Tips for Planning Backpacking Meals

If you’re new to backpacking, you might be wondering, “what the heck do I eat while I’m out on the trail??” There are a lot of prepackaged dehydrated meal options available today. However, most of the time I find these meals tend to be expensive, bland, salty and the packaging is bulky. There may be some exceptions to this, and if you have a favorite brand of backpacking meals I would love to hear about them! Shoot me an email about it 🙂

If you want to avoid the prepackaged options, you can definitely put together your own backpacking meals. That being said, whether you’re new to backpacking, or a seasoned backpacker, you might find this intimidating. I certainly did! 

At first, learning to put together my own backpacking meals involved a lot of trial and error.  But I’m happy to report that once you get the hang of it, it’s actually pretty easy (and even kind of fun!). There are lots of options in your local grocery store that, with a little creativity, can be combined to create excellent backcountry breakfasts, lunches and dinners!

Now I find that planning food for the trail, and then cooking it in the backcountry, is one of my favorite parts about backpacking! 

Here’s a few tips if you’re interested in putting together your own backpacking meals that are delicious and will keep you fueled on the trail.

Focus on calorie-dense foods

Every ounce counts right? The general goal in packing food for the trail is to pack as much nutrients as a possible in to as little space as possible. Think nuts, dried fruit, protein bars, jerky, pasta etc. 

Aim for 2500+ calories per day

Hiking all day with a heavy pack on your back will work up an appetite! Try to pack accordingly. It’s not an exact science, but add up the approximate calories-per meal and try to make sure you’re hitting a minimum of 2500 calories each day. If your route is more intense or the conditions are cold, you’ll want to shoot for even more. 

Bring your favorite foods

Sometimes it can be difficult to stay motivated on the trail. Especially if the weather is bad, the miles can seem to stretch on and on. It can be difficult to keep a positive mindset. 

I’ve found it’s very important for me to have a delicious meal to look forward to at camp. It’s so rewarding to relax, cozy by the fire, with your favorite comfort food after a long day on the trail.

So think about your favorite foods to eat at home, and brainstorm how you can bring a backpacking version. For example, I love grilled salmon and baked potatoes at home. For a dinner on the trail I can bring dehydrated mashed potatoes, a packet of instant gravy, and a packet of smoked salmon. Granted, it isn’t the exact same meal, but it sure hits the spot after a long day of hiking. Look for lightweight versions of your favorite foods and you’ll be a happy camper! 

Spice things up

Some dehydrated foods can be a bit bland, so I always pack a tiny bottle of hot sauce to bring a little extra flavor to meals that are lacking. 

If hot sauce is not your thing, think about bringing a little parmesan, black pepper, or whatever your favorite finishing touch would be at home! 

Plan out your meals in a chart

It can be a bit overwhelming to think about carrying enough lightweight food to sustain you through several days on the trail. It helps to physically write out a meal plan, and check things off as you pack up. I usually make a chart that includes breakfast lunch and dinner (plus snacks) for each day. 

Bring some extra treats

Think about what might bring you a little extra joy while you’re out on the trail. For me it’s hot cocoa, for you it might be coffee or tea or your favorite candy bar. An extra treat goes a long way after hiking all those miles. 

Dehydrate your own food (when you’re ready!)

Making your own dehydrated food from scratch is not as difficult as you think! I’ll be writing article soon on how to get started.

**Important side note: be aware of animals in the area and make sure you are using proper food storage practices. If you’re not sure, get in touch with the parks staff for instructions!