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Julie Wuebker's picture

Backpacking Food Ideas and Sources

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When it comes to backpacking food, there are many options! The options available can fulfill a number of objectives as well. In this article, I have meal ideas, sources for recipes, and sources for obtaining food items.

What we say, "Objectives" what does this mean?  Here are some examples:

  • Light-weight - Do we need to minimize the weight of the food?
  • Low waste/bulk - Do we need to minimize the space that the food takes up to pack?
  • Temperature-sensitivity - Do we need to be sensitive to the conditions in which we are backpacking?
  • Activity level - Do we need to plan to high activity/need for high caloric intake?
  • One-pot - Do we need to plan for one-pot cooking (self-contained)?

When thinking about the cooking merit badge, the core requirement is "shelf-stable."  What does this mean? Shelf-stable is defined as being able to survive long periods on store or home shelves without spoiling.  This doesn't necessarily mean that the storage is indefinite (or forever). Over time, food does lose nutritional value or might go rancid or even dry out, but many shelf-stable foods do have a long life. Pay close attention to the use-by and best-by dates. (As always, please reach out to me to chat and discuss your plans well before a campout in order to get ideas and help)

Examples of Shelf-Stable Food

  • Rice
  • Beans
  • Powdered Cheese
  • Dried Soup Mixes
  • Gee (also called clarified butter)

Examples of NON-Shelf-Stable Food

  • Fresh butter
  • Fresh Milk
  • Lunch Meat
  • Fresh Cheese (like cream cheese, cheese sticks)
  • Eggs

Scenarios and Ideas

1. Let's say, we like TexMex and need some dense calories on a hike.  You could serve:

  • Instant Mexican Rice
  • Dried refried beans
  • Tortillas
  • Velvita Cheese or shelf-stable cheese
  • Dried Corn as the snack

Using zip-lock bags to re-hydrate the food, you can carry and store the food, as well as cook/rehydrate on the trail.  The bags won't take up much room and can be packed out and thrown away at basecamp.

2. We need to have our meals as one-pot because we're using/practicing the Philmont method. What if we served:

  • Beef and Vegetable Soup 
  • Oyster Crackers

Using a pre-mixed soup we boil water and rehydrate in a pot and serve.

3. Maybe we have some folks on the trail with us who may not be quite ready to try new things.  What are some familiar foods/meals that might be less scary? Hot dogs and Mac and Cheese?

  • Kraft Easy Mac
  • Vienna Sausages
  • Veggie Goldfish and Veggie Straws

Using Ziplock bags, you can take the easy mac out of the cups to save space and cook as normal with boiling water. Vienna Sausages come in small cans with a pull top.  You'll have to pack out the cans, but they are relatively small. Veggie Gold Fish and Veggie straws (though barely vegetables, can satisfy the veggie requirement. I'm also a big fan of Terra Chips).

4.  Other ideas

  • Stovetop stuffing with packet chicken or dehydrated chicken
  • Survival Meals
  • Dehydrated meals you make yourself at home like spaghetti, chili, potato and fruit leathers and bark
  • Instant Quinoa, Cous Cous, flavored rice mixes, grits, oatmeal, polenta
  • Depending on the temp in which you are hiking, you "can" bring hard cheeses like parmesan, but there are methods of packing and preserving.   The idea is the lower the moisture/oils you can keep it for a couple of days in low temps (under 40 degrees). I do feel that this is advanced and would not recommend for scouts.


Good recipes and Ideas

Dehydrated Soups (just add water)


Flavored Rice

Refried Beans



Vienna Sausage: