In this article, we’re going to discuss the best meats on the market to take backpacking – as well as why they are great options, and everything to take into account to ensure that you’ll enjoy your meals on the trail.
Meat is an integral component of many of our diets when we’re at home. So, why should that change out on the trail? It is nutrient-dense, providing protein, fats, and much-needed calories to give energy on your adventure, and with the proper planning, meat is simple to transport, cook and enjoy – no matter where you end up.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of eating exclusively trail mix and prepared peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every time you go hiking, camping or backpacking – and while these foods can be tasty and easy to transport, it’s easy to get sick of eating the same thing over and over again.
The 8 best meats you can take backpacking:
Jerky can be made from a variety of meats and seasoned with a huge range of flavorings – making it a food choice that’s difficult to get bored of. It’s versatility makes it a popular choice for backpackers around the globe, and turkey and beef options are a common favorite.
Nutrient-packed, beef jerky makes an ideal snack for active backpackers. Properly dried jerky can be kept un-refrigerated, so there’s no concern about keeping it cold in a backpack while traveling.
It can be made at home using a smoker or food dehydrator, reducing the amount of money you’ll need to spend on backpacking foods (although your regular supermarket probably has great options too!)
2. Foil Packed Tuna/Salmon/Chicken
Foil-packed meats are a good option for those who want a lightweight and hassle-free meal option. The premise of foil-packed meals is that the meat is pre-cooked before being sealed in airtight foil packaging, often vacuum-packed to remove excess oxygen and moisture.
Packed with iron, vitamins and protein, the foil packaging keeps this meat light, so you won’t be adding unnecessary weight to your backpack.
They can be made at home or purchased from backpacking/outdoor stores and online retailers. Although, it is important to note that if you do not vacuum seal your homemade foil-packed meats they will not last as long as airtight products.
3. Dry Salami
One of the best meats for longer backpacking trips, hard/dry salami can last up to one year unopened and un-refrigerated if it has a natural casing (if not, it is still suitable for consumption for up to 2 weeks).
Curing salt is used to preserve salami, so the sodium content of this meat is something to bear in mind if you intend on consuming it often throughout your trip – make sure you have plenty of water on hand to counteract the high salt content. This being said, dried food holds its nutrients, so you’re still going to get the protein, fat, and micro-nutrients you’re after.
4. Pre-Cooked Bacon
Similar to jerky, pre-cooked bacon can be purchased in many supermarkets or online – there are a range of varieties available and many are shelf-stable and do not need to be refrigerated until opening – ideal for backpacking.
This variety of bacon can last up to two weeks unopened provided it is kept out of harsh sunlight and intense heat. Once opened, try and consume within 4-5 days and preferably keep at a low temperature where possible.
You can precook bacon at home – simply line a baking tray with raw bacon strips and bake at around 400 degrees Fahrenheit just until it starts to crisp up. It can be wrapped in a paper towel to absorb extra moisture and and stored in a zip-lock bag – it will last even longer if you can it.
Pre-cooked bacon can be added to all sorts of meals, and ensures a convenient meal or snack at any campsite or rest stop – the meat just needs to be heated for a fraction of the time that it would usually need to be cooked for.
Using pre-cooked bacon doesn’t always guarantee the same crispy texture you’d get from cooking it raw, however it does save on the need for a lot of oil that you would otherwise need to carry with you.
5. Summer Sausage
Summer sausages tend to be a combination of pork, game or beef, and unlike some more popular backpacking meat products, they tend to be relatively . Summer sausages come in a sealed package with a variety of flavors and seasonings, and do not need to be kept refrigerated (although they do tend to fair better in lower temperatures).
Once opened, it is suggested to consume summer sausages within a week to avoid unhealthy bacteria growth, but they are also available in smaller individual portion sizes and packages to last longer out on the road.
Nutritionally, summer sausages are high in fats – great for when you’re active and on the go, and need sustained energy throughout the day.
Prosciutto is a cured, uncooked ham product that is a good option for backpacking as it can be stored out of the refrigerator for up to a week. Prosciutto is best stored in paper, plastic or beeswax so that it doesn’t dry out.
It can be treated and used similarly to dry salami, but doesn’t have a natural hard casing so tends not to last as long at un-refrigerated temp. Here’s a recipe to try for your next hike or backpacking trip: Prosciutto Date Wraps by Must Hike Must Eat
7. Meat Bars
Meat bars are packed with protein and provide enough calories to give you that extra boost of energy on a grueling hike. What’s more, their low glycemic index ensures a slow sustained release of energy over time, so you won’t experience that sugar crash that accompanies some energy bars available on the market.
