Backpacking Food 101—100 Food Ideas for Beginner Backpackers

New to backpacking? Here are 100 backpacking food ideas with options for every meal, diet, and budget to help you plan your trail meals. Click on a category below to jump to the foods that best fit your needs.

10 Backpacking Breakfast Food Ideas

Start your day off right and energize yourself properly with these breakfast foods.

1. Granola & Muesli

Cold cereal, anyone? These are two breakfast options which can be eaten without having to bust out the stove. We’ve listed our favorite pre-made options below, but there are plenty of easy recipes to be found with a simple Google or Pinterest search.

Our favorites

  • KIND Vanilla Blueberry Healthy Grains Clusters — 104 Cal/oz
  • Nature Valley Oats ‘n Honey Granola Crunch — 126 Cal/oz
  • Bob’s Red Mill Old Country Style Muesli — 113 Cal/oz
  • Bob’s Red Mill Classic Granola — 116 Cal/oz

2. Dried Fruits

Our favorites

  • Banana chips — 145 Cal/oz
  • Dried apple slices — 69 Cal/oz
  • Dates — 79 Cal/oz
  • Raisins — 85 Cal/oz

3. Bars

Close-up of the texture of a Probar

We’ve listed below our favorite “breakfast bars,” but any bars will do. For more bar ideas check out our guide to the best energy bars.

Our favorites

  • KIND Peanut Butter Breakfast Bars — 130 Cal/oz
  • Nutri-Grain Strawberry Bars — 92 Cal/oz
  • Quaker Apple Cinnamon Breakfast Squares — 99 Cal/oz

4. Powdered Eggs

Bob's Red Mill Egg Replacer powdered eggs

Thought you couldn’t have eggs for breakfast while backpacking? Think again.

Popular options

  • Hoosier Hill Farm Powdered Eggs — 174 Cal/oz
  • OvaEasy Powdered Eggs — 187 Cal/oz

5. Fresh Fruits

They’re bulky and heavy, but fresh fruits contain important nutrients you might not be getting elsewhere and can be a great pick-me-up when you’ve been eating lots of trail food. Make sure to eat them quickly or buy fruits, such as apples, that can last a while in your pack.

Our favorites

  • Apples — 15 Cal/oz
  • Oranges — 13 Cal/oz
  • Mangoes — 17 Cal/oz

6. Instant Oatmeal

Don’t want to prep instant oatmeal? Try it in a squeeze pouch instead.

Instant oatmeal is a classic backpacking breakfast food. All you need to do is boil some water and stir it in and you have yourself a hot breakfast.

Our favorites

  • Quaker Protein Banana Nut — 112 Cal/oz
  • Quaker Maple & Brown Sugar — 105 Cal/oz
  • Quaker Blueberries & Cream — 105 Cal/oz

7. Pop-Tarts

Indulge the way your parents never allowed you to.

Our favorites

  • Frosted Blueberry — 109 Cal/oz
  • Frosted Strawberry — 109 Cal/oz
  • Hot Fudge Sundae — 112 Cal/oz
  • Cookies & Creme — 112 Cal/oz

8. Freeze-dried Breakfasts

MRE weekend packing list

Our favorites

  • Good To-Go Granola — 121 Cal/oz
  • Mountain House Breakfast Skillet — 162 Cal/oz
  • Backpacker’s Pantry Granola with Milk and Bananas — 130 Cal/oz

9. Instant Grits

Our favorites

  • Quaker Cheddar Cheese Instant Grits — 101 Cal/oz
  • Bob’s Red Mill Southern Style White Corn Grits — 97 Cal/oz

10. Pancake Mix

Don’t forget that some pancake mixes call for oil, milk, and/or eggs. If yours does, pack appropriately. The options listed below are all the “just add water” variety.

Popular “just add water” options

  • Kodiak Cakes Protein Packed Flapjack and Waffle Mix — 102 Cal/oz
  • Mountain Standard Power On Protein Pancakes — 109 Cal/oz
  • Aunt Jemima Buttermilk Complete Pancake Mix — 95 Cal/oz

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10 Backpacking Lunch Food Ideas

The best backpacking lunch foods requires zero prep, such as trail mix, or can be used to make simple no-cook meals, such as tortillas with peanut butter and jelly.

1. Nuts & Seeds

Sunflower seeds

Nuts and seeds are calorie-dense and full of good fats. Eat them solo or as part of a trail mix. If you buy some raw, consider roasting them beforehand for a better flavor and crunch.

