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Backpacking Food Essentials

Image credit: @jillianabrownphotography

Spring is coming soon, and that means time to hit the trails for some back country exploring. Heading deep into the wilderness is the perfect cure for any late winter cabin fever you may be experiencing. Getting to the depths of the woods means backpacking for at least a couple days. After water and shelter, your biggest task is packing food. 

Packing meals for a backpacking trip requires a whole different set of guidelines than a camping trip. You have to carry all this on your back, so there are a few guiding principles. It should be:

  • Lightweight
  • Nutrient dense
  • Fast cooking
  • Minimal packaging
  • Compactible - meaning it will not be destroyed in your pack

One of the easiest ways to organize your meals is in a bunch of zip bags. You can put smaller bags for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner into larger bags for each day. Be sure to label them all really clearly and include cooking instructions if needed. Of course you can buy the pre-packaged, freeze dried meals, but they are rather pricey and tend to be less healthy than whole foods. One or two for nights when you are exhausted may be nice, but putting together your own meals is easier than you think.  

Breakfast

It is important to power pack your breakfast so you have plenty of energy to hike throughout the day. You want to have some hearty carbohydrates with good protein and vitamins. There are endless combinations of these basics, so get creative.

  • Oatmeal. You can buy the packets, but you can also just buy oatmeal and make your own packets. Get your zip bag and put in some oats. Then you can put in your favorite additions like cinnamon, seeds, and Wild Coast Fruit Dried Whole Blueberries. You can put a bit of powdered milk in there to make it creamier. Throw in a honey packet, and you are set.
  • Grits. Ok. We know this is not really grit country, but they are warm, hearty, and lightweight. Try them with salt, pepper, some powdered milk, and a tiny bit of oil. You can also put a little hard cheese like Parmesan or Asiago in there after it's cooked. 
  • Powdered eggs. Not everyone likes them, but they are handy and full of protein. Throw a little summer sausage or jerky in there, and wrap a tortilla around that goodness. Add a zing with a hot sauce packet. 
  • Pancake mix. Be sure to get the "just add water" kind. Here again you can add some Wild Coast Fruits Dried Whole Blueberries or Dried Whole Cranberries in your ziplock bag of pancake mix. A honey or jelly packet is great for this as well.  
  • Granola. This is the old school backpacker breakfast. Buy it pre-made, or make your own. Add in nuts, berries, dried fruit, seeds, etc. For extra ease, go ahead and add the powdered milk to your bag of granola. You can just add water to the bag and eat up. 

Lunch

How you do lunch sort of depends on what kind of hiker you are. Some people would rather just snack throughout the day, while others prefer to sit down to refuel. Here are some options for both. 

  • Tortillas. Well, they are not nutrient dense, but they are convenient, versatile, and can withstand life in a backpack far better than bread. You can put all kinds of things in a wrap. There are a lot of suggestions below. 
  • Peanut butter. In case you did not know, you can now find it in squeeze packs. It is a protein punch. Try it on a wrap with a honey packet, raisins, dried fruit, or even mnm's. 
  • Foil packs of tuna or chicken. In a wrap or straight from the bag, it is a great source of protein. Buy the ones in olive oil for some much needed fat. Add a mayo packet for the wrap. 
  • Seaweed chips. This is a great snack to get green goodness on the trail. 
  • Summer sausage or jerky. It is delicious in a wrap or on its own. Amazing with crackers and hard cheese. We suggest hard cheeses because they last longer without refrigeration. If you pack a small bag of pizza sauce, you can put it on a tortilla with the sausage and some cheese for a pizza wrap.
  • Refried beans. These also now come in squeeze packs. Lots of protein, calories, and flavor. It is great on wraps but not bad with crackers either. 
  • Trail mix. Make your own so you can put in the things you like. Sugary things are alright as long as you also have things that will sustain you. Try some of our Dark Chocolate Cranberries and Blueberries for a healthy, sweet treat. Be sure to have plenty of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits.
  • Energy bars. You want to have a few. These are so useful if you find yourself wiped out with a few miles to go. 

Dinner

You can have a fabulous dinner without making a lot of dishes or using a ton of fuel. Combine one of the carbohydrate sources with some spices in a bag. Add in some powdered milk for a creamier sauce or powdered tomato for some tang. Add in a protein source and some dried vegetables or fruits for flavor and vitamins. 

Carbs:

  • Pasta. Thinner pastas like angel hair cook faster. Orzo can be nice for a jambalaya type dish. Tortellini can be worth the longer cook time since there is cheese inside. 
  • Couscous. It cooks incredibly quickly. Put some in a zip bag with some spices and dried vegetables or fruits. When it is cooked up, add a protein, and it's done. Fast, simple, and delicious. 
  • Quinoa. It is really good for you, and like couscous, you can prepare it with almost anything. It is one of the few grains that is a complete protein. It is wonderful with sunflower seeds, cranberries, and honey, as well as with meat and a creamy or tomato sauce. 
  • Instant rice. Obviously very versatile. Again, put daily servings in a bag with spices and dried fruits or vegetables so you can dump it in the pot, add some meat, and voila! 
  • Instant mashes potatoes. Add a chicken packet and some instant stuffing for a delicious and hearty meal. 
  • Tortillas. They are a useful carrier of many foods and work great any time of day. 

Protein:

  • Jerky. Wonderful with all the carbohydrates, jerky is versatile, delicious, and packs a protein punch. 
  • Summer sausage. It has a tremendous amount of flavor and works really well with pasta, couscous, and rice.
  • Nuts and seeds. An excellent protein source, especially if you do not eat meat. They add great texture, flavor, and protein to all types of dishes. This includes nut butters. Making a quick and simple peanut sauce for your pasta or couscous is not hard if you have some nut butter.
  • Refried beans. A burrito with beans and cheese is a delicious, protein packed meal. 

Extras and beverages

We have already discussed putting spices directly in the zip bags with your grains, but it is wise to also bring along some extras. They can go a long way in bringing life to a simple dish. A pill box can easily be converted to a spice box and is an easy way to have more than just salt and pepper.

Packets are also really helpful. Bring whatever you need for your meals, but some ideas are mayonnaise, olive oil, hot sauce, soy sauce, ketchup, honey, and mustard. 

Coffee is a necessity for many of us. There are several kinds of instant coffee packets. If you cannot bring yourself to make instant coffee, there are plastic cones that fit on your coffee cup. You simply put in a filter and pour in your coffee grinds and hot water. If you need cream, try adding the powdered milk. 

There are a wide variety of water flavoring packets on the market. Bringing some that are packed with electrolytes is not a bad idea. A little protein powder can also be helpful if you start to feel depleted.  

Ready to go

A little planning can mean the difference between just sustaining yourself on a backpacking trip and actually enjoying your meals. Hopefully we have given you some good ideas to plan your backpacking meals. Throw in some extra Dark Chocolate Whole Cranberries or Blueberries as a treat for the end of the day or a quick pick me up if your blood sugar begins to drop or just because they are delicious. Happy hiking!


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