Backpacking Hacks: Food and Meal Preparation
This was our food cache for 2 weeks hiking for 3 people (except we added more chocolate, more alcohol, and more chocolate...)
Food for Thought
There's no way around it- we take food for granted. With a few clicks you can have some dude delivering food to your door, and most people rarely think about all the steps that make that possible. One of the many great things about camping is that its a chance to rediscover the magic of food- how complex it is, how much goes into producing it, and how rewarding a great meal by the campfire can taste. Worst case scenario is that you don't love your backcountry meals, but rest assured, you will return home and appreciate how amazing our culinary options really are.
After having hundreds of meals out in the woods, we've put together a list of some of our favorite options. If you're the type of person who doesn't like to cook, no problem! Many of the most common options are freeze dried foods that only require adding boiling water (as easy as your backcountry pizza guy).
Some BasicsThe four main things you'll always want to consider when planning your meals are calories, water, weight, and cooking gear (stove, fuel, etc.). As with most things when you're backpacking, you want to the minimize the weight you carry, which means bringing foods that have a high calorie-to-weight ratio and can be prepared without a bunch of bulky equipment. After over a decade of doing dishes while camping, we also opt for foods that either have disposable containers and are low mess. Remember you'll be packing out your trash, so minimize packaging as much as possible.
Since you'll be moving and on your feet much of the day, this is truly your chance to indulge! Don't be scared to bring a few extra candy bars, since you'll be burning far more calories than usual. Also, try to bring foods that are relatively stable and don't "smush" easily, because a lot of your food will be compressed and compacted in your pack (we learned the hard way with our beloved dark chocolate peanut butter cups, moment of silence please...). Always have the "smush" test in the back of your mind.
I will be honest- I don't usually eat a large breakfast, but I am ravenous when I know I'll be hiking for most of the day. Some favorites are:
1) Coffee: Starbucks VIA coffee ensures us coffee snobs still get our fix, and there are plenty of other (and cheaper) instant coffee alternatives. Just boil, add the coffee, and enjoy. Also, grab a few extra Sugar-in-the-Raw packets to take with you.
2) Oatmeal: Easy to make, nutritious, and weighs very little. We really like the Trader Joe's Blueberry Wholegrain, and you can easily liven it up with some peanut butter, powdered milk, or sugar. Lifehack- you can actually eat out of the individual pouches most oatmeal comes in.
3) Breakfast Skillet: You can buy instant eggs, but our favorite is the Mountain House Breakfast Skillet (I would brush my teeth with it). All you do is add some boiling water, wait, and enjoy. Use some of the tortillas from the lunch recipes below to make a breakfast burrito too!
1) Tuna Salad on Tortillas: Most grocery stores carry the single-serving albacore tuna packets, which you can mix with some Mayonnaise packets and put on some pita or tortillas.
2) Salami and Cheese: Grab some salami (usually shelf-stable) and pair with some cheese. Hard cheese usually lasts several days unrefrigerated, and specific brands like the "Laughing Cow" don't need to be refrigerated.
Snacks are almost the most important part of your meal plan, as they are designed to be calorie rich and easy to prepare if you're feeling lazy.
1) Trail Mix: Make your own or buy it at the store
2) Snack Bars: We love Cliff and Kind Bars, but do what you feel!
3) Beef Jerky: Our absolute favorite is the Costco Brand Steak Strips
4) Peanut/Nut Butter: Pair with some tortillas or just house it plain
5) Dried Fruit: We love the dried mango slices from Trader Joe's
6) Candy: This is your chance to eat lots of candy without the guilt- you will burn it off. Peanut M&Ms are a favorite
This was my food for a recent 2 day hike in Los Padres NF
When you set up camp, you'll be tired and ravenous, so try to choose food items that fill you up without lots of preparation. We can safely say we have tried all major types of freeze dried foods, and below are some of our favorites:
1) Angel-hair Pasta with Olive Oil and Parm: The BEST type of pasta, and you only have to boil it for a few minutes. Top with some olive oil and parmesan, and even some salami, salmon, or tuna if you want to get real creative.
2) Couscous: "Pasta pebbles" also cook super fast, and you can spice it up with some parm, olive oil, and sundried tomatoes super easily.
3) Freeze Dried Meals: If you want a little but more flare without the extra work, these are our favorite dishes that require only a little boiling water.
- Three Cheese Lasagna, by Mountain House: We absolutely love this dish, and pair it with some pita bread roasted over the fire for some supreme dankness.
- Three Cheese Pasta, by Alpine Air: The... Absolute....Best
- Pad Thai, by Backpacker's Pantry: Comes with a packet of spices and peanuts for some extra crunch.
- Dark Chocolate Cheesecake, Backpacker's Pantry: Honestly, you could serve this at a swank restaurant and people wouldn't notice the difference.
Sample Meal Plan (3-day Trip)
A Few Optional Camp Hacks
- Ditch the bulky bags: For all our recipes, including freeze dried foods, we've moved to using name-brand plastic freezer bags to repackage our food. These durable bags are great because they cut back on manufacturer food packaging, provide visibility for your food, and make clean-up super easy. Their temperature rating also allows you to re-hydrate food directly in the bag, just make sure you have koozie to retain the heat of the water and protect your hands. Most freeze dried foods can safely last about a week after being repackaged into freezer bags, and for us is has reduced our back volume by around 35%.
- Stock up on condiment packets: Don't carry the whole bottle of ranch out with you camping, although you would become quite popular very suddenly. Individual condiment packets are perfect for hiking and camping, and we've gone as to offer our local deli a couple extra bucks to stock up on some. We usually bring soy sauce, ranch, honey, mayo, coconut oil, olive oil, and sugar.
- Spice up your water: You'll be drinking a lot of water, and if you want to change things up bring some sports drink, lemonade, or iced tea powder to add to your water. This can also be a great way to make sure you're getting enough nutrients and electrolytes. We really like using Emergency packets to get thee best of both worlds.
- For your first night, bring steak and potatoes....: I admit, this is a bit elaborate, but let me explain. Many times your first night camping will be the launching off point for your trip, and it's often at a campground with BBQs or grill plates over the fire. If that's the case, freeze a couple steaks, package them up in a few freezer bags. Then take a couple potatoes and wrap them in tinfoil with a little bit of butter, and keep them in a plastic bag. By the time you get to camp the steaks will be thawed enough to throw on the grill (you can also use a hot rock by the fire), and the potatoes can be roasted in foil over the medium/low coals. This approach isn't for all, but having a NY Strip steak in the middle of Yosemite is pretty amazing.
That's it! If you have any comments or suggestions please let us know.