Our favorites

  • Peanuts — 161 Cal/oz
  • Cashews — 157 Cal/oz
  • Almonds — 163 Cal/oz
  • Chia seeds — 138 Cal/oz
  • Sunflower seeds — 166 Cal/oz

2. Nut Butters

Plenty of nut butters come in jars, but you can reduce bulk and weight by purchasing yours in pouches (Justin’s has lots of options); carrying it in powdered form; or repackaging it in a lightweight, leakproof container.

Our favorites

  • Skippy Peanut Butter — 168 Cal/oz
  • Justin’s Vanilla Almond Butter — 159 Cal/oz
  • Justin’s Maple Almond Butter — 168 Cal/oz

3. Fish Pouches

Fish pouches don’t have that many calories per ounce, but they do pack a lot of protein and can be used in many simple lunch and dinner recipes. Look for the pouches of fish packed in oil for the extra calories.

Our favorites

  • StarKist Yellowfin Tuna in Extra Virgin Olive Oil — 73 Cal/oz
  • StarKist Chunk Light Tuna in Sunflower Oil — 58 Cal/oz
  • StarKist Mediterranean Style Tuna in Extra Virgin Olive Oil — 58 Cal/oz
  • Chicken of the Sea Mackerel Fillet in Soybean Oil — 34 Cal/oz

4. Jerky

In my opinion jerky is one of the best backpacking foods out there. Most varieties don’t wow in the calories per ounce department, but it’s tasty, satisfying, and full of protein. Other shelf-stable meats, such as summer sausage, also work well.

Our favorites

  • Oberto Bacon Jerky — 130 Cal/oz
  • Oberto Teriyaki Beef Jerky — 80 Cal/oz
  • Jack Link’s Original Beef Jerky — 80 Cal/oz

5. Tortillas

Tortillas by themselves aren’t too appealing, but they make the perfect base for wraps, tacos, and ‘sandwiches’ while on the trail.

Popular options

  • Old El Paso Flour Tortillas — 87 Cal/oz
  • Ortega Whole Wheat Tortillas — 82 Cal/oz
  • Mission Yellow Corn Tortillas — 66 Cal/oz

6. Bagels

Of all the different types of breads available, bagels are the most packable. You can stuff ’em in your pack and not worry that they’ll crumble to pieces. (For the calories per ounce estimates below, we used Thomas’ Bagels, a popular brand.)

Our favorite flavors

  • Everything — 84 Cal/oz
  • Blueberry — 84 Cal/oz
  • Cinnamon Swirl — 84 Cal/oz

7. Trail Mix

Of course. I couldn’t have a list of backpacking foods without including trail mix. Make your own at home beforehand or buy a bag of it. Trader Joe’s, in particular, makes some classics.

Our favorites

  • Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter Cups Trax Mix — 142 Cal/oz
  • Trader Joe’s Salty, Sweet & Nutty Trek Mix — 152 Cal/oz
  • Planters Nuts & Chocolate Trail Mix — 152 Cal/oz
  • Kirkland Signature Trail Mix — 151 Cal/oz

8. Cheese

Only some cheeses are appropriate to take backpacking. According to The Summit Register, you should “purchase semi-firm, firm, or aged cheeses, which have a lower moisture content. They’re sturdier, and I’ve safely backpacked with them to no ill effect.”

Good backpacking cheeses

  • Cheddar — 113 Cal/oz
  • Manchego — 90 Cal/oz
  • Aged gouda — 101 Cal/oz

9. Bars

Tasting the White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Clif bar

For those looking for backpacking lunch foods you can munch on while on the move, bars are a perfect solution. Clif and Kind bars are popular options — check out our favorite Clif bar and Kind bar flavors.

Our favorites

  • KIND Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt Bar — 142 Cal/oz
  • PROBAR Almond Crunch Meal Bar — 123 Cal/oz
  • CLIF Crunchy Peanut Butter Bar — 108 Cal/oz

10. Chicken Pouches

Like fish pouches, chicken pouches are full of protein and make a good addition to wraps and sandwiches. You can also use them in your trail dinners.

Popular options

  • Valley Fresh White Chicken Pouches — 35 Cal/oz
  • Tyson Premium Chunk White Chicken Pouches — 35 Cal/oz
  • Sweet Sue Chicken Breast Pouches — 30 Cal/oz

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10 Backpacking Dinner Food Ideas

For backpackers who bring backpacking cookware sets, dinner is oftentimes an opportunity to relax and cook a warm, hearty meal. To that end, most of the foods in this section are intended to be good bases that you can turn into full-blown meals by simply adding extra ingredients of your choosing.

1. Couscous

Our favorites

  • Near East Roasted Garlic & Olive Oil Couscous — 110 Cal/oz
  • Bob’s Red Mill Golden Couscous — 105 Cal/oz
  • Near East Herbed Chicken Couscous — 110 Cal/oz

2. Instant Potatoes

As with pancake mixes, some instant potatoes call for milk and/or butter. Be sure to check the preparation instructions before purchasing.

