Keep it simple, nutritious and save weight: I take inexpensive trail foods which are both tasty and nutritious. Specifically, foods that give you calories, protein, good fats, vitamins and other micro nutrients. This keeps you healthy and cruising along the trail with a spring in your step. Just as important…

These tasty and nutritious backpacking meal recipes are healthier, have more calories and cost less than commercial, freeze dried backpacking meals. Keep it simple — there are enough nutritious backpacking meal recipes here to provide sufficient daily variety to keep meals fun and interesting. But there aren’t so many recipes that I spend too much time buying ingredients and assembling a large inventory of gourmet meals. I’d rather spend my time hiking than fussing with food.

Note: This is a companion piece to my top rated post, Best Backpacking Food – simple and nutritious – veggie and omnivore friendly which has more detailed info on nutrition and backpacking food choices.

Photo: Author eating dinner in the Alaska Range – credit: Andrew Skurka

Meal Rotation Planner — Nutritious Backpacking Meal Recipes

Keep it simple — I rotate 2 to 3 meal options for each trip. This provides enough food variety on the trail. By limiting meals to 2 to 3 nutritious backpacking meal recipes, I simplify food purchasing and meal prep.

Backpacking Meal Planner – example of a 3-day rotation
DayBreakfastLunchDinner
1None: eat large one off-trail#1 Wrap+cheese & mustard (fruit #1)#1 Rice+beans w chips+cheese
2#1 Muesli#2 Bison+sesame stix (dried fruit #2)#2 Couscous curry
3#2 Hot oatmeal/cream-o-wheat#3 Crackers+almond butter (fruit #3)#3 Chili mac
4#3 Grape-Nuts + strawberries#1 Wrap+cheese & mustard (fruit #1)#1 Rice+beans w chips+cheese
#1 Muesli#2 Bison+sesame stix (dried fruit #2)#2 Couscous curry
6#4 Quick breakfast meal bar#3 Crackers+almond butter (fruit #3)None: eat large one off-trail

If you don’t already have one get an inexpensive kitchen scale that weighs up to 11 pounds (5 Kg). Almost all the ingredients are measured by weight for these recipes.

Nutritious Backpacking Meal Recipes

If you don’t already have one get an inexpensive kitchen scale that weighs up to 11 pounds (5 Kg). Almost all the ingredients are measured by weight for these recipes.

Breakfast Recipes

The following are nutritious and filling breakfasts that should keep a spring in your step until lunch! They have healthy fats and a good amount of protein. Note that the table below is in scrollable window. Please scroll down to see all the recipes Or you can see ALL THE RECIPES full page here, as a Google Sheet

Dinner mid-way up Mt. Olympus, Olympic Peninsula Washington State.

Dinner mid-way up Mt. Olympus, Olympic Peninsula, Washington State.

Dinner Recipes

The following are nutritious backpacking dinner recipes. These are filling meals at around 700-800 calories per serving! They have healthy fats and a good amount of protein. Note that the table below is in scrollable window. Please scroll down to see all the recipes Or you can see ALL THE DINNER RECIPES on a full page here, as a Google Sheet

Nutritious Backpacking Meal Recipes

Rehydrating in a Ziplock bag makes cleanup much easier. Especially nice in “dry” camps. You usually use less fuel as you kill your stove as soon as the water boils. Downside is that the meal does not rehydrate as well as when it’s cooked in the pot, and rehydration can take longer. A long handled spoon pictured here helps reach into deep baggies without getting your fingers covered in food.

Dessert and Hot Drink Recipes

The following are just few ideas for desserts and after dinner drinks. Note that the table below is in scrollable window. Please scroll down to see all the recipes Or you can see ALL THE DINNER RECIPES full page here, as a Google Sheet

Nutritious Backpacking Meal Recipes

Cooking a meal in the pot does a better job of rehydrating a meal. Especially if you let it simmer for a few minutes after a boil. Downside is that the pot is harder to clean, especially with cheese. And food can burn to the pot bottom if you aren’t careful. (photo: Andrew Skurka)

Rice And Beans With Cheese And Tortilla Chips

Use these healthy freeze dried Black Beans & Rice (available at REI) or at Amazon. Open the meal bag and add 2 oz of Just Hot Veggies or any of Just Tomatoes FD veggies.

