Looking for some tips on how to eat well even while backpacking and backcountry camping? These helpful tips and recipes for your next wilderness adventure will keep you and your group well-fed even in the great outdoors where amenities are scarce.
You’re more hardcore than those wannabee “campers” who require all their everyday luxuries and a vehicle within arm’s reach whenever they’re outdoors. When you’re backcountry backpacking, there’s nothing with you but what you carry on your back. But that doesn’t mean you have to eat MRE-type food (which isn’t that bad after a few days in the wilderness, truth be told). You can totally eat well when camping; things like pasta with meat and vegetables, pancakes, and other dishes you wouldn’t expect.
First, bring frozen meat for your first couple days on the trail or campsite. Pre-cut or ground, rock-solid beef, pork, or chicken can stay cold that long, especially if you’re hiking in high elevations. Save other proteins for later, like smoked meats, packed tuna, and beans. Then finish your journey with some delicious (no, really) freeze-dried camping meals. Brands such as Good to Go Foods and those found at REI and other outdoor-sports stores have high reviews.
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Keep in mind, you likely have to carry everything you’re eating the next several days on your back. Everything. You want your food to be lightweight, compact, nutritious, require little more than adding boiling water and be able to fit in a bear barrel. That is, unless you enjoy close encounters with hungry bears in the middle of the night when you’re peeing.
Related Reading: Tips to Guarantee Clean Water While Camping or Hiking
For camping food, fresh is best when the food is hard already, especially when it doesn’t need refrigeration anyway, such as apples, nuts, bell peppers, and corn on the cob for instance. Pasta and rice? So easy. Depending on how long you’re trekking through nature with no stores in sight, you could even get away with no freeze-dried meals and still eat like a queen—if your camping or hiking journey isn’t longer than three nights or so. Five nights or longer, and you won’t want to load your back with too much weight, and those Good to Go Foods meals will taste amazing by that point.
Check out some of our favorite camping recipe ideas, plus more on our Campsite Cooking page.
If you have a relaxing morning planned, in which there’s no need to pack up camp and head on the trail right away, make some campsite ‘cakes. They pair perfectly with coffee (which you can also make while camping, trust us and check out our guide.) The ingredients are shelf-stable, and it feels amazing to have a pile of flapjacks as you sit among the trees. Flannel not included. Get the Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes recipe.
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OvaEasy egg crystals were made especially for camping and are the closest-tasting dried eggs to the fresh thing. You can find them at REI, Amazon, and other specialty retailers. Simply fry some leftover corn chips in oil with peppers, add some spicy tomato or enchilada sauce, and some eggs and breakfast is done. Get the Chilaquiles recipe.
Related Reading: How to (Safely) Make an Omelette in a Bag
You need to fuel up for your day. It’s no joke on the trail. Use these jam-packed bars full of almonds, brown rice cereal, Medjool dates, and sticky-sweet black Mission figs to get you going in the morning, or as a snack along the way. Get our Figgy Fuel Bars recipe.
This seems so easy, it’s a no-brainer. Add some bell peppers, olives, artichokes, or whatever else you can carry that can keep well a few days if you want more vegetables on your pizza-dilla. Get the Pepperoni and Cheese Quesadilla recipe.
We’re totally here for anything buffalo and because these are hand-held they are the perfect lunch if you need to keep moving while you eat; you can make them ahead and store in your backpack, though on top so they don’t get smushed. (Alternatively, bring a can of crescent roll dough with you—it’s lightweight, but watch out for it popping open at high altitude—and use those little dough triangles for your filling if you want to make these in real time. Easier than dealing with puff pastry on the trail, anyway.) Get the Buffalo Chicken Turnover recipe.
With fresh zucchini, you’ll want to eat this in the first few days of your backpacking trip so your green squash doesn’t get too beat up. But that’s no problem. Couscous cooks in less than five minutes. Add some frozen meatballs or chicken chunks, some packaged tuna or salmon, or beans for a hit of protein. Get our Campfire Couscous with Zucchini and Pine Nuts recipe.
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You don’t need many ingredients to make this filling, Creole-spiced dish a reality on the trail, and it can last until your final couple days (be sure to use a hard, cured sausage if you’re waiting to make this more than a couple days out since they’re in no danger of spoiling; otherwise, pack fresh sausage while still frozen, per our earlier tip, and use on the first or second night). Get the Smoked Sausage Jambalaya recipe.
Hard to imagine anything more nourishing than chicken and dumplings after a long day of hiking, biking, and general outdoorsing. Get the Dutch Oven Chicken and Dumplings recipe. Or, to keep your pack ultralight, follow this Backpacking Chicken and Dumplings recipe; you mix up a soup base with dehydrated ingredients in one bag and a dumpling dough in a separate bag, then combine them in a pot at dinner time.
While these cookies meet the rich, gooey, crunchy requirements of awesomeness, any cookie can work, or candy bars, or a treat that makes the evening feel special as you reflect on all that you’ve seen so far that day. Oh, the places you’ve been. Get our Fudgy Toffee Pecan Cookie recipe.
Bagels are a good bread to bring because they’re hardy and won’t smush in your backpack. They do take up more space than say, pita or tortillas, but they’re arguably more filling. Add apple slices and your favorite nut butter or cheese for a well-rounded meal. Get the Apple Cinnamon Peanut Butter Bagel recipe (if you need it).
It’s always a good idea to carry a snack or two in the cargo pockets of your pants or in an easily reachable pocket in your backpack—you know, trail mix, granola bars, and the like. You can make them, buy them, or try less typical snacks, like these Biena Chickpea Snacks in Rockin’ Ranch, our favorite flavor, or these Nutzzo single-serving packets of butter made from seven nuts and seeds. (Don’t tear the Nutzzo packets with your teeth. Your lips can get cut. Don’t ask…)
If you find yourself trailblazing in the Pacific Northwest, check out these Top 8 Hikes Near Vancouver.
Check out my own menu when I went backcountry backpacking for six days, five nights in Yellowstone National Park.
Related Video: Handy Campfire Hacks
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