Last Updated on March 6, 2020
After a long day on the trail, there is a truly rewarding feeling of setting up camp, preparing a camp fire, and cooking a cozy, soul warming meal. We gladly welcome all kinds of food when in the outdoors. Spam, hot dogs, or a can of beans, suddenly become appealing when cooked over a fire. However, the truth is, those “go-to” camping foods are not the most lightweight, energy efficient, or appetizing foods to pack when backpacking. Step up your backpacking meal with tips and tricks I’ve learned below.
Organize and Simplify
Most likely your pack will be stuffed with gear in which after a long day you will not want to completely unpack to find your dinner. Instead keep things simple, by packing foods in disposable or multi-use containers. Such multi-use materials like aluminum foil can be used for cooking as well as a plate. There are many other cooking gadgets which simplify the packing process. Look for multi-use cooking utensils, like sporks with a perforated edge that are specifically designed for backpacking.
Possibly the most useful cooking gear to take on a backpacking trip is a lightweight camping pot. From there, the best way to insure a steady flame of consistent heat while cooking is to use a backpacking stove. The main purpose of a backpacking stove is to boil water and heat food. Such pot and stove combinations make the cleanup time much quicker as well because you do not need to worry about the black char from a campfire that has a tendency to get everywhere. Check out this list of the top camping stoves, some even fit inside your cooking pot.
Choose Your Simple Favorites
My favorite backpacking meal consists of a tortilla, bell pepper, avocado, dehydrated chicken, and lemon pepper. I would eat this meal anyway, but it just so happens to be easy to pack for a trip as well. Think outside the lunch box to consider fun favorites that can travel with you on the trail.
The length of the trip will decide how much food and if you have any leverage to spurge on heavier food items. If you have a shorter trip planned and weight is not a big concern, pack some of your favorite fresh foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables naturally contain water, which will hydrate and refresh you on those tiring days.
Frozen for the Win
There is no reason to shy away from fresh meats for backpacking meals, that is if you cook or dehydrate them at home. Prep your meals at home by cooking and freezing the dishes that you wish to eat the first day on the trail, then use dehydrated meat in your meals to add protein to any dish.
No Room for Hefty
While the freeze-dried meals at many hiking stores come in a plethora of flavors and are easy, lightweight, options for a backpacking trip, they can also be expensive. Some of the freeze-dried meals may turn out to be a flavor you hate, but you won’t know that until you cook it. Instead of investing in meals you are not sure you will like, choose to bring “just-add-water” meals that you know you already love. Dehydrated soups, fruits, and veggies, mac and cheese are all fun options that are easy to find at the store and cheep to pack with you. In addition you can find recipes to dehydrate your own favorite meals at home.
Spice Things Up
There is no need to settle for bland food while backpacking. Spices are an easy ingredient to add to any meal that will vanish the bland backpacking food tendencies. Pack and label small baggies of seasonings for easy use. You can also pre-mix spices at home to make seasonings to enjoy on your journey.
All About the Oils
Unless you are boiling pre-packaged meals, oil will come in handy for adding flavor, creating a sauce, and preventing food from sticking to the pan. One way to bring along oils on your trip is to place some in a small, empty, plastic, peanut butter jar.
Don’t Forget the Drinks
Possibly just as important as a hardy dinner while backpacking is the warm beverage in the morning. While dehydrated drinks, such as instant coffee, are the easiest to pack for a trip, these instant drink packages can add up in cost, with a less than desirable taste. Instead consider a lightweight coffee or tea making option like the areopress or drip system. Both options can brew your favorite teas and coffees without sacrificing flavor on the trail.
Food on a backpacking trip is far too important to skimp on. The food you pack keeps you going, physically and mentally. Each meal is something to look forward to at each checkpoint. Thus, it is better to bring more than needed. Prior to the trip, lay out each meal, as well as snacks for each day of your journey. To insure it is enough, weeks before the backpacking, eat similar meals as the ones planned for the trip. This will help you get an idea if the meals planned fill you and keep you energized throughout the day. Just remember you will be expending more energy on the trail than you would during your normal day.
Whether alone or with others, no one should settle for burnt, tasteless, or less than favored meals while backpacking. At the end of the day, you’ve earned a nice meal to treat yourself to, which will also fuel you for more days of backpacking. Use some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned to prepare your favorite meals while camping. Trust me these meals are just as easy and stress free as heating up that Spam!