CAMPING & HIKING

Backpacking Food Ideas: How to Pack Enough Calories for Your Trip

vegan backpacking camping food
Dennis Owens
Written by Dennis Owens

We can all agree – everyone works quite an appetite up in the mountains. However, if you ever found yourself not feeling full even after hauling pounds and pounds of food, you might need to do something to adjust your hiking menu. This is where a few of our backpacking food ideas might come to help.

When it comes to meal prep at home, you should be able to avoid all the fuss on the trail. On top of that, nutritious home cooked meals can also be extremely light and take very little space in your backpack. Should we even mention they’re much healthier than store-bought foods?

That is why we’ve decided to help! We have included only recipes that are following the three simple rules about food for travel – light, space saving and nutritious. We have added a fourth rule – it should be also healthy. In the article you will find packing tips, recipes for every taste and even a sample packing list for a five day trip. Keep reading on for more!

What Things To Pack

Foods with small volumes, light weight and high energy should be on every backpacker’s list. In order to save space, you should pack the food in self-closing bags (the so-called space bag or Ziploc), in the quantity you think that will be enough for your trip.

ready backpacking food

A good way to keep your backpack well organized is to pre-separate the products for breakfast, lunch and dinner – put them in three separate large bags as to save time, when you prepare to eat.

So without further ado, when it comes to easy backpacking meals, here are our suggestions of 3 meals for a day-long exhausting hike. They include all the calories you need, but also keep your body healthy and will charge you with the much needed energy.

Breakfast

As it is well known, the breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so what better way to start your busy day, than a protein charged and delicious meal.

different kinds of dried fruit

  • Oat flakes – a great way to get your body the needed proteins and carbohydrates
  • Dried fruits (apples, bananas, apricots, cranberries, raisins, prunes) – delicious, healthy and light
  • Raw nuts (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashew nuts, peeled sunflower seeds, peeled pumpkin seeds) – a must when making long transitions – a handful of walnuts will calm your stomach’s growling in no time
  • Cocoa, instant coffee, tea – a good refreshment after a long afternoon in the mountain
  • Powdered milk – because what is a cup of hot cocoa with a little bit of milk
  • Peanut butter – a great way to get all the calories you need for miles and miles, in a single scoop.

Lunch

Lunch time strikes right in the middle of the day – and that’s a time you should use to explore, not cook! That’s why we think the best option in this case are the pre-cooked energy bars, which are a great source of energy and the preparation is a piece of, well… energy bar!

Dinner

Your dinner should be a recharge for your body – delicious, nutritious and as healthy as possible. If you are on the same opinion, have a look at our ideas!

dried vegetables

  • Dried vegetables (tomatoes, zucchini, peppers) – fresh or dried, they’re still delicious and nutritious
  • Couscous – it is good to be of the Arabian, which doesn’t need to be brewed, but only soaked in hot water
  • Rice spaghetti – a good substitute of rice because you just need to put them into cold water, instead of boiling them
  • Dry meats (of course, if you’re not a vegetarian) – the easiest and most obvious choice – jerky, it goes well with all dishes and is easy to prepare – pouring hot water over it makes it soften, and salt and spices flavor everything else
  • Lentil – preferably red, because it boils much faster and saves us time
  • Arab cakes – this is the lighter alternative to bread, if you need at all
  • Parmesan – a rich source of protein and can also be added to any food as a spice
  • A small bottle (3.5 fl. Oz.) of olive oil for cooking, a great source of extra calories. If you want, you can add it to the oatmeal at breakfast, for example.
  • Spices – they don’t weigh, add flavor even to the simplest dish, and depending on your personal taste can be cumin, turmeric, oregano, thyme, pepper, chili pepper, cinnamon, sesame, and whatever you can think of;
  • Sugar, salt – you shouldn’t go anywhere without those bad boys;

Dehydrating is Your New Best Friend

Dried fruits, vegetables and meats give you the opportunity to take a lot more and varied food along the way, and you can easily prepare them at home. For example, you will have a variety of vegetables to eat for dinner, or we can prepare ready-made meals to which you would only need to add hot water and voila – you can dig in.

Dehydration Basics

The vegetables (you can use tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, onions, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) are washed, dried and cut into small pieces – the smaller the pieces, the faster they will be dried.

Spread them in a wide flat pan, covered with a sheet of baking paper, and put in the oven at the lowest temperature (80-120 degrees). If the oven has a fan, turn it on. Leave the oven’s door slightly open.

drying vegetable peppers in oven

Image credit: nonnasway.com

Bake until full drying – the different vegetables take different time, between 2 and 6 hours. Check them frequently and occasionally stir. Once it has completely cooled down, pack it in a tightly closed and airless back.

Make Things Easier

If you don’t have the time or you just don’t see a point in reinventing the wheel, there is a great variety of ready dried fruits in the shops. But you should know, that by preparing them yourself you will avoid the added sugar or chemicals in the ready ones.