Popular options

  • Bob’s Red Mill Potato Flakes — 100 Cal/oz
  • Idahoan Four Cheese Mashed Potatoes — 111 Cal/oz
  • Idahoan Buttery Homestyle Mashed Potatoes — 111 Cal/oz

3. Freeze-dried Meals

Freeze-dried meals are classic backpacking dinner fare, so we dedicated an entire section to them further down the page. Here we’ve just listed a few of our favorites.

Our favorites

  • Mountain House Beef Stroganoff — 129 Cal/oz
  • Good To-Go Thai Curry — 112 Cal/oz
  • Backpacker’s Pantry Fettuccini Alfredo with Chicken — 111 Cal/oz

4. Corn Spaghetti

Corn spaghetti is highly recommended by long-distance hiker Ray Jardine in his book, Trail Life. As he puts it, “not once did [corn spaghetti] fail to provide the energy we needed, and never did we tire of eating it.”

Popular options

  • Sam Mills Corn Spaghetti — 98 Cal/oz
  • DeBoles Corn Spaghetti — 105 Cal/oz
  • Le Veneziane Corn Spaghetti — 101 Cal/oz

5. Instant Refried Beans

Best instant refried beans

Instant refried beans are a popular camping and backpacking food. They’re tasty, filling, high in fiber, calorically dense, and can be paired well with a number of other common trail foods. We recently taste tested the top brands, and you can find our rankings and reviews in our guide to the best instant refried beans.

Our favorites

  • Santa Fe Bean Co. Instant Southwestern Style Refried Beans — 113 Cal/oz
  • Santa Fe Bean Co. Instant Fat Free Vegetarian Refried Beans — 104 Cal/oz

6. Ramen Noodles

Love ’em or hate ’em, a package of ramen noodles is a popular backpacking dinner, and with good reason. They are lightweight, easy to prep, and frighteningly cheap.

Our favorites

  • Chicken ramen — 125 Cal/oz
  • Beef ramen — 125 Cal/oz

7. Instant Rice

Popular options

  • Minute White Rice — 105 Cal/oz
  • Uncle Ben’s Instant Brown Rice — 100 Cal/oz

8. Dehydrated & Freeze-dried Vegetables

Dehydrated veggies make great additions to most any hot backpacking dinner.

Our favorites

  • Harmony House Backpacking Kit
  • PackitGourmet Vegetable Blend — 10 Cal/oz
  • Mountain House Fire Roasted Vegetable Blend — 117 Cal/oz

9. Mac & Cheese

The quintessential comfort food tastes that much better after a long day of trekking.

Our favorites

  • Kraft Easy Mac — 102 Cal/oz
  • Knorr Cheesy Cheddar Pasta — 104 Cal/oz
  • Mountain House Macaroni & Cheese — 142 Cal/oz

10. Tortellini

Tortellini + rehydrated vegetables + pouched chicken + seasonings = yum.

Our favorites

  • Barilla Three Cheese Tortellini — 111 Cal/oz
  • Barilla Cheese & Spinach Tortellini — 111 Cal/oz
  • Trader Joe’s Italian Tortellini with Mixed Cheese Filling — 113 Cal/oz

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10 Backpacking Snack Ideas

You’ll be burning so many calories per day on the trail that it’ll be important to eat enough to maintain your energy. Consistently snacking is an easy way to do that.

1. Bars

16 best Kind bar flavors

Bars make their third appearance on the list because they are simply that versatile and convenient. There are plenty of brands and flavors, too, so it’s easy to mix things up and not grow too tired of them.

  • KIND Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt Bar — 142 Cal/oz
  • PROBAR Almond Crunch Meal Bar — 123 Cal/oz
  • CLIF Crunchy Peanut Butter Bar — 108 Cal/oz

2. Chocolate & Candy Bars

Who doesn’t love a good Snickers bar while on the trail? If you’re hiking in warmer climates, opt for candies that are less likely to melt.

Our favorites

  • Snickers — 138 Cal/oz
  • Payday — 142 Cal/oz
  • Peanut M&M’s — 144 Cal/oz
  • Pretzel M&M’s — 132 Cal/oz

3. Roasted Chickpeas

A bag of roasted chickpeas is a great healthy backpacking snack that still packs a heavy caloric punch.

