You’re more hard-core than those sissy campers who require all the regular luxuries and a vehicle within arm’s reach when 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 eat pasta with meat and vegetables, pancakes, and other dishes you wouldn’t expect. Here’s how.
First, bring frozen meat for your first couple days on the trail. 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 meals. Brands such as Good to Go Foods and those found at R.E.I. and other outdoor-sports stores have high reviews.
Keep in mind, you 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.
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 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 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 ideas, plus more on our Campsite Cooking page.
Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes
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 ‘cakes. 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 recipe.
Breakfast Scramble with Sun-Dried Peppers and Spinach
Use OvaEasy egg crystals, the closest-tasting dried eggs to the fresh thing and available at REI and Amazon. Add some spices to the eggs before you head out, and then all you need to do is add hot water and the vegetables. Some whole wheat pita or wraps would be good with these eggs too. Get the recipe.
Figgy Fuel Bars
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.
Pepperoni and Cheese Quesadilla
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 recipe.
Apple Cinnamon Peanut Butter Bagels
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 too. Add apple slices and your favorite nut butter or cheese for a well-rounded meal. Get the recipe (if you need it).
Campfire Couscous with Zucchini and Pine Nuts
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.
Smoked Sausage Jambalaya
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. Get the recipe.
Lemon Gnocchi with Spinach and Peas
The trick here is either to use dehydrated spinach and peas or bring the vegetables along another way. You could always take it frozen and make this your dinner on evening one or two. Get the recipe.
Fudgy Toffee Pecan Cookies
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 Cookies recipe.
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…)
— Check out my own menu when I went backcountry backpacking for six days, five nights in Yellowstone National Park.
— Head photo: Thermarestblog.