This is an especially if you have a greenhouse in your backyard or better yet – a farm, which in summer you can pick cherries, apricots, peaches, grapes and apples. Because of the higher water content in the fruits, they take longer to dry (about 8-12 hours).

A good option is the investment in a food dehydrator that might be the cheaper option when compared to the oven – sold in the equipment stores, there are models from $50 up to $400, so you have options.

tomatoes in food dehydrator

Dehydrated foods can be stored for months in jars or in bags in the refrigerator, so once you’ve put the time and effort in preparation, they will provide you with enough products for several outdoor adventures. In the dehydrator, you can also dry pre-cooked whole meals, such as pasta with tomato sauce, cream soup or egg bacon.

Sample Packing List for Five Days

Here’s a sample packing list of things you may need for your next 5-day trip. Easy to prepare, compact and most of all – nutritious and healthy. You can add or remove items, but keeping it as is insures variety of choices.

  • ½ cup olive oil (900 kcal)
  • 1 lbs. of dried kernels (3773 kcal) – x ¼ lbs./day (sunflower 610 + walnuts 699 + almonds 647 + hazelnuts 670 + pumpkin seeds 593 + cashew 553 = 754 kcal/day)
  • 1 lbs. dried fruit (1436 kcal) – x 100 g/day (raisins 304 + dates 246 + apricots 275 + plums 274 + cranberries 337 = 287 kcal/day)
  • 1 lbs. oatmeal (1372 kcal) – x 5 tbsp./day (274 kcal/day)
  • 3 tbsp. sesame tahini + 3 tbsp. honey = 6 tbsp. (1151 kcal) – 1 tbsp./day (230 kcal/day)
  • ½ cup parmesan (452 ​​kcal)
  • 1 lbs. calf pasta (700 kcal) – ¼ lbs./day (140 kcal/day)
  • ½ lbs. red lentil (690 kcal) – ¼ lbs. (345 kcal/cooking)
  • ½ lbs. of rice spaghetti (736 kcal) – ¼ lbs. (368 kcal/cooking)
  • 1 cup couscous (700 kcal) – ½ cup (350 kcal/cooking)
  • ½ cup peanut butter (588 kcal)
  • ½ cup of sugar (481 kcal)
  • 2/3 lbs. dried vegetables – tomatoes ¼ lbs. (307 kcal), carrots 1/4 lbs. (341 kcal), peppers 1/4 lbs. (314 kcal) (962 kcal) – x 4 tbsp./day (192 kcal/day)
  • ½ cup dry milk (496 kcal) – x 1 tbsp./day (99 kcal/day)

camping food in ziplock bags

Total weight: 6.5 lbs.

Total calories: 14437 (2887 kcal/day)

We leave a bonus of ½ lbs. for optional products – chocolate, coffee, cocoa, pre-cooked energy bars whatever your soul desires. As long as it is pure, natural and strong – because the body is important. So, as we aren’t going to put crappy oil in our car to ensure the engine is working properly, we have to take care of our body as well. Especially when we require a lot of it.

Easy to Make Recipes

Here are a few helpful recipes that we recommend.

Raw Energy Blocks

Four amazing recipes for raw energy blocks, that you can easily make at home and will get you the needed energy when you need it the most.

Raw Energy Blocks With Dates

This is probably the easiest recipe. You need dates, dried fruits of choice and nuts, that can be baked or raw. Equal parts of the ingredients are placed in a blender and mix till the mixture gets as thick as modeling clay.

homemade energy bars

Image credit: lentinealexis.com

Then spread the mixture evenly on two sheets of household foil and put them in the fridge for at least two hours. If you have spread it into a large square, you can cut it into smaller rectangles or squares. You wrap each one in foil and you already have a pile of energy blocks.

The good thing about this recipe is that you can store the blocks in the refrigerator for up to three months or in the freezer for a practically unlimited period. Of course, you can improvise by adding chia seeds or chocolate chip.

Raw Energy Blocks With Oatmeal and Blueberries

This recipe is a bit more complicated, but the result is insanely delicious. The required products are:

  • 1 cup of blueberries;
  • 1 cup of oatmeal;
  • 1 cup of nuts (hazelnuts, almonds, peanuts or mix of the three);
  • 1 cup of dates;
  • A teaspoon of vanilla extract (for flavoring and if you can’t replace it with whatever you have on hand, for example, good cognac or amaretto);
  • A teaspoon of honey;
  • A teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice (orange works too);
  • A spoonful of chia seeds;
  • Half a teaspoon of sea salt.

Raw Energy Blocks With Oatmeal and Blueberries

Put the chia seeds, the blueberries, the honey and the freshly squeezed juice in a blender and mix until it becomes “fluffy”. The jam pour into a bowl, let it rest and wash the blender.

Then grind the oatmeal until it becomes as fine as flour. Add the nuts, the flavor you chose for the receipt and the salt and start mixing. Without turning off the blender, add the dates one by one to keep them from sticking to each other. Mix until it becomes a homogeneous mixture.

Take 2/3 of the mixture and pour on a sheet of baking paper, forming a square. Spread the jam on top of it and sprinkle with the rest of the mixture. Cool in the refrigerator and cut into blocks.

Raw Energy Blocks With Caramel

Get yourself from your favorite nuts. Again you decide whether the energy blocks will be raw or roasted. Add sesame, chia or both. Thoroughly spread the mix on baking paper, making sure the nuts are as tight as possible. Melt the caramel, pour over the nuts and let cool. Then you just cut it into pieces and enjoy.

If you want to keep the aesthetics, you can use cookie shapes, and is good to grease them up, thus keeping the blocks from sticking on them.

Raw Energy Blocks For Athletes

This recipe contains so many super foods, that you can safely cut the dose of your protein shake before or after a workout. See what it contains and find out for yourself:

  • 1 cup of walnuts;
  • 1/3 cup of chia seeds;
  • 1/3 cup of flax seed;
  • 1/4 cup crushed cocoa beans (you can also use cocoa powder);
  • 1/4 glass of flacked coconut;
  • 3/4 cup peeled pumpkin seeds (raw or roasted);
  • 1/2 cup of raisins;
  • 1 cup of dates.

homemade energy bars

First, put all the dry ingredients in a blender and mix them good. Then add the dates and raisins and mix until it becomes a homogeneous mixture. If it’s too dry, you can add coconut oil or more dates.

Then you form a square, let it tighten in the fridge and cut into blocks. If you have the time, you can form small balls from the mixture with your hands, roll them into flacked natural chocolate and have great healthy truffles.

Rice Spaghetti with Vegetables

Who doesn’t like pasta, right? And what’s better than a healthy pasta. Impossible – not any more!

Ingredients:

  • ¼ lbs. rice spaghetti
  • ¼ lbs. dried vegetables of choice (tomatoes, carrots, peppers, onions, garlic)
  • Spices of taste (pepper, cumin, turmeric, nutmeg, ginger)
  • Optionally – dried meat, cut into small pieces

Rice Spaghetti with Vegetables

All products are mixed and one glass of cold water is poured over them. Allow to soak for about 10 minutes. Put over the fire, wait for the water to boil and boil for another minute. Then you pull it away and leave for about 10 minutes before eating.

Arab cakes with lens filling

For the bread lovers we have something special as well. But the bread isn’t that good for you, so instead in this recipe will use Arab cakes – better for you and your body!

Ingredients:

  • 2 pcs. Arab cakes
  • 3 tbsp. of red lentils
  • Dried tomatoes
  • Spices (cumin, turmeric, red and pepper, curry)
  • Optionally – dried meat

Instructions:

Cover the lid with some water and let it soak for about 20 minutes. Put on the fire and, after the water boils, leave for 10-15 minutes till it thickens. Add spices and dried tomatoes, a little olive oil.

boiling red lentils

Then you pull it away and let it sit for about 5 minutes. The mixture should be thick as a puree. It’s consumed directly with the Arab cakes.

Meat with Vegetables in Foil

And because a meat-lover can’t go without, well … meat.

Ingredients:

  • ¼ lbs. of dried meat
  • ¼ lbs. of dried vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, carrot, onion, garlic)
  • 3 tbsp. of parmesan

Instructions:

The meat and vegetables are poured with one glass of water and allowed to sit for 10 minutes. Drain, put on a 2-3 layers of aluminum foil and season with parmesan. They are wraped tightly with the foil into a package. Put on the coals and bake for about 20 minutes.

Brownies in an Orange

Brownies and orange – what else can be better than that. Put them together and you get a delicious energizing desert.

Ingredients:

  • 4 oranges
  • A mixture of ½ teacup flour, ½ teacup sugar, 3 teaspoon cocoa, ¼ teaspoon soda bicarbonate (it’s better to mix them at home)
  • 3 tbsp. of oil
  • 3 tbsp. of water
  • Optionally – walnuts

Instructions:

The oranges are cut into the upper part and the inside is carved with a knife and a spoon. Mix the flour with the oil and water and add the walnuts. Oranges are filled with ⅔ mixture, close with the lids. Wrap in 2-3 layers of aluminum foil and leave for about 25-30 minutes on the coal.

What You Have Learned From All This

There you have it – complete, healthy, nutritious and very light. No matter if you need enough food for 1 or 5 days, you can pack everything neatly in your backpack. It will not take much space, it is delicious and can be easily prepared both in the comfort of your kitchen or in a tent in the forest.

cooking on campsite

Using this guide and adding a part of your personal “magic” will turn the wandering into the wilderness, into a walk in the park … foodwise, at least!

Do you have any favorites when it comes to meals you enjoy on the trail? If that’s the case, leave us a comment and let us know – we’d love to hear more easy & delicious recipes!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.