Popular options

  • Biena Sea Salt Roasted Chickpeas — 125 Cal/oz
  • The Good Bean Sea Salt Roasted Chickpeas — 120 Cal/oz
  • Biena Honey Roasted Chickpeas — 125 Cal/oz

4. Jerky

Our favorites

  • Oberto Bacon Jerky — 130 Cal/oz
  • Oberto Teriyaki Beef Jerky — 80 Cal/oz
  • Jack Link’s Original Beef Jerky — 80 Cal/oz

5. Chips & Crackers

Dang onion chips

Fritos and Pringles are popular trail foods, but you can also go for healthier options such as multi-grain crackers.

Our favorites

  • Fritos — 160 Cal/oz
  • Stacy’s Pita Chips — 130 Cal/oz
  • Crunchmaster 5-Seed Multi-Grain Crackers — 132 Cal/oz
  • Cheddar Cheese Pringles — 150 Cal/oz

6. Nuts & Seeds

Our favorites

  • Peanuts — 161 Cal/oz
  • Cashews — 157 Cal/oz
  • Almonds — 163 Cal/oz
  • Chia seeds — 138 Cal/oz
  • Sunflower seeds — 166 Cal/oz

7. Nut Butters

Our favorites

  • Skippy Peanut Butter — 168 Cal/oz
  • Justin’s Vanilla Almond Butter — 159 Cal/oz
  • Justin’s Maple Almond Butter — 168 Cal/oz

8. Trail Mix

Our favorites

  • Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter Cups Trax Mix — 142 Cal/oz
  • Trader Joe’s Salty, Sweet & Nutty Trek Mix — 152 Cal/oz
  • Planters Nuts & Chocolate Trail Mix — 152 Cal/oz
  • Kirkland Signature Trail Mix — 151 Cal/oz

9. Fresh Fruits & Veggies

Pack and handle your fresh foods carefully and eat them relatively quickly.

Our favorites

  • Apples — 15 Cal/oz
  • Oranges — 13 Cal/oz
  • Carrots — 12 Cal/oz

10. Granola

Our favorites

  • KIND Vanilla Blueberry Healthy Grains Clusters — 104 Cal/oz
  • Nature Valley Peanut Butter n’ Dark Chocolate Protein Granola — 124 Cal/oz
  • Bob’s Red Mill Classic Granola — 116 Cal/oz

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10 Backpacking Drink Ideas

Since carrying extra bottles full of liquid would be heavy and bulky, when I say “backpacking drinks,” I’m mostly talking about mixes or concentrates that you’d mix with treated water. Except, of course, for beer, whiskey, and backpacking cocktails.

1. Instant Coffee

7 different instant coffee brands

Instant coffee doesn’t taste as good as the actual stuff, but it sure is convenient. We recently did a blind taste test of 7 top brands. You can see our rankings in our guide to the best instant coffee for camping. And for those who want a real cup of joe on the trail, check out our favorite backpacking coffee makers.

Our favorites

  • Alpine Start Original Blend
  • Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee Mix
  • Mount Hagen Organic Fairtrade Instant Coffee

2. Tea

Our favorites

  • Yerba mate (in the morning)
  • Trader Joe’s Irish Breakfast (in the morning)
  • Chamomile (in the evening)

3. Sports Drink Mixes

I often stir a little Gatorade mix into my water at lunchtime as a lightly sweetened beverage to enjoy with my meal. Delicious!

Our favorites

  • Hammer Nutrition HEED Sports Drink — 98 Cal/oz
  • Gatorade Glacier Freeze Powder — 99 Cal/oz
  • Gatorade Orange Powder — 99 Cal/oz

4. Juice Mixes

Mixes like these can help cover up any unpleasant taste in your treated water.

Popular options

  • Crystal Light — 1 Cal/oz
  • Tang — 90 Cal/oz
  • Country Time Lemonade Mix — 100 Cal/oz

5. Hot Chocolate

Hot chocolate makes for a great reward after a long day of hiking. I like adding powdered milk to mine to make it creamier.

Popular options

  • Nestle Hot Cocoa Mix — 113 Cal/oz
  • Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa Mix — 122 Cal/oz
  • Ghiradelli Hot Cocoa Mix — 112 Cal/oz

6. Electrolyte Tablets

You’ll be doing lots of sweating while on the trail, so maintaining good electrolyte levels is important for muscle function.

Our favorites

  • Nuun Active — 10 Cal/tablet
  • Medi-Lyte Electrolyte Replacement Tablets — 0.5 Cal/tablet

7. Protein Powder

In the search for foods with high calories per ounce, some backpackers turn to junkier foods that don’t contain much protein. Supplementing with protein powder can be a good way to ensure you’re getting enough.