Then separately package in ziplock snack baggies:

  • 3-4 oz cheddar cheese (cubed or shredded)
  • 2 oz of lightly salted tortilla chips of your choice (lightly crushed)

Place both the cheese and chip baggies back in the meal bag and reseal it.

Meal Prep Directions

  • pour 17 to 18 oz hot water into the meal packet and set aside to re-hydrate
  • after about 5 minutes, stir in cheese
  • when full hydrated (about 10 min), crumble tortilla chips over the top and enjoy!

Note: eat in packet with long spoons unless you want to be scraping cheese out of your pot and/or bowls for some time.

Nutritious Backpacking Meal Recipes

Dinner in a remote canyon in the Escalante Grand Staircase.

Quick ways to reduce backpack weight

Moving fast and light along the spectacular ridge line of the GR20 in Corsica. A minimal pack (and good pre-trip training) enabled Alison and I to do a 16 day trip in under 8 days. Pictured – the award winning Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Southwest Pack

Quick ways to reduce backpack weight. A few may surprise you…

  1. Look at The Big Three: Backpack, Tent/shelter, and Sleep System (sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and ground cloth). You stand to lose a bunch of weight from these: as much as 10 to 12 pounds.
    1. Take a Backpack that weighs less than two pounds. See our: Best Backpacks for Backpacking and Hiking
    2. Take a Tent that weighs less than two pounds. See our: Best Backpacking Tents | Lightweight & Ultralight
    3. Take a Sleeping bag that that weighs less than 1.5 pounds. See our: Buyers Guide to Lightweight Backpacking Quilts & Sleeping Bags
    4. Look at our 9 Pound Full Comfort Lightweight Backpacking Gear List for more ideas for gear to save weight.
      Nine pounds of backpacking gear is all a hiker needs to be safe and warm. Or simply put, this list has better backpacking gear. For over a decade it’s been tested, refined, and updated to reflect only the best and most current backpacking gear now available in 2019. So, if you want to reduce pack weight without reducing comfort, look no further! The hiking gear in this guide is suitable for all 3-season conditions on trips around the world, from Alaska, to Patagonia, to Utah.
  2. Look on The Backpacking Food Page to save a ton of weight at zero cost
  3. Get a weather report (the NOAA hourly weather graph is among the most informative and accurate)—then pack for those conditions! Since 90% of backpackers take 90% their trips for 3 days or or less, this weather report should be quite accurate for the short time you are out. This will let you pack a tent, clothing, and sleeping bag appropriate for actual conditions. It will also deter you from taking inappropriate, “what-if-the-worst-happens!” gear, e.g. 6 pound tent, and a +10F sleeping bag for a balmy weather trip on the Appalachian Trail.
  4. Don’t take extra clothing. e.g. don’t take any more clothing than you can wear at one time.
  5. Take less: Be disciplined and leave a few items at home that you haven’t used in the last three trips. Put stuff like sunscreen and trail soap in smaller containers.
  6. Extra Credit: Browse The Gear Lists Page for other ideas and examples to save weight. This will give you a good examples of what type of gear is available and what is a reasonable weight for that type of gear, e.g. around 6-8 ounces for a rain jacket, or around 1.0 ounce for a pocket knife. Think hard if your gear is 2 to 3x heavier than the examples on these lists.
  7. Read my The Best Hydration — Drink When Thirsty. Use a Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter to drink at the source (lake, stream, etc.). Then only carry a sensible amount to get to your next known water source. I.e. it makes no sense to carry 3 liters of water, almost 7 pounds, when your next water source is only two hours away.
  8. Remember to have fun! That will at least, lighten your spirit and mood.

How Do I Start?