If biting into a chunk of just dried meat doesn’t appeal to you, not to fear – you can buy meat bars which, despite the name, also contain their fair share of fruit, vegetables and nuts, a combination of ingredients that fit into a paleo diet – supposedly what our cavemen ancestors once ate and thrived on. Additionally, many producers pride themselves on sourcing grass-fed and cage-free meats.
Meat bars (like these from Epic Provisions) come individually wrapped, and are shelf-stable – meaning you don’t have to stress about keeping them at fridge temperature when they’re in your backpack. Many different allergen free options are available, so those with dietary restrictions don’t need to stress about feeling unwell when backpacking as well.
8. Pork Rinds
Inexpensive and high in calories, protein, and fat, pork rinds are that you can buy at most supermarkets. They are made from the skin of a pig, dried and then fried in hot oil, and are versatile in how they can be used – making them a great backpacking snack.
Pork rinds come in a variety of flavors and can be eaten straight from the packet, crushed to make breadcrumbs, and incorporated into your favorite backpacking recipes.
Just like packet chips, pork rinds purchased from the supermarket often come in sealed packets that can last months out of the fridge. If opened and exposed to air they do become stale after a few days which can be a little unpleasant, but not unsafe to eat. Or, you can make your own following this recipe.
How do you store meat for backpacking?
For preserved, dried, or prepared meats like the ones listed above, the key to safe storage is to limit exposure to moisture and oxygen, which includes ensuring that any meat you have prepared yourself is properly dried out and preserved.
If you’re worried, you can bring paper towels to wrap around meat products and absorb extra moisture (but remember that any garbage you bring needs to be properly disposed of). Packing food products in the middle of your backpack will not only keep them relatively cool but will also balance the weight on your back, making your backpacking experience a more comfortable one.
Can you bring steak backpacking?
Steak is food that you can bring with you on a backpacking trip IF you plan to consume it on the first night. The key is to completely freeze the steak ahead of time, then wrap it in plastic (such as a Ziploc bag) and layers of freezer paper or newspaper.
It should be stored in the middle of your pack and the backpack should be kept out of the sun as much as possible. In theory, by the time dinner rolls around it should have thawed out just in time to cook on a hot fire or grill.
How do you keep meat cold while backpacking?
As a general rule, it’s best not to take raw meat on a backpacking trip if you can’t keep it at fridge temperature, as warmth encourages the growth of harmful bacteria such as Salmonella or E. Coli.
If you’re set on taking raw meat ingredients and are going to consume them on the first night of the trip, some backpackers have success with thoroughly freezing their meats, and storing them in the coolest part of their backpack to thaw out throughout the first day – even better if you have an insulated pack.
Ice packs can be useful, but tend to add weight to your pack, and they’re pretty useless once unfrozen.
Other Considerations When Backpacking with Meat
If you’re backpacking in wild animal country, all food needs to be properly stored to stop it from becoming an animal attractant – and this includes meat.
Bear canisters are portable twist-top containers that reduce the scent coming from food stored inside them (this being said, they should still be kept away from camps overnight as the smell of food is not totally eliminated).
All camping or backpacking requires you to bring food. So, it is worth investing in a few products to keep your food safe, and learning skills such as suspending food high up in trees – or avoiding bringing heavily scented meats and other foods altogether.
Just because meat is freeze-dried, preserved or vacuum-sealed, does not mean it should be stored in hot environments for long periods of time. Although the risk is certainly lower than when dealing with raw meats, there is still the risk of bacteria growth in less than ideal environments.
Ideally, most of the meat products listed above should be stored at or below 64-68 degrees Fahrenheit (18-20 degrees Celsius), which is considered to be room temperature. Easy enough when you’re hiking in a cooler destination, but something to consider if your destination is in a warmer, humid climate.
Sometimes, it’s best to use meat on the first day, and rely on a vegetarian diet or restocking as you go (if possible) for the remainder of your trip.
My Closing Thoughts
Just because you don’t have access to kitchen amenities when backpacking, doesn’t mean you have to compromise on delicious foods and proper nutrition! On some camping trips, I enjoy slow-cooking chicken or pork over an open fire, but it isn’t always practical.
I personally love taking dried meats such as salami and prosciutto on my hiking and backpacking trips – they require no cooking, and can easily be added to other simple ingredients to make a tasty meal or snack. They are lightweight and easy to fit into my backpack, and I don’t have to stress about keeping them at fridge temperature as I hike up a mountain or through a valley.
Meat has a great balance of protein and fats and provides much-needed calories to keep you feeling energized throughout your trip. With the proper precautions, it’s a great addition to any backpacking meal plan.
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Erick is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast. Growing up in Nairobi Kenya and now calling Glasgow, United Kingdom home. Sipping on homemade spiced swahili tea and enjoying a good book is his idea of bliss.