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All backpackers and hikers know they need to be very selective when it comes to meal planning for their outdoor adventures. The best foods for backpacking are nourishing, not heavy or bulky to carry, filling, easy to prepare and delicious. When choosing what to pack, you should definitely consider nutritional content, as you’ll want foods that are high in complex carbs and protein to keep you strong and energized. Freeze-dried and dehydrated foods are good choices since they’re compact and easy to prep, but you should also carry some no-cook food items in case your stove isn’t working. Taste is also a big factor since enjoying your foods will enhance your overall experience and you certainly don’t want to weigh down your pack with bland-tasting, mediocre foods.
Here are some of the best backpacking foods that will delight your taste buds, but are also compact and nutrient-dense enough to earn valuable space in your backpack.
Our Top Picks
Best Beef Jerky: Sogo Snacks Original Grass-Fed Smoked Beef Stick
Packed with hunger-satisfying protein, beef jerky is an ideal backpacking food, as it’s lightweight, nonperishable and versatile. Some hikers like to graze on jerky for a mid-day lunch, while others add it to soup or noodles for a more substantial meal at camp. While some gas station varieties of beef jerky are highly-processed and filled with nitrates, sodium and MSG, this jerky from Sogo Snacks is made from 100 percent grass-fed beef with no added hormones or antibiotics. It also contains no artificial ingredients, MSG, soy, added nitrates or sugar. The delicious taste may make it hard for you to stop at eating just one.
Best Dehydrated Food: Ova Easy Egg Crystals
Eggs are a nutritious and delicious way to kick off a day of hiking, but it’s obviously not practical or smart to carry them in your backpack. These OvaEasy Egg Crystals allow you to whip up some omelets or scrambled eggs by simply mixing with water and cooking them as you would normally prepare eggs. They’re dehydrated using technology that keeps the flavor and nutrition of fresh eggs intact, so you’re still getting the same great taste and benefits of eggs, without the mess and hassle. Each pouch contains the equivalent of a dozen eggs and doesn’t require refrigeration.
Best Freeze-Dried Dinner: Mountain House Freeze-Dried Chili Mac with Beef
Chili is always a fan favorite for a hearty and satisfying dinner after many miles of hiking. This freeze-dried chili mac with beef is easy and convenient to carry and prepare, and it allows you to end the day with a hot meal. Just add water, boil and you’ll have dinner ready in less than 10 minutes, with no messy cleanup. Made with a spicy chili sauce, it includes macaroni noodles, beans, beef and onions for a flavorful, complete, all-in-one meal. This can comes with 10 one-cup servings, but the chili mac is also available in 2.5 cup packets if you need a smaller stash.
Best Breakfast: Quaker Organic Instant Oatmeal
You’ll need a hearty breakfast before a day of hiking, so you’ll probably want something hot and substantial to fuel you. Oatmeal is always a great backpacking breakfast option because it’s quick and easy to make, it’s satisfying, and you can add toppings to flavor it for your taste. We love these Quaker Instant Oatmeal packets for their convenience and simplicity — just add boiling water and eat. This variety pack comes with 32 packets, a mix of Harvest Apple & Cinnamon Spice, Maple & Brown Sugar Packets and Original flavors. Add some dried fruit or nuts on top for additional flavor and nutrients.
Best Meal Replacement Bar: Greenbelly Backpacking Meals
These bars from Greenbelly are perfect for when you want to keep moving but need some substantial nourishment to power your hike. With 650 calories and 33 percent of your daily recommended amounts of carbs, protein, sodium, fat and fiber, they’re a delicious and nutritious meal replacement option. Lightweight, compact and convenient, these bars don’t take up a lot of space in your backpack and even fit in a cargo pant pocket for easy access. The foil packaging is durable, waterproof and simple to open with a tear notch right above the re-sealable zip lock.
Made with chunks of fruits and nuts and crispy rice, these bars are gluten-free, all-natural and don’t have any weird aftertaste like some other meal replacement bars. Whether you eat one for a quick breakfast or a mid-hike lunch, these bars will leave you feeling satisfied and energized. They’re available in three tasty flavors: dark chocolate/banana, peanut/apricot and cranberry/almond. Like other convenient backpacking meals, these bars are not cheap, but many outdoor enthusiasts say they’re well worth the price for their taste and nutritional value.
Best Freeze-Dried Vegetarian Meal: Mountain House Freeze-Dried Pasta Primavera
Many freeze-dried meals contain meat, so it’s not easy to find tasty ones for vegetarians or backpackers who want a non-meat option to mix things up. This delicious vegetarian meal includes real zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, red and yellow peppers and green beans with spiral macaroni in a creamy parmesan cheese sauce. Even without meat, it’s a substantial dish that will satisfy you after a long day on the trails. All you have to do is add water, boil and dinner is ready in less than 10 minutes. The can comes with 11-cup servings, but you can always pack individual one-cup servings in plastic baggies if you don’t need that many meals.
Best All-in-One Kit: The Backpacking Kit from Harmony House Foods
This handy kit includes a delicious mix of ready-to-cook ingredients, including dehydrated carrots, potatoes, peas, tomatoes, celery, green beans, corn, cabbage, red and green peppers, onions, black beans, northern beans, lentils, red beans and pinto beans. All the foods are chopped, dried and bagged in re-sealable zip pouches, ready to be cooked. Just add water and boil for 10 to 15 minutes. You can eat the foods alone or add them to rice, pasta or other ingredients. All the foods are non-GMO gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, low-sodium and kosher.
Best Snack: Market Pantry Knapsack Trail Mix
Convenient, tasty and packed with nutrients, trail mix is an easy go-to snack to include on your backpacking food list. While some backpackers prefer to make their own to save money, this mix of peanuts, M&Ms, almonds and raisins is so affordable that there’s no need to go that route. You can pack this entire re-sealable, 42-ounce bag or put the mix into individual, small plastic baggies that are easy to grab from your backpack. The perfect blend of salty and sweet, this trail mix will satisfy your cravings and keep you moving along the trail.