33 DIY Backpacking Recipes – Lightweight & Calorie Dense
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One of the most satisfying moments of any backpacking trip is sitting down at the end of the day to enjoy a well-deserved meal. The beautiful scenery, the good company, and our ravenous hunger all work together to create an unforgettable experience.
However, not all backpacking meals are created equal. While there is certainly a time and a place for freeze-dried meals, they can get quite expensive and the selection can be somewhat limiting.
Making your own backpacking food can dramatically reduce the cost per meal, open a wide range of recipe options, and allow you to really customize your nutritional profile. You just need to know where to start!
In this post, we are featuring our favorite DIY backpacking recipes. We’ve organized this post into three categories: Dehydrator recipes, Recipes using grocery store ingredients, and Snacks, Trail Mix, and Jerky.
If you’re looking for pre-made backpacking food, check out this post instead! We have also included some food storage tips & tricks for packaging your meals to take out on the trail.
Dehydrating meals for backpacking gives you endless recipe options! You have full control over what goes into your meals, and they end up being very lightweight and pretty compact. If you’re new to the process of dehydrating, check out our ultimate guide to dehydrating food for backpacking, and then try making one of these great dehydrated backpacking recipes for your next trip.
Risotto with veggies
This is one of our FAVORITE trail meals. Make risotto at home and dehydrate it along with some vegetables like peas and mushrooms. It’s creamy, filling, and feels super gourmet in the backcountry without a lot of fuss.
This Minestrone is chock full of vegetables, beans, and noodles for a warm and hearty backpacking soup. We love the diversity of flavors and textures.
Red lentil chili
This vegetarian/vegan chili is made from red lentils and beans, so it’s packed with great plant based protein. This is another one of our all time favorite backpacking recipes.
Black beans, corn, tomatoes, onions, and cilantro are all easy to dehydrate and assemble into the base of Tortilla Soup. Pack along some tortilla chips to add once it’s done cooking for added crunch.
If you’ve ever felt like your trail diet lacks vegetables, it’s because you haven’t tried this Pasta Primavera yet! Dehydrate zucchini, yellow squash, cherry tomatoes, capers, and parsley and pack it up with noodles and butter powder for a fresh take on pasta dinner.
Apple cinnamon quinoa porridge
There are only so many instant oatmeal packets one can eat on the trail. That’s where quinoa porridge comes in! Try cooking quinoa at home with spiced and apples, put it in the dehydrator, and you have yourself a sweet, lightweight alternative to oatmeal for breakfast.
Red lentil marinara
This plant based riff on marinara sauce is made with red lentils and tomatoes, then dehydrated to create a quick cooking, high protein backpacking dinner.
Strawberries and cream quinoa porridge
Dehydrated strawberries and quinoa, along with powdered milk, make up this tasty, sweet-yet-slightly tart breakfast porridge.
Sweet potato peanut stew
This dehydrated version of a West-African inspired peanut stew combines peanuts, sweet potato, and tomatoes with chickpeas for protein. A packet of peanut butter stirred in on the trail gives the stew some creaminess and a calorie boost.
Raspberry coconut quinoa porridge
The last of our quinoa porridge recipes, this version uses freeze-dried raspberries and dehydrated quinoa along with calorie-packed coconut powder for a coconutty, creamy breakfast.
This chili is a protein powerhouse of beans and quinoa. Mixed with an assortment of spices, cacao powder, and chiles, it’s not short on flavor, either!
Recipes using grocery store ingredients
If you don’t own a dehydrator, or don’t have time right now to make your own meals, you can assemble meals using ingredients available in grocery stores and online. These types of meals can be as easy as adding a packet of chicken to a Knorr’s rice or pasta side, or you can get a little more “gourmet.” These are a few of our favorites!
Using Minute Rice, OvaEasy egg, and dried vegetables, this meal can be made without a dehydrator! It does require a bit of cooking on the trail, but it is well worth it!
We took the classic Silver Palate dish and made it backpacking friendly! Combining chicken, chopped prunes, and green olives, then cooked with a couscous base, this is a SUPER flavor packed meal.
Mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, and chicken: this backpacking Thanksgiving feast is comfort food in a bowl (or pot!).
Chocolate coconut granola
This chocolatey, coconutty, slightly sweet granola is an easy breakfast in the morning. We like to pack it with powdered milk for a just-add-water meal.
Sweet & spicy cashew chicken wrap
If you need a lunch idea that doesn’t involve tuna packets, try this chicken wrap! Pack honey, mayo, and Sriracha packets to mix into a packet of chicken along with chopped cashews.
Apricot ginger oatmeal
We love this combo of chopped dried apricots and powdered ginger with quick cooking oats. Chopped almonds add texture, and coconut milk powder boosts the calories.