  • Ground yourself in reality: Get all your stuff together and weigh it. If you’re like most conventional hikers, your equipment will weigh around 30 pounds, possibly higher.
  • Get individual weights for your heavier items like tents and backpacks. For stuff in the range of a few pounds or less you’ll want to buy an inexpensive digital scale that weighs up to 10 pounds.
  • See what you can leave at home. Anything you don’t bring is free weight reduction. Think hard about this one. Do you really need it?
  • Put together a spreadsheet (or at least a list) with all your equipment weights. This is an indispensable analysis tool.
  • Try to figure out where you’ll get the most “bang for the buck.” e.g. figure out how much a new item costs and divide that by the amount of weight it will save you over your old equipment. Target the items that give you the most weight loss for the fewest dollars.
  • Buy on Sale: Don’t try to purchase all your new equipment right away. Many items regularly go on sale or are closed out. Watch carefully over the course of a year and you could save 30 to 70 percent on your equipment.

NEW June 2016 – Meal Recipes are Posted. See Nutritious Backpacking Meal Recipes here

This list is packed with nutritious backpacking food for a “week long” trip of 7 days

  • 6 nights of dinners and breakfasts
  • 7 days of lunches and daytime snacks

That is you don’t eat breakfast on the day your go in. And you don’t eat dinner on the day you come out. This is equivalent to around 6.6 full days hiking. I’ve organized the food so that it should be easy to scale to more or fewer hiking days.

Note: any entry with a blank in “qty” means the food item is an alternative that may be a) added and/or b) substituted for another item on the list. For example if you are veggie, you could substitute one of the soy jerkies (Primal & Stonewall) the meat jerky. And to easily add vegetables to my homemade dinners I use freeze dried vegetables from Just Tomatoes. I like the “Hot Just Veggies.”

A Simple and Nutritious Backpacking Food List for 7 days

Breakfasts (6 mornings)qtyoztotc/ozComments
Familia Breakfast (with Bob’s Red Mill Muesli)25.511.0125see Recipe Page
Grape Nuts/Kashi Seven Nuggets (my recipe)25.010.0124see Recipe Page
Oatmeal Breakfast (my recipe)25.410.8115see Recipe Page
Coffee, Starbuck’s VIA ($0.72/cup @Amazon)60.10.84g pkt  = 130-140 mg caffeine
Coffee for gold filter brewing 25g per 12 fl-oz0.9 alternative to instant coffee, less $
Tea – bag or loose leaf (4-6g per 12 fl-oz)0.1if using bags, sealed packets are best
Lunches (7 days)qtyoztotc/ozComments
Dense whole grain bread (lunch serving)32.06.080
Almond Butter (2 oz serv)32.06.0155pers fave – eat w bread/crackers
Tuna in olive oil 2.6 oz pkt (2.9 oz incl packet)2.965eat w bread, oil adds cal’s & healthy fat
Crackers, Dr Kracker (lunch serving)21.53.0125Awesome, high calorie & indestructible
Cheese (lunch serving)22.55.0115eat with crackers
TJ’s whole wheat tortillas22.04.080
Dry salami (without nitrates)22.55.0105eat with tortillas
Mustard packetsn/ato eat with cheese or salami
Bison Jerkey (3.5 oz bag)3.560 online, or TJs and Whole Foods
Turkey Jerky4.090 online, or TJs and Whole Foods
Primal Strips Meatless Vegan Jerkey (teriyaki)1.0100vegan protein option – up to 11g prot.
Stonewall’s Jerquee (soy based)1.5110veggie protein option – up to 14g prot.
Dinners (6 nights)qtyoztotc/ozComments
Black Beans & Rice w Cheese & Corn Chips (yum!)25.511.0115see Recipe Page
Chili Mac Dinner25.511.0120see Recipe Page
Curry Cous Cous Dinner26.012.0135see Recipe Page
Desserts (6 nights)qtyoztotc/ozComments
Snickers Bar or MilkyWay Midnight22.14.2135daytime snack or dessert
Chocolate (dark)42.08.0153great when eaten with dried fruit
Cocoa Nibs1.0150tasty when added to dark chocolate
Snakwell Cookie Packet21.73.4123great with hot chocolate
Hot Chocolate (make your own with Nido)22.24.4130see Dessert recipe Page
Snack Bars (for ~7 days)qtyoztotc/ozComments
Kind Bars41.45.6150
Lara Bar1.8130
Pro Bar Meal Bar23.06.0125healthy, easy to eat
ProBar’s Base Protein Bars22.54.9114adds 20g of soy protein
Cliff Builder’s Protein Bar22.54.9115adds 20g of soy protein
Snacks (for ~7 days)qtyoztotc/ozComments
Gorp (50% walnuts, 50% dried fruit – raisins?)72.014.0150 usually mix my own
Honey sesame sticks71.812.6150 online or at Whole Foods
Candied nuts (TJs has a ton of varieties)31.54.5150
Almonds, raw42.08.0165
Walnuts, raw185
Dried mango un-sweetened/sulfered32.06.090also great dessert with dark chocolate!
Apricots (dried, un-sweetened, un-sulfered)41.56.087also great dessert with dark chocolate!
Papaya (dried, un-sweetened, un-sulfered)100 at Whole Foods
Raisins, organic (Thompson, TJs)95
Generic dried fruit85
Jelly Bellies93
Tic-Tacs0mindless fun to eat on trail
Pringles150tasty, high in calories
Totals
Lb of food for trip11.5
Lb food per day1.7
Calories/day3,530
Calories/oz of food127

[fusion_text]Most ultralight backpackers take stoves. Just small light ones. When I hike with others, I take a stove and do civilized stuff like make coffee & tea and hot dinners. Sometimes, especially when I solo, I go ultra simple with no-cook food.

 

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There is no exact answer to this question. In my “The Best Backpacking Food – simple and nutritious”, I threw out the best guess of 1.4 to 1.7 lb of food per day. But how but much food you need depends on who you are and what you do.

2015 Note: In the last 15 years of backpacking I personally seem to have settled on around 1.7 pounds per day of food give or take a bit. This is for warm season backpacking with 12-18 miles per day (possibly more) with some off-trail travel. If I am going for killer trips, like 10-12 solid hours of hiking per day I will be more like 1.8 pounds of food per day.  But trips 12 miles and under, mostly on trail 1.5 pounds of food would suffice.

Over the years I have lowered my hiking pace, but hike longer and take fewer breaks. I find that a slower hiking pace of 2.5 miles per hour (average including stops) is much more efficient calorie-wise than hiking at a faster pace. Most accomplished long distance thru-hikers I have talked to use a similar approach. Also, I find the slower pace beats up my body less and I get up the next morning fresh and ready to hike another day.


Estimating How Much Food You Need

In an example below, in order to not lose weight, a 160 pound male hiking 10 miles a day, with a 3,000 elevation gain, would need around 4,000 calories per day, or 2.0 pounds of food per day (assuming a caloric density of 125 calories per ounce). This is a very rough estimate, and should not be taken too seriously. You will need to do some experimenting to determine you own caloric needs for on the trail.

From this it is clear that 1.5 pounds of food per day (a figure often used by ultralight hikers) does not work for all situations, and for all people. Although that 1.5 lb of food per day may work well for many people on a short trip (e.g. a 3-day-weekend)–where they not doing long miles and long hours of hiking per day. And for most of us, if you end up metabolizing/burning off a pound of fat on a trip [since backpacking is one of he supreme fat burning activities], all the better!

But just because you can get by on 1.5 lb of food per day, doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to eat in all situations. In my opinion, running a significant caloric deficit, particularly on longer trips, is not a good idea. If you are a fit person, hiking many miles and hours per day, 1.5 lbs of food per day  is also not a good idea. See my example below for more details.

