The Food That Backpacker’s Editors Always Bring on the Trail
From powdered eggs to fresh apples to entire sausages, here’s the chow that keeps us going.
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Everyone has a different strategy for staying fueled on the trail. Some of us snack incessantly, some of us stake out the time to prepare gourmet meals for our friends, and others just figure out whatever has the most calories per ounce and pack that. There are only two ironclad rules of backcountry eating: Whatever you bring has to have enough calories to keep you moving, and it has to taste good. We polled Backpacker and Outside’s editors about the snacks, ingredients, drinks, and meals that always make their way into their food bags. This is what they said.
Researchers may be going back and forth on whether eggs are good for you, but they’re a staple part of this ovo-lacto vegetarian’s diet. At home, I like a good fried egg served on toast, hash browns, or even herbed chickpeas. I’m not willing to carry those plastic egg cases they sell at REI, though, so when I’m backpacking, powdered egg crystals are my go-to.
If that phrase makes you gag, you’re not alone—I, too, once turned my nose up at powdered eggs. (The fact that one of the most commonly available brands is named OvaEasy, which may be the grossest play on words I’ve ever seen printed on a food package, doesn’t help.) But if you’re willing to reserve your judgment and give them a try, you may be pleasantly surprised. No, they’re not as good as the cage-free dozen you get from the grocery store, but they do a damn good impression of them, scrambling up flavorful, if not quite as fluffy or creamy. I’ve used them to make French toast in a Montana fire tower and paired them with another one of my pack staples, instant ramen, for one of my favorite easy dinners. (Prefer your eggs over-easy? Sorry, can’t help you there.)—Adam Roy, Executive Editor
On the trail, staying hydrated is a chore. First you have to find water (easier in some places than others), then purify it, plus the task of actually drinking enough to replenish what you sweat out. I’m more of a sipper than a chugger myself, so on hot days, drinking enough and replenishing electrolytes can feel like a losing battle. Plus, at high altitudes or on high exertion hikes, I don’t always have an appetite for the snacks my body needs. Sports drink mixes can solve these problems, but they’re not always the most affordable (or delicious). Enter a staple in my food bag: the humble lemonade mix.
It’s a solver of many problems. Dehydrated, but need to force the liquids? Lemonade goes down easy. In need of a quick hit of energy, but no time or appetite for snacking? A few sugary gulps will power you up that last climb. Questionable filtered water not tasting so fresh? Boy, do I have a product for you. It’s cheap, delicious, and just what the doctor ordered after a day under the blazing sun. A handful of single-serve packets take up no space in my pack, so I always have a few floating around between trips. Lemonade has saved me from many a bonk, so I won’t be leaving the house without it any time soon. —Zoe Gates, Senior Skills Editor
Most backcountry meals need three things at least things to be delicious and substantial: fat, seasoning, and protein. Salami of any sort offers all of those things—plus, it’ll last forever in your pack. My own personal secret weapon is cured chorizo rioja (not the raw variety, of course), which I regularly chop into bite-sized pieces and fry in a pan until some of the fat renders out and the chorizo is crispy. I then use that intoxicating chorizo oil, which is perfumed with smoked paprika, garlic, and oregano, to cook the rest of the dish—couscous to dehydrated risotto. There are many wonderful artisan salumi brands out there, but my number one pick is Olympia Provisions, a Portland, Oregon-based brand with excellent meat-sourcing and impeccable consistency. As a major bonus, it doubles as a delicious trail snack in place of your typical jerky or summer sausage. —Benjamin Tepler, Gear Editor
I hate coffee. I’ve tried to like it. I’ve drowned it in milk, sugar, and pumps of flavoring until I shouldn’t have been able to taste it, but even after all of that, the drink still had a faint dirt taste to me. Honestly, I’d rather be tired than drink coffee each day. My taste buds have the same hesitation for most teas, too. More than anything in the backcountry, though, I want something to warm and wake me up each morning. I thought I was a lost cause, but finally, after lots and lots of attempts,I found my perfect match: Tazo Vanilla Caramel Chai.
If you’re iffy on coffee or tea, this is the perfect option for you. The added vanilla and caramel make it warm and inviting, which I prefer to the abrasive and bitter taste that can come with your typical cuppa. Better yet: These added flavors are so tasty that I don’t need a sweetener or creamer for the tea. I can’t go on a backpacking trip without a tea bag or two anymore—it’s my favorite thing to sip while watching the sun rise over the horizon. It’s got a little caffeine to kick-start your day, between a third and a half-cup of coffee’s worth, so you’ll be awake, but not jittery. These tea bags take up no space in my pack and weigh just 2.5 grams each, so they’re a hassle-free hygge treat before hitting the trails each morning. If you have the space for it, you can sprinkle in some powdered milk to make a backcountry chai latte. But, really, the tea is enough on its own.—Emma Veidt, Assistant Skills Editor
I always tire of dried, dehydrated, and otherwise processed food when I’m backpacking, but it’s hard to pack fresh options. Avocados leave you with messy trash (although I also regularly bring them along), bananas and oranges involve peels, but apples—with a little gumption—can be eaten whole. Crisp, refreshing, and hardy enough to handle being jostled around in a pack for a few days, they’re the perfect companion to some sweaty cheese (another staple) for a midday snack. Depending on my trip length, I try to ration out one a day. Any more than three apples is a little too much to tote, but if you go with a buddy and are open to sharing, you could be eating fresh fruit for nearly a week. —Abigail Barronian, Senior Editor, Outside
There’s something for me about lodging a hunk of ginger taffy in the back corner of my mouth during long walks in the woods that really adds quality to my cadence, adds a kick in the ass to open up the senses and canter afield in good taste. Ginger chews (which, bonus, can often be found in bulk aisles) are long-lasting treats that straddle sweet and spicy. They’re also a non-negotiable must-have in my backpack to hedge against unforeseen stomach discomfort while in the backcountry, and I make sure to pack enough for everyone. Plus, they’re dense, near-weightless, and intense as hell, which means you can’t really binge too hard on them. –Nicholas Triolo, Senior Editor, Trail Runner and Outside Run