Meal Plans for Backcountry Hikers — Backpacking Meal Plans, Packing Lists, and Tips for Hikers and Casual Paddlers

It took us a few years of trial and error before we finally felt comfortable with our go-to backpacking meal plans and packing lists. At first, we made the rookie mistake of bringing way too much heavier stuff on backcountry hiking trips. Later on, we realised that we could (and sometimes should) be bringing different foods on paddling trips. I’ve decided to share our experiences — and our backpacking meal plans and packing lists. To start, here are our meal plans for backcountry hikers.

Meal plans for backcountry hikers can include dehydrated meals, eggs, energy bars, tea, and oatmeal.

Preliminary Considerations

Overall, the most important factors to consider when designing meal plans for backcountry hikers are the weight and bulk of packed food, the foods’ preparation time and requirements at camp, the taste and nutritional value of prepared food, and the trash produced at every meal. The goal is to create meal plans that take up little space, don’t weigh much, are quick to prepare, are flavourful and sustaining, and don’t produce much trash.

The Rationale Behind Our Meal Plans

Before I present our meal plans for backcountry hikers, I’m going to describe some of the logic behind our menu. We had to give it a lot of thought and rework it often before we got it to a point we’re comfortable with, so it’s useful to look at why we do things a certain way as well as how we do them.

Let’s start with the obvious — dehydrated meals. We used to bring them for dinner only. Now we bring them for lunch, too. We boil the water for lunch right after breakfast is done and let the dehydrated meals rehydrate in the pouch while we’re hiking. Whenever we decide it’s time for lunch, we just pull out our spoons and our ready-to-eat, no fuss meal. It’s usually cold by then, so we’ve found that rice dishes generally work better than pasta dishes. We pack a little bit of salt and pepper to flavour some of the blander meals. We actually try not to buy those, but every once in a while we fail to choose wisely.

One of our shopping tips for dehydrated meals is that we mostly look for the ones with the highest number of calories per serving, so that we can share one meal between the two of us instead of having to splurge on a second low-calorie meal. The number of calories we’re looking for depends on how many kilometres we’ll be hiking each day of the trip, and not on the total length of the trip. For shorter days, a few of the ones we like are the Himalayan Lentils and Rice (Affiliate Disclosure) and by Natural High (Affiliate Disclosure) and Mountain Chili (Affiliate Disclosure) by Alpine Aire (Affiliate Disclosure). For longer days, Backpacker's Pantry (Affiliate Disclosure)‘s Chana Masala (Affiliate Disclosure) and Pad Thai (Affiliate Disclosure) are high on our list. There are other brands we like as well, such as Mountain House (Affiliate Disclosure).

So that’s two meals down, one to go, and at least three snacks to plan for. So let’s round off the meals with breakfast — counter-intuitive, I know. As is our breakfast plan. We now have trail mix and Happy Camper nettle tea for breakfast while the water for our LoonSong Garden oatmeal is boiling. We let the oatmeal, pre-mixed with dehydrated berries and seeds, cook in the previous night’s washed dehydrated meal pouch while we’re hiking. We eat our oatmeal on our first hiking break, sweetened with a touch of organic cane sugar. We do it this way because I find it too heavy to eat oatmeal first thing in the morning, but we’re loath to give it up entirely, so we adapted.

With breakfast you found out about one of our snacks, trail mix. We make it with our own dehydrated wild and farm picked berries, and an assortment of other nuts and seeds, including Ontario peanuts. We actually eat the trail mix all day long — while we’re hiking, at camp in the morning and at night… It’s what keeps us going! I always plan for three cups per day between the two of us, which is usually just about right. Luckily for us, our trail mix is so tasty that we never get sick of it.

We also always bring energy bars such as Clif Bars (Affiliate Disclosure). We simply keep one in our pockets for easy access while we’re hiking. Needless to say (I hope), we reject anything chocolate-covered that might melt and leave a sticky mess.

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Our other snacks depend on the type of trip we’re taking. This is where our meal plans for backcountry hikers get interesting.

For dairy, we might bring a couple containers of pudding if it’s a short trip, or dehydrated yogurt rolls if it’s a longer trip. Likewise, on longer trips we might want to bring some type of sweet treat for the fireside — something like candy-covered chocolate that won’t melt, perhaps.

On shorter trips we might bring apples, which we choose over other fruit because our black labs eat the cores, so it’s a waste-free option. Though initially heavier to carry, we try to choose small apples to even things out. We forego them entirely on longer trips.

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We might even bring eggs on shorter trips. If it’s just a weekend trek, we generally bring in-shell boiled eggs. As long as they’re in the shell, boiled eggs can last outside of the refrigerator for a couple days. Uncooked eggs can last a few months. That’s what we bring on fishing trips in case we don’t catch fish. We’ve tried cooking the eggs fried and scrambled, but by far the easiest and cleanest method is poached.

Better yet, on fishing trips (which are on the shorter side), we might bring a mix of almond meal and wheat flours, grated parmesan (the powdered, not the fresh, kind), and skim milk powder, which Marc uses to make flatbread on our nifty hand toaster. We eat the bread with fish, or eggs if we haven’t caught any fish. And since Marc cooks any fish he catches on a hot stone or grill over the fire, we don’t have to bring any oil or butter along with us on fishing trips. But we don’t trek from campsite to campsite on a fishing trip, so it’s not so bad bringing extra stuff.