Factors to consider for how much food you pack

  • How much do you weigh?
  • Does your metabolism run high or low?
  • How far will you hike each day?
  • How fast will you hike?
  • For how many days?
  • How much elevation gain?
  • At what altitude?
  • At what temperatures?
  • How difficult is the terrain?
  • What type of shape are you in?
  • What are you used to eating?
  • How much excess body fat do you have?
  • Do you want to lose weight? Etc., etc.

In 2000 I took 1.6 lb of food per day (Approx. 125 cal/oz.) on a 5 day trip in the Rockies. I was hungry on the days when I hiked 8-10 miles mostly on trails. But I could deal with it. I would have felt better, and in the long run hiked faster with more food per day. One day, I did an 18 mile hike, most of which was off trail, with elevations over 13,000 feet. Boulder fields. Class 3 routes etc. I brought only 1.6 pounds of food with me. By 7:30 PM, when I got into camp, I was almost psychotic with hunger. My fault, I realize. I could have easily used 2 lb of food for that day.

An (over) simplified example of food need calculations. An estimate! (see Note 1):

  • A 160 lb person has a base metabolism of approx. 2,200 cal/day
  • 10 miles hiking with a 30 lb backpack at 120 cal/mi, is another 1,200 calories.
  • Assume 3,000 elevation gain is another 600 calories.
  • Total caloric expenditure: 4,000 cal/day
  • 1.5 pounds of food at 125 cal/oz = 3,000 calories. (see Note 2)
  • Caloric deficit = 1,000 cal/per day. Or around 1/3 lb of hiker per day (this is fat metabolized/burned)

Under this very simplified estimate, our 160 pound hiker runs a 1,000 calorie per day deficit. They would lose about 1/3 lb per day or around 2 lb per week. If our hiker was a bit overweight and didn’t mind being hungry this might be OK or even desirable. But it’s probable that they would feel better and hike faster if they weren’t running a caloric deficit.

For someone near their ideal weight, running a 1,000 calorie a day deficit might not be a good idea. It might be OK for a few days, but not for long outings. It’s not that you can’t do it if you have to. I’ve hiked 3 days without food. But is it a good idea to hike running a caloric deficit?

  • Is it good for your health?
  • Will you feel great and enjoy your outing?
  • Will you hike your fastest?
  • Will your body have the nutrition to recover after a hard day of hiking?
  • Will you be more injury prone?
  • Will you be alert and make safe decisions?
  • What will your moods be like around others?

After answering these questions for myself, I’d say that hiking with a daily calorie deficit is not a great idea.

Note 1: I realize that this is a this very simplified estimate. Base metabolism, hiking efficiency, etc. are variable. The best approach is to do some on or off trail testing and see what caloric intake works best for you. Note that you may be able to get by on a low calorie intake but your athletic performance may go down as well. I know that I can eat 2,200 calories a day and ride my bike 175-200 miles per week. I also know that if I do this, I feel terrible, I loose around 2 lb per week, I can be cross with those around me, and my overall riding speed drops 1-2 mph. At around 3,200-3,500 calories a day I feel great, don’t gain weight, and can train at high intensity.

Note 2: I believe that most of us will end up averaging around 125-130 cal/oz even when packing high fat items like chocolate and peanut butter, etc. as part of our food. I know that many try to hit the 150 cal/oz range, but I don’t think this is a realistic or healthy way for most people to eat. Just my opinion.

Most hikers are used to caffeine in the morning. Interrupting that habit makes for grumpy hikers who are not the best trail company. Caffeine pills help, but do not provide the same emotional (some would say spiritual) comfort of wrapping your hands around a cup of soothingly warm liquid.

Coffee has the disadvantage of oily, hard-to-clean residues in your cup and pot. Ground coffee only keeps fresh for a few days at most (some believe it is only minutes or hours after grinding).

I make tea. Loose leaf teas like Assam, Darjeeling (black tea) or Sencha (green tea) keep for months in the backcountry and are a cinch to clean up after. Here’s a five minute tutorial video about making loose leaf tea in the backcountry (about 19 MB)

Backcountry Tea using the Trail Designs Caldera Cone Stove cooking system