Hitting the trail for a three day weekend, but unsure what you’re going to eat? Preparing food that is both calorically dense, nutrient rich, lightweight, and tasty is one of the most intimidating aspects of planning a backpacking trip.
However, with the correct preparation, backpacking food can easily be transformed into both nutritious and delicious meals enjoyed by everyone. The following meal plan outlines a sample three day backpacking menu. Some of the recipes require basic prepping ahead of time, also explained below.
Breakfast: Peanut Butter Chocolate Oats
This protein-packed breakfast is a fantastic way to kick start your first day on the trail. Filled with fiber and deep flavor, this bowl of oats is hearty enough to keep you satisfied for hours.
1/2 cup instant oats
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons peanut butter
Before you hit the trail, combine the oats and cocoa powder together in a bag. In the morning, distribute the oat-cocoa mixture into bowls. Boil water, and pour roughly 1/3-1/2 cup of water into each bowl. Stir to combine, and top with a dollop of peanut butter. Instant oats are ideal for backpacking since they do not require any cook time, needing only the addition of hot water. What that means for you? No dishes.
Lunch: Tuna and Cheese “Melt”
It is wise to eat your bulkiest and heaviest foods early in the trip, in order to reduce your pack weight. This recipe utilizes cheese and tuna, both of which are great protein options, but tend to be on the heavier side.
In addition, while fresh green are nearly impossible to keep fresh while backpacking, keeping a small plastic bag of spinach to use on your first day will help you absorb some greens into your system before you go a few days with limited vegetables.
1 whole wheat tortilla
1 pack tuna
3 slices hard cheddar cheese
1/2 small bag spinach
Roll the tuna, spinach and cheese into the tortilla. If desired, garnish with black pepper.
Dinner: Spinach Burrito Bowls
Easily customizable, this recipe is great for larger groups. A balance of carbohydrates and protein, it is the perfect recovery meal, while still supplying enough calories and nutrients to fuel your body for your second day. Taco seasoning can be purchased in individual packs (think ketchup sized packets) or transferred into a small plastic bag ahead of time.
1 bag precooked rice and beans mixture (Uncle Ben’s, Seeds of Change, etc.)
2 slices cheddar cheese
1/2 small bag spinach (remainder for lunch)
In your camp stove, warm the rice and cheese together until the cheese begins to melt. Stir in the taco seasoning until combined. Transfer to a bowl. Top with the remaining fresh spinach.
Breakfast: Crunchy Oatmeal
Another take on oatmeal to add variety to the classic breakfast grain. This recipe calls for plain oats topped with a crumbled granola bar. Crumbling a granola bar on top of oats reduces the need to carry granola, which can be a heavy snack item.
In addition, using crunchy granola bars provides a wide variety of flavors to choose from. This is especially beneficial for larger groups, so that everyone can personalize their ideal breakfast bowl.
Also read: Pinole – The Perfect Homemade Energy Snack?
1/2 cup instant oats
1 crunchy granola bar (any flavor)
Boil water and pour on top of the dry oats. Stir until the oats have absorbed the water. Crumble a crunchy granola bar on top of the oats and mix together.
Lunch: Chicken and Cheese Crackers
Simple, but so satisfying. Cheese and crackers are elevated with the addition of packaged chicken.
Spread a thin layer of canned chicken on a cracker, and top with a slice of cheddar cheese.
Dinner: Noodle Coconut Curry
Why not throw some Thai food into your backpacking menu? This recipe is surprisingly simple, with only three ingredients. It is also creamy and flavorful, with deceptively light ingredients.
1 package instant noodles
1 package dehydrated coconut milk powder
3 tablespoons curry powder
Cook the ramen noodles according to the package. Once cooked, do not drain the noodles. Mix in the coconut milk powder and curry powder until no powdered chunks remain.
Breakfast: Peanut Butter Cranberry Roll Up
If by the third day of backpacking you are craving something other than oatmeal for breakfast, try these sweet breakfast wraps.
