7 Easy Ingredients To Upgrade Your Backpacking Meals

Add these versatile, lightweight ingredients to your pack to upgrade your backpacking meals.
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Add these versatile, lightweight ingredients to your pack to upgrade your backpacking meals.

1. Fresh Herbs

Upgrade Your Backpacking Meals

Nothing completely transforms a dish like some fresh herbs. Try packing small amounts of fresh parsley, oregano, thyme, or basil (straight in plastic, or wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel then loosely sealed). Sprinkle them on your finished meals to bring some much-needed freshness. Try it with: Risotto with Smoked Salmon (photo Living in Monrovia/Flickr)

Nothing completely transforms a dish like some fresh herbs. Try packing small amounts of fresh parsley, oregano, thyme, or basil (straight in plastic, or wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel then loosely sealed). Sprinkle them on your finished meals to bring some much-needed freshness. Try it with: Risotto with Smoked Salmon (photo Living in Monrovia/Flickr)

2. Parmesan Cheese

Upgrade Your Backpacking Meals

Hard cheeses like Parmesan last almost indefinitely outside the refrigerator. Grate a little into a bagggie and It will weigh almost nothing. Add to almost any freeze dried meal for a flavor upgrade that comes close to homemade. Try it with: Good To-Go Classic Marinara with Penne (photo cookbookman17/Flickr)

Hard cheeses like Parmesan last almost indefinitely outside the refrigerator. Grate a little into a baggie and It will weigh almost nothing. Add to almost any freeze dried meal for a flavor upgrade that comes close to homemade. Try it with: Good To-Go Classic Marinara with Penne (photo cookbookman17/Flickr)

 3. Cayenne Pepper

Upgrade Your Backpacking Meals

Cayenne pepper, or hot chili powder, is lighter and more concentrated than liquid hot sauces. A tiny dash (and we mean tiny, don't be a hero with this stuff) will give some life and some heat to your chow. Try it with: Cincinnati Chili  (photo Tim Sackton/Flickr)

Cayenne pepper, or hot chili powder, is lighter and more concentrated than liquid hot sauces. A tiny dash (and we mean tiny, don't be a hero with this stuff) will give some life and some heat to your chow. Try it with: Cincinnati Chili (photo Tim Sackton/Flickr)

4. Honey

Upgrade Your Backpacking Meals

Kids love it on their peanut butter sandwiches, and everyone loves it in oatmeal. After a cool, damp day of spring adventuring, a mug of tea with a little honey will warm you up and put a smile on your face. Buy the individual-size servings in little straws and throw some in your food kit now, because it never, ever goes bad! Try it with: Hiya Green Tea (photo Nick Perla/Flickr)

Kids love it on their peanut butter sandwiches, and everyone loves it in oatmeal. After a cool, damp day of spring adventuring, a mug of tea with a little honey will warm you up and put a smile on your face. Buy the individual-size servings in little straws and throw some in your food kit now, because it never, ever goes bad! Try it with: Hiya Green Tea (photo Nick Perla/Flickr)

5. Dried Mushrooms

Upgrade Your Backpacking Meals

From shiitake to crimini, dried mushrooms come in many varieties. Add complex and earthy flavors by simmering a few in your soup or chili, or toss them in any freeze-dried meal before you add the hot water. Buying tip: You’ll find great deals on dried shiitakes at Asian grocery stores. Try it with: Pumpkin Peanut Soup (photo Chris RubberDragon /Flickr)

From shiitake to crimini, dried mushrooms come in many varieties. Add complex and earthy flavors by simmering a few in your soup or chili, or toss them in any freeze-dried meal before you add the hot water. Buying tip: You’ll find great deals on dried shiitakes at Asian grocery stores. Try it with: Pumpkin Peanut Soup (photo Chris RubberDragon /Flickr)

 6. Butter

Upgrade Your Backpacking Meals

Even though they keep it in the refrigerator at the supermarket, you can leave butter at room temperature for days without it spoiling (NOLS includes it in their rations). If you’re a backcountry chef, sauteing a little garlic, onions, or mushrooms in some butter is a great start to any recipe. For the rest of us, melt a little on your instant mashed potatoes or even put it in your coffee. Try it with: Italian-Style Potatoes (photo Taryn/Flickr)

Even though they keep it in the refrigerator at the supermarket, you can leave butter at room temperature for days without it spoiling (NOLS includes it in their rations). If you’re a backcountry chef, sauteing a little garlic, onions, or mushrooms in some butter is a great start to any recipe. For the rest of us, melt a little on your instant mashed potatoes or even put it in your coffee. Try it with: Italian-Style Potatoes (photo Taryn/Flickr)

 7. Lemon Juice

Upgrade Your Backpacking Meals

A few drops of lemon juice can add some brightness to backpacking meals that are often heavy and rich. If you are not a coffee drinker, some tea or even just hot water with a little lemon will help get you going in the morning. Also, adding a few drops of lemon juice can help mask the unpleasant flavors that can be left behind by some water treatments (vitamin C actually neutralizes extra iodine). If you can spare the weight, pack a whole small lemon, which will keep for days. Try it with: Creamy Clam Chowder. (photo Troy Tolley/Flickr)

A few drops of lemon juice can add some brightness to backpacking meals that are often heavy and rich. If you are not a coffee drinker, some tea or even just hot water with a little lemon will help get you going in the morning. Also, adding a few drops of lemon juice can help mask the unpleasant flavors that can be left behind by some water treatments (vitamin C actually neutralizes extra iodine). If you can spare the weight, pack a whole small lemon, which will keep for days. Try it with: Creamy Clam Chowder. (photo Troy Tolley/Flickr)

Did we miss your favorite add-on? Let us know in the comments.