This is an incredibly easy lunch or snack idea (it’s hardly even a recipe!). Stir water into powdered hummus mix along with a bit of olive oil, and enjoy with crackers or on tortillas.
Thai red curry rice
This rich, creamy dish is loaded with flavor. Red curry, coconut, and peanut butter powder make up the sauce, and Minute rice, dried veggies, and freeze-dried chicken round out the meal. It’s so tasty and packs just the right amount of heat.
Blueberry coconut oatmeal
This hearty oatmeal is full of dried blueberries, coconut flakes, almonds, and hemp seeds. Adding coconut milk powder ups the nutrition and makes it super creamy.
This easy apple crisp is made from store-bought dried apples and granola. It’s super simple and a fun way to end the evening.
Moroccan chicken couscous
Couscous, a packet of chicken, and loads of ras el hanout make up this fragrant and flavorful meal.
Like our apple crisp, this blueberry version uses freeze dried berries found at Trader Joe’s and crunchy granola for a simple backpacking dessert.
Jambalaya with orzo
This orzo pasta jambalaya has a wonderful sauce made from tomato powder and a Creole seasoning blend. We bring along a summer sausage to add to the mix for protein!
Forget about the ramen you ate in college – we’re building a trail-friendly version from scratch! This recipe uses soba noodles, dried mushrooms and veggies, and a flavorful soup base of soy sauce and sesame oil.
Pecan and maple granola
Another granola-and-milk in-a-bag recipe that is great as a quick breakfast. This version uses maple syrup to naturally sweeten the granola, pecans for crunch, and dried cranberries for a bit of sweet-tartness.
Snacks, trail mix, and jerky
Snacks are an important part of any trail diet, providing your body with quick hits of energy throughout the day as you hike. Of course, there are plenty of store-bought snack options available, but we also like to mix things up with homemade snacks like these.
Maple glazed trail mix
This is one of the BEST trail mixes we have made! Maple syrup glazed nuts, dark chocolate, and dried cranberries make a trail mix that resembles a deconstructed KIND bar.
Tie dye fruit rolls
A throwback to the lunchbox snack of our youth, these Tie Dye Fruit Rolls are made with frozen strawberries and mangoes.
Teriyaki beef jerky
Sweet and savory, this Teriyaki Beef Jerky is a great homemade alternative to the expensive store bought version.
Tropical fruit leathers
A simple fruit leather recipe combining strawberries, bananas, and mangoes.
Sweet and spicy Sriracha trail mix
Pretzels, nuts, and Chex make up the base of this trail mix, which is coated with a sweet and spicy blend of honey, Sriracha, and a touch of soy sauce for savoriness. This is a great trail mix to break up the GORP routine.
Chili spiced fruit leathers
We developed this recipe as an homage to the fruit cart stands we frequented when living in Los Angeles. Watermelon, mango, pineapple, a hint of lime, and of course – their signature chili spice!
Simple beef jerky
This is an easy, savory, and flavorful jerky recipe that we can’t get enough of!
More trail mix recipes
Trail mix is a hiking staple but it’s easy to burn out on one flavor. This roundup has a bunch of recipe ideas from around the web.
Packing and storage tips
Selecting all the ingredients for your backpacking meals is the first step, but knowing how to properly package and store them for the trail is just as important.
The following tips are most relevant for trips that are less than a week long or won’t require mailing or caching food for a resupply. If you’re interested in longer-term storage for dehydrated food, read this section in our dehydrated food guide.
Packaging DIY & dehydrated meals: For short trips, you’ll want to store your meals in lightweight zip-top bags. Biobags is a compostable option, or if you don’t mind carrying a bit of extra weight, we recommend (re)Zip bags (for reference, the 2 cup capacity bags only weigh 9g).
If you are in an area with high humidity, you should consider adding a desiccant packet to remove moisture.
When packing store-bought ingredients, repackage them where it makes sense to reduce bulk and trash you have to carry out. For example, repackage that box of couscous or mac & cheese in a baggie and recycle the cardboard while at home.
Storing oils and sauces: Oils are a great way to add calories to your meals, and sauces can add a ton of flavor. These can be found in individual packets or stored in resealable containers. If you use packets, we recommend packaging them all in a baggie in case any break (a lesson learned after tossing Tapatio packets into a bear barrel…). To repackage oil and sauces into sturdier, reusable containers, we recommend goToobs.
Storing herbs and spices: Herbs and spices are a great way to bump up the flavor of your meals. You can simply add them to your meals at home, or pack them along for on-trail improvisation.
These small containers are pretty light (½ oz for three) and refillable, or you can use lighter, small plastic bags for storage.
If you’re looking for more backpacking food ideas, check out this guide to vegan backpacking food, and this guide to gluten-free backpacking food.
If you need guidance on what gear to bring, be sure to read up on backpacking cooking gear and this overview of the best backpacking stoves!