A Week of Lightweight, Nutritious Backpacking Food - How to make and pack 7 days of breakfasts, lunches, dinners & snacks for camping & hiking. Everything fits in a bear barrel.
I am married to a serious backpacker. King-Man goes on several backpacking trips a year. He spends 1-2 weeks hiking the Grand Canyon every year (his favorite place on the planet), and in recent years has also hiked to the Mt. Everest Base Camp, Mt. Rainier, and numerous spots in Utah and Colorado. The more he hikes, the more he wants to. It's his thing.
He used to go most often on trips led by Sierra Club or REI where they provided most of the food. But now that he's more experienced, King-Man has been backpacking with a group of hiking friends that has formed through the years. That means he has to take his own food.
This is where I come in. King-Man doesn't cook at all. Since I'm a recipe developer, I thought it would be fun to figure out some tasty, homemade, nutritious food for him to take along on the trail. He had bought and assembled ready-made backpacking food in the past, but I decided to try creating some dried, lightweight recipes suitable for backpacking (or any type of camping, for that matter). That way I could make it as nutritious and tasty as possible. King-Man thinks my homemade instant meals are way better than the store bought stuff.
Requirements for backpacking food:
- Lightweight & compact. King-Man backpacks for a minimum of 1 week at a time, and he has to carry everything he eats. The food needs to weigh as little as possible and be easy to carry.
- No cooking, just boiled water. This means less to carry in the way of cooking gear. So, meals have to be an "instant" variety that requires nothing more than adding boiling water.
- Nutritious. Backpacking is hard work and expends a lot of calories and nutrients. It's important for the food to be dense in nutrients and calories in order to refuel the body.
- Safe to carry without refrigeration. For obvious reasons.
- Fits in a bear barrel. This isn't always a requirement; but last summer when King-Man was backpacking for a week in Colorado, he was in bear country. So, the food he took along had to be very compact so he could pack it safely inside a bear barrel. It was a challenge, but we did it!
Hiking into Ptarmigan Creek in Rocky Mountain National Park. (photo shared by King-Man's hiking buddy, Mel)
7 days of recipes and organization tips. In this post, I'll explain how I assembled food for a week of backpacking including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. You may prefer to purchase all of your food rather than make your own instant meals. Either way, I'll show you how to organize and pack it in a bear barrel so there is easy access to each day's food.
- Instant oatmeal (buy it or make your own...look below for my recipes)
- Instant coffee or tea bags. King-Man takes the Starbucks instant coffee packets.
Homemade Instant Oatmeal Packets. I have a separate post that explains in detail how easy it is to make your own instant oatmeal packets. That way they can be flavored just how you like them, and they are WAY more nutritious than the store bought kind.
King-Man is partial to blueberry instant oats, so I made up multiple packets of those for each of his breakfasts on the trail.
A separate breakfast bag for each day. Included: packets of instant oatmeal, coffee, and pills/vitamins. I used fold-top sandwich bags to hold all 3 items.
- Mini summer sausage (found these 1.75 oz little guys at World Market); beef jerky is a good alternative that King-Man often takes.
- Cheese wedge (also purchased these at World Market); it's a soft cheese that doesn't require refrigeration. Laughing Cow cheese wedges are another option. There are also some hard cheeses (asiago, parmesan) that many hikers take along, but the cheese lady at the store said none of them should go without refrigeration...so use at your own risk. (King-Man thinks the hard cheeses are fine to take along, especially when hiking in cooler temperatures.)
- Whole grain crackers. King-Man especially likes Dr. Kracker's Seedlander crackers; they are dense and not as brittle as many crackers so they hold up well on the trail. And, they taste great and are nutritious.
(chosen for an energy & protein boost on the trial)
- KIND bars -- buy them or make your own (see recipe link below)
- Peanut butter packets (Justin's makes them in individual portions, with and without honey added)
- Nut & seeds bars -- I purchased 5-seed almond bars at Trader Joe's; there are lots of granola bar alternatives available. King-Man likes Clif Bars, too.
- Snickers bars -- for your sweet tooth and a quick energy boost (not recommended if you're hiking in hot weather)
- Fruit & Nut trail mix
- Salt and pepper shaker -- oops, that sneaked into the snacks photo; but it is handy to have along for seasoning the instant dinner meals
KIND bars recently got the #1 rating from Backpacker magazine for the best nutritional bars to take along hiking. They are so delicious that I prefer them to a candy bar; but they're pricey. After preparing food & photos for the backpacking trip in this post, I developed a recipe for homemade KIND bars that are darn close to the originals. King-Man takes this homemade version along on hikes now. They're much less expensive if you make your own. We keep them on hand in our house now--a favorite of both of us. Here's the post where I explain how to make them:
A separate lunch/snack bag for each day. Included: small sausage, cheese wedge, crackers, KIND bar, peanut butter packet, candy or nut/seed bar, trail mix. I used fold-top sandwich bags to hold a day's lunch and snack food.
view on Amazon: fold-top sandwich bags
- An instant, lightweight meal in a bag--just add boiling water, wait a few minutes, and eat. You can buy them or make your own (recipe link below). If you're buying the ready-made meals, King-Man recommends the Mountain House brand.
view on Amazon: Mountain House freeze dried meals
You can make your own nutritious instant meals with the 6 recipes I created using the healthiest dried ingredients I could find. They're what King-Man takes on his trips now; he likes them all so much that he can't choose a favorite. Just add boiling water, wait a few minutes, and eat. I explain how to make 6 different meal varieties in a separate post:
ORGANIZE BAGS OF FOOD FOR EACH DAY
6 breakfast bags (King-Man didn't need one for the 1st day, since he had breakfast before his hike began.)
7 lunch and snack bags
6 dinner bags (On the last day, King-Man didn't need a dinner bag because he hiked out before dinner.)
ONE BAG OF FOOD PER DAY.
This made it easy for King-Man to eat each day without having to rummage through his backpack for a lot of miscellaneous kinds of food for each meal. For each day one bag held 3 separate bags for breakfast, lunch/snacks, and dinner. Labeling the bags, made it a no-brainer to eat each meal without any decisions to make. King-Man especially liked this on long days when they set up camp late and it was getting dark near meal time. I used Ziploc quart freezer bags--they're thick enough to hold up well.
Weight: 14.2 oz. for a bag of food for 1 day
view on Amazon: Ziploc quart freezer bags
A midweek birthday treat surprise. It was King-Man's birthday in the middle of his 7-day backpacking trip. So, I sneaked in a bag of chocolate chip cookie bars for him to share with his hiking companions. He said it was the BEST part of the food on the trip, and a welcome treat for everyone. So, I've started making these for all of his trips now--he has one for dessert after dinner each night.
I used the dough recipe for my Whole Grain Chocolate Chip Cookies, but spread the dough in a greased 9x13 baking sheet, baked at 375 degrees for 22-25 minutes, until golden brown. Cool in the pan, cut into bars, wrap individually in plastic wrap, and they're ready to pack for the trail.
Weight: 1.43 lbs. for 8 cookie bars
view on Amazon: 9x13 baking sheet
Stack the bags in a bear barrel (or stuff sack).
If you're backpacking in bear country, you'll want the protection of a bear barrel (for you and the food!). If not, pack all of your food in one stuff sack. Put the bag of food for the last day in first, and continue stacking the bags horizontally ending with the Day 1 food bag on top. Everything fit--YAY! King-Man loved the convenience of just having to pull out one food bag per day from the top.
- Bear Barrel dimensions and weight: 12" high, 8" diameter; 2.75 lbs (empty weight)
- Filled Bear Barrel weight (with 6 breakfasts, 7 lunches/snacks, 6 dinners, 8 cookie bars): 10.4 lbs
With the understanding that every backpacker has his/her own way of doing things, I know this system may not work for everyone. But, hopefully there are some tips or recipes here that you will find helpful. If you have any tips to share that are tried-and-true on the trail, please share them in the comments section below. Happy trails to you.
Make it a Yummy day!
Monica (& King-Man)
Here's King-Man with our two sons, Tyler (aka T-man, techie guy for TheYummyLife) and Bracken. They were taking a break on their descent into the magnificent Grand Canyon. Their backpacks didn't require a bear barrel on this trip, but they had to carry a lot of water.