76 Backpacking Food Ideas from the Appalachian Trail - Greenbelly Meals

76 Backpacking Food Ideas from the Appalachian Trail


Updated: October 26th, 2021

backpacking food ideas inside cansiter

Here is a list of the best backpacking food ideas out there, organized by suggested meal, and a few guidelines to keep in mind when meal planning for the backcountry.

Backpacking food doesn't only have to taste good, it needs to be lightweight, nutritious, and easy to prep.And the foods below meet these exact requirements. In fact, these are the foods thru-hikers like Greenbelly founder, Chris Cage, eat when doing a long-distance hike like, say, the Appalachian Trail (2,000+ miles).

Let's dive right in with some food ideas for breakfast.

Note: to download a spreadsheet with all the food ideas in this post, click here.To edit the file and add your own ideas, select File -> Save a Copy.

tortillas and chips


BREAKFAST

Per 100g Calories Protein Fat Fiber
Instant Oatmeal 357 14 7 10
Instant Grits 357 7 1 3
Dried Berries 375 0 0 5
Dried Tropical Fruits 357 3 0 10
Other Dried Fruits 325 2 0 5
Macadamia 714 7 0 7
Pumpkin Seeds 566 30 50 6
Powder Meals 500 26 31 10
Protein Powder 354 71 8 16
Powdered Eggs 140 12 10 0
Powdered Milk 347 34 0 0
Mountain House Breakfast Skillet 490 26 22 3
Next Mile Meals Sausage Scramble 623 37 48 0
PackitGourmet TexMex Breakfast Tacos 623 29 49 3

1. Instant Oatmeal Packets

Calories per 100g: 357.1

A backpacking food staple. The best thing about these packets is that they serve as a bowl. Just add hot water to heat the oats inside. Get the variety pack.

quaker instant oatmeal packet

2. Instant Grits

Calories per 100g: 357.1

You don't have to be Southern to love grits. As easy as oatmeal and can be a nice savory addition to mix up your backpacking meals.

quaker grits

3. Dried Berries

Calories per 100g: 375

Dried berries give a nice hit of sugar when you need a boost on the trail. They also contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants your body needs. They are a much healthier alternative to candy. The best is if you can find (and correctly identify them) along the trail.

mariana dried berries

4. Dried Tropical Fruit

Calories per 100g: 357.1

Dried tropical fruits contain high amounts of sugar along with important vitamins and minerals. Banana chips contain fiber. Mangos and pineapple contain vitamins A, C and potassium. Coconut is high in healthy oil.

mother earth dried banana

5.Other Dried Fruits

Calories per 100g:

Other dried fruits are beneficial as well. Raisins are loaded with iron, magnesium and folate. Apricots contain potassium and fiber. Dried fruits are an excellent way for a quick sugar fix along with the nutrition it needs.

dried fruits

6. Nuts

Calories per 100g: 714.3

Loaded with calories, protein and fat, nuts are a hiker's secret weapon. Snack on nuts throughout the day to keep feeding your body the fat and protein it needs to keep moving. Most nuts, like almonds, peanuts and cashews, contain 160 - 170 calories per ounce. Macadamia and pecans are even better around 200. Nuts also contain fiber and other minerals. Nut mixes are easy to find in stores and are widely available in bulk aisles if you prefer to create your own mixes.

Macadamia Signature Safeway

7. Seeds

Calories per 100g: 566.7

Like nuts, seeds are another great category of superfoods. Calorically dense and packed full of good oils and protein, add seeds into your meals and snacks wherever you can. They are also high in fiber. Each kind of seed contains a different balance of vitamins and minerals so vary it up. I often add sunflower and chia seeds in my breakfast, pumpkin seeds in my trail mix and hemp seeds to my dinners.

elan pumpkin seeds

8. Powder Meals

Calories per 100g: 500

There are many 'powder' options out there. From complete meal replacements to weightlifting supplements. Aim to keep it minimally processed, nutritious, and tasty. Our Mud Meal 2.0 is a drinkable meal specifically designed for hikers with 400 calories 21+ grams of protein and 20+ grams of fat.

mud meal powder meal

9. Protein Powder

Calories per 100g: 354.8

Protein powders are designed to provide lots of protein to your muscles after a workout. On the trail, they can be an easy way to get a quick boost of protein at the end of the day.

garden of life protein powder

10. Powdered Eggs

Calories per 100g: 140

For flavor and texture reasons, I'm not a huge fan. Powdered eggs are extremely popular on the trail though. Easy, lightweight and cheap protein that can the closest thing to a Waffle House in the backcountry.

