When you sit down to plan your next backpacking adventure, it’s inevitable to think about the food you’re going to bring. Since you’ll be far away from all the conveniences surrounding you in everyday life, careful planning is the key to a pleasant trip. You can’t just bring the first few items you grab from your fridge – other factors come into play here.

It goes without saying that your body needs plenty of nutrients, because when you spend your days hiking, you need to recharge the energy supplies. In addition to this, the food should be easy to prepare or readily edible. You won’t have neither time nor resources to cook complicated meals. Furthermore, you’re going to carry these products with you, so they should be light and preferably compact so they don’t consume all the space in your backpack.

There are numerous products out there targeted at backpackers and people who spends their time outdoors. With number comes a great variety too, and not every product gives you the same value. We handpicked the best backpacking food to make your choice easier the next time you go shopping. Also, don’t miss the guide below where we break down different types of backpacking food and explain what you should look for when buying a product.

How To Choose A Backpacking Food – Buying Guide

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When it comes to food, each of us has their preferences – and it’s no different with backpacking food. But unlike most food we eat at home, these products need to give us more, in a smaller, compact package. We’re talking about low weight and volume, good flavors, calorie density, healthy nutrients and ease of preparation. Often not all of this is possible and some compromises need to be made. This means you need to have your priorities straight when selecting, and know what is necessary and what you could do without. Take a look.

Cooking Method

It’s not just about buying the food, you need to consider how you’re going to prepare it. This often includes adding water to the mixture. Pot meals require that you add water and then simmer them in a pot for a period of time. On the other hand, pouch meals only need to be mixed with water, without cooking. You add boiling water, stir it and let it sit for 5-15 minutes. Be sure to follow the instructions and add the right amount of water to get the best backpacking meals possible.

The third option are pre-cooked meals. You can eat these out of the bag, because they don’t require water to be added. While this is very practical, there is a downside too. They are not dehydrated which means they are comparably larger and heavier than the two previously mentioned options. Since we’re talking about boiling water, don’t forget to bring a mug and a backpacking stove of course. Depending on how many meals you’re going to prepare, make sure you have enough fuel for the stove.

Cooking Time

This varies from one product to the next, but none of them requires more than 20 minutes to prepare. Convenience is important, especially when you’re very tired after a long day. As we mentioned, pre-cooked meals can be eaten immediately. You don’t need to take the stove out of your backpack, or wash any dishes afterwards. Pouch and pot meals both require some time, but it really isn’t too long. However, if you’re cooking your meal in a pot you will need to be near the stove to stir it. On the other hand, you can leave the pouch unattended after you’ve poured the water inside. This is a plus because you can use this time for other things, for example set up your backpacking tent.

Calories And Serving Size

The food you choose needs to have a sufficient number of calories to cover the amount burned, and give you the fuel to go on with your activities. Depending on intensity, your metabolism and distance covered, you can burn up to 6000 calories in a single day. This is why caloric density is so important here. It represents the number of calories in a given volume of food, and you want to pack calorie rich food.

Most fruits and veggies have low caloric density. While these backpacking snacks are nutritious and yummy, you need to bring a larger amount to reach the calorie count you need. We aren’t saying you shouldn’t bring a delicious apple or two, but be sure to mix it with some products with high caloric density, for example nuts or chocolate. The whole point is having sufficient intake the whole time you’re outdoors.

We must mention the serving size too. It’s determined by the manufacturer, and they usually specify the number of calories per each serving. Keep in mind that many products contain more than one serving, so look for the total number of calories in the pack rather than the single serving size, because some pre-determined servings are quite small. There are no rules saying you should limit yourself to one serving, and the trail certainly isn’t a place where you should start with a strict diet.

Weight

It’s not very pleasant having to tug a heavy backpack the whole time you’re out – it can suck all the enjoyment out of your adventure. You need to be aware of the total weight of your backpack, and food can add to a problem here. This is why you need to look for lightweight backpacking food with small volume, which is still packed with nutrients and calories. Water is the main culprit for added weight, so dehydrated foods are an obvious choice here.

Many people save space in their lightweight backpack by repacking their meal into a sealable plastic bag. This way you can compress it better, and you can re-seal the bag if you don’t want to use all at once. In addition, it’s easier to pack it and take back home compared to some other packages.

Shelf Life

All these products must retain their quality over a period of time. They are completely safe to be kept outside the fridge, and since you will probably buy food right before your trip the shelf life shouldn’t really be a problem. However, this type of food is an excellent choice to keep in stock for emergency situations too. In this case, take a look at the label. Shelf life varies from a couple of years to decades. While we’re on the subject of preserving your food, if you’re going on a short trip and taking some easily spoiled food you should think about getting a soft cooler (if you have a place to fit it).

