Backpacking is one of the best ways to renew your spirit. There is nothing better than removing yourself from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and diving into a world run, not by money and smartphones, but by the most basic principles of life. WhenI’m backpacking, the one thing I do not pack lightly on is food. I can do without electronics or air conditioning or nearly anything else for that matter, but a person needs calories when hiking 10-15 miles a day with 30lbs on his or her back. The great thing is I do not have to sacrifice flavor or only eat highly processed food. With some creativity and searching, you can have gourmet meals even if you are hiking 100 miles on the Appalachian Trail with no chance of finding a restaurant.
What food to eat?
The key to selecting backpacking food is calorie content. You want high-calorie foods that are not heavy and don’t spoil. This varies with the trip. If you are up and down mountains, backpacking 10-15 miles a day, and going for more than 2 weeks, you are going to need about 5,000 calories a day! But most trips are shorter than that and 3,000-4,000 calories is about right.
Backpacking Food Criteria
- Size (should not take up much room but have high calorie-density)
- Nutritional value
- Clean-up (washing dishes in the woods is not only frowned upon but uses precious water and brings critters)
- Taste (you have to like what you are eating)
There are many ways to go about fulfilling all of these criteria. I like to nibble all day and have a nice big meal once I set up camp for the night. Some people stick to the regular three meals a day. Do what works for you.
My Backpacking Grocery List
The first place I go to shop for my backpacking trip is Willy Street Co-op. The bulk aisle alone can give you everything you need for a backpacking trip. Grab anything you can eat straight out of the bin or can be cooked with just water. Nuts, seeds, dried fruits, nut butters, beans, oats, rice, spices, oils, even pasta—they are all there in the bulk aisle. You can grab some produce and dehydrate your own veggies (dehydrators start at $70). Tortillas are nice to have because you can cook whatever you want and stick it on a tortilla. No dishes to clean!
Here are my must-haves for backpacking foods:
- Homemade oatmeal (oats, flaxseed, almond slices or walnuts, dried cranberries, cinnamon, a little brown sugar—packed in individual bags)
- Coffee and tea (both lift your spirits)
- Energy bar (sometimes you get up ready to go—grab a granola bar or two and head up the trail!)
- Energy bars
- Trail mix
- Jerky (buffalo for me; Willy Street Co-op carries vegan options too)
- Nut butters
- Chocolate (except in hot climates)
- Dried fruit
Any dehydrated or “instant” entrée but make sure you have some variety. Here are a few meals I’ve used in the past:
- Instant miso soup
- Noodles or rice with olive oil (add anything else you might have—spices, dehydrated veggies)
- Ramen dishes
If I am going on a short trip (2-4 days) and weight is not a huge concern, fresh fruit and cheese and crackers come with me.
Most people find it very intimidating to leave all the modern comforts at home and set off into the unpredictable woods. With today’s camping gear, and a trip to the bulk aisle, you don’t have to leave many comforts behind. I’ve found that no matter the person, everyone has a sweet spot in their heart for getting outside and enjoying nature; and there is no shortage of ways to get out there!