Boosting Backcountry Meals

With simple planning, you can turn your bare-bones backcountry meals into satisfying, energy-boosting successes.

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“Six months after our 100-Mile Wilderness trip, we still had extra food that we had no desire to eat on the trail or at home,” says Jamie. Thanks to their fire-drill packing habits and belief that freeze-dried is too expensive, Jamie and Joe would grab what they thought to be the cheapest, easiest fare: instant noodles, oatmeal, cans of Chef Boyardee, MREs (meals ready to eat), and other minimalist food that shortchanged their gourmet appetites.

Expert Advice

Dorcas S. Miller, frequent Backpacker contributor and author of Backcountry Cooking: From Pack To Plate In 10 Minutes.

“Jamie and Joe eat just to survive,” says Miller. “If they put in a little time before the trip, they can have at-home meals with little fuss in the backcountry.” While eating well requires more shopping, repackaging, and measuring at home, the rewards-stoking your engine to go the extra miles, and actually enjoying your food-more than pay off on the trail.

  • Spend a little extra time and money on food you really enjoy-spicy dinners, trail mix, roasted almonds, dried cherries, your favorite chocolate, whatever will boost your spirits.
  • Plan for variety. Raisins, nuts, and M&M’s might be a great snack for a weekend trip, but on longer outings, your taste buds need a break. “Include variety in texture as well as taste,” advises Miller. Pack crunchy foods-nuts, pretzels, crackers, sesame sticks, corn nuts, malt balls-and chewy things-dried fruit, licorice, fruit bars, cheese. She recommends chocolate bars, hard candies, hearts at Valentine’s Day, and candy corn at Halloween for something different.
  • Think lightweight. Jamie and Joe thought they were saving ounces and dollars by carrying MREs, but they weren’t. Dehydrated or freeze-dried food is far more efficient. Some freeze-dried foods can be costly, so shop around for what fits your budget. Supermarkets offer a smorgasbord of inexpensive dehydrated foods like couscous, instant grits and rice, Chinese noodles, instant hash browns and refried beans, dehydrated chili, as well as good old noodles with sauce.
  • Dry your own. It’s easier than you think (see upcoming Moveable Feast articles on food drying), and you’ll be able to reproduce mouthwatering home-cooked meals on the trail.

End Result

“This is so much better than what we ate before,” says Joe. At lunch and for snacks, they now linger over bags of dehydrated bananas, pears, and apples. At night, the couple marvels at their easy-to-prepare and flavorful cashew-ginger chicken with rice, and chili dinners. “Dorcas’s advice about treating yourself to good food is key; it’s made a big difference in our trips and our enjoyment,” says Joe.

Learn more solutions to common backpacking problems: finding the time, planning a trip, and packing right. See our related article, You Can Teach Old Dogs New Tricks