What Are Backpacking Meals? | Hikers University

Food is an essential part of backpacking as your body needs the energy to keep going. But what are backpacking meals that you can rely on?

Backpacking is undoubtedly a thrilling activity, but it puts your body through a rigorous mental and physical test. Therefore, it is imperative to fuel your body with the required nutrients to stay in the best shape throughout the hike. But which are the best meals to pack for backpacking?

You can carry just-add-liquid meals such as dried vegetables, oatmeal, pasta, etc. Other meals include chicken, tuna, salmon, and dried meat. You can mix them with vegetables or cheese. Packed beef pasta marina, jerky, spices, dark chocolate, and canned beans are good meal options.

When going backpacking, you should focus on packing complex carbohydrates that provide energy for an extended period and takes longer to digest. That way, you will be able to pack less to minimize the weight and provide yourself with the required energy.

As backpacking enthusiasts, we know all about the ideal meals for backpacking with our decade-long experience. We put that together in this guide to help you decide the best meals for your backpacking trip.

Table of contents


Just-Add-Liquid Meals

When you’re backpacking, it’s important to have meals that are easy to prepare and don’t require a lot of equipment. That’s where just-add-water meals come in. These meals can be made with only water - no stove or other cooking gear required.

There are a variety of just-add-water meals available on the market, from freeze-dried foods to instant soups and rice dishes. Just add hot water to the pouch or bag and wait a few minutes for the meal to rehydrate. Then dig in!

Just-add-water meals are perfect for backpackers who want to travel light and don’t want to hassle with cooking gear. They’re also great for emergencies, like if you get stranded on the trail overnight.

So what are some of the best just-add-water meals for backpacking? Here are a few of our favorites:

Freeze-Dried Foods

Freeze-dried foods are lightweight and have a long shelf life. They typically come in individual serving sizes, so you can just add water to the pouch and eat. Popular freeze-dried foods include strawberries, blueberries, peaches, corn, and green beans.

Instant Soups

Instant soups are another easy-to-make just-add-water meal. They come in various flavors, so you can find one you like. Add hot water and let the soup sit for a few minutes to rehydrate.

Rice Dishes

Many rice dishes only require water to prepare, such as instant rice and Minute Rice. These are simple to make and can be filled out after a long day on the trail.


Oatmeal is a classic backpacking food. It’s lightweight, easy to make, and filling. Just add hot water to the oats and let them sit for a few minutes before eating. You can also add dried fruit, nuts, or spices to flavor your oatmeal. If you want to add more nutrition and flavor, you can carry milk powder and have yourself milky oatmeal.


Couscous is another quick-cooking grain that only requires water to prepare. Just add boiling water to the couscous and let it sit for a few minutes before fluffing with a fork. You can eat it plain or add vegetables, meats, or spices to flavor it up.

Dried Vegetables

Dried vegetables are a lightweight and easy-to-prepare backpacking food. Add hot water to rehydrate the veggies, and then add them to your favorite dishes. Popular dried vegetables include carrots, peas, corn, and beans.

Protein-Rich Foods

When you’re out on a backpacking trip, it’s essential to ensure that you’re getting enough protein in your diet. Protein is essential for building and repairing muscle tissue, and it can also help keep you feeling fuller for longer.

There are plenty of ways to get protein into your backpacking meals. Chicken, tuna, salmon, and dried beef are all great protein sources. You can use these ingredients to create a variety of meals that will be both satisfying and nutritious.


There are many benefits to eating chicken while backpacking. Chicken is an excellent source of protein and can help keep you feeling full and satisfied on the trail. Additionally, chicken is relatively lightweight and easy to pack, making it an ideal food for backpackers.

There are plenty of easy recipes that you can make with chicken while backpacking. A straightforward option is to cook the chicken in a foil packet with some veggies and seasonings. Another easy option is to cook the chicken over a campfire rotisserie style. Simply skewer the chicken onto a metal rod and hold it over the flames, frequently turning until the chicken is cooked through.

Whatever recipe you choose, chicken makes for a delicious and satisfying meal while out on the trail. So next time you’re planning a backpacking trip, be sure to include some chicken on your menu!

Tuna and Salmon

Tuna is a great option for backpacking meals as it is high in protein and relatively lightweight. Many easy recipes can be made with tuna, such as tuna pasta or rice dishes. Tuna is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for maintaining heart health and preventing chronic diseases.

When packing tuna meals for backpacking, it is important to consider the shelf life of the ingredients. Canned tuna has a longer shelf life than fresh tuna, so it is a good option for longer trips. If using fresh tuna, make sure to pack it in an insulated cooler with ice packs to keep it fresh.

Tuna pasta and tuna rice are one of our all-time favorites as these dishes are packed with a high amount of lean protein and complex carbohydrates.

Salmon is a highly competitive alternative for anyone who does not like tuna. Salmon also has a long shelf life, so it can be packed ahead of time and stored for later use.

Many easy recipes can be made with salmon, such as foil packet meals, salmon cakes, and salmon chowder. You can cook these meals quickly over a campfire or stove.

Benefits of eating salmon while backpacking include:

  • Lightweight and easy to transport
  • High in protein and omega-3 fatty acids
  • Long shelf life
  • Easy to cook recipes

Some easy recipes to try while backpacking includes:

  • Foil packet meals
  • Salmon cakes
  • Salmon chowder

Nutritional Facts of Tuna vs. Nutritional Facts of Salmon

Tuna and salmon are both excellent protein sources, but they differ in some important ways. Salmon is richer in omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart health. It is also a good source of vitamin D, whereas tuna is not. Tuna is lower in calories and fat than salmon, making it a good choice for those watching their weight. It is also a good source of selenium, which is important for thyroid function.

Both fish are excellent protein sources, but one may be a better choice than the other. depending on your individual needs

Dried Meat

Look no further than dried meat if you’re looking for an easy and nutritious backpacking meal. Dried meat is a great source of protein and can be easily reconstituted with water to create a delicious and filling meal. Plus, it’s lightweight and compact, making it perfect for packing into your backpack.

Many different types of dried meat are available on the market, from beef jerky to turkey jerky. You can even find vegan options made from soy or seitan. No matter your dietary preferences, there’s dried meat that will suit your needs. On the other hand, you can make your own beef jerky with several easy recipes on the internet.

When choosing dried meat for backpacking, opt for one high in protein and low in fat. This will help you feel fuller for longer and maintain your energy levels throughout the day. Also, look for a product that is easy to rehydrate. You don’t want to be stuck in the wilderness with meat that is impossible to reconstitute.

Once you have your dried meat, it’s time to start thinking about recipes. There are endless possibilities when it comes to cooking with dried meat. You can make it into a stew, soup, or chili or even use it as a protein-packed addition to salads or rice dishes. Get creative and experiment with different recipes to find what you like best.

Canned Beans

Canned beans are a great option for backpacking meals. They are lightweight, easy to store, and packed with protein and fiber. Plus, there are many different varieties of canned beans, so you can mix up your meals on the trail.

Benefits of Canned Beans for Backpacking

  • Lightweight: Canned beans are much lighter than dried beans, making them ideal for backpackers who have to carry everything on their backs.
  • Easy to store: Canned beans do not require any special storage conditions, unlike dried beans which need to be kept in a cool, dry place. This makes them perfect for backpackers who might not have access to a cooler or other storage options.
  • Packed with nutrients: Beans are an excellent source of protein and fiber. They are also low in fat and calories, making them a great option for backpackers trying to watch their weight.
  • Variety: There are many different canned beans available, from black beans to kidney beans to chickpeas. This variety can help keep your meals interesting on the trail.
  • Easy to prepare: Canned beans do not require any special preparation. Just open the can and heat them up. This makes them perfect for backpackers who want quick and easy meals.