Popular options

  • Optimum Nutrition Protein Powder — 110 Cal/oz
  • Nutiva Hemp Protein Powder — 85 Cal/oz
  • Vega Chocolate Protein Powder — 103 Cal/oz

8. Hot Cider

Popular options

  • Alpine Spiced Apple Cider — 108 Cal/oz
  • Mott’s Hot Spiced Cider — 108 Cal/oz

9. Beer Concentrate

I’ve never personally tried beer concentrate, but if you want to enjoy a trail or summit beer without the bulk and weight of a full can, this might be the way to go. Pat’s Backcountry Beverages appears to be the most popular brand in the space so we’ve listed their flavors below.

Pat’s Flavors

  • American Logger
  • Pale Rail
  • Black Hops

10. Good Ol’ H20

Of course, water is the most important backpacking drink of them all. We’ve listed below some popular products used for purifying it. Don’t forget a good ultralight water bottle to carry it in.

Popular options

  • Katadyn BeFree
  • Sawyer Squeeze
  • Aquamira Chlorine Dioxide Tablets
  • SteriPEN

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10 Ultralight Backpacking Food Ideas

The best ultralight backpacking foods are those that are high in energy and low in weight — in other words, foods that provide lots of calories per ounce. Since fat contains nine calories per gram while carbohydrates and proteins only contain four, popular ultralight backpacking foods tend to contain lots of fat.

1. Nuts & Seeds

Yes, nuts and seeds (and nut butters) are once again making an appearance. It’s not that I’m unoriginal, it’s that they truly are great for backpacking. They pack well, last a long time, and contain lots of calories per ounce.

Our favorites

  • Peanuts — 161 Cal/oz
  • Cashews — 157 Cal/oz
  • Almonds — 163 Cal/oz
  • Chia seeds — 138 Cal/oz
  • Sunflower seeds — 166 Cal/oz

2. Nut Butters

Our favorites

  • Skippy Peanut Butter — 168 Cal/oz
  • Justin’s Vanilla Almond Butter — 159 Cal/oz
  • Justin’s Maple Almond Butter — 168 Cal/oz

3. Olive Oil

Outdoor Herbivore Instant Hummus Mix included olive oil packets

The Outdoor Herbivore hummus mix comes prepackaged with olive oil packets

At 250 calories per ounce, olive oil is perfect for adding calories and healthy fats to any meal or snack. You can buy it in packet form or repackage what you have at home into a leakproof container.

Popular brands

  • Bertolli Extra Virgin Olive Oil — 250 Cal/oz
  • Kirkland Signature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil — 250 Cal/oz
  • Zoe Extra Virgin Olive Oil — 250 Cal/oz

4. Powdered Milk

The 8 powdered milk brands we tested

Powdered milk can be mixed into a meal or drink for extra calories or used as a milk replacement for those foods or recipes (e.g. instant potatoes) that may call for milk.

Popular options

  • Nido Milk Powder — 151 Cal/oz
  • Hoosier Hill Farm Whole Milk Powder — 142 Cal/oz
  • Milkman Low Fat Dry Powdered Milk — 106 Cal/oz

5. Summer Sausage

Beef snack bites

Summer sausage refers to any sausage that can be kept without refrigeration. It doesn’t have as many calories per ounce as the other ultralight foods on this list but is a popular calorie-dense source of protein.

Popular options

  • Old Wisconsin Beef Summer Sausage — 100 Cal/oz
  • Vermont Smoke & Cure Uncured Summer Sausage — 85 Cal/oz

6. Meal Replacement Bars

Greenbelly Meals meal bars

They’re tasty, require no prep, and provide a good balance of macros. The only downside is they’re pretty expensive. We’ve listed our favorite meal replacement bars below, but any types of bars will work.

Our favorites

  • PROBAR Almond Crunch Meal Bar — 123 Cal/oz
  • Greenbelly Meal Bars — 114 Cal/oz
  • PROBAR Koka Moka Meal Bar — 123 Cal/oz

7. Calorie-dense Grains

For dinner, things like pasta, couscous, and instant potatoes make great bases. For breakfast, muesli and granola work well and require minimal prep.

Our favorites

  • Near East Roasted Garlic & Olive Oil Couscous — 110 Cal/oz
  • DeBoles Corn Spaghetti — 105 Cal/oz
  • Nature Valley Peanut Butter n’ Dark Chocolate Protein Granola — 124 Cal/oz
  • Bob’s Red Mill Old Country Style Muesli — 113 Cal/oz

8. Chocolate & Candy Bars

Our favorites

  • Snickers — 138 Cal/oz
  • Payday — 142 Cal/oz
  • Peanut M&M’s — 144 Cal/oz
  • Pretzel M&M’s — 132 Cal/oz

9. Chips & Crackers

Chirps chips

Our favorites

  • Fritos — 160 Cal/oz
  • Cheddar Cheese Pringles — 150 Cal/oz
  • Crunchmaster 5-Seed Multi-Grain Crackers — 132 Cal/oz
  • Stacy’s Pita Chips — 130 Cal/oz

10. Nutella

Use going ultralight as an excuse to eat all the stuff you would never eat at home. At 153 Cal/oz, that includes, of course, Nutella.

