Stoveless Backpacking Meals

eating in camp

Eating is obviously an essential part of hiking, although it should not be the main focus. The main focus of hiking should be hiking!

When I first started out I made the mistake of putting too much emphasis on what I was going to eat, and not enough emphasis on getting to my destination.

I have come to find that the ideal menu for backpacking is focused on sustenance, not on creating the same type of costly meal that you’d expect in society. When I say costly, I am referring to the time it takes to cook, and the energy it takes to carry the weight of your food.

That is not to say that you cannot have a delicious – even gourmet – meal when backpacking, just be aware of the cost of doing so.

The fact is, you are going to be so worn down from the hike that just about anything will taste good – take advantage of it.

What follows is a 3-day backpacking menu that offers variety, without requiring a stove or excessive energy to carry.

Ultralight Backpacking Food List

    • Pop Tarts – A Hiking Superfood, not only are they delicious, they are calorie dense and easily accessible as a snack. The frosted Pop Tarts have 200 calories per PopTart, while their unfrosted brethren contain 210 calories per, due to a slightly thicker crust. Do Not Hike Without Pop Tarts.
    • Cosmic Brownies – From Little Debbie or a knockoff brand (with admittedly fewer candy toppings), these are great on a PB&J tortilla or standalone.
    • Bagels – Calorie dense, cheap, and relatively crush proof, these can be used interchangeably with tortillas.
    •  Tortillas – you will crave bread when you are on the trail, and tortillas will satiate that craving while also being crush proof. Also, they take up less volume than bagels.
    • Peanut Butter – I prefer crunchy, this can be eaten out of the jar or put on a tortilla.
    • Jelly/Chocolate Frosting – Strawberry Jelly with Peanut Butter on a tortilla is sublime. Chocolate frosting is cheaper and even more calorie dense than jelly and combined with a scoop of peanut butter will create a poor man’s Reese’s cup.
    • Ramen Noodles – A cheap and easy food item to prepare, and an essential part of a ramen bomb.
    • Instant Mashed Potatoes – A super food, dehydrated, instant mashed potatoes can be made instantly by itself or added to ramen noodles to create a backpacking staple – the ramen bomb.
    • Hot Dogs/Summer Sausage/Pepperoni – All of these items are already cooked and do not require refrigeration. They will easily keep for a few days. I’d recommend some mustard packets as well.
    • Tuna – This on a tortilla with some cheese, and perhaps a packet of mayo. You’re welcome.
    • Cheese – Blocks of cheese are usually the most cost-effective. Cheese goes well with your meat of choice on a tortilla, or stand alone as an easy snack.
    • SNICKERS – Chocolate, nougat, peanuts, and caramel. What else do I have to say?
    • Clif Bars – A wide variety of flavors, these make a great snack that you don’t have to stop to eat.
    • Oatmeal/Caffeine/Protein mix – Oatmeal is great because you can cold soak it at night, and then in the morning, you’ll have a delicious breakfast waiting for you. Try adding dehydrated fruit to this, such as apples or bananas. I would also add some protein powder and instant coffee to make an all-in-one “GO JUICE”. Now get moving!
    • Fresh Fruit – While not as calorie dense as other foods, biting into a fresh apple or fresh peach tastes especially good while on a hike.
    • Cereal – I prefer the Wal Mart brand that is a combination of lucky charms and fruity pebbles.
    • Dehydrated milk – Mixing some of this with water in the morning, along with cereal, is all you need for an easy breakfast that will get you moving.
  • Do you have a favorite hiking food that is not on this list? Leave it below in the comments!

The Most Calorie Dense Food For Backpacking

The short answer is oil. Fat has more calories per gram than protein or carbohydrates, and oil is mostly fat. Fat adds flavor to food and on a hike, you’ll be hungry enough to really appreciate what fat brings to the table.

When I was still making hot food on the trail, I would add coconut oil to all of my meals. Whether I was eating pasta, ramen or some type of rice, the oil made such a difference. I actually miss how nourishing the meal would make me feel with all of that added fat.

That being said, I give up hot food when I hike, so I don’t have much use for oil anymore. On trail, I’ve replaced high cuisine with Pop-Tarts and Snickers bars, and I’m never looking back.

Cookless Backpacking Meals

cold soaking

The idea is to put calories into your body with the least amount of time and energy possible.

Cold-soaking is an alternative method for preparing food that does not involve heat. All you have to do is put your food in a container with water, and let it soak for a few hours. The dried food will absorb the water and be ready to eat. An empty peanut butter jar makes a perfect soaking pot.

Ditch the stove, ditch the heat, ‘cause we gonna’ eat, eat, EAT!

Easy Backpacking Lunches

  • Peanut Butter & Jelly on a Tortilla – Simple and not-so-surprisingly delicious, try adding a cosmic brownie for a real treat.
  • Tuna Fish on a Tortilla – This is fantastic. Consider bringing mayo-packets (free at gas stations) and adding cheese, as Tuna is high in protein with little fat or calories.
    • Pro Tip: do not bring canned tuna, as you’ll have to pack out all of your trash.
  • Hot Dog/Summer Sausage/Pepperoni on a Tortilla – A modern marvel, hot dogs can be kept for days without proper refrigeration, and they are already cooked! Summer sausage is the same way, with an even better flavor. Having a few slices of meat on trail can be a treat. Add to a tortilla with some cheese and mustard (free packets at gas stations) and you are golden.

Day Hiking Food Ideas

Whether you are going out on a hike for a few hours or a few weeks, you can benefit from the simplicity that stoveless backpacking meals have to offer. Lightweight and simple to make, the more you hike the more you’ll come to realize the benefits of carrying LESS.

Everything listed on this page can be used for multi-day hikes or simply for an afternoon in the woods.

Camping Food – No Cooking –  No Refrigeration

All of the food listed on this page can be kept with no refrigeration for at least a few days and does not need to be cooked. Don’t be afraid to experiment; dinner can be served for lunch and vice versa.

Remember, if you are feeling tired or sluggish you probably need food or water. Take note of the input/output effect that each has on your ability to hike. Your body is an incredible machine – do not neglect what it is trying to tell you.

Dinner is your biggest meal and reserved for the end of the day. I say that because having a big meal in the middle of the day can slow you down, and you need to make those miles. Dinner is your reward for a day well hiked.

Shoot for 1000-2000 calories, depending on how hungry you are.

And to that end – I give you the “Ramen Bomb”.

Sometime after lunch, start cold soaking your dinner. In this case, your dinner will consist of instant ramen noodles and dehydrated potatoes. Simply add water to these two ingredients and let nature take its course. Your dinner will be ready in 2-3 hours.

If it comes out too watery, simply add more instant mashed potatoes. It’s also a good idea to have some seasoning handy; I recommend something spicy. Add some chopped up meat if you are so inclined.

A typical ramen bomb will be about 500 calories. Experiment with portion size.

Consider also having a tortilla with meat and cheese, for another few hundred calories.

Have a brownie or snickers bar for dessert.

Still hungry? Eat more.

Keep in mind how many days you will be hiking without resupply and plan accordingly. Also remember that whatever goes in, will also come out. There’s a balance between eating too much and wasting calories through defecation, and not eating enough. You’ve been eating and walking your entire life, so don’t overthink it.

Figure out what your body needs and give it those things. Over time you will be able to do this with maximum efficiency.

Remember, this is food – so have fun with it!

Any questions or comments? Please leave them below.


Author: @carmenrao

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