The best backpacking food is lightweight, shelf-stable, and nutrient-dense. Ideally, these foods will require very little cooking or no cooking at all. Trail meals should also be calorie-dense to help get you through the longer hikes, but we'll still include some trail-ready snacks for you to bring on your next backpacking trip.
Backpacking Breakfast Food Ideas
Eggs - That's right, you can have your eggs for breakfast even on a backpacking trip set to last several days. How? OvaEasy Eggs. Mix with cold water, fire up the backpacking stove, and scramble up some eggs for an eggcellent backcountry breakfast option.
Instant oatmeal - Instant oatmeal is the ultimate backpacking breakfast food because it's tasty, quick, and comforting. You can find a ton of packets for sale online like Patagonia Provisions or Wild Zora, but we love this Instant Oatmeal Recipe because you can save money and customize your oats to your flavor preference.
Fresh Fruit - We recommend packing fresh fruit like apples and oranges for just the first day or two of your next backpacking trip. On longer trips, you risk bruising or mashing your precious produce.
Energy Bars - Energy bars are a win-win situation in the backcountry. They provide you with nutrition as well as caffeine. It's like eating a balanced breakfast and drinking a cup of coffee all on one little granola bar. This kind of efficiency is key to keeping pack weight at a minimum.
Granola Bars - Granola bars make for an excellent grab-and-go breakfast. Although, we'd recommend ditching the classic Chewy bar for something with a higher nutritional value. Bob's Better Bars are made with whole grains, and they ditch the chocolate, so you don't have to worry about it melting on your next adventure.
Backpacking Lunch & Snack Food Ideas
No-Cook Meals - these meals are a great way to incorporate more calorie-dense foods while keeping the pack weight down along your travels. That's right. You can enjoy real food on the trails without any cooking. Outdoor Herbivore and PackIt Gourmet both sell super tasty and quick no-cook meals that only require cold soaking.
Beef Jerky - here at People's Choice Beef Jerky, we've been making jerky by hand for nearly a century. It's old-school, authentic, real jerky made from real meat. Our Keto-Friendly Beef Jerky Collection features a wide variety of sugar-free and gluten-free beef jerky flavors that are packed with protein to keep you fueled on the trail.
Protein Bars - Protein bars make an excellent meal replacement option, especially for longer trips–like backpacking along the Appalachian Trail. We look for clean ingredient lists and well-balanced nutritional values when sourcing protein bars for backpacking. RXBars are some of our favorite protein bars because they're packed with protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates.
Trail Mix - You can find a solid variety of trail mix at nearly any grocery store these days. Trader Joe's and Whole Foods stock some of our favorite trail mix for purchase. But, you can also hit Costco, stock up on nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and dark chocolate to create your masterpiece mix for your next trip.
Dried Fruit - raisins, apples, cranberries, bananas, and mangos all make excellent trail snacks. They're shelf-stable, delicious, and potentially nutritious–source dried fruit products without added sugar, and you'll be good-to-go!
Cheese Crisps - they're satisfying, light, crunchy, and crispy. Hard cheese crisps are like a protein-packed cheesy potato chip. They're super tasty and addicting to snack on. More of a cheese puff person? Give Moon Cheese a try!
Nut Butter Packets - YumButter makes and sells a fantastic assortment of delicious and nutritious nut butter packets. Choose from traditional almond butter, peanut butter, cashew butter, and sunflower butter, or order the variety pack to try them all.
Hard Meats and Cheeses - Aged cheeses, dried salami, and summer sausage are great backcountry snacking options. Cured meats and hard cheeses can be stored at room temp, and they're both packing a healthy amount of protein and sodium to keep you going.
Fruit Leather - is a great way to add fruit servings to your daily intake without having to lug delicate fruits around all day and risk making jam in your pack by mashing and bruising them along the haul. Yumi makes some of our favorite fruit leather around!
Sunflower Seeds - high in healthy fats, low in carbohydrates, and ultra-fun to snack on, sunflower seeds make the perfect treat on the trail for refueling. They also pack extra calories, which is good because you'll burn a ton of energy on longer backpacking trips.
Protein Packs - Starkist tuna packets and chicken packets are one of the most convenient lunch snacks. They're packed with protein, and they sell a wide variety of creations so you can keep meals fresh and fun without any backcountry cooking.
Backpacking Dinner Food Ideas
Just Add Water Meals - We've made it to the godfather of all backpacking meal ideas. These iconic pouches of dehydrated meals and freeze-dried meals are some of the best food you can enjoy eating in the backcountry. Boil some water, pour that hot water in the pouch, rest for 10 minutes, and get ready for a comforting hot meal.
Some of our favorite just add water meals include:
- Mountain House: Chili Mac and Beef Stroganoff
- PackIt Gourmet: Chicken and Dumplings
- Backpacker's Pantry: Pad Thai and Macaroni and Cheese
- Peak Refuel: Chicken Alfredo
- Heather's Choice: Chicken Mole with Rice
- Good-To-Go: Thai Curry
- Next Mile Meals: Cajun Jambalaya and Coconut Chicken Curry
Instant Noodles - Dehydrated soups like ramen noodles or even cup noodles can come in handy on backpacking trips. It's the same process as the dehydrated meals, boil water, pour it over, and get ready to eat one of the best backpacking meals available.
Dried Vegetables - Dried vegetables come in handy when you're looking to spruce up dehydrated meals and get some extra food in you to refuel at the end of the day. We especially love adding dried vegetables to instant noodles and just add water meals.
Instant Rice - This is another quick option to get some extra carbs in before the day is over. Plus, you can mix it with your just add water meals or mix it with dried vegetables to create your own just add water meal at home.
Instant Mashed Potatoes - Instant potatoes are tough to beat at home, so imagine how great they taste in the backcountry. And after a long day of hiking, it's the simplicity in these potatoes that will bring you back to life.
Backpacking Dessert Food Ideas
Freeze Dried Desserts - If you're anything like us, then dessert is absolutely fundamental to your backpacking meal plan. We try our best to save them for last, but sometimes we'll sneak in a mid-day dessert because they're so damn convenient.
Some of our favorite freeze-dried desserts include:
- Alpine Aire: Cinnamon Apple Crisp and Chocolate Mudslide
- Peak Refuel: Fudge Brownie Bites and PB&CC Cookie Bites
- Backpacker's Pantry: Creme Brulee and Dark Chocolate Cheesecake Mix
- Trailtopia: Peach Blueberry Crisp and Rocky Road Pudding
- Astronaut Foods: Ice Cream Sandwiches
Backpacking Drink Ideas
Instant Coffee - Instant coffee has come a VERY long way. No longer is instant coffee relegated to fiscally challenged college students. Now, you can grab the white-labeled local grocery store instant coffee or have your choice of organic single-origin coffee.
Powdered Milk - Whether you're looking to spruce up that instant coffee from above, or you just like a bit of milk on the side with breakfast, Nestle Nido is the answer to all your milk problems.
Drinking Chocolate - Hot chocolate is an excellent treat for your sweet tooth–especially on those chilly nights in the backcountry! These Super Cocoa packets are super tasty and can even be made with cold water for chocolate milk in the morning.
Pocket Cocktails - BarCountry Alcoholic Drink Mixes are super handy when backpacking. They're low-cal, low-carb powdered drink mixes that only require a little bit of water and a little bit of liquor.
Backpacking Spices, Seasonings, & Extras
Condiment Packets - Whether you're looking to elevate your backpacking meals or just trying to get some extra calories in at the end of the day, condiment packets are here for you. And since they're so portable, you can easily pack a variety for you to enjoy eating throughout the entirety of your trip!
Some of our favorite condiment packets include:
- Coconut oil packets
- Olive oil packets
- Sriracha packets
- Soy sauce packets or tamari packets (gluten-free)
- Hot sauce packets
- Mayo packets
- Honey packets
- Nutella packets
Spices - A little seasoning can do much good for elevating the final flavor of your backpacking meals– so you can really make those backpacking dinners count. We'll list some of our favorite spices below, but we recommend bringing some salt and pepper at the very least for seasoning.
Some of our favorite spices to take on the trail:
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
The Bottom Line
When it comes to eating in the backcountry, your food choices for meal planning are pretty damn extensive. When selecting foods for your trip, the most important attributes to keep in mind are high caloric density foods with a long shelf life that don't add a ton of extra weight to the overall pack weight. And, try not to pack too much food. Aim to nail down just the right amount so you can conserve energy on the longer days.