1 whole wheat tortilla
2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons dried cranberries (or any dried fruit)
Spread the peanut butter on the tortilla. Top with dried fruit, and roll into a protein-filled breakfast wrap. The natural sugars in the dried fruit, fat from the peanut butter, and carbohydrates in the tortillas combine to make a perfectly balanced final breakfast.
Charcuterie is essentially just a way to assemble snack like foods into a fancy sounding meal. Combine any remaining snacks from the trip into an aesthetically pleasing spread.
Dried fruits (cranberries, apricots, etc.)
Summer sausage or beef jerky
Nibble from any remaining snacks you have. Try to incorporate fats, protein, and carbohydrate into your meal.
Dinner: Italian Pesto Pasta
A celebratory pasta is a great way to culminate the end of your backpacking trip. Packed with carbohydrates to help you recover, this meal will make you second guess your decision to leave the trail.
8 oz dried noodles
1 packet dried pesto sauce mix
Boil noodles for approximately 8-9 minutes. Drain the noodles, keeping about one inch of pasta water in the pot. Stir in the dry pesto mix until all the noodles are evenly coated.
Tips and Tricks
1. Buy Pre-Packaged Oatmeal
Looking to avoid washing dishes in the morning? Pre-packaged oatmeal packets are a perfect solution. You can pour hot water directly in the packet with the oats, avoiding the need to dirty any bowls.
2. Repack Ahead of Time
Many foods come in heavy or bulky packaging. Try and repackage as many of your foods as possible into alternative bags and containers that will save weight and space. Pasta in a box is much easier to pack when it is in a plastic bag. Don’t be afraid to combine foods in order to reduce the need for multiple packages.
3. Perfect Your Meal Timing
When meal prepping for a backpacking trip, keep in mind what day each meal should be eaten in order to lose the greatest amount of food weight and bulk as early as possible. Any fresh produce, heavy packs of rice, beans, and meat should be eaten first, while foods such as pasta and dried powders are lighter and better eaten later in the trip.
4. Make it Vegan!
Any of the above meal ideas can be made vegan or vegetarian by excluding the meat and cheese. Vegan backpacking food can be equally delicious and nutritious, and only requires a couple simple swaps. Swap chicken wraps for peanut butter tortillas, and cheese and crackers with any dairy alternative.
Going Ultralight? How to Modify Your Menu
Ultralight backpacking poses an even greater challenge as far as meal planning. If you are an ultralight backpacker, your allocated space for food and cooking equipment is drastically reduced. Below are some tips on how to adjust your food menu if you are an ultralight backpacker.
1. No Room For Fluff
Ultralight backpacking requires that you pack only the foods necessary for sustenance. There will have to be sacrifices in the variety of foods. For example, instead of carrying both pasta and rice, it is better to pick one and eat it multiple times in order to reduce packaging. In addition, luxury food items like dried fruit, summer sausage, and crackers may have to be forgone.
2. Count Your Calories
It is essential that you consume enough calories to match your expenditure on the trail. Since ultralight backpackers have less room for food, it is essential that the food brought is dense enough to provide adequate calories. Nuts, cheese, and peanut butter are examples of calorically dense foods that are fairly compact. These are better options as opposed to fresh fruit, rice cakes, and popcorn, which take up a large amount of space without providing significant calories.
3. Consider Taking a Multivitamin
Although many will argue that multivitamins are unnecessary with a balanced diet, long-long-distance ultralight backpackers may find that a balanced diet equipped with enough vegetables and fruits is too difficult to maintain without supplementing. Consider a multivitamin that contains powdered greens such as kale and spirulina.
With the correct preparation, backpacking cooking does not have to be intimidating, and certainly does not have to be tasteless or boring. The most important things to keep in mind in regards to backpacking food is weight and packaging distribution. However, with each trip, your camp kitchen skills will grow, as will your understanding of your personal caloric needs, helping you eliminate unnecessary food weight.
As a solo female traveler, Katie is passionate about exploring outdoor spaces, involving others in the fight against climate change, and being a student of the world. She has traveled the U.S. in her van in order to film a documentary on solo female travel, and is currently on a mission to travel the world armed with nothing but a backpack and a fierce desire to taste the best local dessert in as many places as possible.