When you’re new to backpacking, trying to plan every detail of a multiday hike can be a bit overwhelming. Deciding which kinds of food to take with you is a vital part of prepping for your trip, which is why we’ve created this list.
Preparing food for a backpacking trip is very different from camping, as you won’t have the luxury of coolers or your car to store your food in. Rather, you have to plan ahead and take enough food to last your entire trip.
While the thought of tuna or SPAM might sound a bit yuck right now, after a 10-mile day, just about anything will taste fantastic. Check out our suggestions for every meal, as well as the gear you’ll need to prepare your food during your outdoor adventure.
Before diving into the actual food, there are some essential tools you’ll likely want to pick up to greatly improve your meals during your hike. Yes, technically, you can just take peanut butter sandwiches for the entire trip, but after a few days of that, you definitely won’t be a happy hiker.
Relaxing at your campsite with a warm meal in your belly or waking up to a hot cup of coffee are simple pleasures, but you’ll absolutely look forward to them during your hike.
We recommend that every multiday hiker invest in the following cooking supplies:
Canister stove: You attach these small, lightweight stoves directly to a fuel tank. They’re easy to light, and most models also allow you to adjust the flame. There are other backpacking stove options, but these are great for beginners.
Fuel canister: Filled with a blend of propane and butane (and sometimes isobutane, as well), this is what fuels your stove for cooking and boiling water. Make sure your fuel canister is the same brand as your canister stove, and test it to make sure it works before trekking out.
Backpacking cookware: You’ll need something to boil water and cook your meals in. If you’ll be hiking with a buddy, we highly recommend the Pinnacle Dualist set (we’ve had ours for almost a decade). Whichever brand you choose, just make sure it’s lightweight—leave your cast-iron skillet at home.
Utensils: Make sure you take something to eat with, as well. You can both stir and eat your meals with a foon (aka, a camping spork).
Biodegradable soap: Specially made to be safe for the environment and usually multipurpose, you can use this to clean both your dishes and your bod.
Large freezer bag: Take at least one with you to carry your trash until you can dispose of it.
Hiking can be a strenuous activity, which means you should plan on taking plenty of food to replenish the many calories you’ll be burning all day. Before making your shopping list, think about how many days you plan to be out and what the terrain is like.
Plan for at least three meals, plus plenty of snacks to conveniently eat throughout the day. Some days will be longer than others, so convenient eating might be necessary. Even if you plan on convenience for lunch or breakfast, at the very least, always take the time to prepare a hot meal for dinner—it’s so worth it.
Now, let’s get on to that shopping list of foods you should take with you on the trail. All of these options are lightweight, convenient, and tasty, too!
There are tons of options for breakfast and, while you’re out on the trail, really anything goes. These are a few of our favorite go-to breakfast yums:
Meal bars: These are an excellent way to power up first thing for a day of hiking. This variety pack from Clif Bar is a good choice because you can enjoy a different bar each morning of your hike.
Bagels with peanut butter: Sure, you might miss the cream cheese at first, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you forget all about it.
Granola: If you’re a cereal lover, you can’t go wrong with some tasty granola in the morning. It’s the closest you can get without milk!
Powdered scrambled eggs: Just add hot water and you’ll have scrambled eggs in 10 minutes. Even better, these pouches from Mountain House also contain crumbled pieces of freeze-dried bacon. Yum!
Oatmeal packets: Whether you like plain old original or apples and cinnamon, oatmeal will taste incredible on a chilly morning. We recommend the variety pack, so you can mix it up and enjoy a different bowl of warm goodness each day of your hike.
Dried fruits and nuts: These make a perfect snack to refuel on the trail. The Omega-3 Mix from Orchard Valley Harvest contains walnuts, dried sweetened cranberries, almonds, and pistachios.
SPAM: Yes, this classic canned meat is the perfect way to still enjoy a little protein when you don’t have a cooler. It also goes excellent with scrambled eggs. You can also get the singles, if you prefer.
Instant hashbrowns: Similar to the powdered scrambled eggs, you just add hot water to these, wait a few minutes, drain the water, and then fry them until browned on your camp stove.
Pita Bread or tortillas: You’ll love wrapping your scrambled eggs and SPAM in these for a quick, hearty, and portable breakfast.
Many hikers eat lunch on the go or on a quick break, especially if they’ve got a few more miles to go. These options are quick and convenient and use some of the same foods we recommended above for breakfast:
- Pita bread or tortilla with peanut butter.
- SPAM sandwich (with pita pockets).
- A meal or granola bar
- Trail mix or dried fruit
- Chicken, tuna, or salmon pouches
Enjoying a hot meal at your campsite free of those heavy hiking boots is something you’ll look forward to all day on the trail. Again, some of our dinner suggestions incorporate some options from the breakfast and lunch recommendations above.
Here are some options you might want to pack for a cozy dinner by the campfire:
Knorr pasta and rice sides: These come in a variety of flavors. They’re also full of carbs and calories, and taste great. Add one of the salmon, tuna, or chicken pouches we recommended for lunch to these meals. SPAM will do the trick, too—you just want to make sure you’re getting some protein. If one calls for milk, just use water, it will work just fine.
Freeze-dried meals: These are pricey, but extremely convenient. You just add water, heat according to the instructions on the package, and voilà: dinner!
Couscous: This is another easy-to-make, high-carb meal that you can also add any of your meats to for some protein.
Mac and cheese: Everyone loves some of this childhood fave, any time, but it’s even better after a long day’s hike. The Easy Mac comes in pouches that you can just mix up and heat on your canister stove.
Instant mashed potatoes: Yes, these would normally call for milk, but these cups from Idahoan come with everything inside! Just add water and cook over your campfire or on your canister stove.
Instant rice: This is another versatile option that you can add any of your meat pouches to for a bit more flavor and protein.
Slim Jims: These classic beef sticks make a fantastic snack and a great meal addition.
Freeze-dried veggies: You can add these to any meal for more flavor, as well as a healthy infusion of vitamins and nutirients.
Now, you can head out into the wilderness with the perfect variety of food for every meal. Feel free to mix and match and get creative until you find the combos you love. For more camping recipes and options, check out our low-maintenance meal guide.