35+ Easy Backpacking Food Ideas

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Meal planning for your next backpacking trip? We’ve compiled our favorite backpacking food, ingredients, and meal ideas to help you get started. Find out what food is best for hiking, discover new ingredients, and get inspired by some delicious new backpacking meals.

Michael sitting with backpacking gear around him and mountains in the distance

Let’s clear the air here: There is no shame in relying on packaged food for your backpacking trips! We get it. Not everyone has time to make their own backpacking meals before setting off on a trip (if you do have time, we have a whole post about dehydrating food for backpacking!).

We’re speaking from experience here: In 2019, we hiked the JMT for our honeymoon. Organizing and dehydrating 18 days’ worth of food was the last thing we had time for while planning a wedding, a thru-hike, and managing work.

So, we did what many people do before a backpacking trip: raid the shelves of REI and our grocery store for anything and everything that looks tasty!

In this post, we share our favorite backpacking food ideas from hundreds of miles hiked over the past few years. We hope this article gives you some new delicious trail food ideas!

 
Megan is sitting on the ground and is reaching into a bear barrel

What makes for good backpacking food?

There are a few factors to keep in mind when determining whether a food is good for backpacking: shelf-stable, weight, calorie density, and cook speed.

Shelf-Stable: It’s important to use ingredients that can be stored at room temperature. You can get away with bringing some things like cheese or salami if you eat them in the first few days, but for the most part, you want to skip anything perishable.

Lightweight: Since you have to carry it every step of the way, backpacking food should be as lightweight as possible. Dehydrated and freeze-dried foods tend to be lightest, though there are plenty of grocery store options we’ll review as well.

Calorie Dense: Backpacking takes a lot of energy, so you need food that can properly refuel you. When we plan our backpacking food, we try to average 115-130 calories per ounce or more to keep the weight down.

Cooking Time: Consider how much patience you have to cook your food and how much fuel you will be bringing. Quicker cooking foods tend to be preferred by most backpackers for fuel conservation.

 
Megan sorting through backpacking food that is spread out on a picnic table

How much food should you pack for backpacking?

The prevailing wisdom for how much food you should pack is 1.5-2 pounds per person, per day. Of course, that can vary widely depending on your weight, height, and the length and intensity of your hike.

Backpacker.com suggests that for most backpackers who plan on hiking all day with a heavier pack, you should aim for 25-30 calories per pound of body weight, per day. If you’re going to do a shorter day of hiking (less than 2 hours) or covering less strenuous terrain, you can scale it down to 21-25 calories per pound of body weight, per day.

These, of course, are just a starting point and you should adjust based on your own experience. If you’re going to do a longer backpacking trip like the JMT, do a few weekend shakedown trips to get a sense of what your appetite is like.

Megan and Michael eating oatmeal at a backpacking campground

Backpacking breakfasts

Freeze dried breakfast packages

Freeze-dried meals

If you want a full meal-style breakfast, freeze-dried meals might be your best bet. The breakfasts we enjoyed on the JMT were Mountain House Breakfast SkilletBiscuits & Gravy, and Southwest Style Skillet, and Backpacker’s Pantry Granola with Blueberries and Almonds.

Instant oatmeal package

Instant oatmeal

Instant oatmeal is quick, easy, cheap, and totally customizable. Just add hot water. Pro Tip: Use the packet as your bowl. Just tear off the top, pour the water in, and stir. The bag will get hot, but won’t leak. Up the calories by adding coconut or whole milk powder, or stirring in a packet of nut butter.

Patagonia Provisions packaging

Patagonia Provisions hot cereal

A step beyond oatmeal, Patagonia Provisions Hot Cereal combines toasted buckwheat kasha, cracked whole barley, rolled oats, and flax seeds and comes in flavors like creamy banana, raspberry, and tart apple. Just add hot water and enjoy.

Granola packaging

Dried milk and granola

One of the easiest DIY breakfasts is to pack granola and milk powder and add warm or cold water for instant cereal (powdered milk usually mixes best with warm water). You could add all sorts of things to this: nuts, seeds, dried fruit.

Ovaeasy Packpaging

OvaEasy eggs

If you don’t mind cooking in the morning, OvaEasy’s powdered eggs are surprisingly close to the real thing! Enjoy them on their own, with dehydrated hash browns, or as a veggie scramble.

Three instant coffee packets

Coffee

If you don’t want to carry wet grounds around, instant coffee is your best bet. We reviewed a bunch of instant coffee for backpacking, but here are our top picks: Mt. HagenAlpine StartLaird Instafuel (high calorie), and for the uncompromising coffee drinkers, Voila.

Michael sitting at the top of a mountain pass eating lunch

Backpacking lunches, snacks, and bars

4 chicken and tuna pouches

Chicken, tuna, or SPAM packets

These might not be the most weight-efficient items in your bear barrel, but they do a great job of providing protein. Buy them plain and doctor them up with condiments, or buy some of the many flavor options. Our favorites were Buffalo ChickenChicken SaladDeli Style Tuna Salad and Lemon Pepper Tuna.

Tuna, spam, and salmon packages

These premium grade, line-caught tuna packets are packed in oil for extra calories.

If salmon is more your speed, Patagonia Provisions has some awesome options.

SPAM also comes in a foil packet and can be a nice change of pace from seafood. We were hesitant about this one, but it’s actually very tasty.

NB: Make sure you’re buying the foil packets, not cans!

Food for the Sole packaging

No-cook meals

There are a variety of no-cook meal options available, such as Food for the Sole’s Triple Peanut Slaw or Zesty Miso Broccoli Slaw, Outdoor Herbivore’s Waldorf Slaw and Lazy Lentil Salad, and Packit Gourmet’s Curry Mango or Cajun Ranch Chicken Salads.

Greenbelly product image

Greenbelly meal bars

Greenbelly meal bars boast 650 calories per serving and come in a bunch of flavors. They are basically a full meal that requires zero cooking–perfect for lunch on the trail!

Box of hummus mix

Hummus

Powdered hummus and an olive oil packet make a great no-cook backpacking lunch. See how we make ours in this post. Eat it with study crackers, on a tortilla, or on its own.

A variety of nut butter packets

Nut butter

On a tortilla or straight from the packet (guilty as charged!), nut butter is a great addition to trail lunches. Justin’sRx, and TrailButter are all great places to start. Our favorite on the JMT was RX Vanilla Almond Butter (sweet manna from heaven!).

Assorted Wild Zora bars

Jerky and meat bars

Jerky and meat bars tend to be a little low on calories, but high in protein – which is critical for muscle repair. We like Epic Provisions and Wild Zora. On longer multi-day hikes, these are good to eat towards the end of the day to help your body repair.

Whisps packaging

Cheese

Hard cheese and cheeses that are individually packaged are great options. We also LOVE the Trader Joe’s Baked Cheese Bites as well as Parmesan or Cheddar Whisps (the latter are a bit less sturdy though).

Other cheesy snacks we’re looking forward to trying: Pepper Jack Moon Cheese and Keto Goat Cheese Crunch

Assorted Clif nut butter bars

Bars

Our best advice when packing bars is VARIETY. Don’t just load up on your favorite bar for a multi-day hike. Because after your trip, we guarantee it won’t be your favorite anymore. Find a few you like, mix it up. We bring a selection of Clif Nut Butter BarsRX, and GoMacro bars with us.

Packaroons package

Packaroons

These macaroons boast 170 calories per ounce, so they definitely pull their weight (pun intended) in your pack. They come in a few flavors including Amaretto, Blueberry Almond, and Sweet Coconut.

Nuts, apricots, and banana chips

Trail mix, nuts, and dried fruit

Packing an assortment of trail mix, nuts, and dried fruits is a great way to have some calorie-boosts on hand to eat while hiking (there’s a reason GORP has been handed down through the generations!). Our favorite places for nuts and dried fruit in bulk are Nuts.com and Trader Joe’s. You can find some of our favorite trail mix recipes here.

Gummy bears package

Candy

The snack we didn’t pack for the JMT but we wish we did? Candy! We’re not candy people normally, but the calorie and mid-day sugar boost would have been awesome. Make sure you’re not packing anything that will be too melty if you’ll encounter warmer temperatures on your trip.

Michael sitting on the ground with a camp scene and sunset

Backpacking dinners

Backpacker's Pantry packaging

Backpacker’s Pantry

Backpacker’s Pantry is one of our favorite freeze-dried meal brands. One of the BEST backpacking meals we’ve had is their Pad Thai. It’s just awesome. Other dinners we really enjoyed were the Three Cheese Mac & Cheese and the Fettuccini Alfredo.

Mountain House packaging

Mountain House

Mountain House is another classic freeze-dried food brand. Our favorites from their lineup are the Beef StroganoffChili Mac with BeefLasagna, and Homestyle Chicken Noodle Casserole.

Good to Go Thai Curry package

Good-to-Go

While these meals were a bit hit-or-miss for us, we did talk to other hikers who loved them. I will say that the Thai Curry was pretty good. This brand is dehydrated, not freeze-dried, so they take a bit longer to rehydrate.

Heathers Choice Packaging

Heather’s Choice

We have not personally tried these meals yet, BUT they get great reviews online. They are gluten and dairy-free and have a diverse range of flavors like African Peanut StewDark Chocolate Bison Chili, and Chicken Mole with Rice.

Next Mile Meals packaging

Next Mile Meals

Next Mile Meals is a newer company that features keto-friendly meals. These meals are high in fats and proteins, and low in carbs and sugars. They have a small product line but with meals like Italian Meatball and Chicken & Broccoli casserole, they sound promising!

Wild Zora packaging

Wild Zora

Wild Zora’s meals are paleo and gluten-free, so they are a good option for those with dietary restrictions. Our friends Bound for Nowhere recommend the Chili and Chicken Curry (and, you can save 15% off your order using their discount code “boundforzora”!)

Outdoor Herbivore logo

Outdoor Herbivore

Vegetarian and vegan hikers will find tons of options at Outdoor Herbivore. The Chickpea Sesame Ziti and Switchback Burrito Stuffer sound great.

Packit Gourmet logo

Packit Gourmet

This is a small company out of Texas that specializes in dehydrated fare. We’re looking forward to trying the Beef BologneseCajun Gumbo, or Chicken and Dumplings on our next trip!

Megan holding a bear barrel standing next to a backpacking tent

Grocery Store Favorites

Whether you’re making your own meals or looking for a way to stretch a freeze-dried meal, there are a bunch of store-bought ingredients you can pack along.

Idahoan Potatoes: These are great to add to freeze-dried meals that are on the saucy side (like beef stroganoff).

Stovetop Stuffing: Another favorite to have on hand as a “side” or in packaged meals. Combine it with instant potatoes for a Thanksgiving Bowl!

Ramen: Does it get more basic than ramen? It’s cheap, lightweight, and calorie-dense. Toss the sodium packet and doctor it up – see our Revamped Ramen recipe for ideas.

Knorr Pasta and Rice Sides: These are great (and cheap) building blocks for meals. Add chicken, tuna, or TVP for protein.

Dried Vegetables: We tend to find a lot of backpacking meals light on the vegetables. Pick up dehydrated or freeze-dried vegetables from places like Nuts.com to add to packaged or DIY meals for a nutrient boost.

DIY meals

The sky’s the limit if you’re up to making your own meals. Here are all of our backpacking dinner recipes.

Our favorites that use only store-bought ingredients (no dehydrator) are our Thanksgiving Bowl, Fried Rice, and Chicken Marbella.

Our favorite dehydrator recipes are Risotto, Red Lentil Chili, and Tortilla Soup.

Michael sitting on a rock with a lake and mountains in the background

Desserts

Desserts can be a nice back-pocket treat for particularly notable (or difficult) days, or as a way to pad out your dinner’s calories.

Assorted backpacking dessert packages

Freeze-dried desserts

There are a number of freeze-dried dessert options on the market, whether you prefer something homey like Cinnamon Apple Crisp, something fancy like Creme Brulee or Chocolate Cheesecake, or something totally space-age like this Neapolitan Ice Cream.

Nutella product image

Nutella

This chocolate hazelnut spread is packed with calories that are derived mostly from fats, making it well worth the weight. A scoop here and there will give your body plenty of long-lasting fuel to burn. Plus, it’s freaking delicious!

Stroopwafel packaging

Stroopwafels

A delicious Dutch treat, stroopwafels are soft, toasted waffles filled with caramel. They’re loaded with calories and pretty durable. Try spreading a little Nutella between two of them and make yourself a “ice cream” sandwich.

Megan sitting at a campground making coffee

Drinks

Nuun packaging

Water enhancers

Staying hydrated doesn’t have to be a chore. There are tons of tablets and powders on the market that will give your water a boost of flavor while restoring vital minerals and electrolytes back to your system. Try Nuun Tablets, Skratch Labs, or Ultima Electrolyte Powder.

Wild Zora tea packaging

Instant coffee and tea

A nice mid-afternoon “iced” coffee or tea is always a welcome pick-me-up during a rest break. Mt. Hagen and Alpine Start are our preferred instant coffees. Cusa and Wild Zora make some nice organic powdered teas if that’s more your speed.

Barcountry product image

BarCountry Cocktails

What better way to celebrate a gorgeous vista than with a cocktail? Pack along one of these pocket cocktail mixers and a little nip of liquor and offer a toast to your trail mates. Barcountry’s current offerings include a Cherry Infused Old Fashioned, Bloody Mary, Coconut Lime Margarita, and Elderflower Moscow Mule.

Condiments and extras

These are some of our favorite extras to add either calories or flavor to our meals.

Butter Powder
Cheese Powder
Olive Oil Packets
Coconut Oil Packets
Sriracha Packets
Soy Sauce Packets
Mayo Packets
Chicken Broth Packets
Honey Packets
True Lemon & True Lime flavor packets

 
Michael sitting at a backpacking camp site cooking dinner

Where to buy backpacking food

If you know what you’re looking for you can find backpacking food all over the place! But here are a few good places to start your search:

REI: REI has lots of backpacking food and snacks. Plus they offer 10% off your meals if you buy 8 or more meals at once!

Amazon: They sell virtually everything. If you know what you’re looking for, there is a good chance Amazon has it.

Nuts.com: Want great prices on bulk freeze-dried ingredients? Nuts.com is an incredible resource for those looking to build their own backpacking meals and snacks.

Trader Joe’s: Everyone’s favorite pirate-themed grocery store actually has a lot of great backpacking foods throughout the store. We particularly love their reasonably priced selection of dried fruits and nuts.

Walmart: Aside from the staples like instant oatmeal, snacks, and whatnot, many Walmart stores have a decent selection of freeze-dried ingredients! We’ve picked up everything from butter powder to freeze-dried fruits and vegetables there. They also often carry Mountain House and other freeze-dried meal pouches.

Target: We would never have thought it, but the grocery section in Target has a bunch of great backpacking food options. They have great snacks, nut butter packets, tuna and chicken packets, and instant oatmeals.

World Market: If you have a Cost Plus World Market nearby, check out their food section! We found tons of fun stuff like dried salami, individually packaged cheese, single-serving condiments, fancy ramen noodles, and tons of snacks.

 
Megan sitting with her backpacking cooking gear at a campsite with mountains in the background

Favorite backpacking cooking gear

We have a whole post dedicated to our backpacking cooking gear picks, but here are some of the basics:

MSR pot and backpacking stove

Multi-Use Setup: MSR Pocket Rocket and 1.3L Ceramic Pot

We use a Pocket Rocket stove with this ceramic-coated pot when we plan on doing a mix of commercial freeze-dried meals and DIY meals. It’s fairly light at a total weight of 10.1 oz, but not as fuel-efficient as the next option.

Green GSI mug

Backpacking Mug: GSI Infinity Mug

This insulated mug is just 3.5 oz and is great for morning coffee.

Blue Morsel spoon

Favorite utensil: Morsel

We love the spatula-inspired design of the Morsel spoon – perfect for scraping up every last bit of your delicious meal. (Psst, Fresh Off The Grid readers get 10% off their order using “FOTG10”)

Looking for more backpacking food resources? Check out our guides to vegan backpacking food, gluten-free backpacking food, index of all our backpacking recipes, and our ultimate guide to dehydrating food for backpacking!

This post was first published November 9, 2017 and was updated May 28, 2020. There are a ton of new great backpacking food products that we included!

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22 Comments

  1. Oh, I didn’t realize that Mount Hagen had single serve! Thanks for tip!

  2. Tom Haselton says:

    I want to go stoveless. Can you separate out the food that works without a stove?

    1. Thanks for sharing. That’s definitely a good idea for a future article. I think the stoveless movement is growing with backpackers, so perhaps creating a dedicated resource for them would helpful.

  3. Crawfather says:

    Great article. You have great suggestions.I like to take summer sausage, pepperoni, chorizo, single spam servings, ready bacon, Thai style fried beef jerky or salmon jerky. Then eat it with instant rice. Rice with fried pepperoni on it is great. I’m Asian, so give me a few ounces of protein and some rice, that’s a full meal.

    1. That all sounds great. So many different protein options. Add in some fast cooking instant rice (maybe some spices or sauce) and bam! You’ve got dinner.

  4. Good list.

    You should add Moose Goo in several categories.

    The best SS condiment I’ve ever found is chopped onions. Make ramen palatable.

  5. You should really include Tasty Bites. I know they’re kind of heavy, but they are amazing, there’s a ton of them, they’re vegetarian, and can be eaten cold, too. You can find them at Fred Meyers (North-West US)

  6. GMOs are totally safe? According to who? Weird how so many other countries which are not largely controlled by corporations have banned them…

  7. Totally agree! I will buy the brand that does not tote itself as “GMO Free.” GMOs are incredibly safe and important.

  8. What about cream cheese in the foil pouches. The box says to keep refrigerated but I’m wondering if it would remain stable for a couple days in your pack if the pouch is unopened?

    1. We’ve seen Philadephia cream cheese in condiment packets before. Basically personal sized foil packets. I bet those would last for a few days. Probably wouldn’t want them out sitting in the sun, but if they were kept reasonably cool I think they’d probably be fine.

  9. Timm Hines says:

    This was super helpful. Can’t wait to implement your suggestions. Thanks a bunch.

  10. I remember when the food looked and tasted terrible. I’m glad to see that there are better options.

    1. There has been a lot of improvement in the high calorie to weight genre of food. And we are very thankful for that.

  11. Harper Hatheway says:

    Thanks for the great suggestions.
    We have found that using Medi-Lyte tablets help maintain electrolytes. Easy to use packets keep frequent water drinking from washing out calcium, potassium and magnesium. You can order 100 tablets in 50×2 packets.
    Leukotape is now an essential in our group. This tape applied to a hot spot prevents blisters, and will not tear or peel skin when removing. Other first aid uses too. Great stuff, someone is always asking me for a few inches and I barter for chocolate.

  12. I’m an experienced thru hiker. And I’m always looking for ultra lite suggestions. In this case reviewing backpacking meals was spot on. Thumbs up!

  13. Great list! Ramen is always my go-to cause it’s so filling. It’s just that, all the sodium makes me dehydrated after. What your take on those type of salts that help store water in your body?

    1. After a long hot sweaty day on the trail, we definitely feel depleted of electrolytes (salts included). While some sodium is needed (along with a lot of water) to properly rehydrate, we doubt whatever is in those sodium bomb flavor packet would be considered healthy. We’re fans of electrolyte tablets by Nuun instead.

  14. Total wines and More has a nice assortment of cheese and salami. Plus small bottles of various liquor that are light weight.

  15. Great info and ideas. I had backpacked for years until a back injury. Now I am looking at adapting to using an ATV with the love of backpacking in mind. I have been out of the backpacking world for a long time. You gave me some great ideas and info to re-learn what I need to do.