Cooking and Food in the Backcountry – What do you eat?

One of the most difficult parts of planning a trip is planning what food I want to eat, and what it will take to cook it. Food can add a lot of weight to your pack if you aren’t smart about what you are eating. But not bringing enough food can severely hurt you if you aren’t smart. Having the needed energy from carbohydrates, fats and proteins are essential to life in the backcountry. Going on a diet, and counting calories should never be someones plan when going hiking, backpacking, ski touring, and anything else that requires a large amount of energy. But what do you bring, and how do you save on weight on food in the backcountry?
I have never been a person to enjoy or want to spend the money on those packaged dehydrated meals. Most common are the Mountain House brand meals. My biggest issue with these types of meals is a couple things. I am not trying to beat up on Mountain House, but since they are so popular, I am using them as an example here. This meal is chicken breast and mashed potatoes. Cost: $9.49. Not only are these types of meals really expensive, but they also carry a large amount of sodium in them. This meal has 820 milligrams of sodium. More than half of the recommended daily amount for an adult. I’d rather take time cooking a great meal from scratch that not only tastes better, but saves a ton of money.
What do you eat then?
Deciding on what to eat can be hard. How many days are you out? How will you be cooking? Will you be sharing your food with others in your party? Obvious considerations to make when planning for a trip.
Here is a list of foods that I enjoy while I am out in the backcountry. This list comes from personal experience and some reading that I have done from various sources. But mostly this comes from personal experience. Just a little story as we begin though. As a scout, I saw other kids make the mistake of carrying canned food with them on backpacking trips. I have seen countless people carry half a loaf of bread, only to find out the bread is smashed and crumbled and will not suffice a PB&J sandwich at all! So here we go. 
Breads: I love to carry tortillas or pitas with me when I want a bread that would be good for that PB&J or some other type of sandwich. I also love to go to the market and get a nice baguette from the bakery to strap to the side of my pack. Baguettes are awesome because they do not smash easy, and are perfect when making a soup on a cold evening. This type of bread is really helpful in cleaning up your pot and scraping the last bits of food up. The other huge benefit is the amount of carbs that you’ll get into your body. 
Breakfast: I am the type of person that loves to eat oatmeal in the morning. Oatmeal is really easy to repackage and cooks fast and simple. But not everyone loves to eat oatmeal. Here is a great alternative to those that don’t want oatmeal. BISCUITS AND GRAVY! Oh yeah! If you have not tried this before, they are awesome. You can do a lot with this simple recipe. Think about all of the things you can add to the biscuits. I like to add spices, but you could easily add some cheese and butter flakes if wanted. With the gravy, adding a little bit of dried salami gives an awesome flavor to the gravy. I just use the packaged gravy from the grocery store. 
Dinners: One of my favorite things to do on the first night is to carry a frozen chicken breast with me and a soup mix. I’ll boil that chicken breast and shred it, then use the water from the chicken breast to hydrate the soup mix. I like this because it makes a really great meal and is perfect for starting the next day of hiking with a full belly. Another dinner I like to have is taking pizza dough mix and making scones. You can easily carry a little olive oil, and also some cinnamon and sugar to cover the scone. Yum! You can do a lot with pizza dough mix. Be creative and think about what would taste good and give you the carbs, fats, and protein in the back country.  
Snacks: Taking bars with you are perfect ways to get energy quick and in a small package. I really like to carry the Clif Bar Builder Bars, which is a protein bar. One bar has about 20 grams of protein and they actually taste really great. Other bars that are really good are ProBars. They don’t have a bunch o added junk that your body doesn’t need and they are quite tasty. 
No, I have not given a lot of examples of what to eat, and the point was to share a little about what you can eat. Eating in the backcountry, and even cooking doesn’t have to be a hard thing. Nor do you have to boil water for every meal, especially if water is a limited resource for where you are. 
Packing Food For The Backcountry:
When you are planning a trip for a hike, backpacking trip, climbing trip, or whatever it is, be smart in how you choose the food you take. When I am choosing food to take, I try to repackage my food as much as possible. It not only saves weight in your pack, but it also saves on the amount of garbage you have to take out with you. No you cannot just burn everything you take. Take dehydrated foods when you can. Canned foods and foods that are high in water content are heavy. Remember a gallon of water weighs 8 pounds. A normal can of Campbells soup weighs almost 12 ounces! So be smart in what you carry. Do some research on good foods to carry, and what you can cook based on the cooking equipment that you carry. 
What do you like to cook in the backcountry?

4 thoughts on “Cooking and Food in the Backcountry – What do you eat?

  1. I garden all spring and summer and make all my backcountryeals from scratch with what I've grown. It allows for a lot of creativity and really cuts down the waste and cost associated with dehydrated meals.
    I also make my own jerky and salmon jerky which makes for a fine snack along with dried fruit and nuts.
    Something to keep in mind is that anything you make in the kitchen can essentially be dehydrated and then rehydrated on the trails. No need to go without good food.

  2. I agree Terry. I've never understood why people carry such garbage with them when backpacking. I like to eat good, and I want the energy that comes from eating well. I'd like to get a dehydrator at some point. What is your favorite meal though?

  3. Favorite? Wow that is a tough one. I really like a Thai noodle dish we make. It's full if veggies and herbs from the garden, thick noodles lean chicken and dries coconut milk base sauce.
    It is absolutely delicious, healthy and hearty. I've been known to pull one from our pantry on a non-backpacking day and cook it stovetop because I crave it. Thankfully, we have several we make at a time along with many other meals.
    An indulgence is a rice pudding we package. Instant brown rice, dried coconut milk, powdered eggs and tones of spice and brown sugar.
    Not as healthy, but we earn those little indulgences on the trails.

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