Mountain House Backpacking Dinners
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Looking for the best store bought hiking and camping food you can buy? Here are one writer’s personal favorites for taking on the trail.

Summer is halfway over, and people all over the country are using their time at home to dust off their gear and strike out on wilderness adventures. If the idea is to take a more leisurely hike and you will have ample time to cook on your way, we have plenty of excellent camping recipes. If you plan on covering a lot of miles per day, however, you may be more interested in some store bought items that will taste delicious and fill you up without loading on the pounds or taking too many dollars out of your wallet.

The following grocery list will keep you satisfied for a full week out in the wilderness, and the only other cooking equipment you will need is a good portable camping stove (I highly recommend the Jetboil MiniMo Cooking System), something to eat out of (like this Snow Peak Titanium Trek 700 Mug), and something to eat with (like this Snow Peak Titanium Spork). Each item on this list has been tried and tested, and each comes complete with some nutrition information and some handy tips for storage and execution out on the trail.

Have fun, and always remember your flashlight or headlamp, waterproof matches and firestarter, water filtration system and water bottle, toilet paper and Ziploc bags, map and compass, first aid kit, sunscreen, bug spray, pocketknife, and whistle. Also be sure to bring a bear-resistant food canister if you are somewhere where there are hungry bears around. This food is for you, not the wildlife. Safety first, friends.

Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Instant Coffee, $6.79 from Target

Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Instant Coffee

Target

If you prefer to take your time in the mornings and lounge around the campsite, you should pack some delicious coffee grounds, some #2 filters, and a Melitta 1-Cup Pour-Over Coffee Brew Cone so you can brew a couple of delicious mugs of coffee to start the day. But you aren’t going to want to sit around and slowly savor your morning cup if you have 22 miles to cover. The trail will be calling your name, and you’ll just want to dump some hot water in a thermos and get going. Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Instant Coffee does the trick in that situation, and you can buy eight servings for less than a dollar a piece. The coffee also packs very small once you get the individual servings out of the little box they are packaged in, and they weigh next to nothing.Buy Now

ProBar Meal Bars, 12 for $24.78 from Amazon

ProBar Meal Bars

Amazon

Meal bar has always been a funny name to me, as the best word to describe the experience most meal bars provide is “mealy.” It is hard to find a good one, honestly, but I have included two in this list that I strongly feel pass the test. Founded in 2002 in Park City, Utah, by a real estate developer and food enthusiast, ProBar set out to take all of the unnecessary ingredients, additives, and added sugars out of the classic meal bar experience.

ProBar Meal Bars are still on the sweet side, for sure, but they are made of nothing but real organic food and have no added sugars. They also pack 9 grams of protein into a small package. Twelve of them won’t take up too much room in your bear can, they will only add a little more than two pounds to your pack, and they will provide you with plenty of energy to crank out those early morning miles.

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Archer Farms Unsalted Cashew Cranberry Almond Trail Mix, $10.99 from Target

Archer Farms Unsalted Cashew Cranberry Almond Trail Mix

Target

Everyone needs a snack out on the trail, and this trail mix from the trusted Target brand is about as healthy as they come. Nothing but dried sweetened cranberries, raw cashews, and raw almonds make this perfect snack food a minimal but delicious source of dietary fiber and protein, as well as a strong antioxidant. Empty the 30 ounce plastic jar into seven zip-top snack bags and enjoy one a day when you need a boost out on the trail.Buy Now

Kim’s Roasted Seaweed (Nori) Snacks, Sea Salt, 16 packs for $11.99 from Amazon

Kim's Roasted Seaweed (Nori) Snacks, Sea Salt

Amazon

Something that is unfortunately impossible to pack on a hike is fresh produce. Most produce needs refrigeration and is also far too delicate to smash into a bear can. Produce that has the structural integrity to hold up in a pack has a tendency to take up a lot of precious space. Carrots are too bulky, and they get slimy very quickly. You can rule out broccoli or Brussels sprouts because of their stench, and leafy greens like kale or chard or get nasty after only a day or two. For this reason, I always find myself fiending for a dark, leafy green while out on the trail, and I actually find that seaweed does the trick.

It isn’t ideal, for sure—it has the bitterness I crave, but in snack form it is pretty salty. But on the plus side it is high in fiber, loaded with essential vitamins and minerals, and it is a natural source of iodine and heart-healthy omega-3s. It helps control blood sugar levels and keeps your bowels moving, and it contains amino acids, which are the building blocks for protein. It is a superfood, and 16 portions weigh less than three ounces.

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StarKist Low Sodium Albacore White Tuna, $1.89 from Target

StarKist Low Sodium Albacore White Tuna

Target

Lunch out on the trail should be quick, easy, and cold (or room temperature, in most cases), as no one wants to break momentum to dig their cooking equipment out of their pack or start a fire in the middle of the day when they are trying to make camp by sundown. Tuna is a wonderful lunch food, as it requires minimum effort, packs well, has 16 grams of protein in one 2.6 ounce pouch, and tastes delicious. I always have at least a few pouches of StarKist with me out on the trail, and sometimes I’ll even throw some Mary’s Gone Crackers into the mix, but that’s just getting fancy.Buy Now

Salumeria Salamini Series Columbus Peppered Salami, $8.99 from Target

Salumeria Salamini Series Columbus Peppered Salami

Target

Speaking of fancy, you know what else packs well? Salami. Salami is shelf-stable, so it doesn’t require refrigeration, and though it will continue to dry out over time, you will definitely be consuming it within the week, and probably within the first couple of days if you lack self-control like I do. Salami isn’t the healthiest snack, for sure, but it is a great treat out on the trail, and it provides seven grams of protein in each one ounce serving. Pair it with the next item for a rich, flavorful midday snack out on the trail.Buy Now

Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp White Cheddar Sticks, price & availability varies

Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp White Cheddar Sticks

Cracker Barrel

Obviously you don’t want cheese in your pack if you are hiking through Joshua Tree in June, but these individually wrapped cheddar bars pack really well (10 bars weigh a mere 7.5 ounces) and the sharp white cheddar is hard enough to hold up for a week in any temperate climate. A stick of cheese and some salami in the middle of the day goes a long way when you are clocking several miles an hour on foot. These are also a good source of calcium.Buy Now

Epic Venison Sea Salt & Pepper Nutrition Bars, $10.99 from Target + Idahoan Mashed Potatoes, $0.95 from Target

Epic Venison Sea Salt & Pepper Nutrition Bars

Target

This is where things get a little creative, and I’m going to need you to trust me. You have made it to your resting spot for the day and you want nothing more than to eat a hearty meal and watch the sky change colors for a while before you retire to your tent for a long night’s rest. If you want to put in a bit of work, check out these stellar camping dinner recipes. But honestly, one of the tastiest, quickest, and easiest camp meals I have ever prepared involved nothing but an Epic Venison Sea Salt & Pepper Nutrition Bar and a bag of Idahoan Mashed Potatoes.

Epic bars have only a few ingredients and are quite literally meaty. The Epic Venison Sea Salt & Pepper Nutrition Bar comes with 12 grams of protein from nutrient-dense, lean venison meat, and has no other ingredients except for spices. The Idahoan Mashed Potatoes pack really well—a 4-ounce pouch is only a dollar—and they fill you up and taste absolutely delicious. They also come in several different flavors, so you can eat Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes one day and Sour Cream & Chives Mashed Potatoes the next.

The sodium in the meal will help to refuel the electrolytes lost during your hike, and for an added bonus, stash a little plastic bottle of olive oil in your pack to boost your healthy fat and calories. Olive oil is one of the most calorie-dense foods hikers can carry—it registers 120 calories per half-ounce—and it really propels the whole meat and potatoes meal to the next level.

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Mountain House Backpacking Dinners, $8-$11 from REI

Mountain House Backpacking Dinners

REI

You obviously aren’t going to eat venison and mashed potatoes every day of the week, so bring at least one or two other trusty meals to work into your schedule. Mountain House Backpacking Dinners are the best dehydrated meals on the market, in my opinion. They aren’t cheap—most meals run around $9 or $10—but they are made from real food and they are quick, easy, and flavorful. They contain loads of protein and all of the healthy fat and calories your body will be craving after a day of wading through streams, hopping granite boulders, and frolicking through fields of wildflowers.

They also come in a mouthwatering array of varieties, including Beef Stroganoff with Noodles, Chicken Teriyaki with Rice, Lasagna with Meat Sauce, Chicken and Dumplings, Mexican Style Adobo Rice and Chicken, Fusilli Pasta with Italian Sausage, Homestyle Chicken Noodle Casserole, and Italian Style Pepper Steak, to name a few. The people at Mountain House are geniuses.

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Snickers Full-Size Candy Bars, 6 for $5.39 from Target

Snickers Full-Size Candy Bars

Target

The healthiest among us may scoff at the idea of even walking into the candy aisle at a grocery store, let alone bringing a six-pack of Snickers bars out on what is supposed to be a detoxifying and rejuvenating hike through the wilderness. But I can’t even explain to you how satisfying the first delectable bite of a Snickers Bar is after a long day on the trail. One Snickers Bar is also a whopping 250 calories, which your body will be dying for by the time the sky is starting to change colors in the great dome above it all. Kick off your boots and awaken your senses with the classic mixture of milk chocolate, peanuts, caramel, and nougat, and you’ll see what I mean.Buy Now

Stash Herbal & Decaf Tea Sampler, 40 bags for $14.99 from Amazon

Stash Herbal & Decaf Tea Sampler

Amazon

Another way to entertain your palate after a long day of drinking nothing but water is to savor a delicious cup of herbal tea after you have set up camp. Immersing your senses in a steaming cup of tea is one of the great pleasures in life, and has been for 5,000 years. There is nowhere in the world where the impetus for that rich history is more evident than out in the wilderness, far from the hum of industry and commerce and the glow of ever-present electronics.

You can save on some dough and get a Celestial Seasonings Herbal Tea Sampler for only $3, but I highly prefer a Stash Herbal Tea Sampler. This one includes 20 flavors, like Acai Berry, Blueberry Superfruit, Chamomile, Cinnamon Apple Chamomile, Lemon Ginger, Licorice Spice, Mango Passionfruit, Peppermint, and Wild Raspberry Hibiscus, and the tea is all packaged in stay-fresh foil wrappers so you can really jam it into your pack without worrying about getting tea leaves everywhere.

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Header image courtesy of Mountain House

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