OvaEasy Egg Crystals

11. Powdered Milk

Calories per 100g: 347.8

Milk without the weight. Great protein, potassium, fat and calorie boost. Try mixing it up with some granola and dried fruit for breakfast. Or make your oatmeal a little creamier.

carnation powdered milk

12. Mountain House Breakfast Skillet

Calories per 100g: 490.6

One of Mountain House’s most popular meals, this classic scramble of hash browns, sausage, veggies and eggs will fuel you for a big day of hiking.

Mountain House Breakfast Skillet

13. Next Mile Meals Sausage Scramble

Calories per 100g: 623.5

High protein and fat, this meal packs a whopping 177 calories per oz and consists of just eggs, cheese and sausage. It’s also KETO friendly.

Next Mile Meals Sausage Scramble

14. PackitGourmet TexMex Breakfast Tacos

Calories per 100g: 623

At 177 calories per ounce, this is another great protein and fat boost to get your day started. BYO tortillas and hot sauce to make it the real deal.

Mountain House Breakfast Skillet
Dried Fruits and Peanut Butter on BagelDried Fruits and Peanut Butter on Bagel

LUNCH

Per 100g Calories Protein Fat Fiber
Beef Brisket 285 39 10 0
Salami 321 25 21 0
Summer Sausage 321 17 26 0
Pepperoni 500 16 46 0
Tuna 202 21 12 0
Salmon 140 24 4 0
Chicken 125 21 3 0
Hard Cheddar 428 21 0 0
Cream Cheese 263 5 23 0
Tortillas 200 3 1 6
Greenbelly Meals 429 11 14 6
Bagels 284 9 1 2
Crackers 500 6 28 0
Apple Sauce 77 0 0 3

15. Beef Brisket

Calories per 100g: 285.6

High in protein and salt beef jerky is a great trail snack. It’s easy to slowly chew on as you hike. And it doesn't need refrigeration.

duke's beef brisket

16. Salami

Calories per 100g: 321.4

Salami is another dry meat packed full of protein and salt. It’s fine to be stored at room temp and less processed than jerky. It can be sliced to put on wraps, crackers or eaten on its own.

backpacking food Salami

17. Summer Sausage

Calories per 100g: 321.4

As a semi-dry meat summer sausage has more moisture content making it heavier than other trail meats. It also can spoil if left out too long at hotter temps. Pack it on shorter trips or eat it in the first day or two of a longer trip before switching to drier meats.

Hickory Farms Summer Sausage

18. Pepperoni

Calories per 100g: 500

A spicy meat product similar in moisture content and hardness to salami. Great on wraps. Doesn’t spoil at room temp.

Hormel Pepperoni

19. Tuna

Calories per 100g: 202.7

Tuna is probably the most popular meat of choice for thru-hikers. Conveniently packaged, available everywhere and inexpensive. Get it packaged in olive oil for additional calories.

backpacking food tuna

20. Salmon

Calories per 100g: 140.4

Containing healthy omega fatty acids and vitamins, salmon is another great packaged meat choice. The drawback is it can be harder to find and more expensive.

backpacking food salmon

21. Chicken (Packets)

Calories per 100g: 125

The great thing about chicken packets is their versatility. Eat it plain, on wraps or add to your evening meal to give you an easy protein boost.

chicken valley fresh packets

22. Hard Cheese

Calories per 100g: 121

Cheese can be a heavy food for some ultralight backpackers. However, it can provide a lot of calories and fat. Not to mention, it can really enhance the meat flavor. Aim for 'harder' cheeses - they are more shelf stable.

backpacking food cheese

23.Cream Cheese

Calories per 100g: 263.2

Single serve packets of cream cheese provide protein and fat on the trail. They are supposed to be refrigerated for optimal shelf life so eat on the first couple days of your hike.

backpacking food cream cheese

24. Tortillas

Calories per 100g: 200

Bread can be too bulky and fluffy for backpacking. Tortillas are compact and can take a beating. Great for wraps - Peanut Butter and M&Ms, Meat and Cheese, Hummus and Peppers. Mmmmmm.

tortillas mission

25. Greenbelly Meals

Calories per 100g: 429

These backpacking meals are ready-to-eat, ultralight and loaded with a balanced 33% of your DV of Calories, Protein, Fats, Fiber, Carbs, and Sodium. All natural ingredients, and definitely one of our favorite hiking lunch ideas.

backpacking food greenbelly meal

26. Bagels

Calories per 100g: 284.2

If tortillas are too flat, bagels can help provide that nice 'fluff' texture of bread. They are a more pack-able and less delicate option.

thomas breads bagels

27. Crackers

Calories per 100g: 500

High in carbohydrates and sodium. Hang them on the outside of your pack with a bandanna if you think they'll get smashed inside.

ritz crackers

28. Apple Sauce

Calories per 100g: 77.8

Squeeze pouches of applesauce are a tasty source of sugar and fiber. They are also easy to pack and eat as a quick snack on the trail.

apple sauce Gogo Squeez
sriracha ramen food idea
Sriracha Ramen Noodles

DINNER

Per 100g Calories Protein Fat Fiber
Instant Noodles 202 4 8 0
Rice Noodles  350 8 1 2
Instant Rice 375 10 1 3
Couscous 354 12 1 4
Olive Oil 800 0 86 0
Instant Potatoes 392 7 10 3
Dried Corn, Peas, Carrots 357 14 3 0
Dried Broccoli 285 32 3 32
Sun Dried Tomatoes 392 10 0 7
Lentils 392 25 0 21
Beans 357 21 0 32
Backpacker's Pantry Pad Thai  400 17 14 7
Mountain House Beef Stroganoff 459 19 19 1
Peak Refuel Chicken Alfredo Pasta 485 31 22 1
Good to-Go Herbed Mushroom Risotto 431 13 10 4
Ready to eat Chili 100 5 2 2
Ready to Eat Rice Medley 142 3 2 3
Ready to Eat Curry 100 2 5 1

29. Instant Noodles

Calories per 100g: 202

Get noodles instead of pasta. Seasoned noodles generally don't need a lot of cleanup compared to creamy pasta which can leave your bowl or cup a sticky mess. They also have a lot of carbohydrates.

nissin soba noodles

30. Rice Noodles

Calories per 100g: 350

Thin rice noodles called vermicelli cook by just adding hot water. Add in some dehydrated veggies, peanut butter powder and spices to make a quick and easy pad thai.

Rice Noodles

31. Instant Rice

Calories per 100g: 375

A great base for a backpacking dinner meal. There are also countless rice varieties with different seasonings and veggie fixin's at the store.

knorr instant rice

32. Couscous

Calories per 100g: 354.8

Cooks in 5 minutes - much faster than rice or noodles. The light texture can be a nice dinner relief. High in fiber. A little less filling in my opinion though.

near east couscous

33. Olive Oil

Calories per 100g: 800

Super dense calories and fat. It can add some much-needed moisture to a dry noodle or rice dish... crackers and tuna as well. A little 5 oz bottle will do. Pack in an isolated bag in case it busts.

bragg olive oil

34. Instant Potatoes

Calories per 100g: 392.9

Another backpacking staple and great meal base. Ultralight backpacking food with carbs and sodium. Add meat, oil or spices to liven it up.

Idahoan Instant Potatoes

35. Dried Corn, Peas, Carrots

Calories per 100g: 357.1

It’s hard to eat healthy food on the trail. Dried vegetables like peas, corn and carrots are an exception. Lightweight and compact, they are easy to add with a carb and some spices to create and a nice backcountry meal.

mother earth dried corn

36. Dried Broccoli

Calories per 100g: 285.7

Dried Broccoli is used the same way as other dried vegetables. We are separating from the other to highlight the key nutrients it offers your body for hiking. Broccoli is high in potassium, vitamin C, folate and iron. For a vegetable, it’s also relatively high in protein.

thousand lakes dried broccoli

37. Sun Dried Tomatoes

Calories per 100g: 392.9

High in vitamins (especially vitamin C), fiber, and antioxidants, sun dried tomatoes are also bursting with flavor. You can eat them alone as a snack or use them to jazz up meals and wraps.

bella sun luci sun dried tomatoes

38. Lentils

Calories per 100g: 392.9

I had not ever eaten this until the Appalachian Trail. In the legume family (with peanuts and peas), Lentils are an ancient superfood rich in calories, protein, fiber, and Iron. Takes a few extra minutes to cook.

food to live red lentils

39. Beans

Calories per 100g: 357.1

A great source of fiber and protein, beans are a great option for vegetarians and meat eaters alike. Dehydrated beans take longer to rehydrate and usually require cooking. Instant beans can rehydrate with cold water.

mother earth dehydrated beans

40. Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai

Calories per 100g: 400

Both versions are gluten free and the veggie option is vegetarian and vegan. They pack a ton of protein and flavor to please just about any hiker. The crushed peanuts are packed separately to keep them crunchy.

Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai

41. Mountain House Beef Stroganoff

Calories per 100g: 459

A great comfort meal for the trail with beef, mushrooms, creamy sauce and pasta. The nutrition and caloric density are in the middle of the pack.

Mountain House Beef Stroganoff

42. Peak Refuel Chicken Alfredo Pasta

Calories per 100g: 485.7

Filled with carbs, protein and a rich creamy sauce this Alfredo makes our list for sporting an impressive caloric density of 174 calories/ounce.

Peak Refuel Chicken Alfredo Pasta

43. Good to-Go Herbed Mushroom Risotto

Calories per 100g: 431.6

For vegans and gluten free hikers this mushroom risotto provides all the creamy goodness normally reserved for beef stroganoffs and alfredo pasta while also being high in protein. It’s free of additives and preservatives too.

Good to-Go Herbed Mushroom Risotto

44. Ready-to-Eat Chili

Calories per 100g: 100

Ready to eat chilis have all the flavor of the chili you’d have at home. They just require heating. However, this means you’re carrying the water weight with you from the trailhead. If you’re on a short trip and don’t want to sacrifice taste they make great meals.

Ready to eat Chili bean vivo

45. Ready-to-Eat Rice Medley

Calories per 100g: 142.9

Ready to eat rice meals are easy to heat and serve after a long day of hiking. Being ready to eat means the ability to use simple natural ingredients high in nutrition, which brands like truRoots specialize in. They are not dehydrated and may be too heavy on longer trips.

Ready to Eat Rice Medley TruRoots

46. Ready-to-Eat Curry

Calories per 100g: 100

Ready to eat curries come in a wide range of flavors and are especially good options for vegan, vegetarian and gluten free hikers. Like other ready to eat meals they aren’t lightweight but for a weekend trip they are great options.

Ready to Eat Curry Tasty Bite
good to-go freeze-dried oatmeal food ideaGood to-Go's Oatmeal

BACKPACKING SNACKS

Per 100g Calories Protein Fat Fiber
Energy Chews 296 0 0 0
Energy Gels 323 0 0 0
Fruit Leather 357 0 0 7
Pork Rinds 446 50 25
Seaweed 500 20 40 20
Broccoli 34 2 1 3
Nut Butters 656 21 56 3
Honey 333 0 0 0
Granola Bar 452 7 16 4
Hummus 134 6 6 4
Trail Mix 533 16 30 3
Potato chips 476 7 21 4
Energy Bars 382 13 10 5

47. Energy Chews

Calories per 100g: 296.3

Chews usually have a gummy bear-like consistency. Some are caffeinated, loaded with electrolytes, whatever you fancy.

backpacking food energy chews

48. Energy Gels

Calories per 100g: 323.5

Similar to chews, the options for gels and goos are endless. Super convenient energy boost for quick calories.

backpacking food energy gels

49. Fruit Leather

Calories per 100g: 357.1

A good source of natural sugar and tastes like candy. Called "leather" because it can be thick and chewy like leather.

stretch island fruit leather

50. Pork Rinds

Calories per 100g: 446.4

The best thing about pork rinds is the texture. So much backpacking food is mealy and dense. Pork rinds are ultra crisp and crunchy. Their "puffy" volume can take up more space. But, they are loaded with protein.

TJ’s Gourmet Pork Rinds

51. Seaweed 

Calories per 100g: 500

Ready-to-eat dark greens? Practically unheard of. I don't know of a lighter or easier green to eat while backpacking. Seaweed is the ultimate trail superfood. Try it out.

gimme seaweed

52. Broccoli

Calories per 100g:

As one of the hardier green vegetables, broccoli is a winning combination of tough and nutritious. Florets can be cooked or eaten raw. A head of broccoli will last about 3 days in your pack.

backpacking food broccoli

53. Nut Butter

Calories per 100g: 656.3

The king of backpacking food. Crammed with calories, fat, sodium and protein. Ready-to-eat and can easily be incorporated in most backpacking meal ideas.

backpacking food peanut butter

54. Honey

Calories per 100g:

Let peanut butter be the food of choice for the savory loving backpacking community. But, give the sweet award to honey. Sweeten up your tea or crackers or eat it straight.