We do plan for more calories per day on longer trips, since we really don’t want to run out of energy while backpacking. So one of the key items we pack along is waxed hard cheese, which doesn’t need to be kept in the refrigerator. Think Babybel.

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Along the same lines, we also like to bring high-energy hard candy on longer trips, something to give us a boost in the afternoons. Check out your local health food store to see what you can find. In the past, we’ve liked Gin-Gins ginger candy (Affiliate Disclosure).

Lastly, since we’re mostly vegetarian, there’s no jerky listed on our meal plans for backcountry hikers. However, we recently found out that we can make vegan jerky with kombucha SCOBYs, so we know that if we ever do make some, our meal plans for backcountry hikers will change.

To find out more about our ethical eating habits, check out Memories of a Carnivore (Affiliate Disclosure).

Backcountry Hiking Meal Plan Options

So without further ado, here are our meal plans for backcountry hikers. I’ve listed everything we bring by trip type. We juggle things around every once in a while to suit specific trip needs, of course, but this is our base plan.

Tip: You can click directly within the table to edit its contents (smiley face). If you want to save your changes for the next time you plan a trip, scroll down to download the print-friendly version.

Backpacking Meal Plans by Trip Type
MealsShorter TripsFishing TripsLonger Trips
SnackTea and trail mix
Boiled eggsApplesYogurt rolls
BreakfastOatmeal
SnackTrail mix
Waxed cheese
LunchDehydrated meal
SnackEnergy bar
ApplesGinger candy
DinnerDehydrated mealFish or poached eggs and flatbreadDehydrated meal
SnackTrail mix
PuddingCandied chocolate
CondimentsSalt and pepper, and organic cane sugar
Ketchup
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Free Backcountry Meal Plans Download!

If you like these meal plans, you can download a free print-friendly PDF [80kb] version!

Yup, we keep our meal plans for backcountry hikers simple, but that makes packing easy and hassle-free. I’ve seen meal plans for backcountry hikers that offered a different menu for every day. But the problems with that are that you need to bring so many ingredients (thereby increasing the weight you’re carrying), you spend more time preparing your meals at camp, and you need to keep a copy of your meal plan somewhere to make sure that you stay on track.

The other advantage of our simplified meal plans for backcountry hikers is that we bring very little that smells much, which is a significant safety factor in bear country.

Final Tips

There are things we used to bring backpacking with us which we’ve learned to disregard. One prime example is canned food. Cans are heavy and space-consuming. Once they’re empty, they take up the same amount of space, and they’re still heavier than a plastic pouch would be (because everyone carries out their trash, right?).

We also used to try to cook more of our meals ourselves and would only bring dehydrated meals for emergencies. That’s just not practical in terms of weight, though. As much as we’re healthy eaters who like to eat fresh whole foods, how much we’re carrying on our backs is more important for the few days we’re in the backcountry. Plus, dehydrated meals are quicker, so when we’re trekking from campsite to campsite, it’s just more efficient, what with all the setup and take down that goes on every day. The exception is on fishing trips, when we spend much more time at camp.

We still do bring an extra dehydrated meal or two for emergency situations. It’s just good common sense. What’s the use of emergency backcountry survival gear like a first aid kit or thermal blanket if we’re not going to have enough energy to make it through the ordeal anyway?

Finally, every backcountry trekker needs to consider his or her own caloric intake needs. Marc and I are both small people, so we need fewer calories per day, even when we’re burning a lot of extra calories on a hiking trip. The meal plans above should be adjusted according to individual requirements.

Following Up on Meal Plans for Backcountry Hikers

For some great backcountry packing tips for hikers, including how to pack food and gear, take a look at what’s coming up next.

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Comments

2 Thoughts on “Meal Plans for Backcountry Hikers

  1. Hello Julie.
    This is always an interesting topic.
    My concern is that there is far to much salt in the dehydrated foods.
    Where are you buying these foods.

    1. That’s a great question, Ken!

      Salt isn’t much of a concern for us since we’re really healthy eaters and physically fit. Still, when I look at our meal plans, the only item that contains a significant amount of sodium (other than the salt and pepper!) is the dehydrated meals. There’s a little bit of sodium in the energy bars as well (about 3% of the recommended daily amount). Reading nutrition labels is the best way to manage your intake. For example, I checked the labels on the dehydrated meals I have in stock here at home, and it varies quite a lot. The Chana Masala (Affiliate Disclosure) and the Katmandu Curry (Affiliate Disclosure) both have over 50% (!) of the daily recommended amount, while the Himalayan Lentils and Rice (Affiliate Disclosure) is at 6% and the Hash Browns are at 1%. So it looks like you’re right — on the days we eat two packages of dehydrated meals, we need to check the sodium content to make sure we’re not getting too much in a day.

      The other option for even greater control is to prepare dehydrated meals yourself. As for where to buy, check out Backcountry Gear Shopping in Toronto, and let me know if you have any other questions. Cheers!

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