Backpacking Meals: Quick and Nutritious Options for Your Next Adventure

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As an avid older backpacker, I know firsthand how important it is to pack nutritious and lightweight backpacking meals for your trip. Whether you’re going on a day hike or a multi-day trek, having the right food can make all the difference in your energy levels and overall experience.

When it comes to backpacking meals, there are a variety of options to choose from. You can opt for pre-packaged freeze-dried meals, which are convenient and easy to prepare. Or you can create your own meals using dehydrated ingredients and spices.

Whichever route you choose, it’s important to consider factors like weight, calorie density, and taste. In this post, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite backpacking meal ideas and tips for meal planning on the trail.

dehydrated backpacking meals in bags sitting on a log next to a backpack

Benefits of Backpacking Meals

  1. Convenience: Backpacking meals are lightweight and compact, making them easy to carry in your backpack. They eliminate the need for bulky cooking equipment and reduce the overall weight of your gear.
  2. Nutrition: Despite their lightweight nature, backpacking meals are packed with essential nutrients to keep you energized and nourished during your outdoor pursuits.
  3. Long Shelf Life: Many backpacking meals have a long shelf life, making them ideal for extended trips or emergency situations.
  4. Variety: With a wide range of flavors and meal options available, backpacking meals ensure you won’t get bored with your food choices while on the trail.
  5. Minimal Waste: Backpacking meals often have minimal packaging, reducing waste and the need for extensive clean-up.

Why Backpacking Meals Matter

As someone with over 50 years of backpacking experience, I still enjoy the great outdoors every chance I get. I understand the importance of having a good meal plan on the trail. As an older hiker, my appetite isn’t what it used to be. But without delicious meals, it would be impossible to pack in enough calories to keep me going. Here are a few reasons why backpacking meals matter:

Caloric Density

When you’re backpacking, you need to pack food that is high in calories and easy to carry. This is where caloric density comes in. Foods with high caloric density provide a lot of energy without taking up too much space or weight in your backpack.

Some examples of high-calorie foods with low weight include nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. It’s important to balance these high-calorie foods with other nutrient-dense options to ensure you’re getting a well-rounded diet.

Nutrition

Backpacking is physically demanding. Trails are most often not level, uneven, with rock and tree root obstacles, and with changes in elevation.  Therefore, it is important to fuel your body with the right nutrients.

When planning your backpacking meals, consider including a variety of foods that provide protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Protein is important for muscle recovery and repair, while carbohydrates provide energy for your body. Healthy fats, like those found in nuts and seeds, can help you feel full and satisfied.

Weight

When you’re backpacking, every ounce counts. It’s important to pack lightweight foods that won’t weigh you down or take up too much space in your backpack.

Dehydrated and freeze-dried meals are popular options for backpackers because they are lightweight, take up much less room than fresh foods, and are easy to prepare.

In addition, you can pack individual ingredients and cook your meals on the trail if weight and space are not an issue. Just be sure to pack foods that won’t spoil or go bad without refrigeration.

Furthermore, backpacking meals matter because they provide the energy and nutrients your body needs to tackle the trail. By choosing foods with high caloric density, good nutrition, and low weight, you can ensure that you have the fuel you need to enjoy your backpacking adventure.

Types of Backpacking Meals

When it comes to backpacking meals, there are a variety of options to choose from. Depending on your preferences, dietary restrictions, and the length of your trip, you may opt for different types of meals. Here are some of the most common types of backpacking meals:

Dehydrated Meals

Dehydrated meals are popular choices among backpackers. These can be purchased or dehydrated at home using a home dehydrator. Because they are lightweight, easy to prepare, and have a long shelf life they complement your meal plan.

Brands like Wild Zora, Next Mile Meals, and Good To-Go offer a variety of dehydrated meals, from Pad Thai to chicken and rice. These meals typically come in pouches and can be rehydrated with hot water.

Freeze-Dried Meals

Similar to dehydrated meals, freeze-dried meals are even lighter and have a longer shelf life. However, freeze-drying isn’t normally a food preservation method done at home. The equipment necessary to freeze dry meals is expensive. That being said, many brands of freeze-dried meals are readily available at local outdoor sports outlets and over the Internet.

Brands like Mountain House, Peak Refuel, and Backpacker’s Pantry offer a variety of freeze-dried meals, including fettuccini alfredo with chicken, beef stroganoff with noodles, and three-bean chili mac. These meals can also be rehydrated with hot water.

DIY Dehydrated Meals

If you prefer to make your own meals, you can invest in a food dehydrator and dehydrate your own fruits, vegetables, and meats. This allows you to create customized meals to your taste preferences and save money in the long run. Some popular DIY dehydrated meals include beans, stews, pasta and rice dishes, and soups.

Fresh Foods

If you prefer to eat fresh foods on the trail, you can pack portable options like nuts, seeds, and fresh fruits. You can also bring hard cheeses, summer sausage, and cream cheese, which have a longer shelf life than other fresh foods.

Another popular fresh food is tortillas. They are the ultimate wrap for just about any favorite food you want to put in them. They don’t “smoosh” like regular bread when hiking and backpacking. Bring your favorite brand or a grain-free brand like Siete Foods’ popular almond flour tortillas. Just be sure to pack out any waste and clean up after yourself.

When planning your backpacking meals, it’s important to consider the textures, flavors, and nutrients of each meal. You’ll want to pack a variety of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to keep your energy levels up during strenuous hiking. Additionally, you may want to pack condiments like peanut butter, jelly, and honey to add flavor to your meals.

Overall, there are many types of backpacking meals to choose from. The best options for you will depend on your personal preferences and needs.

Top 7 Backpacking Meals Brands

When it comes to backpacking meals, there are several brands that stand out from the rest. In this section, I will discuss seven of the top backpacking meal brands that I personally recommend.

Picture of Backpacking pre made beef taco meal by Next Mile Meals

Next Mile Meals

Next Mile Meals offers a revolutionary solution for keto backcountry meals for seeking nourishment and convenience. Each bite bursts with vibrant flavors and essential nutrients, ensuring hikers stay energized and revitalized throughout their journey. Even carb lover hikers love the meals and add in rice or pasta.

Designed for easy preparation in any outdoor setting, their meals require only hot water. With Next Mile Meals, hikers can savor delicious, nutritious food without compromising on convenience or weight, making it the perfect companion for the next mile of their extraordinary adventure.

Life doesn’t get much better than having a taco option on the trail like Next Mile Meal’s Beef Taco. Why – because I love tacos!

Backpacker's Pantry Backpacking Meals at REI store

Backpacker’s Pantry

Backpacker’s Pantry is a well-known brand in the backpacking community and for a good reason. Their meals are tasty, easy to prepare, and come in a wide variety of options. They offer both vegetarian and meat-based meals, and they even have gluten-free and vegan options.

One of my personal favorites from Backpacker’s Pantry is the Pad Thai with Chicken.

Good To Go Backpacking MealsGood To-Go

Good To-Go is another brand that has made a name for itself in the backpacking world. Their meals are made with high-quality dehydrated ingredients, and they have a focus on creating meals that are not only delicious but also healthy.

The chef that creates their meals is Jennifer Scism. A graduate of The French Culinary Institute in Manhattan that previously owned a Michelin-starred restaurant in NYC. Their packaging is also eco-friendly, which is a plus.

Craving a little Italian food on your trek? Try the  Herbed Mushroom Risotto and you will think your hiking in Italy.

Wild Zora Backpacking Meals at REI store

Wild Zora

Wild Zora is a newer brand, but it has quickly become a backpacker favorite. Their meals are made with all-natural, grass-fed meats and organic fruits and vegetables. They also have a line of meals that are both gluten-free and paleo-friendly.

As a mature hiker, healthy eating is my number one concern. With Wild Zora, I know their meals are healthy and nutritious. So, no guessing when I eat their delicious popular  Herb Roasted Chicken Quinoa Bowl.

House Backpacking Meals at REI store

Mountain House

Mountain House is a brand that has been around for a long time, and they have a reputation for making high-quality meals. Their meals are freeze-dried, which makes them lightweight and easy to pack. They offer a wide variety of meals, including breakfast options, and they even have desserts. You can’t beat their amazing Beef Stroganoff with Noodles meal.

Alpine Aire Backpacking Meals at REI store

Alpine Aire

Alpine Aire is another brand that has been around for a while and has a good reputation. Their meals are made with natural ingredients, and they have a focus on creating meals that are both nutritious and delicious. They offer both vegetarian and meat-based meals, and they even have gluten-free options. Spice it up on the trail with the popular Santa Fe Style Beef Skillet meal.

Peak Refuel backpacking meals at REI store

Peak Refuel

Peak Refuel is a newer brand, but they have quickly gained a following among backpackers. Their meals are made with high-quality ingredients. In addition, they focus on creating meals that are both tasty and filling. They offer both vegetarian and meat-based options, and they even have a line of meals that are keto-friendly.

Chicken Alfredo Pasta is one of their most popular meals.

In conclusion, these seven brands are some of the best when it comes to backpacking meals. They offer a wide variety of options, and their meals are made with high-quality ingredients. No matter which of these brands you choose, you can be sure that you are getting meals that will fuel you for your next adventure.

Tips for Choosing the Right Backpacking Meals

As someone who has been backpacking for years, I have learned that the right meal can make or break a trip. Here are some tips to help you choose the best backpacking meals for your adventure.

Consider Your Dietary Needs

Before you head out on your trip, take some time to consider your dietary needs. Whether you are vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, lactose intolerant, or have other dietary restrictions, there are plenty of backpacking meal options available. Look for meals that are labeled as such or consider making your own meals.

Think About Caloric Intake

When you are backpacking, you will be burning a lot of calories, so it is important to choose meals that are high in calories. Look for meals that are high in protein and carbohydrates, as these will give you the energy you need to keep going. You can also supplement your meals with snacks like nuts, dried fruit, and energy bars.

Pack for Variety

Eating the same thing every day can get boring, so make sure to pack a variety of meals. Look for meals that have different flavors and textures. Consider packing a few different options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This will help keep you motivated and energized throughout your trip.

Factor in Weight and Space

Every ounce counts when you are backpacking. Remember, you must carry each additional ounce on your back for many miles. Therefore, it is important to choose meals that are lightweight and take up minimal space. Look for meals that are dehydrated or freeze-dried, as these are lightweight and easy to pack. You can also consider packing meals in reusable containers to save space.

You can choose the best backpacking meals for your adventure in several ways. First, by addressing your dietary needs you will be well on your way toward packing the right foods. Are you allergic to any food ingredients? Do you have a medical condition that restricts certain foods?

Next, think about caloric needs based on trail conditions. Will you be gaining a lot of elevation? How steep is the trail? What are the ambient day and nighttime temperatures? What distances will you be hiking each day?

Finally, pack a variety of meals, factoring in weight and space requirements. As a frequent backpacker, I try to carry a different meal option for each day of my trip. That way I don’t get tired of eating the same thing every day.

Most of my backpacking meals are dehydrated foods made at home. I started DIY dehydrating when I took my girls backpacking at the young ages of 5 and 7. It was a disaster that the first year, they would not eat. Since then, most of the food I take is dehydrated.

Most importantly, remember to also pay attention to nutrition and caloric density, and to pack meals that are both delicious and nutritious.

Conclusion

In my experience, backpacking meals are an essential part of any outdoor adventure. The right meal can make or break a trip, and it’s important to choose wisely. Throughout my research, I’ve found that there are a lot of great options out there, from pre-packaged meals to homemade creations.

One thing that I’ve learned is that it’s very important to consider your own dietary needs and preferences when choosing a meal. For example, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you’ll want to look for meals that are plant-based. If you have food allergies or sensitivities, you’ll need to be extra careful when selecting ingredients.

Another consideration is the amount of food you’ll need. This will depend on a variety of factors, such as your activity level, the length of your trip, and your personal appetite. It’s always better to bring too much food than too little, so don’t be afraid to pack a few extra snacks.

When it comes to cooking, there are a lot of different methods you can use. Some people prefer to cook over an open flame, while others prefer to use a stove.

Be sure to check local fire restrictions, as that may dictate what method is available. Whatever method you choose, make sure you’re familiar with it before you head out on your trip.

Overall, I’ve found that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to backpacking meals. It’s important to experiment with different options and find what works best for you. With a little planning and preparation, you can enjoy delicious and nutritious meals on all your outdoor adventures.

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