton of options.
- Dehydrated, freeze-dried, or fresh fruit
- Granola bars, fruit bars, energy bars - Again, there are tons of them available. For the most calorie-dense options, choose something with lots of nuts and seeds.
- Lenny and Larry's Complete Cookies - They have extra protein and they're actually good! The snickerdoodle ones will please any sweet tooth.
- Jerky - There are tons of different varieties now.
- Peanut butter - JIF has some in convenient cups that are about the size of an applesauce.
- Applesauce - Pouches are best and the waste packs down small.
- Cheese or peanut butter crackers
- Fruit leather
- Candy of your choice - This is always a nice treat between or after meals.
Backpacking Lunch Ideas
- Summer sausage, salami, or pepperoni - Most should keep well for a few days.
- Tuna packets
- Hard cheeses - Similar to meats, a hard cheese should last a few days.
- Peanut butter
- Jelly or honey
- Tortillas and Pita Bread - These are great bread replacements to go along with the meat, cheese, peanut butter, etc.
Backpacking Dinner Ideas
- Dehydrated trail meals - These are a staple for most backpackers. There are tons of brands availalbe now, so you're bound to find one that pleases your taste buds.
- Ramen noodles
- Instant rice
- Pasta bags - Lots of options, such as Knorr Pasta Sides
- Instant Velveeta Mac n Cheese
- Instant/heat up meals - Think about anything that is shelf-stable and just needs to be heated up. For example, this Saag Paneer from Jyoti isn't bad if you like Indian food. Pair it with some instant rice and a tortilla for a nice, filling meal!
- Summer sausage and other shelf-stable meats
- Tuna packets
- Hard cheeses
- Instant mashed potatoes - Try one of the Idahoan flavored ones, like cheddar or loaded baked potato. Yum!
- Instant soups
- Freeze-dried and dehydrated meats and veggies come in handy for adding to meals.
For even more ideas, look through various backpacking Reddit groups. When it comes to backpacking food, there are almost endless options if you look hard enough.
Tips on Packing
When it comes to food, pack as light and compact as possible. Food can take up an absurd amount of space and weight in your pack. You don't want to run out of food, but you also don't want to carry around pounds of extra food, either.
When it comes to the actual packing, organizing your food is a great idea. Do yourself a favor and try to organize it according to when you plan on eating it. Then you won't have to dig to the bottom of your stash to make a meal, rearranging everything else in the process. You could also bag individual meals for even more ease. Doing this will also help you evaluate if you have enough/too much food.
Consider the weather when choosing food options. Some nice, warm ramen or soup will help warm you up in cool weather. Fresh foods are revitalizing when it's warmer out. Just make sure to eat them before they have a chance to spoil!
Don't forget your condiments and seasonings! A great way to stock up on these is by saving all the extra condiment packets you get from fast food places. Just because you're backpacking doesn't mean your food has to be bland!
Titanium cooking pots are great for backpacking. They're ultralight, but extremely durable.
How Much Food Should I Bring?
The average person will need around 2,500 to 3,000 calories per day under normal conditions. Increase that to 4,500 to 5,000 for strenuous hikes, depending on your weight. Everyone is different, though. Keep your own needs in mind when checking the calories per gram count on labels.
Calorie-dense and protein-packed foods are your friends when it comes to backpacking. These give you the energy you need without adding extra weight and volume to your pack.
Can I Make My Own Backpacking Food?
Yes, definitely! You'll need to invest in a dehydrator or vacuum sealer (or borrow a friend's.) You could also make homemade jerky by using your oven at a low temperature. There are lots of recipes online if this is something that you're willing to tackle.
It can be a lot of fun to create your own trail-ready snacks and meals. You'll know exactly what's in your food and can customize the food to your exact preferences.
With a little preparation and research, it's not that difficult to find some great foods and meals for your backcountry hikes.
What are some of your favorite trail foods? Please be sure to share in the comments.
Looking for more backpacking information? Head over to our Backpacking 101 page. We cover everything from knot tying to trail emergencies. Some good places to start are: