Backpacking Munchies

Nadine and I have been traveling for more than three months now and we thought it would be fun to give you some insight on how we’ve been sustaining ourselves while out in the wilderness.  It’s been important for us to identify meals that are calorie dense, yet light enough for us to efficiently carry on our backs when on a long trek through the woods.  This severely limits our options and, in many cases, increases the price of food substantially.  In this post we’ll describe some of the options that have become staples in our diet without breaking the bank.

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Breakfast

When we do decide to eat breakfast, we like it to be fast and easy so that we can prepare our food , eat it, and get on the trail as quickly as possible.  Often times this also includes a hot beverage to help get our bones moving in the morning.

Instant Oatmeal
Instant oatmeal is great if you have already decided to make some coffee or another hot beverage in the morning since it requires minimal hot water and is very quick to prepare.  It’s also, usually, conveniently packaged into individual servings which helps when preparing for a backpacking trip.  We usually pack two servings (two packages) each for a breakfast meal.  Since we find the flavored oatmeal to be too sweet for our taste, we usually mix a  plain oatmeal packet with a flavored variant.

Our favorites: Quaker Protein Banana Nut Instant Oatmeal (112 cal/oz), Quaker Original Instant Oatmeal (100 cal/oz)

Granola

Granola is another great option if you are looking for a hot breakfast.  We like it best with a bit of hot water or even hot chocolate (see below) added to make it more of a cereal.  Granola can also be made at home with your own favorite ingredients for less cost than what you will find in the grocery store.

Our favorites: Homemade, Bear Naked Fruit and Nutty Granola (127 cal/oz)

Lunch

Lunch normally includes a nice view and a place to rest our feet along the trail.  To limit our downtime, our lunches never require require cooking but should be substantial enough to give us a boost for the afternoon.  Often times we will supplement our lunch with to go snacks once we are back on the trail.

Sandwich/Pocket Thins

The base of our lunch is usually bread of some sort.  Instead of carrying around a loaf of bread, we’ve found sandwich and pocket thins to be more convenient when stuffed in our backpack.  These guys won’t get squished in our pack but will still give us our carb fix.  We prefer pocket thins over the sandwich thins because you can stuff more goodies into them without the mess, but they are usually harder to find at the grocery store.

Our favorites: Arnold Whole Wheat Pocket Thins (68 cal/oz), Arnold Multi-Grain Sandwich Thins (66 cal/oz)

Tuna Pouches

Tuna pouches are definitely our go to sandwich fillers.  Starkist now offers many different flavors, some with olive oil added for a calorie boost, and they are conveniently packaged in single serving pouches.  The single serving packaging allows Nadine and I to pick our own favorite flavor for the day and makes clean up easier.  When preparing a sandwich with these tuna pouches, we’ll often bring along a few condiments to add to the sandwich to spice things up.  Relish, mayo, salsa, and hot sauce are our favorites and can be found in many fast food joints for free.

Our favorites: Starkist Mediterranean Style Tuna Pouch (58 cal/oz), Starkist Thai Style Tuna Pouch (54 cal/oz)

Summer Sausage and Cheese

When we bore of tuna for lunch, we’ll grab some summer sausage and usually a sharp cheddar cheese to fill our sandwiches.  While summer sausage should last a fairly long time without refrigeration, you’ll need to keep an eye on any cheese you buy to make sure it lasts.  We’ve found that sharp cheddar cheese can last upwards of two weeks without refrigeration as long as it’s not too hot.  We like to carry along mustard packets to add to these sandwiches.

Our favorite: Hillshire Farm Summer Sausage (95 cal/oz), Cheapest Sharp Cheddar Cheese (~110 cal/oz)

Dinner

Since we allot extra time for preparing dinners before dark, supper is almost always hot and cooked using the portable stove.  To cut costs we try to piece together meals from foods we find in the grocery store rather than buying prepared backpacking meals.  Dessert or a hot beverage often follows our meal.

Tortilla Wraps

Tortilla wraps have become a staple in our dinners for a number of reasons. First, they make eating more convenient by allowing you to fill a wrap with whatever you’ve made rather having to eat straight from our pot or bowls.  Second, they add easy calories to our meals.  Lastly, they make clean-up a lot easier.  We line our bowls with a wrap before filling with our meal to keep it clean and use any extra wraps to wipe up and eat any leftovers in our cooking pot. We stick to flour tortillas since corn tortilla are usually better if heated up, which we like to avoid.

Our favorites: Any cheap flour tortilla wrap (~87 cal/oz)

Rice or Pasta Sides

Rice and pasta sides are a great, cheap base for a hearty dinner.  You can find them in almost every grocery store for a dollar or less and they’re even light weight and high in calories.  Also, these meals can be cooked quickly and use minimal water, which is a big plus when you are carrying it on your back.  We add either chicken or beef (see below) and wrap with tortillas for a complete meal.

Our favorites: Knorr Fiesta Sides Taco Rice (100 cal/oz), Knorr Asian Sides Teriyaki Noodles (108 cal/oz)

Instant Mashed Potatoes

When we first started backpacking, I didn’t think we’d be eating mashed potatoes regularly in the back country.  I was wrong.  Packets of instant mashed potatoes are light weight, pack some calories, and are very filling.  Once again, we use these as a base and add either chicken or beef to them and wrap them up in a flour tortilla for a complete meal.  If you can smuggle in some gravy, even better.

Our favorites: Betty Crocker Four Cheese Instant Potatoes (100 cal/oz)

Pre-Cooked Chicken or Beef

You heard right! You can find pre-cooked chicken and beef in packets in your local grocery aisle.  Since we don’t have a way of dehydrating our protein on the road, this stuff has been a life saver.  We’ll add a packet of either beef or chicken to whatever base we are using to make a complete meal.  These packets really complete our meals and allow us to avoid spending tons of money on prepared dehydrated meals. The pouches are a bit heavier, since not dehydrated, but worth the weight.

Our favorites: Tyson Premium Chunk White Chicken Breast Pouch (35 cal/oz), Libby’s Seasoned Beef Crumbles (sometimes found at Walmart) (45 cal/oz)

Prepared Dehydrated Meals

Sometimes we’ll splurge to mix things up and buy a dehydrated meal or two to take on our overnight trips.  Dehydrated meals are convenient since they are complete meals made for backpacking, but are often very expensive.  Also, you should make sure to check the calorie counts per serving on the back before you purchase.  Some are surprisingly low.  With that said, most dehydrated meals are pretty tasty and the selection is enormous.

Our favorites: Good-To-Go Thai Curry (113 cal/oz)

Snacks

When we are in the middle of a hike and need some extra energy, we’ll grab one of the following accessible snacks so that we can replenish on the go.  Our snacks need to be packaged in individual servings, full of calories, and delicious.

Crackers

These cracker packs come in a lot more flavors then cheese and peanut butter these days. Great for on the go and sharing.

Our favorites: Lance Bolds Buffalo Wing Blue Cheese Crackers (150 cal/oz), Lance Variety Pack Crackers (145 cal/oz)

Fruit Pouches

Fruit pouches are great for when you are craving something sweet or fresh for a snack on the go.  They are essentially apple sauce in a pouch which makes them convenient since it’s nearly impossible to make a mess and all you have to do is squeeze them to eat.  No spoon required.  We typically enjoy them after breakfast for a fruit topping with our oatmeal or granola, but sometimes in the afternoon they are a nice treat.  They also come in many different flavors, many of which include apples as a base.  They are, however, low in calories, but sometimes you just need some fruit.

Our favorites: Del Monte Fruit Burst Squeezers (25 cal/oz)

Fig Newtons Singles

One of the benefits of being an adult is that you can have cookies whenever you want.  Fig Newtons pack a lot of calories, taste great, and now they come in nice little single serving packets.  We’ll often eat this after dinner for some extra calories or after breakfast when we just need something sweet.

Our favorites: Fig Newtons Single-Serving Bags (100 cal/oz)

Drinks

Although the water we filter on the trail is some of the best water we’ve ever tasted (especially in the mountains), plain old water can get boring pretty quick.  Luckily,  there are many options for spicing up that water to make hot, caffeinated, or sweet beverages without adding a lot of weight to our packs.

Instant Coffee

If we are really dragging in the morning, there is nothing like a good cup of coffee, even in the back country.  The easiest and most practical method of making coffee while camping is to stick to the instant variants.  Instant coffee can be bought in single serving packets and only requires hot water and a quick stir to prepare.  It’s not half bad either.  Many swear by Starbucks Via, but we don’t mind the cheaper stuff found in the grocery store.

Our favorites: Nescafe Taster’s Choice House Blend Instant Coffee Singles

Tea

Tea is another great option for a caffeine fix, especially in the evening or when its cold.  You’ll get a lot more variety out of tea, but you do have the leftover teabag to worry about.  Caffeine free options are also available if you are worried about being up all night with the wildlife.

Our favorites: Yogi Egyptian Licorice, Stash Lemon Ginger

Hot Chocolate

When it’s really cold outside, we like to indulge in a cup of hot chocolate to warm us up.  Before bed or mixed with our breakfast oatmeal or granola, nothing can warm you up quiet like hot chocolate can.  Hot chocolate also has the added benefit of packing some calories unlike the other options above.

Our favorites: Abuelita Mexican Style Instant Hot Chocolate (110 cal/oz)

When Nadine and I make it back to civilization, we often find ourselves craving some interesting food due to our limited diet when backpacking.  For the most part, anything cold or fresh is at the top of our list.  In particular, we like to grab a fresh salad, fruit, eggs, yogurt, and, of course, beer.  Nothing beats a big salad with tons of toppings and a cold beer after a long stint in the wilderness.

Are there any other backpacking foods that you’d suggest we try out during our next back country adventure?  What’s your favorite meal back in civilization after a long backpacking trip?

6 Comments

  1. IdRatherBeAnonomous

    August 8, 2015 at 10:10 PM

    Thank you very much for the article. My son and I are taking longer and linger camping/hiking trips, and food is probably our biggest area of weakness so far. This has lots of good ideas!

  2. Nice lightweight diet. I like to have heavy stuff on the first day (like half a cantaloupe lol) and eat it up, then have the not so tasty light stuff later. Olive oil and peanut butter are handy to carry along for some extra calories.

    • James Hess

      January 23, 2016 at 9:05 PM

      Yeah, total agree with carrying something a little heavier for early consumption. We usually end up with some fresh fruit or perishable protein of some sort that we ate on our first day out.

  3. Thanks for the good ideas.
    What concerns me, is the sheer amount of plastic packaging in everything you bring.
    I’d love to get some tips on more environmental friendly meals to take on the trail.
    E.g. One big bag of nut/fruit mix.
    Getting a big Glas of nescafé and fill it in Tupperware…. Dried Sausages in paperwrapping…
    BTW: I like some cream cheese for the first days.

    • James Hess

      February 23, 2016 at 8:24 PM

      Yeah, the amount of waste in packaging was atrocious. After finishing our shopping, we’d usually strip everything of their outside packaging to minimize space the food took up in our truck. Needless to say, we were throwing away a lot. But unfortunately, it’s hard to avoid when you are on the road and have limited choices. When we can pack for an overnight from our home, I’m usually filling sandwich baggies to save on waste and cost.

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