The Best Backpacking Food

Hungry? Try these backpacking meals on your next trip.

I love backpacking but I always have a hard time finding food that I actually want to eat in the backcountry. When it comes to backpacking meals, it can be really difficult to strike a balance of weight, convenience, and nutrition. No one wants to hike in a backpack full of veggies and do all the prep for a wholesome meal at the end of the day. And no one wants to eat one more sodium infused faux lasagne. But don’t fear my fellow backpackers, I have great news! There are so many new options out there that are delicious and nutritious, accommodate a variety of diets, and take very little effort to make!

This summer I took a variety of these backpacking meals with me on two backpacking trips in Rocky Mountain National Park and Olympic National Park. I’m happy to report that today there are many healthy options that are made with real food, taste great, and are packed with nutrients. Check them out at Tahoe Mountain Sports and let me know in the comment section what your favorite backpacking meal is!

All of these meals are gluten free, some vegetarian, some vegan. The total calories vary, however, I would recommend all of these as a single meal for one person. If you are ravenous or tend to eat larger portions, you might need some extra snacks to fill you up. On big days, my go tos are crackers and cheese before and a big spoonful of Nutella afterward.

Cinnamon Cherry Crisp
Food for the Sole

Vegan, Gluten Free

Finally, an alternative to oatmeal! I can’t eat oatmeal on backpacking trips anymore… I just can’t. But this is delicious and so much better than instant oat packets. It has a great crunch and isn’t too sweet. I really liked the combination of cherries and ginger. It also has a touch of cinnamon, making it a perfectly spiced on the go breakfast.

Bandito Scramble
Alpine Aire

Vegetarian, Gluten Free

The Bandito Scramble is a tasty breakfast option for folks craving a substantial, hearty meal in the morning. It’s a lightly spiced mix of scrambled eggs, potatoes, cheddar, and mild chilies. To be honest, this was not my favorite meal out of the group but I think that’s mostly because it was because my water ratio was off. Even though I followed the instructions, it came out a bit watery and a little crunchy. The flavor was great but this one might take some fine tuning to figure out the right amount of water, especially at different altitudes. I love savory breakfasts so I’ll give it another try.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Kale and Quinoa
Food for the Sole

Vegan, Gluten Free

This was my absolute favorite meal out of the bunch for many reasons. It came the closest to resembling a home cooked meal, was the easiest (and most fool proof) to prepare, had great flavor and texture, and left me feeling nourished and fueled.

It’s made with simple, wholesome ingredients with the right amount of flavor and spice. Instead of measuring out a specific amount of hot water, this one just asks to fill with boiling water just below the top of the food. I love how simple these directions are! I’ve had this a couple times since my first review and it always reconstitutes perfectly. I’m usually not one to opt for vegan meals, but I decided to give this one a go and was so surprised at how good it was. It was hearty, filling, and packed with nutrients.

Mountain Chili
Alpine Aire

Vegetarian, Gluten Free

This chili is a good choice if you’re expecting cold temps or rainy days on your backpacking trip. I had this meal during a break between hail storms and it was warm and comforting, just what you need in that kind of weather. This chili is vegetarian, but you’d never guess it. Mushrooms, bell peppers, corn, and onions give it lots of great flavor.

Zesty Zoodles
Bushka’s Kitchen

Vegan, Gluten Free

I love a cheesy pasta dish, but when you’re backpacking, a heavy meal like that can be a recipe for gastric distress. Don’t worry though, here is your healthier lasagne option! These Zesty Zoodles are made with a creamy avocado sauce that has a refreshing hint of lemon. I loved the tasty tomatoes and zucchini chunks. The best part of this meal was the gluten free noodles. They were some of the best I’ve ever had and I actually had to double check that it was gluten free because they tasted so close to regular pasta. This unsuspecting vegan dish is another healthy and delicious option that you will absolutely love on the trail.

Hearty Harvest
Bushka’s Kitchen

Gluten Free

Okay, I know I’ve talked a lot about vegetarian and vegan meals so far so meat lovers, this one is for you! The Hearty Harvest is SO GOOD. It has all of the best comfort foods and flavors – wild boar, brussel sprouts, carmelized onions and apples, and gingery wild rice. Fruit and vegetables give it natural flavor and depth, without weighing down the meal. What I loved most about Bushka Kitchen is that they have big chunks of vegetables that you can actually dig your teeth into. I hate it when backpacking meals have tiny, imperceptible bits of vegetables that have been freeze dried to the point beyond recognition. Not the case with this brand! This is about as close as you can get to a hearty, home cooked meal.

Coconut Rice and Cuban Black Beans
Food for the Sole

Vegan, Gluten Free

This dish is packed with flavor! I loved the combination of sweet with spice in this hearty dinner. Admittedly, I get pretty sick of rice and beans and I usually stray away from those kinds of backpacking meals but this was so good. It’s made with coconut milk and almonds and is spiced with cumin and cinnamon. It uses the same simple instructions as the Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Kale and Quinoa: just fill to the top of the food. Ours turned out a little crunchy so I think this one needs a little more fiddling with than the Sweet Potatoes and Kale. Overall, this Food for the Sole dinner was filling, flavorful, and guaranteed to leave your belly feeling happy and nourished.

Tips for the Backcountry Cook!

Here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned along the trail when it comes to backpacking meals.

  1. Use a long spoon – You need to be able to stir the bag up once you pour hot water in and reach down to the bottom for that last bite! Short spoons make it really difficult to do that and are messy in the process. Get yourself a Tri-Tensil from Tahoe Mountain Sports. This is by far my favorite backpacking utensil because it extends, you get a fork, knife (that can cut steak), spoon, and it comes with a lifetime guarantee!
  2. Keep the bag in your jacket while it cooks – The first and key step with this is to make sure that the bag is completely sealed! Trust me, it’s not fun if not, and you’ll have an anxious sleep if you’re in bear country. Once you add the hot water, keep the pouch in your jacket and zip it up. This will keep you nice and warm (who needs a campfire!) and insulate the food so that it cooks faster and more thoroughly.
  3. Reuse the empty bag for trash I never bring ziplocks for trash. You’ll have an empty bag that conveniently zips up once you’re done with dinner.
  4. Always measure your water – You won’t always get the amount of water right, but accurate measuring is the best way to make sure your rice and beans don’t turn into soup. Follow the instructions on the bag and use the measurements on your Nalgene or backpacking mug to add the right amount of water.
  5. Don’t pay attention to suggested servings – I never go off of the suggested servings when it comes to backpacking food. You’re burning so many calories in the backcountry that it’s never enough sustenance to eat just one serving of these foods. I look at the calories and try to shoot for something in the 400-600 range. This is just what works for me. Get familiar with your own caloric needs and plan accordingly!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, Tahoe Mountain Sports will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Affiliate commissions help fund the content for this blog.

Stop by Tahoe Mountain Sports today and pick up some of my favorite meals for your next backpacking trip. Your stomach will thank you!

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Siobhan works at Tahoe Mountain Sports and currently manages TMS blog content. She loves everything about living in the mountains, from snowy winter days on skis to the hot, dusty trails of the Sierra's in the summer. Favorite activities include skiing, trail running and backpacking.


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