Meal Ideas Using Canned Beans

  • Bean burritos: Wrap canned beans, shredded cheese, and salsa in a tortilla for a quick and easy meal.
  • Bean soup: Combine canned beans with vegetables and broth to make a hearty and filling soup.
  • Bean salad: Mix together canned beans, diced vegetables, and your favorite salad dressing for a healthy and tasty meal.
  • Chili: Combine canned beans, diced tomatoes, ground beef, and spices to make a delicious chili that will warm you up on a cold night.

With so many benefits and uses, it’s no wonder that canned beans are a popular choice for backpackers.

Complex Carbohydrates

Many people think of complex carbohydrates as something only relevant to athletes or people trying to lose weight. However, complex carbs are also an important part of a healthy diet for anyone who wants to maintain their energy levels and avoid fatigue.

When you’re backpacking, you’ll be burning many calories, and complex carbs are a great way to replenish your energy stores. They’re slowly metabolized by your body, providing a sustained source of energy rather than a quick burst of energy followed by a crash.

Complex carbs can also help regulate your blood sugar levels, which is especially important if you’re doing any strenuous activity. So if you’re looking for a nutritious and delicious way to fuel your backpacking adventures, be sure to pack plenty of complex carbs.

The following items can make high nutrition and easy complex carbohydrate meals with plenty of taste.

Whole Wheat Pasta

Whole wheat pasta is an excellent option for backpackers looking for a nutritious and filling meal. This type of pasta is packed with vitamins and minerals, and fiber, which can help keep you feeling full longer. While whole-wheat pasta does take a bit longer to cook than regular pasta, it is worth the wait!

Many easy recipes can be made with whole wheat pasta, such as pesto or tomato-based sauces. Simply boil the pasta and then top it with your favorite sauce for a quick and easy meal. You can also add in some veggies or protein for a complete meal.

If you’re looking for a heartier meal, try making a whole wheat pasta casserole. Simply cook the pasta and mix it with your favorite vegetables, meat, and sauce. Bake in the oven until hot and bubbly.

Beef Pasta Marinara

Beef pasta marinara is one of our favorite ready-to-cook packed food. It is a classic dish that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults alike. And it’s not just delicious but also packed with nutrients that can support a healthy lifestyle. For example, beef is an excellent protein, iron, and zinc source. Meanwhile, the tomatoes in marinara sauce are rich in lycopene - an antioxidant that has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and some types of cancer. Furthermore, pasta is a complex carbohydrate that can provide lasting energy throughout the day.

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is a great option for backpacking, as it provides several benefits that can be helpful on the trail.

First, dark chocolate is packed with antioxidants, which can help to protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals.

Dark chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, two compounds that can boost energy when you need it most.

Finally, dark chocolate has been shown to improve blood flow and help lower blood pressure, which can be beneficial when you’re exerting yourself on the trail.

Most of all, chocolate is delicious, and while you will be living on the bare minimum when backpacking for efficiency, you deserve a treat for staying motivated. However, not everyone loves dark chocolate. You can find dark chocolate with varying cacao content. So, the next time you are shopping for backpacking, make sure to check out the different dark chocolate contents and pick the one you are most satisfied with.

Canned Fruits

Canned fruits are a great option for backpacking meals because they are lightweight, easy to store, and don’t require cooking. Plus, they’re a healthy way to get your daily dose of fruit! Here are some easy canned fruit recipes that you can make on the trail:

Fruit Salad

Combine canned fruits (e.g., peaches, pears, pineapple) with fresh grapes or berries. Add a small amount of juice from the canned fruit to keep everything moist.

Fruit Smoothie

Blend canned fruits (e.g., mangoes, and strawberries) with milk or yogurt. Add honey or sugar to taste.

These are just a few ideas to get you started - there are endless possibilities when it comes to canned fruit recipes, so get creative! And remember, always pack out your trash when you’re done enjoying your meal.

Coffee and Tea

Coffee and tea can be a great way to stay energized and hydrated when backpacking. Both coffee and tea have many health benefits, including improving mental alertness and reducing stress levels.

Coffee is a great source of antioxidants, which can help protect your body against disease. It is also a natural diuretic, so it can help you stay hydrated by increasing urine output. Tea is also full of antioxidants, and studies have shown that it can improve heart health and reduce the risk of stroke.

Making coffee and tea while backpacking is easy - all you need is boiling water. If you’re using instant coffee, simply add the required amount of water to your mug or cup. Add boiling water to your mug or cup of tea, then add the teabag. Allow the coffee or tea to brew for a few minutes before adding milk or sugar if desired.

Peanut and Almond Butter

Peanut butter and almond butter are two of the most popular nut butter on the market. They both offer a variety of benefits in terms of nutrition and taste.

When it comes to nutrition, peanut butter is a good source of protein, while almond butter is a good source of healthy fats. Both nut butter is also low in sugar and calories, making them ideal for people who are watching their weight.

In terms of taste, peanut butter is savory than sweet, while almond butter has a sweeter flavor. Both nut butter can be used in various recipes, from sandwiches and wraps to smoothies and desserts.

For easy meal ideas, peanut butter and almond butter are versatile ingredients that can be used in various dishes. Here are some quick and easy recipes that you can make with either nut butter:

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

This classic sandwich is a staple for many people, both kids, and adults. All you need is some bread, peanut butter, and jelly. You can also add sliced bananas or other fruits for a more nutritious sandwich.

Almond Butter and Banana Wrap

This healthy wrap is perfect for on-the-go meals. Spread almond butter on a whole wheat tortilla, top with banana slices, and roll it up. You can also add honey or other toppings to this wrap for added flavor.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Smoothie

This rich and creamy smoothie is perfect for a quick snack or breakfast. Combine peanut butter, chocolate milk, and ice in a mug and mix it well with a spoon. You can also add bananas or other fruits to this smoothie for added nutrition.

Almond Butter and Honey Toast: This easy toast is a great way to start your day. Spread almond butter on whole-wheat bread and top with honey. You can also add cinnamon or other spices for additional flavor.

As you can see, there are many ways to incorporate peanut butter and almond butter into your diet. These two nut kinds of butter are not only nutritious but are also versatile ingredients that can be used in a variety of recipes.

Nuts and Seeds

When it comes to backpacking, nuts and seeds are a great way to get some extra nutrition and energy. They are packed with nutrients like protein, healthy fats, and fiber, but they’re also relatively lightweight and easy to transport. Plus, they can be a delicious and satisfying addition to any meal.

There are all sorts of nuts and seeds to choose from, so you can mix and match to find what you like best. Popular options include almonds, pistachios, cashews, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds. And if you’re looking for something a little more exotic, try quinoa or chia seeds.

When it comes to recipes, the possibilities are endless. You can add nuts and seeds to oatmeal or granola for a nutritional boost or use them to top off a salad or veggie dish. You can also make your energy bars or trail mix with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.

So next time you’re planning a backpacking trip, pack some nuts and seeds to keep you fueled and satisfied throughout your journey.

Add Spices

When you’re backpacking, you might not have access to fresh ingredients or complex recipes, but a little bit of spice can go a long way.

Spices and seasoning can also be a great way to add nutrition to your diet. Many spices are packed with vitamins and minerals, and they can help you get the most out of the food you’re eating.

Finally, adding spices and seasoning to your meals can be a great way to make them more satisfying.

There are endless possibilities for adding spices and seasoning to your meals. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Add a pinch of salt and pepper to just about anything for an instant flavor boost.
  • Mix up a spice blend like curry powder, chili powder, or garlic powder and add it to rice, noodles, or vegetables for an easy way to add flavor.
  • Use fresh herbs like basil, rosemary, or thyme to flavor chicken, fish, or pasta dishes.
  • Sprinkle some cheese on top of your meals for extra protein and calcium.

You can make even the simplest backpacking meals taste great with a little creativity. So don’t be afraid to experiment with spices and seasoning - your tastebuds will thank you!


Peter Brooks

Peter Brooks

I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.

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