Available online at

  • Amazon.com
  • Walmart.com
  • Target.com

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10 Vegan & Vegetarian Backpacking Food Ideas

Finding vegan and vegetarian backpacking foods isn’t too difficult, actually. Many popular backpacking foods, such as nuts, are already vegan-friendly. Others, such as trail mix and freeze-dried meals, have vegan and vegetarian options.

1. Dried Fruits

Our favorites

  • Banana chips — 145 Cal/oz
  • Dried apple slices — 69 Cal/oz
  • Dates — 79 Cal/oz
  • Raisins — 85 Cal/oz

2. Dehydrated & Freeze-dried Vegetables

Our favorites

  • Harmony House Backpacking Kit
  • PackitGourmet Vegetable Blend — 10 Cal/oz
  • Mountain House Fire Roasted Vegetable Blend — 117 Cal/oz

3. Vegan Jerky

Popular options

  • Primal Strips Meatless Vegan Jerky — 74-108 Cal/oz
  • Louisville Vegan Jerky — 70-80 Cal/oz

4. Nuts & Seeds

Our favorites

  • Peanuts — 161 Cal/oz
  • Cashews — 157 Cal/oz
  • Almonds — 163 Cal/oz
  • Chia seeds — 138 Cal/oz
  • Sunflower seeds — 166 Cal/oz

5. Nut Butters

Our favorites

  • Skippy Peanut Butter — 168 Cal/oz
  • Justin’s Vanilla Almond Butter — 159 Cal/oz
  • Justin’s Maple Almond Butter — 168 Cal/oz

6. Vegan & Vegetarian Freeze-dried Meals

Good To-Go is a brand we like that makes a lot of tasty diet-friendly meals.

Popular options

  • Outdoor Herbivore meals
  • Backpackers Pantry Chana Masala — 92 Cal/oz
  • Alpine Aire Santa Fe Black Beans & Rice — 98 Cal/oz

7. Calorie-dense Grains

Our favorites

  • Near East Roasted Garlic & Olive Oil Couscous — 110 Cal/oz
  • DeBoles Corn Spaghetti — 105 Cal/oz
  • Bob’s Red Mill Old Country Style Muesli — 113 Cal/oz

8. Vegetarian Instant Refried Beans

Our favorites

  • Santa Fe Bean Co. Instant Southwestern Style Refried Beans — 113 Cal/oz
  • Santa Fe Bean Co. Instant Fat Free Vegetarian Refried Beans — 104 Cal/oz

9. Vegan Trail Mix

Our favorites

  • Trader Joe’s Cashew Macadamia Delight Trek Mix — 132 Cal/oz
  • Trader Joe’s Omega Trek Mix — 142 Cal/oz

10. Fresh Fruits & Veggies

Our favorites

  • Apples — 15 Cal/oz
  • Oranges — 13 Cal/oz
  • Mangoes — 17 Cal/oz

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10 Freeze-dried & Dehydrated Backpacking Food Ideas

Freeze-dried meals are perfect for when all you want to do for dinner is just add hot water and wait. Below we’ve listed popular brands with some of their most popular or promising meals.

1. Mountain House Meals

The 10 best Mountain House meals

Mountain House makes some of the tastiest freeze-dried meals available. We know because we taste tested their 10 most popular offerings and ranked them from best to worst. See our rankings here or read on to learn about other MRE brands.

Our favorites

  • Beef Stroganoff — 129 Cal/oz
  • Breakfast Skillet — 142 Cal/oz
  • Chili Mac with Beef — 121 Cal/oz

2. Backpacker’s Pantry Meals

The 10 Best Backpacker's Pantry Meals

We also taste tested the 10 most popular Backpacker’s Pantry meals and ranked them from best to worst. We learned that Backpacker’s Pantry has plenty of offerings for people with dietary restrictions. You can take a look at our rankings for more info on their meals.

Popular options for backpacking

  • Cajun Chicken with Rice — 97 Cal/oz
  • Beef Stroganoff with Wild Mushrooms — 84 Cal/oz
  • Granola with Milk & Bananas — 130 Cal/oz

3. Good To-Go Meals

Good To-Go makes tasty and nutritious freeze-dried backpacking meals that cater to plenty of special diets (vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and pescatarian backpackers take note). We taste tested 11 of their meals — check out our rankings here.

