Most of the cooking articles on the Voice of Scouting describe delicious but intricate recipes that require a vast amount of supplies. These recipes are great if you are car camping and have a dutch oven. But, what do you do for food when you are challenged for space during activities like backpacking.

Tips and Tricks for Having Tasty Backpacking Food

When you are limited on space and every pound counts, choosing the right backpacking food can be difficult. Finding something that will actually taste good is even harder. 

Nothing is quite as disappointing as unpacking your food bag and discovering your long-awaited meals have gone bad. Too much heat and time in an overstuffed pack can make crumbs out of your crackers, grow fuzz on your bagels, and transform a stick of salami into a bacterial disaster. But, just because you’re on a long hike doesn’t mean you have to suffer through crushed or moldy food, says Backpacker.com.

Claudia Pearson, food-packing guru at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and author of The NOLS Cookery, says “The longest ration I’ve planned was 12 to 13 days, and it all came out edible.” On those extended backcountry journeys, using good judgment (like not packing perishables in warm weather) is key to maintaining a healthy stash of food. Pearson adds these tips for keeping food edible, she says.

Her tips: 

  • Avoid fatty meats and dairy products, which spoil quickly.
  • Carry a resealable plastic container and plastic mug instead of a bowl and cup and pack fragile foods like cookies and crackers in them.
  • Seal packages to keep out air and moisture (the culprits behind bacterial growth) and consider canned goods if you must have meats or fish.
  • Protect food from heat, which fosters bacterial growth. Pack perishables deep in your pack to insulate them, and chill them in cold water or snow whenever possible.

Supply List

Here are a few dining supplies I always bring with me while backpacking:

backpacking food
Two-sided spork

Food

When packing food for a long backpacking trip, it is important to find foods that pack the most calories in the smallest and lightest packages. The easiest food to bring is dehydrated packets that just need hot water. My favorite brand is Mountain House. They have many options and are easy to carry. It even tastes super good! 

backpacking food
Breakfast Skillet
backpacking food
Mountain House Beef Stroganof

Here are some of my go-to Mountain House meals:

  • Breakfast Skillet
  • Granola with Milk and Blueberries
  • Pasta Primavera
  • Beef Stroganoff
  • Chicken and Mashed Potatoes
  • Chili Mac with Beef
  • Cheesecake Bites

If you choose to pack other types of food, consider these long-lasting, calorie-packed and easy-to-carry foods:

  • Trail Mix – These tasty old standards can survive unscathed. Take: Dried fruits, M&M’s, nuts, and pretzels. Choose pretzel nuggets over thins-unless you like crumbs. Leave: Granola, chocolate chips, and anything yogurt-covered
  • Bread – Flour tortillas stay mold-free longest. Bagels and pita bread hold their shape better than sliced bread but gradually became deformed. Take: Tortillas, bagels, pita, or rye bread. Leave: Freshly baked white and wheat bread. 
  • Cheese – Individually sealed products are the clear winners to take and processed products tend to last longer than traditional cheeses due to their lack of animal-borne bacteria and microorganisms. Take: String cheese and Mini Baybel. Leave: Shredded cheddar and farmers cheese.
  • Meat – Take: Pepperoni sticks and jerky. Opt for unsliced instead of sliced pepperoni. Leave: Bologna and salami.
  • Crackers – Take: Wheat thins. These keep their crunch and survive days with minimal crumbling. Leave: Graham crackers. Forget about s’mores – these crackers won’t last.

The Rest of Your Journey

Now that you are prepared to face the outdoors with delicious and easy-to-carry food, it’s time to prepare for the rest of your trip. 

Once you have packed all of your food and cooking gear, pack the rest of your gear using this helpful guide: How to Pack for a Backpacking Trip Like a Pro.

And always remember to be bear aware. Use preventative methods, like the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Method, to pack away your food and keep it out of the hands of our furry friends. Please also follow the principles of leave no trace during any outside activity. And don’t forget to avoid preventable accidents by following these simple Backpacking Common-Sense Rules.

Have any other backpacking tips and tricks? Let us know in the comments below! 

2 comments

  1. Christopher Schuster says:

    There are significantly better ways to eat healthy and nutritious meals on the trail than the Mountain House meals. All while saving space and weight.

    Many, many more. Recommending that brand speaks to an endorsement and a general lack of experience on behalf of the author and it’s a disservice to the reader.

    1. Madison Austin
      Madison Austin ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Hi Christopher,

      Thanks for your input! Please know that the mention of Mountain House meals is not due to an endorsement, just the author’s personal experience with backpacking food. We would love your input regarding more nutritious trail meals and would be happy to include it in our article. Please email me at madison.austin@scouting.org with your suggestions. We value educating our readers and providing them with accurate and helpful information and hope that you will share your experience so that we can make that possible.

      Thanks!

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