Backpacking Food Ideas – Best Backpacking Food To Keep Your Pack Light

Best backpacking food ideas

Planning is a very important part of every backpacking trip you take. To have the lightest pack possible, but still bring everything you need can be quite a challenge, especially if you’re going on a longer backpacking trip. These are the best backpacking food ideas that will help you pack light, but still eat well and stay energized.

One way to keep your pack ultralight is to buy freeze-dried food to bring. While freeze-dried food is one of the most lightweight backpacking foods, it’s also very expensive. If you’re not worried about the cost and want a lightweight food that still has nutritional value, this might be the way to go for you.

Best Backpacking Food Ideas At Lower Cost

If you don’t have a lot of dough to throw down on food for your backpacking trip, then you’ll probably want to buy or prepare your own backpacking food yourself. Since food can account for 25-50% of the weight in your pack, take care when planning out your meals.

The main thing you’ll want to be looking for is food that is dehydrated or that you can dehydrate yourself (if you have a food dehydrator) Breads, grains and pastas are already dehydrated so they are a good place to start. Dehydrated fruits and vegetables are some of the best backpacking food ideas since they are packed with nutrition to keep energy levels high.

When you’re out backpacking all day you’re going to expend an enormous amount of energy (much more than your average day at the office). Since your body will be burning through so many calories, your lightweight backpacking food is going to have to replace those calories or you’ll get drained. Depending on how intense your hike is you’ll probably be expending between 2500-5000 calories a day, which you’ll have to replace with food calories.

When planning out your backpacking food ideas, keep your meals simple so you can easily count the calories in them and make more than one. To save time during the preparing process you can just figure out 3 meals – breakfast, lunch, dinner – and repeat those 3 meals every day. If you have more time then obviously you can get more extravagant and plan however you want.

List of The Best Backpacking Food Ideas

I found a great list of backpacking food ideas over at a scouting website, check it out below:


  • Instant cocoa
  • Juice (Tang)
  • Fruit – fresh or dried
  • Cold cereal (choose a nutritious brand that packs small without being crushed, like granola, spoon-size shredded wheat, etc.)
  • Hot cereal (instant oatmeal)
  • Powdered milk (for cereal)


  • Powdered drink mix (Gatorade, Lemonade, etc.)
  • Crackers
  • Chips (corn chips, tortilla chips)
  • Cheese (cheddar, string cheese)
  • Salami or beef stick
  • Peanut butter and jam
  • Beef jerky
  • Canned meats (tuna, deviled ham, etc. – heavy – good for short trips only – must pack out can)
  • Nuts
  • Trail mix
  • Candy bars (watch out for melting)
  • M&M’s
  • Hard candies (like Brachs or Werthers)
  • Licorice
  • Granola bars
  • Fruit – dried – raisins, prunes, banana chips, etc.



  • Cup-of-soups (Nile Spice, Trader Joes, wonton, etc.)
  • Packaged dried soups (Knorr, etc.)
  • Top Ramen
Main & Side Dishes

  • Rice, pasta, or cup-of-soups, with optional meat (like pepperoni, beef stick, summer sausage, canned tuna, browned and dehydrated ground beef or turkey) added in. Examples below:
  • Chili cup-of-soup with browned, dehydrated ground beef and dehydrated tomatoes.
  • Lentil and couscous cup-of-soup with pepperoni.
  • Angel hair pasta with Alfredo sauce and extra chunks of cheese. (Thin pasta, like angel hair, cooks faster than thick spaghetti.)
  • Angel hair pasta with tomato-based spaghetti sauce, and Parmesan cheese (use packaged sauce, like Lawry’s or Shilling, with tomato paste, or make your own homemade sauce and dehydrate it).
  • Dried tortellinis (Trader Joes) with pasta sauce.
  • Macaroni and cheese with pepperoni slices.
  • Mashed potatoes (dehydrated instant) with gravy mix and optional browned, dehydrated ground turkey and dried cranberries.
  • Stove-Top stuffing mix
  • Hash browns (dehydrated, in a box)
  • Fantastic Foods dehydrated refried beans


  • Fresh vegetables (bell peppers and carrots keep well)
  • Freeze-dried vegetables (for long trips)


  • Instant pudding (bring a shaker to mix it in)
  • Cheesecake (packaged – Royal or Jello brand – you may need to bring butter, powdered milk, sugar, aluminum pie tin – check directions)
  • Cookies
  • After-dinner mints
  • Cooked dried fruit, with cinnamon added
This list is courtesy of Troop 132. To learn more about backpacking food ideas, check out this book: Trail Food: Drying and Cooking Food for Backpacking and Paddling

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