Friday, August 28, 2015

Cooking in the Wilderness Part 3: Backpacking Meals

My husband, 4 kids and I just returned from a successful 26 mile, 3 night backpacking trip last week. Before the trip I FINALLY took some pics of meals so I could share some of what I have learned about feeding my family on the trails. 

As the title says, this is the third part in my "Cooking in the Wilderness" series. 
Here are the first two parts if you missed them: 

My goal in these posts is to share what I've learned. I am not an expert. My husband and I learn many new skills each time we go out with our family. On our excursions, we have eaten some gross food, some decent food, and some excellent food. And so far we haven't starved.

If you are backpacking for 3 nights by yourself, meal planning is fairly easy. You may just purchase some meal bars and Mountain House Meals (or other pre-made just-add-water meals), and you are good to go.  

But planning meals for a family of 6 for 4 days is more of a challenge. We would spend a fortune if we bought Mountain House Meals for our whole family every time we went. They run about $6-7/meal. We'd be spending $60-$80 a day just to eat on the trail! 

I have come up with some essential criteria for backpacking food:

1. It must use minimal packaging. Remember, all trash must be packed out.

2. It must be cooked in a pot on a backpacking stove--so "just add water," "pre-cooked," and "quick" are desirable features.

3. Calorie dense and high sodium=good.  Your food is your fuel. And you have to carry it on your back. 

4. It needs to be YUMMY.  My kids like knowing what is being served for dinner is something they can look forward to as they walk for miles and miles with a heavy pack.  Delicious food helps our psychological state everywhere, but especially while backpacking. 

First I will share how I do SNACKS on the backpacking trail
Before the trip I make a pile of snacks for each member of the family.  Granola bars, trail mix (nuts, cereal, mini-graham cookies, dried fruit, etc). and bags of candy (jelly beans and Sour Patch Kids are family faves). As you can see, Corn Nuts are also a favorite. Everyone carries their own snacks in their packs.  We encourage them to ration it so it can last the entire trip. (This especially applies to the 5-year-old with the jelly beans).

(Who just thought of hobbits?)
Grits, Cream of Wheat, Malt-O-Meal, or other quick-cooking hot cereal makes an excellent breakfast in the wilderness. Measure out the amount you need of the dry cereal, add salt, sugar or other seasoning, then write the amount of water you need to boil with a permanent marker on the bag.  We also love bringing hot cocoa and apple cider to have morning and night. 

It seems almost silly to have photographed our oatmeal packets, but here they are! I LOVE eating pre-packaged instant oatmeal for breakfast on the trail. We dump it all together (yes--every flavor!) in the pot of boiling water and it is ready in a snap. This simple breakfast is cheap and always tastes and feels so good.

Another breakfast we typically have is homemade or store-bought granola bars. We usually eat this on our last day to save time.

Third, I will share some LUNCH ideas:
Bread brought on the trail should be okay when smashed in your pack. So tortillas, pita bread, and bagels are our go-to backpacking breads.  This lunch was so simple, but so enjoyed! My kids said I should've brought twice as much. Mustard and dry salame rolled into a tortilla.  I did bring the mustard in the small bottle. If you really wanted to conserve space, you could squeeze it into a baggy before going, but I didn't want to risk it bursting open.  

This is one of our go-to lunches. We vary the flavor of bagel, but even if we didn't I think it would still be enjoyed.  I did bring the jar of peanut butter to ensure it didn't get squeezed out of a baggy. I also squeezed extra honey into the jar (it wasn't full).  The sweet and salty flavor of peanut butter and honey and the sustained energy of the carbs from the bagel make it a perfect backpacking lunch. 

Now onto DINNER in the wilderness:
On the left of the butter is our dessert:(from top) Dried apples, cinnamon and brown sugar, and an instant oatmeal packet mixed with graham cracker crumbs. On the right is our main course: Pre-cooked bacon, instant mashed potatoes (with cooking directions written on the bag), and powdered milk to make for the potatoes.  Part of the butter is used in the potatoes, the rest is added to dessert.  This meal was another in which the only complaint was that I should have brought more (but no one starved!). 
This is the baked apple dessert. It would also make a delicious breakfast. Cover dehydrated apples in water. Bring to a boil and cover until reconstituted. Add sugar and cinnamon mixture and butter. Sprinkle oatmeal/graham cracker crumbs on top and stir gently. We LOVE this, and it would work with other dried fruit like peaches or berries. 