portion pack honey

55. Granola Bar

Calories per 100g: 452.4

Too many options to name. There are protein bars, energy bars, snack bars, nutrition bars, food bars - you name it. Ready-to-eat and usually high in nutrition. Keep it natural and minimally processed.

natural valley granola bar

56. Hummus

Calories per 100g: 134

A lesser-known backpacking superfood. Like peanut butter, it can be lathered on almost anything. On top of the yummy taste, hummus is dense calories, carbs, protein, and fiber.

wild garden hummus

57. Trail Mix

Calories per 100g: 533.3

A high fat and calorie snack, trail mix comes in a cornucopia of options. The basic ingredients are nuts and seeds for fat and salt, dried fruit and chocolate for sugary carbohydrates. Easy to DIY or buy ready made.

backpacking food trail mix

58. Potato Chips

Calories per 100g: 476.2

High in fat, salt and flavor, potato chips are an easy to find hiker favorite. Thicker chips, like Cape Cod Kettle Chips, hold up to crushing better. They are also made with more wholesome ingredients.

cape cod potato chips

59. Energy Bars

Calories per 100g: 382.4

It doesn’t get easier than prepackaged energy bars. If you really wanted to, you could survive a whole backpacking trip on bars. Bars come served in various sizes, calories, and flavor assortments from chocolaty, fruity, salty and sweet.

clif bar energy bar
trail mix with nuts, dried fruits, and M&M's
Calorie-loaded trail mix with almonds, peanuts, dried fruit, and M&M's

DRINKS

Per 100g Calories Protein Fat Fiber
Tabs 2 0 0 0
Powder Mixes 0 0 0 0
Tea 0 0 0 0
Instant Coffee 400 15 5 4

60. Electrolyte Tabs

Calories per 100g: 1.7

Great source for electrolytes and enhances hydration. Tastes great. Drop a tab in your water and watch it fizz away (like Alka-Seltzer).

nuun tabs

61. Powder Mixes

Calories per 100g:0

Similar benefits as the tabs - electrolytes and enhances hydration. Usually with a lot more flavor options and some have vitamin and mineral enhancements.

ultima replenisher powder mixwa

62. Tea

Calories per 100g:0

As much caffeine as coffee, but less mess. Chamomile tea before bed is a nice way to end the day after some strenuous hiking.

lipton tea

63. Coffee: Cubes or Powder or Pour Over (Alpine Start)

Calories per 100g: 400

Instant coffee has come a long way over the last few years. In fact, many local specialty roasters now offer an instant option. Jiva cubes are a unique lightweight option that provide a rich taste. There are also lightweight pour over devices if you want to pack real grounds.

Buy Alpine Start at Amazon

alpine start instant coffee

EXTRAS

Per 100g Calories Protein Fat Fiber
Multivitamin - - - -
Fruit Powders 33 0 0 1
Veggie Powders 250 50 0 50
Spices 416 11 16 19

65. Multivitamin

Calories per 100g:

Get those vitamins and minerals without the bulky food. Particularly good to get your Vitamin C and Calcium which are less easy to come by in shelf-stable trail food.

backpacking food multivitamin

66. Fruit Powders

Calories per100g:

Another hidden backpacking food gem. Pour fruit powder into an ounce of water and take a healthy fruit drink shot. Great way to get some fruit nutrition without the weight.

backpacking fruit powders

67. Veggie Powders (Kuli Kuli)

Calories per100g: 250

Like fruit powders, a great way to get harder to come by nutrition on the trail. Often veggie powders have stevia or other sweeteners mixed in to hide the grassy taste.

Buy Kuli Kuli at Amazon

backpacking food veggie powder

68. Spices

Calories per100g:

Keep your carb dinners (noodle, rice, couscous, potatoes) plain and spice it up to your liking with a DIY seasoning kit (salt, pepper, garlic, chili). Portion it into smaller zip loc bags to save weight.

backpacking food spices
backpacking food crackers
Crackers and cheese

DESSERTS

Per 100g Calories Protein Fat Fiber
Cookies 548.4 6.5 29 0
Baked Goods (eg. Honey Buns) 392.6 5.2 17 1.5
Brownie or Cookie Mix 423.1 3.8 5.8 3.8
Candy 477 6.8 23.9 1.7
Dark Chocolate 598 7 42 11
Backpacker's Pantry Creme Brulee 484.4 9.4 23.4 0
AlpineAire Cinnamon Apple Crisp 368.4 1.8 1.8 1.8
Mountain House Ice Cream Sandwich 437.5 6.3 15.6 0

69. Cookies

Calories per 100g: 548.4

Quick burning carbs and lots of fats make cookies a winning trail snack. One of my favorites growing up (and on the trail today!) are the impressively calorically dense Keebler Sandies Cashew Shortbreads at 156 cal/oz.

keebler cashew shortbread

70. Baked Goods (Honey Buns, Donuts, etc.)

Calories per100g:392.6

Fluffy breads and baked goods prone to getting squished are generally a no-no on the trail. The exception are high in fat and carb loaded baked goods like donuts and honey buns. These won’t win any nutritional awards but they will give you a satisfyingly sweet hit of energy.

backpacking food honey bun

71. Brownie or Cookie Mix

Calories per100g: 423.1

A hiking food option for ultralight hikers pushing big miles. Brownie and cookie mixes are loaded with sugar, can be mixed in with cold water and are super lightweight.

betty crocker brownie mix

72. Candy

Calories per100g:477

If you’re starting to fade candy like jelly beans, m&ms and candy bars give you quick burning energy. They don’t provide the best nutrition, best not to lean on them too heavily.

backpacking food candy snickers

73. Dark Chocolate

Calories per100g:

Dark chocolate has a high concentration of cocoa and is a powerful anti-oxidant. It can be extremely satisfying on the trail as a healthier option for those with a sweet tooth.

backpacking food dark chocolate

74. Backpacker’s Pantry Creme Brulee

Calories per100g:484.4

This gluten free, just add water dessert is about as easy as it gets on the trail. Just add water and wait ten minutes. Great for after dinner or an afternoon snack.

Backpacker’s Pantry Creme Brulee

75. Alpine Aire Cinnamon Apple Crisp

Calories per100g:368.4

Can be enjoyed as a treat or as a sweet breakfast meal. It rates high as one of the most satisfying package desserts but it is lower on nutrition and calories per ounce.

Alpine Aire Cinnamon Apple Crisp

76. Mountain House Ice Cream Sandwich

Calories per100g:437.5

Want ice cream on the trail? No worries. This ice cream sandwich is similar to the freeze dried versions astronauts take to space. Ready to eat right out of the package.

Mountain House Ice Cream Sandwich
Tortilla loaded with m&m & fritos
Loaded Trail Taco

The 5 Backpacking Food Requirements

LIGHTWEIGHT: Ideally containing little or no water (dehydrated). Water is the number one contributor to food weight, packaging being the second. Prioritize "dry" food and feel free to repackage it if the cardboard boxes and bagging is excessive. It all adds up to a heavy pack, which can lead to a miserable hiking trip.


READY-TO-EAT: 
You will be hiking in the daytime and will not want to set up the stove to cook, let alone to have dishes to clean. Make sure your meals and snacks are extremely simple so you can keep moving. Even for dinner at camp, most backpackers only cook "one-pot-meals". See a few ideas: 17 Simple Backpacking Recipes.


NUTRITIOUS: 
Hikers have been known to burn up to 6,000 calories a day. In short, you need to consume a lot of macronutrients to balance out the high burn-rate. High-levels of calories, carbohydrates, protein, fats, fiber, and electrolytes (mainly sodium, calcium, potassium, and magnesium) are a must.

Eating dried mango for backpacking

Dried mango

PACKABLE: Space is already tight in any hiker’s pack, so when it comes to packing food, it’s important to make sure the food counts. This means compact, nutrient-dense options that will keep you full without taking up unnecessary space. Snacks like nuts, trail mix, beef jerky, nut butter packs, and flatbreads are less bulky and much more bang-for-your-buck compared to “poofy” options like bread, popcorn, or packaged items preserved with nitrogen, like a bag of chips.


SHELF-STABLE: 
Shelf life doesn’t just mean how long food stays edible for. It also refers to how long food remains nutritious and flavorful. Certain freeze-dried foods can last up to 30 years if stored in dry, cool areas, while beef jerky and other forms of dried meat can last well over a year, whether they’re in hot, cold, muggy, or you-name-it weather. This makes items like dried meats, fruits, veggies, and packaged tuna or chicken (not canned) good, long-lasting, and nutrient-dense options for backpacking meals. They can easily adjust from warm to cold climates without spoiling, and they can last months, or longer, with no worry of them going bad.

moutain house food©Kimberly McKittrick


Backpacking Food Tips

Want to take your food prep to the next level? Here are some pro tips that will help you keep your pack light while enjoying satisfying meals on the trail.


1. PAY ATTENTION TO NUTRITIONAL DENSITY:
If you really want to nerd out, keep nutritional density in mind. In other words, if you are going to carry 2 pounds of food per day, you would rather it provide 3,000 calories versus 1,500 calories. This is where the term "calorie-to-ounce ratio" comes from. Try to prioritize hiking food that provides at least 100 calories per oz.


2. GET A VARIETY OF TEXTURES AND FLAVORS:
I find crunchy things like crackers and pork rinds a nice refresher after eating dense and mealy textures for several days. Give yourself a "treat" at the end of every day. Just something to look forward to - a candy bar, a cup of tea, etc.

Preparing a freeze dried pad thaiFreeze-dried Pad Thai from Backpacker's Pantry


3. REPACKAGE EVERYTHING:
Many packaged foods come with a lot of wasted space in their packaging. If you’re a backpacker, this also means there could be a lot of wasted space in your pack. By taking foods out of their packaging and re-packing them in resealable bags ahead of time, you’ll not only save yourself some space, but you can also ensure the food stays securely closed when put away. For the really organized hikers out there, you can also take this one step further and label the bags with what’s inside of them, if you want.


4.PACK FOOD WISELY:
For easier accessibility and better weight distribution in your pack, try to store your foods in the upper/middle part of your backpack and close to your body. It’s also a good plan to make sure your foods nowhere near your stove fuel, as a precaution. “Crunchy” foods or other textures that easily get “smooshed” should go farther towards the top while the denser foods go more in the middle. It’s also convenient to throw a couple of snacks in your hip pockets or other easily accessible areas, that way when you need something to tie you over between meals, you won’t have to go looking very far, or even break stride if you don’t want to.

backpacking dinner on plates©Elise Ott&Rusty Ford


5. USE A STUFF STACK:
If you’re an organized person, you’ll probably like this tip. There are all kinds of organization tricks you can do with food and stuff sacks. Keep all your snacks together in one bag, keep all your meals together in another, or keep one day of meals in one bag, another day in another, and so forth. It might not seem like a big deal, but sometimes a little organization and reliability on the trail is just what the heart needs. Even if it’s just with your food. But if you don’t care about organization, then you can keep all your food in one giant stuff sack, compressing it down so it all fits better in your pack. Either way, stuff sacks help keep food protected, along with stopping the rest of your gear from smelling like food.


6. PLAN YOUR SUPPLIES AHEAD OF TIME:
Mailing boxes to resupply points requires some planning and prep-work ahead of time, but having pre-packed boxes of food you specifically picked out can be a great option for those with food allergies or special dietary needs (gluten-free, lactose, vegetarian, etc.). With a bounce box, you can send food or really any items you want but don’t necessarily need to carry on you all the time to post offices in towns ahead that you’ll be passing through. This is a great way to cut some weight in your pack. Besides food, razors, phone chargers, postcards, clean clothes, and duct tape are all common items in bounce boxes. Something to consider with resupply points and bounce boxes is that you are at the mercy of the post office, as they have limited hours and only hold packages for about 2 weeks. So, there’s not much room for flexibility in case you get held up somewhere longer than you planned.


Types of Backpacking Food

JUST ADD HOT WATER:DEHYDRATEDMEALS

Pros

✅ Variety of flavors
✅ Tasty
✅ Minimal planning involved

Cons

❌ Can be pricey
❌ Need to cook

When food gets dehydrated or freeze-dried, the water in the food is removed. This not only makes the food lighter, but it also makes it smaller, shrinking it to about half its original size and weight. On top of that, the process also extends its shelf life immensely. All good things for backpackers. When you’re ready to eat, just add some water, and the food magically “poofs” back up to normal consistency. (Related:Best Freeze-Dried Meals)


JUST ADD HOT WATER:RICE, PASTA AND NOODLES

Pros

✅Available everywhere
✅ Cheap
✅ Goes with everything

Cons

❌ Messy
❌Need to cook

Found at grocery stores, corner stores, and sometimes even gas stations, these lightweight, convenient side dishes or meal starters come in a variety of flavors; Spanish rice, herb and butter, cheddar broccoli, etc. You can throw in a can of chicken or tuna for an easy, inexpensive meal.


RAW:NUTS, FRUITS, BUTTERS, TORTILLAS AND BAGELS

Pros

✅ No prep or cleanup
✅ Nutritious
✅ Cheap

Cons

❌ Can be bland
❌ Feels like a "snack"

Some hikers prefer to go the non-cook route, forgoing their stove and cooking and cleaning duties entirely. It’s more of a “bare minimum” approach, but raw foods can be a great option for quick, hassle-free breakfasts, lunches, and on those nights where you just really don’t want to cook.


PREPACKAGED BARS:ENERGY, MEAL REPLACEMENT, AND PROTEIN BARS

Pros

✅No prep or cleanup
✅ Nutritious
✅ Compact

Cons

❌Can be bland
❌ Can be heavily processed

Energy bars, snack bars, protein bars, meal replacement bars. If you really wanted to, you could survive your entire backpacking trip on prepackaged bars alone. The best thing about them is how they’re a snack or even a meal you can eat anywhere, anytime. Bars come served in various sizes, calories, and flavor assortments whether you prefer something more chocolaty, fruity, or salty/sweet. (Related:Best Meal Replacement Bars)


POWDERED:EGGS, MILK AND SHAKES

Pros

✅ Lightweight
✅ Long shelf life
✅ Nutritious

Cons

❌ Can be messy
❌"Liquid meals" not for everyone

For backcountry cooking, powdered milk and eggs are shelf-stable, versatile ingredients. Both options come sold in bulk sizes, so a single container can last awhile, being used for a number of meals.

Another multi-serving meal option is a meal replacement shake, which also comes sold in bulk and usually has anywhere between 15-30 servings in a bag. The best thing about meal shakes is that if you don’t feel like cooking or stopping to eat, you can drink your meal instead.

Protein shakes are another good thing to have on the trail. They don’t fill in as a fully balanced meal replacement option, but they are a good way to take in additional calories on the days you need a little something extra.

(Related: Best Meal Replacement Powders, Drinks, Mixes and Shakes)

eating greenbelly meals at camp©Aaron Ibey


Cook vs Non Cook

NO-COOK BENEFITS

Your first thought when hearing “no cook” might be “heck no.” It’s hard to beat a hot meal at the end of a long day or a warm morning cup of coffee.

In fact, I was skeptical at first too, but after completing an entire thru-hike without cooking, I’m convinced. 

There are a few other practical reasons for going stoveless.

  • Save Cash: You don't have to purchase a costly stove and cooking vessel. You can prepare a stoveless meal in an empty peanut butter jar if you want. Saving money on cooking supplies means you'll have additional funds to spend elsewhere.
  • Save Weight: Generally, backpackers use their stoves twice a day. Once in the morning for breakfast and once at night for dinner. That’s a lot of extra weight to carry around for just two uses a day.
  • Save Time: Since you don't have to cook or clean, you'll have more time to enjoy yourself when not hiking.
  • Worry Less: You'll never run out of fuel or go hungry because your stove is broken or too cold to work. No cooking also means you'll have fewer food containers to clean and fewer odors to attract wildlife.


WHEN TO BRING A STOVE

If you’re on a more casual trip with more downtime at camp, cooking up a hot meal at camp might be a priority.

Or, if the weather is colder, a cup of hot coffee in the morning can be worth the extra ounces.

As with any gear decision, pack items that will make your trip enjoyable.


HOW TO GO STOVELESS

Breakfast is relatively easy to cut the stove out. Cold oats, seeds and dried fruit (aka muesli) is a common breakfast in Europe and Australia. Instant coffee dissolves in cold water. Think of it as cold brew and you’re good to go.

For dinner, you might have to alter your meals a bit (no one wants to eat cold spaghetti bolognese). But with the increasing popularity of no cook backpacking, there is a large range of meals designed to give you a good balance of nutrition and flavor.

    Cold soaking is a great idea if you’re looking to save weight or want extra time to get miles in. Mix your food with cold water in a Talenti jar and let is soak for about half. Then eat up.

    Read next: 5-Day No-Cook Backpacking Meal Plan
     


    📸 Some photos in this post were taken by Ross Enlow (@rossaenlow).



    joshua johnson writer photo

    By Justin Sprecher (aka "Semisweet"): Semisweet is a Wisconsin-based thru-hiker, adventurer and digital storyteller. You can find him exploring the upper midwest on foot, in a canoe and on a bike.
    About Greenbelly: After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.

    Affiliate disclosure: We aim to provide honest information to our readers. We do not do sponsored or paid posts. In exchange for referring sales, we may receive a small commission through affiliate links. This post may contain affiliate links. This comes at no extra cost to you.



    the best backpacking meal - greenbelly