Creating your own backpacking meals can be an easy and cost-effective way to enjoy the trail. You also get to enjoy great food and learn new skills. The main challenge that overwhelms some backpackers is finding lightweight ingredients that are easy to prepare, packed with energy, and are non-perishable.
Here are ten favorite trail recipes:
1. Breakfast of Oatmeal, Walnuts, and Blueberries
They are lightweight, packed with energy, and easy to prepare (just add hot water). Especially good for a warm breakfast on summit days when mountaineering or backpacking mornings when you have to get on the trail quickly. Hot meals help retain energy as your body doesn’t have to work to warm up food 2 packets serve one person: ¼ cup dried blueberries ¼ cup crushed walnuts 4 packets instant oatmeal / about 170 grams / just under 1 cup You can also substitute dried cranberries, strawberries, chocolate chips, or other nuts. At home: Combine blueberries and walnuts in zip-lock. In camp: Follow instructions on package. Add water to individual cups or bowls of oatmeal, stir and mix. Add additional water as needed. Add blueberries and walnuts.
2. Cashew Chicken Noodles Great taste and flavor, lots of carbs, and ramen noodles are cheap. Serves two: 6 ounces curry noodles 2 servings Asian cellophane noodles (you can also use several top ramen packaged noodles) ¼ cup jerky or 6 ounces packaged chicken (found in tuna section of store) ¼ cup dehydrated mixed veggies 1 tablespoon curry – you can also use curry paste and avoid some of the spices below. ½ teaspoon cumin ½ teaspoon ground ginger 1 ½ tablespoons coconut powder salt and pepper to taste 3 tablespoons cashews 2 tablespoons pre-chopped cilantro (optional) Note: If you’re short on spices you can also use the flavorings in the ramen packages, although I prefer to use my own. At home: Combine all the seasonings and coconut powder in one container. On the trail: Add about 1 ½ cups boiling water to baggie. Mix it around and let it sit for ten minutes, or until everything is soft. Add cashews and cilantro before serving.
3. Couscous and Tempeh
Easy to prepare, lightweight, packed with energy. Serves four 1-2 cups of couscous (about ½ cup per person) 2 carrots chopped 2 stalks celery 1 cup cherry tomatoes 1 teaspoon curry seasoning A couple pinches paprika, salt, pepper, oregano 1 teaspoon olive oil 8-12 oz. tempeh (leave in package till ready to prepare) At home: Chop the vegetables and mix spices into their own zip locks. Keep tempeh in sealed container and freeze till you’re ready to pack. On the trail: Add oil and vegetables to pot over medium heat for five minutes. Remove from pot and add enough water for couscous (refer to package instructions) then boil the water. Add the tempeh and turn down the heat, boil for two more minutes. Add couscous, spices, and veggies to boiled water, mix, cover and let sit for five minutes.
4. Mediterranean Delight Great for groups, very little field prep and cleaning involved. Hummus is a good source of protein and is nutritious. Although this takes some home preparation (cutting the veggies) you can forgo carrying a stove or fuel on shorter trips. Because of the space fresh veggies takes this meal is best on the first or 2nd day of the trip. Serves four: 1 cup powdered hummus 2 medium size ziplocks of fresh veggies (baby carrots, cut celery, cut bell peppers, radishes, or olives) 1-2 packages pita bread (about 2-3 per person) Optional cooked sausage (for meat lovers, can heat on a stick next to a camp fire) At home: Pre-wash, dry, and cut the veggies. Measure and pack the hummus (adjust portion for party size) in its own ziplock (large enough to add water to later) and write down how much water to add on the ziplock. On the trail: Follow instructions for dehydrated hummus. Add the correct amount of cold PURIFIED water to the zip lock, close, and mix well. Let sit for 5-10 minutes and it’s ready to eat with pita and veggies
5. Miso Ramen
Great source of electrolytes, yummy flavors, lightweight and packed with energy. At home: Remove one packet of ramen noodles and place into your own ziplock with a few small sheets of dried seaweed, miso mix, dehydrated eggs, and dried peas (or dried corn). On the trail: Bring 1 ½ cups of water to a boil and mix in ingredients, cook for 3 minutes, and wait 2 more before eating.
6. Gouda & Egg Breakfast Burrito
Burritos are a great option for outdoor pursuits. Buy enough tortillas to have leftovers and you can reinvent another version for breakfast. This saves on space and prep time while adding variety. 3-4 ounces Gouda cheese ½ cup powdered eggs or egg beaters (if used on second day, pre-freeze ahead of time at home and store in cooler during drive) 4-6 ounces salsa 8 tortillas At home: Slice the Gouda into six slices and place in a ziplock, add salsa to ziplock, and eggs to another ziplock. Before packing, freeze the egg beaters if not using powdered eggs. On the trail or at base camp: Mix powdered eggs with water according to instructions. Add eggs to pan and stir over low heat. As they start to cook add the sliced Gouda and cover in order to melt cheese. Cooking time will depend on your pan and eggs volume, so keep a constant watch. Once cooked, dish up onto a tortilla and add salsa. Most of the time this takes less than ten minutes to make.
7. Swiss, Ham and Apple Bagel
This is a quick and easy lunch and adds variety to your normal sandwich. It’s yummy good! Feeds one: 3-4 slices ham 1 slice Swiss cheese 2 slices caramelized onions 1 bagel 3 apple slices, enough to fit on sandwich At home: On a stovetop, cook apple slices until brown; if you like onions fry them until caramelized. Add the ham, apple and/or onions and Swiss cheese to one bagel slice. Then place both bagel slices face-out under the broiler. As soon as the cheese melts close the sandwich and place in fridge. On the trail: It’s ready to eat cold but the melted cheese will still hold things together and taste good. If you have the time and fuel, I recommend heating up your sandwich on a frying pan with a cover.
8. Fusion Spam Sliders
Spam is easy to store and carry on the trail and now comes in an aluminum package vs. canned. Add the right ingredients and you can change a World War II GI staple into a gourmet meal. I recommend three sliders per person. This recipe makes one serving: 2 tablespoons or ½ handful bagged slaw (found in salad section of the grocery store) 2-3 thin slices fresh ginger, 1 packet or ½ teaspoon soy sauce 1 Hawaiian roll 1 slice Spam 1 teaspoon Sriracha hot sauce.
At home: Slice ginger and add hot sauce to a small container for the trail. On the trail: Cut spam into slices and fry until crispy. The spam is pre-cooked but frying will make it taste better. Place on Hawaiian roll (which you’ve been careful not to smash), and add other ingredients.
9. Tofu Shepherd’s Pie Bold flavor and hearty, the extra butter helps you keep warm in colder environments. Serves three: 14-18 ounce package baked tofu 14 ounces instant mashed potatoes 1 packet powdered mushroom sauce or gravy 1 cup dried mushrooms ½ cup dried mixed vegetables like peas, carrots, and corn ½ teaspoon vegetable bouillon ¼ teaspoon sage ¼ teaspoon cumin Dash of salt and pepper ¼ teaspoon dried thyme 2 tablespoons butter At home: Combine all dry ingredients except potatoes in a quart-sized ziplock bag. Using a pen, write “add one cup of water” on bag. Add potatoes in their own quart-sized ziplock and write “add two cups of water” on it. Store oil in small leak-proof container. Dice tofu, put in separate ziplock and freeze until the last minute. Can also leave in sealed package and freeze to dice in camp. In camp: Dice tofu and bring 3 cups of water to rolling boil. Add 2 cups of hot water to the potato bag and one cup to the vegetable bag. Close both bags well. Squish the potato powder and set both bags aside. Heat oil in a pot and sauté the tofu for two minutes or until brown on all sides. Remove from heat and add vegetables (do not drain fluid) to tofu. Stir well and add mashed potatoes. Stir again.
10. S’mores, High Altitude Version S'mores are an easy dessert and backcountry tradition. To save time you can forego the foil and just bring ingredients to make them in the field and heat on camp stove although it’s harder to do mountaineering. At home: Generously coat a graham cracker with peanut butter. Drop a handful of mini-chocolate chips into the peanut butter and add a small marshmallow. Then lightly coat another graham cracker and close sandwich. Wrap in foil or place in a baggie. In camp: Drop the foil into a pot and cover for 2-3 minutes on med heat or into coals of a fire for 2 minutes. Realize the above recipes are to help you learn. Once you get comfortable cooking outdoors we recommend you modify these to find what you like.
For full meal plans outdoor trips check out Backpacking Meal Plan Page.