Cheddar cheese, dehydrated refried beans, and tortillas. This was our meal on our first night out. We didn't want to chance the cheese getting to hot during the next day of hiking. This was an easy, filling, and tasty dinner.  Reconstitute the refried beans by covering them in boiling water and letting them sit for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, slice the cheese. Spread the beans on the tortillas and top with cheese. If you want to melt the cheese, fold the tortilla in fourths and wrap in the foil. Stack in a pot and heat for about 5 minutes. 

Chicken fettucini!  I LOVE that pre-cooked chicken now comes in a pouch! We add it to quick cooking pre-seasoned pasta or rice for a delicious, hearty meal! This was the family's favorite of the trip. 

Other dinners we've enjoyed included macaroni and cheese (yes, from the box), tuna or salmon in pouch packaging, quick cooking rice, couscous, and of course, ramen noodles. 

Each of these meals fed my family of 6, and cost about the same or less than one Mountain House 1-serving meal. 

When we are packing for our trip, I put the contents of each meal in a plastic grocery sack and label it with which meal it is (ex: "Wednesday Lunch").  Then as we are filling our packs, each of us takes note of which meals we are carrying so we are ready when it's time to eat. 

I hope this is helpful to anyone looking to take to the trails! We are always learning about new trail food.  I'd love to hear ideas for meals you have made while backpacking! 

Backpacking with our family takes a great deal of planning and patience, but when we get to be together enjoying God's amazing creations, it is so worth every bit of work! 

Participating in these link-ups.


  1. I've enjoyed your blog. I have a couple of questions. How old are your kids? Do the little ones carry technical backpacks? Do you hang a bear bag (or bags) when you are out? How do you keep whining to a minimum? Thanks for the tips!

    1. Thanks Robin! My kids are 14, 12, 8 and 5. We've been backpacking as a whole family for about 2 years. My 5 year old doesn't carry a technical backpack,but the rest do. My 5yr old's pack has her clothes, some water and snacks. The 8 year old carries a nice technical daypack (internal frame with hip and chest straps) with his sleeping bag and pad, along with his own snacks and water. The rest of us all have full-size packs and weight. We do hang our food on bear poles or put it in bear lockers if provided along the trail. The whining was definitely an issue when we began hiking more regularly. We use incentives like candy breaks on the trail. And we take regular rest breaks--many more than adults would need. But the main way whining has died down is just by getting out and doing it over and over again. Hearing my kids ooh and aaah about a beautiful vista, or say to each other, "Just think how good our beds are gonna feel when we get back!" is the best reward! I love seeing them learn to appreciate nature! Stick with it through the whining--the kids will come around! :)

  2. I found this to be very interesting! You guys eat well on the trail. You are creating great memories and teaching skills to your children. Thanks for sharing at Merry Monday. My grands would love to do this!

  3. I love that you do this with your family! I would love to do this with mine. We're doing very short hikes in our local wooded area, but nothing like this! Thanks for sharing at the Let's Get Real Link Up!

  4. These are all such great ideas!! Thank you so much for linking up at Tasty Tuesday! This post has been pinned on the Tasty Tuesday Pinterest board! I love having you and can't wait to see you next week!

  5. This is a great post full of wonderful ideas! Thanks so much for sharing and linking to Friday Favorites! I'm going to feature you this coming week!

    1. I am excited to see this post featured, Heather! Thank you. I will share your feature on my social media pages!

  6. The use of ultralight backpacking gear can make your camping trip outside comfortable and enjoyable track if you haul a heavy backpack full of camping equipment as standard. MILITARY TENTS

  7. If you have the right tools and techniques you can serve up some top notch dishes. Won't your family and friends be surprised.

  8. My family of four has been camping for around 4 years now and your're right, there's so much more to learn each time. My kids are 10 & 12 so they each carry their own backpacks with their mats and some of our provisions. I discovered that my dehydrator makes great beef jerky so it's a big plus. Fruits and vegetables are properly dehydrated so we've got a lot of options. Don't get me wrong, in addition to homemade camping food, I also buy some of our foodstuffs. If you need to find the best camping food, look here: