Backpacking 101: Food

Backpacking 101: Food

Welcome to week 3 of Backpacking 101, let’s talk about food! 

Some things to take into account when you are meal planning and packing up your food are perishability, weight, nutrients, and calories. You want your food to support your hiking so you need to get enough calories and nutrients without carrying too much weight, you also don’t want any of your food to go bad.

In general, I try to pick the healthiest choices for my backpacking meals, but I do include quite a bit of processed food just because of that calorie to weight ratio, and the fact that they are non-perishable. But by having a good mix of whole foods and processed I feel like things balance out.

Here are some of my typical backpacking meals

snacking on beef jerky


  • Dehydrated egg scramble in a tortilla
  • Oatmeal with protein powder and dried fruit
  • Protein bar, apple, and almond butter


  • Tuna packet (try the flavored ones like Sriracha to spice things up!) in a tortilla
  • Nut butter and dried or fresh fruit in a tortilla
  • Protein bar, dried fruit, and beef jerky


  • Dehydrated meal and a cookie or candy


  • Nut butter packets
  • Trail mix
  • Beef jerky
  • Electrolyte gummies
  • Protein bars
  • Baby bell cheese
  • Dried fruit
  • Fruit snacks
  • Salami 
  • Olive oil packets
  • Coconut oil packets
  • Idahoan potatoes
  • Miso soup


  • Instant coffee
  • Tea
  • Nuun tablets 
  • Emergen-C 

Dehydrated Meals

Mountain House dinner

So let’s take a minute to talk about dehydrated meals. They are easy and usually taste amazing after a long day on the trail, but not all dehydrated meals are created equal and there are a lot of options out there now to choose from. I’ll go over a few of them here and give some of my favorite meal options from each brand.

Many of the dehydrated meals are multiple servings in one pack. You can split them with another person in your group, or what I do a lot of the time is split them up for myself using an extra zip lock bag. I’ll pour half the dry food into the zip lock then make half the meal in the heat resistant bag. Then when I’m done I’ll rinse out the heat resistant bag and save it for the next night to cook the other half of the meal in.

Meal Brands

Mountain House: The most popular and common brand, they are very carb and bean heavy which can be good when you are on the trail. They have also been known to cause some stomach problems with some people, like making you really gassy (never fun when sharing a small tent!).
My favorite meals:

Backpackers Pantry: This is another popular and common brand, but I’ve always defaulted to other brands when possible. They tend to take a lot longer to rehydrate (up to a half-hour), and in cold weather can end up cooling off before fully cooking the food unless you insulate it with a jacket or sleeping bag. They are also very carb-heavy, which I’m just not super into.

Next Mile Meals: Keto backpacking meals! I really love these meals because they have more protein and veggies than the Mountain House ones and they are delicious. I feel great after eating them and they are totally satisfying.
My favorite meals:

Good To Go Meals: These also take quite a while to rehydrate 20-30 minutes, but they have some good flavors and are packed with vegetables. Their meals are also gluten-free and they have vegan options. I’ve heard really great reviews from friends who’ve used them, so I’d say they’re worth a try.
My favorite meals:

  • Thai Curry (it’s the only one I’ve tried, but I’ll be trying more!)

Nomad Nutrition: I just found this brand and will be giving them a try on my next backpacking trip. All their meals are plant-based, vegetarian, or vegan, and they have some really unique flavors too.
Meals I’d try:

Protein Bars

backpacking bars

Protein bars are another item that I feel like is essential when backpacking but bars are notorious for being filled with sugar and not much else. So you want to make sure you are getting bars that have all the good stuff in them. 

Some of my favorite bars:

  • Quest Bars: Super high in protein and low on sugar and carbs, good for if you are doing the keto/low carb thing.
  • ProMeal Bars: High in protein and calories, the meal part is no joke, they are packed with nuts, seeds, and fruit to fill you up.
  • Big Sur Bars: A local favorite on the Central Coast of California, these bars are high in calories and packed with nuts, seeds, and fruit, plus a little chocolate for sweetness. Chances are you’ll need to order them online, but they’re worth every penny.
  • Bobo Bars: High in calories and super dense, they are made with organic ingredients and whole grains.
having tea in the evening

When I pack up my food I typically pack each day’s food into its own zip lock bag. That way I can take it out of my bear can and keep it in a top pocket of my pack where it is easily accessible. I don’t have to decide what I’m going to eat that day, it’s already rationed out for me. Plus the zip lock bag becomes my trashbag for that day too.

Download a printable grocery list with all the food here!

Download the google spreadsheet with all the food items here!

Backpacking 101: Planning
Backpacking 101: Gear
Backpacking 101: Clothes
Backpacking 101: Packing Your Backpack
Backpacking 101: All My Secrets
Backpacking 101: Training

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7 thoughts on “Backpacking 101: Food

  1. Dave Paola

    I have always wondered about the Mac and cheese from mountain house. Can you compare it to Annie’s on a scale from 1 to 4? (1 = tastes like cardboard, nothing like Annies, 4 = identical)

    1. nattiekaf Post author

      Hmmm, I’d say maybe a 2.5, I think the key is getting your water ratio right, the directions always say to put too much and it gets soggy so at that point it’s like a 1 haha

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