Our favorites

  • Thai Curry — 112 Cal/oz
  • Mexican Quinoa Bowl — 103 Cal/oz
  • Indian Vegetable Korma — 115 Cal/oz

4. Fruit Leather

Popular options

  • Stretch Island Fruit Leather — 91-101 Cal/oz
  • Simply Balanced Fruit Strips — 91 Cal/oz
  • Trader Joe’s Organic Fruit Wraps — 101 Cal/oz

5. Instant Anything

I can’t remember the last time I went on a backpacking trip without instant mashed potatoes.

Popular options

  • Instant Refried Beans — 113 Cal/oz
  • Instant Potatoes — 111 Cal/oz
  • Instant Rice — 105 Cal/oz

6. Powdered Eggs

Our favorites

  • Hoosier Hill Farm Powdered Eggs — 174 Cal/oz
  • OvaEasy Powdered Eggs — 187 Cal/oz

7. Outdoor Herbivore Meals

All of Outdoor Herbivore’s meals are either vegan or vegetarian.

Promising options

  • Apple Quinoa Oatmeal — 123 Cal/oz
  • Chunky Chipotle Chili — 102 Cal/oz
  • ‘Cheddar’ Mac — 100 Cal/oz

8. Jerky

Our favorites

  • Oberto Bacon Jerky — 130 Cal/oz
  • Oberto Teriyaki Beef Jerky — 80 Cal/oz
  • Jack Link’s Original Beef Jerky — 80 Cal/oz

9. Paleo Meals To Go Meals

Promising options

  • Mountain Beef Stew — 129 Cal/oz
  • Summit Savory Chicken — 99 Cal/oz
  • Cliffside Coconut Berry — 154 Cal/oz

10. AlpineAire Meals

Popular options

  • Creamy Beef & Noodles with Mushrooms — 113 Cal/oz
  • Santa Fe Black Beans & Rice — 98 Cal/oz
  • Sierra Chicken Pasta — 90 Cal/oz

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10 Cheap Backpacking Food Ideas

Most of the foods in this section aren’t particularly nutritious. I’d never recommend eating them exclusively. But hey, if you’re on a budget, these are your best options. Side note — store brands are your friends here!

1. Peanuts

Large tubs of peanuts work out to be, in some cases, over 1000 calories per dollar.

Online options

  • Planters Dry Roasted & Salted Peanuts — 160 Cal/oz
  • Planters Honey Roasted & Salted Peanuts — 160 Cal/oz

2. Cheap Peanut Butter

Look for Jif, Skippy, or store brands. Buy large jars if possible.

Popular cheap options

  • Skippy Natural Peanut Butter — 168 Cal/oz
  • Jif Peanut Butter — 168 Cal/oz
  • Skippy Peanut Butter — 168 Cal/oz

3. Ramen Noodles

You knew this would be on the list before you even saw it, didn’t you?

Our favorites

  • Chicken ramen — 125 Cal/oz
  • Beef ramen — 125 Cal/oz

4. Olive Oil

Go for a large, cheap jug of the stuff.

Our favorites

  • Bertolli Extra Virgin Olive Oil — 250 Cal/oz
  • Filippo Berio Extra Virgin Olive Oil — 250 Cal/oz
  • Kirkland Signature Pure Olive Oil — 250 Cal/oz

5. Pop-Tarts

Go for a box of the cheaper flavors or a large variety pack. Of course, the store brand options are also fair game.

Popular online options

  • Frosted Strawberry — 109 Cal/oz
  • Frosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon — 119 Cal/oz
  • Pop-Tarts Variety Pack

6. Sunflower Seeds

Look for bulk, shelled options. Nuts.com has great bulk options if you buy online, while Amazon’s selection is limited.

Online options

  • Nuts.com Bulk Raw Shelled Sunflower Seeds — 160 Cal/oz
  • Nuts.com Bulk Roasted Sunflower Seeds — 180 Cal/oz

7. Store Brand Sugar Candy

Great Value Gummy Bears

If you think I snapped this photo while browsing the aisles of my local Walmart, you’d be right.

Online options

  • Great Value Gummy Bears — 92 Cal/oz
  • Great Value Mini Marshmallows — 95 Cal/oz

8. Grandma’s Mini Cookies

Our favorites

  • Grandma’s Vanilla Creme Minis — 137 Cal/oz
  • Grandma’s Mini Cookies Variety Pack

9. Store Brand Cookies & Pastries

Great Value Twist and Shout Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

In my experience, Great Value — Walmart’s private label — reigns supreme in the category of cheap, high-calorie food.

