14 Backpacking Meals That Will Get You Through a Long Day
Backpacking lunch ideas can make or break your backpacking trip. It’s because lunch is one of those backpacking meals where everyone is hungry and looking for energy. This is the energy that will get them through the long day hiking in the backcountry. This is also the meal where you will get the most disappointing responses.
That is if you as a backpacker don’t have some solid backpacking lunch ideas.
This is because when you are at camp, chances are you’ll either have some sort of hot breakfast, easy backpacking breakfast, or a hot dinner (maybe even some couscous). People love that. However, on the trail, even if you have access to a heat source, no one is going to cook. That means whatever you eat will be cold. Everyone on your backpacking trip may accept this, but it’s nothing to look forward to. We need to change that.
So let’s first look at what backpacking meals need to supply in forms of energy. Because backpacking food requirements are different than what you might think.
Then we’ll look at some tasty backpacking lunch ideas.
Here’s What You Need to Consider for Backpacking Meals:
- High Level of Nutrition
- Calorie Dense
- No Refrigeration
- Easy to Make
- Easy to Store
- Lightweight to Carry
High Level of Nutrition and Calorie Dense Backpacking Food
Since hikers can burn up to 6,000 calories per day their food has to be high in calories. Nevertheless, you may have imagined going to the backcountry where backpacking means only eating dried fruit and veggies. This is not a good idea.
If you only eat veggies and dried fruit on a hiking trip, you may actually pass out on the trail. This is from a deficit of calories which can be very dangerous. So your backpacking meals will need to be high in calories as well as protein and fats. Some fiber will also help keep you full. Electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium will keep your body working for the long day ahead.
Pro Backpacking Tip
A good formula to use when buying backpacking food is the calories-to-ounce ratio. Meaning that every ounce of food you carry should provide 100 calories. So if you are able to carry 2 lbs. of food per day, it should provide 3,200 calories.
Shelf-Stable (Processed) Backpacking Food
Backpacking food is not necessarily backcountry food. When you are backpacking, you will have little or no refrigeration (think Mountain House brand which you can get on Amazon). So you will need backpacking food that will not spoil in outdoor temperatures. It will also have to be edible after being squished into a backpack and jostled around.
Easy to Prepare Backpacking Food
The best backpacking lunches are ready-to-eat, easy to put together, and easy to clean up. The idea of lunch in the backcountry is to enjoy a view, catch your breath, and recharge your batteries. Cooking a meal isn’t realistic on the trail.
Lightweight to Carry Backpacking Food
Backpacking food, above all, has to be lightweight and easy to carry. You won’t make it far with a backpack that is weighed down with heavy, water-saturated food. Instead, there are freeze-dried, dehydrated, and convenience pack foods for almost everything you would normally eat at home. The difference is that these backpacking meals are lightweight and easy to carry.
Pro Backpacking Tip:
You can repackage almost any shelf-stable food item if the packaging is too bulky. Reusable zip-lock bags are durable, waterproof, and take up less space than cardboard boxes and cans.
The Essential Backpacking Food for Lunches
Eating backpacking food that is high in calories is a priority, but you will also want some variety. And backpacking meals can be more than jerky, granola, dried fruit, trail mix, peanut butter, and tortillas. Nevertheless, hikers always go back to these foods. This is because, after a long day of hiking, these are the most satisfying backpacking food.
So in addition to these foods, we’ve got some great backpacking meals for you. They are enjoyable to eat, easy to transport, and satisfying for hunger. They also cover all the food groups.
We’re starting out with condiments because condiments like ketchup packets are free whenever you eat out. The condiment packets you get with to-go food are also perfect to carry on the trail. If you are thrifty, you may keep these already. If not, and you have a hiking trip coming up, start collecting these condiment packets now. They make everything in the backcountry taste better.
Condiment Packages to Collect
- Taco Sauce
- Soy Sauce
- Salad Dressings (Non-Dairy)
- Dipping Sauces
- Hot Sauce
- Barbeque Sauce
- Olive oil
Condiments like dipping sauces for chicken nuggets are awesome for hikers. They are easy to take, make things taste better, and add a touch of civilization to the backcountry.
Jerky, Tuna, and Other Shelf-Stable Meats
Meats like jerky (or a jerky substitute for vegans) will probably be the mainstay of your lunch. This means eating some kind of sandwich or wrap, but meat fits all of the backpacking requirements. It’s lightweight, easy to transport, and high in calories per ounce. Dried or processed meats also require no refrigeration.
That said, let’s look at other meat options besides jerky for backcountry lunch ideas.
Tuna, Salmon, and Chicken Pouches
These kinds of pouches are convenient to buy and travel anywhere. They are also as little as one dollar a package at many places like Walmart. And hikers should definitely keep these packages handy. If you get hungry, these packets are so easy to rip open and eat while you are walking. You can also shove the empty packet in your pocket without stopping.
These packets come in flavors like lemon pepper, sweet & spicy, bacon ranch, and honey barbeque. So they are quite tasty on their own with no need for anything to go with them.
Jerky and Other Meats
Jerky is always the best friend of hikers, but there are other meats to take on the trail as well:
- Precooked Bacon
- Hard Salami
- Summer Sausage
These meats all make great sandwiches for snacking, especially with some condiments. They are also a nice break away from jerky for hikers who don’t like fish or chicken packets.
You may look on the labels of these meats and it will say refrigerate after opening. This is why you need to look for the smallest size package possible. Many companies, looking to capture the lunch crowd, make individual servings of all their meats.
If can only find a size that you can’t eat in one sitting, share it with other hikers. There will always be some hikers who didn’t come prepared. Later on, they may have something you want – like a charger for your cell phone.
Pro Backpacking Tip
Many of the meats besides jerky will say “refrigerate after opening” on the label. Always take precautions, but salami and summer sausage have been around since before the days of refrigeration. If you do open a package of meat, though, and don’t eat it all, check the ingredients.
Are there preservatives in the meat? If so, it should last for at least three days after opening without refrigeration. Just make sure to seal it back into a zip-lock bag. Most hikers will agree on the 3-day rule. You can also rely on a simple smell test for preserved meat that has been opened.
Just buy the smallest size, share with other hikers, and eat any opened meat as quickly as possible!
Hard Cheeses Are Awesome Backpacking Food
Hard cheeses fit every requirement for backpacking meals but are especially good for lunch. The high-fat content in cheese fuels your body for longer hikes. It’s also perfect for a long day of hiking because it’s light to carry and doesn’t need refrigeration.
Look for low-moisture cheeses that don’t need refrigeration. Here is a list of cheeses that will survive a backpacking trip:
Avoid soft cheeses that go bad quickly and do not travel well.
Pro Backpacking Tip
Meats and cheeses are two items you can vacuum seal to keep fresh for your whole backpacking trip. A vacuum sealer costs about $35, plus the cost of bags. It is well worth it because you can take any cheeses or meats and seal them in single portions.
They will keep much longer than in the original packaging and fit better in your backpack. You can even freeze meats and cheeses before the trip to use them as ice packs until they melt.
Peanut Butter and Other Nut Butters
A small plastic jar of peanut butter is great to take on a backpacking trip just as it is. Plus, you can also buy peanut butter in small packets (along with jelly) for easy transport. You can also buy almond butter or hazelnut spread that come in packets like tuna.
These nut butter packets are even easier to take and great if you are on a paleo diet. Peanut butter is another good backpacking food because it’s high in calories, lightweight, and doesn’t require refrigeration.
You can also take these nuts or trail mix to snack on in the afternoon:
- Chia Seeds
- Sunflower Seeds
Trail mix will give you a huge amount of fat and calories for energy on the trail. It usually has granola, dried fruit, and chocolate chips along with the nuts. Do not make trail mix your entire lunch, though. Trail mix is a great backpacking food, but it does not take the place of a meal.
Tortillas, Crackers, and Bagels
For lunchtime on the trail, nothing beats tortillas, crackers, or bagels to make sandwiches or snacks. Tortillas are the most versatile, and the best for backpacking food. They take up the least amount of space and you can make anything out of them.
Make sure that you buy fresh tortillas though. Tortillas do not have many preservatives in them and they can go moldy faster than bagels or crackers. Crackers also need some special care, but bagels will survive almost anything.
Veggies on the Trail
Veggies for lunchtime can be a bit of a trick, but totally doable. For example, you can buy a packet of dehydrated hummus. All you have to do is add a little hot water to the package (like you do with ramen). Then you have a serving of veggies to enjoy with your tortillas or crackers.
There are also a lot of chips made of veggies like kale chips and snap pea crisps. Although they aren’t high in calories and crush easily, they are lightweight. They also add variety to your backpacking meals.
Desserts on the Trail
Of course, the easiest desserts are the ready-made trail bars or energy bars. These days, you can buy them anywhere that sells groceries. They are as popular for people running errands as they are on for hikers on a backpacking trip.
So granola bars, dried fruit bars (like a blueberry bar), peanut butter bars, and even trail mix are sold everywhere. They come in every different flavor and combination you can think of. Another nice dessert to have at lunchtime is chocolate-covered dried fruit. This kind of dried fruit comes in individual packets for easy transport and make a good to-go option. It also has a high amount of sugars and fat to help you through a long day.
Pro Backpacking Tip
It’s tempting to shop on the all-natural food websites and pay top dollar for trail-ready meals. Nevertheless, many of the backpacking foods that are perfect for hikers are available at places like Walmart and Target. Remember, we are going for high-calorie and lightweight portability, not backcountry organic.
Calories per ounce are the priority here. So is the cost. So buy the high-end organic foods to enjoy for a backpacking dinner and the sustaining and transportable foods for lunch. All your hikers will be happy with the variety and sustenance in your backpacking meals!
Besides shopping online for premade backpacking meals, stores like Trader Joe’s and health food stores will have other options. However, the grocery store has many choices you may have never considered. There are many prepackaged foods that are perfect for backcountry hikers.
Just because they aren’t marketed that way doesn’t mean they aren’t good for a backpacking trip. Use your imagination and then let other hikers know what works!