Ingredients

The content of top rated backpacking meals is often specially tailored for an active person. Manufacturers try to find the right balance between proteins, carbohydrates and fat, so you’ll be covered in all areas. There is a really large number of ingredients which can be found in these products so you should take time to look at the label and check. A product may contain an allergen which can provoke a reaction. Some lower-quality products contain many preservatives and food stabilizers, which aren’t exactly good for your health.

Furthermore, some of us have a specific diet and need backpacking food that complies with it. For this reason, many vegan, paleo, gluten-free and organic options are available too. Food for backpacking often contains a lot of electrolytes too, especially sodium. The reason for this is that we sweat a lot on a hike, and need to replenish the supplies. You can find the amount of sodium a product contains on the label. However, high sodium content can be a problem for some people, and if you are in this category you should opt for low-sodium alternatives which many products have.

Taste

It makes sense that we bring something we actually like to eat. All the things we discussed so far are important, but you shouldn’t be forced to eat something you hate, or something that tastes like cardboard. It doesn’t matter if something ticks all the other boxes (nutrition, caloric density, light weight) if you don’t like the taste of it. All products in our backpacking food reviews were tried out, but it’s really up to you and your preferences. It’s great to give yourself a tasty treat after an exhausting day.

FAQs

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Q: What Is The Difference Between Dehydrated vs. Freeze-Dried Food?

A: These represent two different processes of eliminating water from a product. In the dehydration process, a product is exposed to hot dry air for a time period (usually a few hours). On the other hand, freeze-drying a product means that it’s frozen and then the ice is removed by sublimation, which is a process where solid water (ice) transfers directly into gas (vapor), skipping the liquid phase in between. It basically leaves us with the same end result – food without water but there are certain differences.

Freeze-dried food has a smaller water content than dehydrated type, and for this reason it often has a longer shelf life. However, freeze-dried food can sometimes lose texture in the process. On the other hand, dehydrated food is smaller in volume, and cheaper to make. Both rely on adding water when preparing them. As for taste, it usually depends on individual products.

Q: How Do I Store My Backpacking Food?

A: It really depends on what you’re bringing and where you’re heading. When hiking deep into the backcountry, you should store your food safely because there is a chance both large and small animals will catch a scent and try to reach your food. This is the main reason you should avoid sleeping with your food next to you, because you may be unpleasantly surprised.

If you’re moving through an area populated with bears, you need to think about bear-proofing your food. You can buy a bear canister which they can’t open (these are even mandatory in some areas). An alternative option is getting a Ursack which is made from a strong non-tear material and a bear won’t be able to open it.

You can also hang your food on a tree, placing it in a position where it can’t be reached. However, it can be complicated to find the ideal position. In addition, bears are very smart and resourceful animals so they can crack the puzzle and get to the content of the hanging bag. We also have a separate article on camping food storage, so you can learn more about this topic.

Q: How Much Food Should I Bring?

A: Like we discussed, you’re going to need a high calorie intake, much higher than you usually do. You need to adjust your backpacking meal plan to how long the trip is going to be. Think about the calorie intake, and ration your meals accordingly – you need a breakfast, lunch, dinner and some snacks every day. It’s perfectly fine to bring a bit more, but don’t overdo it or bring unnecessary items.

Don’t forget to bring water and other beverages – it’s very important to think about hydration when hiking too. After a meal, it goes without saying that you should pick up trash. All of us here are nature lovers, and we need to protect and preserve it. If you want to learn more, read our article on leave no trace principles.

Q: If I Don’t Have Access To Water And Stove What Should I Do?

A: Not having an access to water or stove limits you in terms of what you can take on your trip. However, you still have plenty of options if you’re going to an area where water is scarce. You can pack pre-cooked meals we talked about, for example one of the MREs we featured. There is also a number of great-tasting meal bars available. Even though you won’t be using water for cooking, consider taking a water filter with you, it’s more than useful.

Globo Surf Overview

Bringing the right type and amount of food is one of the most important things to think about when you plan a backpacking trip. As you’ve seen, many factors are relevant here – the nutritious value and calories of course, but on the opposite side you need to think about the weight and volume of the product too. We selected some of the best backpacking food in our opinion, which can give you the right balance, but still have a great taste you will appreciate. Be free to try it out, we’re sure you won’t be disappointed!

Have you tried some of the backpacking food that made it onto our list? Was it easy to pack and prepare? Was it tasty? Please share your experience with us in the comment section below.

Globo Surf Backpacking Food Reviews

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Me and my husband are just starting with backpacking and we were not sure which food would be the best to take on the trip. Thank you for the lovely suggestions.

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My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!