Online options

  • Great Value Twist & Shout Chocolate Sandwich Cookies — 133 Cal/oz
  • Great Value Fig Bars Cookies — 103 Cal/oz

10. Cheap & Store Brand Chips

Online options

  • Santitas Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips — 140 Cal/oz
  • Frito-Lay Variety Pack
  • Great Value Bite Size Tortilla Chips — 150 Cal/oz

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10 Backpacking Spices, Seasonings, & Extras

A little seasoning goes a long way in making your backpacking meals tastier and more exciting. We’ve mostly listed our personal preferences, so we recommend using this section as inspiration.

1. Garlic Powder

Garlic powder makes any savory meal instantly taste better. I recommend it over garlic salt since many packaged and freeze-dried backpacking foods already contain lots of sodium.

Popular options

  • McCormick Garlic Powder
  • Simply Organic Garlic Powder
  • Kirkland Signature Granulated California Garlic

2. Olive Oil

Olive oil provides 250 calories per ounce and is full of good fats. Need I say more?

Popular options

  • Bertolli Extra Virgin Olive Oil — 250 Cal/oz
  • Kirkland Signature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil — 250 Cal/oz
  • Zoe Extra Virgin Olive Oil — 250 Cal/oz

3. Coconut Oil

Powdered coconut milk

Coconut oil packs 244 calories per ounce and is another oil that you can incorporate into your meals for extra calories. You can also try powdered coconut milk to add calories and coconut flavor.

Popular brands

  • Viva Naturals Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil — 244 Cal/oz
  • Island Fresh Organic Virgin Coconut Oil — 244 Cal/oz
  • Nutiva Organic Coconut Oil — 244 Cal/oz

4. Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast

Despite the off-putting name and appearance, nutritional yeast is quite tasty. The flavor is often described as subtly cheesy and nutty. It makes a good substitute to parmesan cheese and can be sprinkled on top of many backpacking meals. Best of all, it’s a good source of protein, dietary fiber, and many different vitamins

Popular brands

  • Bragg Organic Nutritional Yeast — 80 Cal/oz
  • Sari Foods Nutritional Yeast Flakes — 80 Cal/oz
  • Bob’s Red Mill Large Flake Nutritional Yeast — 80 Cal/oz

5. Taco Seasoning

Taco seasoning or any pre-made seasoning is useful for adding instant flavor to a dull meal.

Popular brands

  • Old El Paso Original Taco Seasoning Mix
  • Simply Organic Southwest Taco Seasoning Mix
  • McCormick Premium Taco Seasoning

6. Condiment & Sauce Packets

Individual condiment packets of honey, mayo, and mustard

Some items I picked up from a recent trip to Chick-Fil-A

Before hitting the trail, run into your fast food joint of choice and grab some of your favorite condiments. You can also buy them elsewhere. If you’re worried about the packets bursting, place them in a Ziploc bag.

Our favorites

  • Mayonnaise
  • Mustard
  • Chick-Fil-A Sauce
  • Taco sauce

7. Hot Sauce

Individual packets of Texas Pete Hot Sauce

Just a couple drops of hot sauce can spice up any food.

Popular options

  • Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
  • Tabasco sauce
  • Sriracha sauce

8. Protein Powder

Our favorites

  • Optimum Nutrition Protein Powder — 110 Cal/oz
  • Nutiva Hemp Protein Powder — 85 Cal/oz
  • Vega Chocolate Protein Powder — 103 Cal/oz

9. Powdered Milk

Adding powdered milk to coffee

Powdered milk is a great way to add flavor and calories to your morning coffee.

Our favorites

  • Nido Milk Powder — 151 Cal/oz
  • Hoosier Hill Farm Whole Milk Powder — 142 Cal/oz
  • Milkman Low Fat Dry Powdered Milk — 106 Cal/oz

10. Your Favorite Spices & Seasonings

Backpacking spice blends materials

The spices, seasonings, and flavorings mentioned above reflect our own personal preferences. By no means is this a definitive list. Feel free to carry whichever spices and seasonings you prefer. You can also make some good spice blends for backpacking food.

Other popular options

  • Salt & Pepper (of course)
  • Lemon pepper seasoning
  • Onion powder

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Now It’s Your Turn — What Are Your Favorite Backpacking Foods?

We’d love to make this article even more comprehensive, so if you have a favorite backpacking food that we didn’t list above, let us and other readers know about it in the comments below!

Or maybe you have a go-to backpacking meal recipe that you can easily make from some of the above foods. If so, we want to hear about it! We’re backpackers, too, and we love hearing about new recipes.

Or, if you have a question or comment about anything in this article, share your thoughts below and I’ll be sure to respond.

Shout-outs

This article took a lot of time and effort to produce, but wouldn’t have been nearly as valuable had I not had help. I’d like to acknowledge the following people: