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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Meals||Shorter Trips||Fishing Trips||Longer Trips|
|Snack||Tea and trail mix|
|Boiled eggs||Apples||Yogurt rolls|
|Dinner||Dehydrated meal||Fish or poached eggs and flatbread||Dehydrated meal|
|Condiments||Salt and pepper, and organic cane sugar|
|Click here to view a shareable image (smiley face).|
Free Backcountry Meal Plans Download!
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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.
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.
- Packing Lists for Backcountry Hikers
- Packing Tips for Backcountry Hikers
- Meal Plans, Packing Lists, and Tips for Casual Backcountry Paddlers
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