Trail meals for hiking and backpacking
Food is something you can enjoy at anytime, in the modern world you can have the option for Italian for dinner and African for lunch. When out backpacking and hiking choices are a little more limited. But there are some great innovative meals out on trail.
In this article Ill share some of my favorite quick and easy meals to make out on trial. Some homemade and some you can scrounge together in supermarkets. MRE’s and ready made freeze dried meals are a good option but I am not going to cover in this article.
Ideal time a hiking meal should take
When your hiking all day and set up camp all you want to do is eat and relax. Cooking can take quite a bit of time, I like to have my hiking meals prepared in 10 minutes or around that. Any more and you use more fuel, and your patience will run out at some point. Quick, easy and with as little cleanup as possible is the key for trail meals.
For hikers on a budget your constantly looking out for more meal ideas out on trail. Lets share some and get to cooking!
Instant mashed potatoes
As a Dutch man I like meat and potatoes, it reminds me of home while on the trail. Any mashed potato dish I make sort of resembles Stamppot. Wish is a Dutch staple food for many households. If I find dandelions along the trail I always mix them in with this dish. It creates quite a delicious meal.
In the Netherlands you have a smoked sausage from Unox which keeps excellent outside of the fridge and can be kept a day or two with an open package. Mix that in with the instant mashed potatoes and some wild greens you collect and you have yourself a feast.
Add more water to the instant mashed potatoes and you can make a thick soup that can be livened up with a stock cube and anything you can find really. It creates a thick chowder that goes down well on those cold nights.
You cant have a trail meal suggestion list without Instant noodles. A staple along any hiking trail and always hits the spot. The instant noodles are quick and easy to make but are not necessarily the most healthy option. Get the better quality noodles at your grocery store or make your own home made version with Rice noodles or egg noodles.
Thin rice noodles take almost no cooking at all and are good when combined with some more ingredients. Create your own spice packets and dehydrated vegetables to make it into a meal of its own.
A collection of Dried Vegetables is an item that I take more and more on different trails with me. You can chuck them into cold water and if prepared thinly enough they are done by the time the water boils. Dried Vegetables go great with pretty much any other food that is on this list and are very easy to make.
You can take cans or jars or peas, corn / mais. Fresh cauliflower, onions and Broccoli. Whatever you want to eat and enjoy. Chop them up very fine and thin and throw them in the dehydrator for a few hours.
Red lentils cook quickly and are very tasty when combined with a bullion cube and some dehydrated vegetables and dried sausage. A great pick me up before heading to your sleeping bag. They take about 5 minutes to soften when chucked in at the very beginning of cooking. With a cozy you can save some fuel for outdoor cooking.
Instant Rice and Dehydrated vegetables
Same concept as with the Red Lentils, cook some instant rice and chuck some dehydrated vegetables and sausage in there and you have a meal. Can be spiced up with some Peanut butter to create a Saté flavor or soy / fish sauce.
Tortilla’s can be topped with anything you like from the list above, a favorite of mine is to take some dried sausage and spinach leaves, plus some filler like instant mashed potatoes and munch on that. But feel free to put whatever you have in your backpack or what you can find on trail on there.
Some must have condiments to spice up a few of the dishes are:
- Mayonaise (What can I say, I’m Dutch)
- Ketchup (If you must)
- Soy sauce
- Fish sauce
- Hot sauce
- Peanut butter to make Saté inspired dishes, or to put on bread / Tortillia’s.
- Spices that you can premix together
- Packages of instant Gravy
- And many more, share them in the comments!
Meats and Protein
Are important for restoring your muscles and can be a sore point. Some of the dried sausage I always take, this tastes amazing like that or cooked along your dish. Smoked sausage is something that also lasts a long time outside of the fridge.
If you can find chicken, tuna, sardines or anchovy in pouches then be sure to bring those. You can get away with one can or to. But it is always more to pack out.
Beef jerky is no secret when it comes to outdoor hiking food. People have been drying meat for centuries to take on excursions.
Cookies and snacks
I am not much of a sweet tooth so I mostly carry beef jerky, dried sausage like the Spanish Fuet. And other salty snacks like salted peanuts or nuts.
On the Appalachian trail there where a surprising amount of people that gained there calorie boost by snacking on Oreo’s. Take your favorite snacks from home that are calorie dense and can take a beating in your rucksack. These items do not need to be refrigerated and are most of the time just what you need to lift your spirits.
A guilty pleasure of mine that reminds me of my school lunches are the La Vache Qui Rit cheese sticks. Which are soup sticks with spread cheese.
Breakfast on the trail
Breakfast is not something I participate in most of the time, I will hit the trail and eat a little bit later in the day. But when you are you can eat a variety of stuff. Instant oatmeal or grits are always a favorite. Combine that with some dried fruit, honey and a little dried whole milk for a big flavor boost.
Bread is also something you can carry and I always tend to do. A normal sized sourdough loaf is extremely filling and can last you a few days out on trail. The crappy white toast bread you can keep at home. That will get squashed in two seconds while out backpacking.
Hartkeks are a form of ships bread or biscuit that is popular in the Netherlands. Stuff like Crispbread (Knäckebröd) with a little jam always goes a long way. You can combine those with a lot of different liver pates or something sweet that is also good.
How to cook trail meals
The requirements for cooking on the trail is a stove, a pan where you can eat out of and a cup to drink and measure from. Combine that with a spork and a pocket knife and you have everything you will need.
Other items that can make quite the difference is a pot cozy. Which saves fuel and gives you the option to boil water, add ingredients, give a stir and sit back and relax.
For cleanup I carry around a cotton cloth that can get dirty and is very thin. I got this idea from Dave Canterbury over on YouTube and his cook kit setup. It keeps things from rattling around while hiking and can be used for a 100 different things. Including grabbing your pot from a fire or stove. Different microfibers can catch on fire quite easily and are less useful in my opinion. The only downside is that it dries slowly.
If you want to read more about the different stoves you can use for backpacking and hiking and cooking you can do so on the following articles from this website:
Different cooking stoves for hiking
The quest for coffee while hiking
Cleaning up after a trail meal
With freeze dried meals and MRE’s cleanup is easier, that is why they are so popular within the hiking community. But at the same time you have more trash and you have no control over what goes in them. Plus they can be easily be 6 euro’s / dollars a meal or more.
My cooking kit contains a very thin tea towel that dries quickly and is used for cleaning up and scrubbing my pot.
I always try to eat my pot as clean as possible and then clean it off with the tea towel. Other items you can use are a steel pan scrubber. These can be cleaned in a fire or on your stove.
Also you can take a scouring pad and cut a piece off to clean off your pot.
All the garbage and packaging I can throw out on my resupplies I do that straight after shopping. The rest is packed out in a Ziploc bag that is reused until no longer watertight.