100+ Backpacking Food Ideas
Resupply isfine art. As a thru-hiker, you must to learn to identify foods that will keep well without refrigeration, survive the abuse of being rattled around in a backpack for days on end, and deliver sufficient calories and nutrition without weighing you down.
And not every backpack-friendly food is easy to find in small trailside towns, so you’ll also need to consider which foods you’ll likely find near the trail and decide whether you want to send yourself mail drops containing specialty items.
Even trickier: you have to figure out what foods you actually want to eat. Thru-hiker cravings can get pretty weird, so the answers here may surprise you.
With so much to consider, it can be tough to know where to start when loading your food bag. And thus, our Ultimate Backpacking Food List was born. When you’re out of inspiration and need food ideas to spice up your resupply, this list is where you come.
It’s exactly what it sounds like: just a big honkin’ list of every backpacking-appropriate food item we could think of for your reading pleasure. To give it some semblance of order, we’ve sorted the foods according to traditional meals: Breakfast, Lunch/Snacks, Dinner, and Dessert.
About the List
The list consists of individual items you might find in a hiker’s food bag. Some of these items are ingredients more so than standalone meals. We know a single tortilla or a packet of instant coffee don’t constitute full meals on their own. Look at it more like a grocery list than a meal plan. If you buy these ingredients, you can combine them in different ways to create unique thru-hiking meals.
Most of the foods on this list are calorically dense (120 calories per ounce or more), but some aren’t. Balanced nutrition and variety are important in a backpacker’s diet, so we included a few heavier (but less caloric) items that do well in a backpack for diversity’s sake.
Condiments and Mix-Ins
100+ Backpacking Food Ideas for Your Next Hike
1. Instant Oatmeal
The classic backpacking breakfast, instant oatmeal is easy to find in most trail towns (even gas stations often stock the individual packets). See also: instant grits and instant cream of wheat.
2. Cold Cereal
Whatever your favorite breakfast cereal is, eaten dry or with rehydrated milk powder. Anticipating that whatever’s in your food bag will get thoroughly pulverized by Day Three or so, sturdier cereals like Grape Nuts may work better than those that could easily be crushed like Honeycombs.
Granola deserves a mention to itself because it’s often cooked with some sort of fat, thus increasing its calorie density over regular cereal.
4. Chia Seeds
Cold soak ’em overnight and mix them with something sweet and possibly creamy the next morning for a lovely chia seed pudding breakfast. You’ll probably have to mail drop these if you want to eat them regularly on a thru-hike.
5. Pop Tarts
Also delicious as a midday snack or dessert, Pop Tarts are a popular breakfast among thru-hikers. You can almost always find these, even if your grocery options are limited to a tiny gas station.
6. Honey Buns
Honey buns are cheap, widely available, and loaded with calories. I never found them very filling, but many hikers swear by honey buns and similar prepackaged baked goods.
7. Muffins / Bakery Items
I used to do a giant grocery store bakery muffin for breakfast each day. I kept them all in a big Ziplock together, and by the last day, the remaining muffin material was so crumbled I just ate it out of the bag with a spoon. It was no less delicious in crumb form, though.
8. Freeze-Dried Breakfasts
We’ll get into more detail about the myriad freeze-dried backpacking food companies in the Dinner section, but nearly all of them have at least one or two breakfast offerings. If you want a sturdier breakfast, potentially including meat and/or vegetables, freeze-dried is a great way to spoil yourself from time to time.
9. Yogurt Melts
I had no idea these existed until my recent travels through the Interwebs enlightened me. Found in the baby food aisle, yogurt drops/melts are bite-sized nuggets of sweetened, dehydrated yogurt. They can be eaten straight or rehydrated.
10. Powdered Peanut Butter
Dehydrated peanut butter is increasingly common in grocery stores, although most brands are low-fat. It’s good as a mix-in for your breakfast smoothie or oatmeal, but the calorie count is actually lower than fresh since most of the oil has been removed.
11. Powdered Eggs
You may find powdered eggs in an outfitter that caters heavily to backpackers. Otherwise, you’ll probably find yourself ordering them online and mailing them to yourself. They make for a surprisingly good scramble; the only drawback is that they are every bit as hard as fresh eggs to scrape off the side of your pot after cooking them.
12. Pancake Mix
No one wants the mess or hassle of making actual pancakes in the backcountry, but you can still cook up a sort of pancake mash in a freezer bag or in your pot. Make sure you get the just-add-water kind.
13. Multivitamins and Supplements
I truly don’t know where to categorize vitamins and supplements, so I’m sticking them here. Most backpackers’ diets are sadly nutrient-deficient; a daily multivitamin can help to fill in some of the gaps.
14. Instant Coffee
Many brands sell finely powdered instant coffee so you can maintain your morning ritual/caffeine fix during your thru-hike. You can also get fancy with backcountry coffee presses or rough it with cowboy coffee, but Instant is the easiest option.
READ NEXT – Trail Coffee Six Ways: Which Method Makes the Best Brew?
I always keep a few tea bags in my pack. They weigh next to nothing, and a hot cup of tea is a great pick-me-up after a long day. A strong herbal tea (like mint) that can infuse somewhat in cold water is also a great way to mask the flavor of gross-tasting water.
16. Powdered Milk
Most grocery stores sell powdered skim milk. For extra calories, you can find powdered whole milk online or in the baby food aisle at Walmart (and some other large grocery stores, I assume). Rehydrate it to pour over your breakfast cereal or mix it into your breakfast smoothie concoction. I’m warning you now, powdered milk does NOT taste the same as fresh; most people don’t get much joy out of drinking it straight.
17. Powdered Coconut Milk
I’ve never seen powdered coconut milk in stores; it’s strictly a mail-drop item. The calorie density is very high, and when rehydrated, it has a delicous, sweet, coconut-y flavor and a creamy consistency. I find it superior to powdered dairy milk in all ways except that you can only get it online or in specialty stores.
18. Carnation Breakfast Essentials
A creamy, sweetened drink mix with a base of powdered milk. As the name implies, it’s fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. So healthy! Carnation is delicious hot or cold. Many hikers use it as a base for a smoothie concoction, often including instant coffee, oatmeal, and/or peanut butter. Carnation comes in three flavors: chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry.
19. Hot Chocolate
You can find Swiss Miss everywhere and other brands at large stores.
20. Hot Cider Mix
Nothing like actual apple cider, but tasty in its own way.
21. Protein Powder
Typically only found in large containers, so you’ll probably need to mail it to yourself in smaller quantities on the trail. Mix it up as a smoothie or mix it into your breakfast cereal for a protein boost.
22. Powdered Coffee Creamer
Good calories and easy to find in stores. Obviously more of a mix-in than a standalone drink.
23. Electrolyte Mixes
Hiking is sweaty work—an electrolyte drink mix can help replace what you’ve lost to keep you feeling strong.
24. Gatorade Powder
The holy grail of sugary drink mixes if you can find it in stores. Also contains some electrolytes. See also: Kool-aid, Tang, and lemonade mix.
25. Sugar-Free Mixes
Think Mio, Crystal Light, etc. They don’t have any nutritional value but can mask unpleasant flavors in water and encourage you to stay hydrated.
26. Box Wine
There is no ultralight way to have wine in the backcountry; you just have to commit to the weight.
27. Mini Liquor Bottles
Airplane-size bottles won’t add too much weight to your pack and are perfect for sprucing up your hot drinks. And with your chronic thru-hiking-induced fatigue and malnourishment, a little will probably go a long way.
READ NEXT – Appalachian Trail Resupply Points
Lunch / Snacks
The thru-hiker’s staple. They’re caloric, flavorful, and they can’t be smashed because they’re already flat to begin with! Use them as a base for a wild spread of ingredients. On the trail, all foods are fair game to be paired with a tortilla. All.
In bigger towns with proper groceries, you can find pita bread to make a nice change-up from tortillas. Pitas are breadier in texture and flavor, and they have that lovely pocket in the middle. But they’re still flatbread, making them a hardier option for a backpacker’s food bag.
Slightly more squishable than flatbreads, but still a popular option for hikers. Whatever you would put on a tortilla can also be put on a bagel.
31. Crusty Bread
Definitely a risk since leavened bread can easily be smashed. But a sturdy, thick-crusted loaf kept near the top of your pack has a chance of surviving at least a few days. Pair it with butter, cheese, or olive oil to feel like you’re eating “real” food again. The calorie-to-weight ratio isn’t ideal, but bread makes a nice treat.
32. Smucker’s Uncrustables
Those iconic UFO-shaped frozen PB&Js are perfect for thru-hiking. It’s an easy way to get a peanut butter sandwich, and they’ll keep their shape better while they’re still frozen.
33. Frozen Burritos
Frozen microwavable burritos make for a satisfying treat. Pack them deep in your pack and they’ll stay frozen for a surprisingly long time and keep the rest of your food cold at the same time. Put your daily burrito on top or on the outside of your pack so it can thaw by lunchtime. Choose vegetarian burritos to avoid the risk of meat spoilage.
34. Nut Butter
Peanut, almond, cashew, you name it. Nut butter is delicious and packed with good calories. Look for single-serving cups or packets, or choose a small plastic jar. If going the jar route, avoid “natural” nut butters since the oil can separate and leak in your pack.
Tahini is sesame seed butter. It’s very high in calories, but also very dry. You’ll be better off mixing it with other foods than trying to eat it straight.
Need I say more? Nutella is delicious. See also: cookie butter.
37. Fresh Cheese
Hard cheeses like asiago and parmesan will fare best and won’t get greasy in warm weather. But I regularly carry blocks of pepper jack and other soft cheeses and have never had a problem with it lasting several days in my pack. Store it deep where the heat of the sun is less likely to penetrate.
38. Cream Cheese
Yes, even cream cheese will keep for a long time if you bury it deep enough in your pack.
39. Dehydrated Cheese
Found in the form of snackable cheese crisps or as powders that can be mixed into meals for more of a cheesy flavor. Dried cheese has better calorie density than fresh but is basically unrecognizable in flavor and texture once the water has been removed. It’s still a good backpacking food, but treat it as its own thing rather than a fresh cheese substitute.
The perfect vehicle to deliver cheese into your belly!
A great salty snack, especially if you can get thicker pretzel bites that are less likely to get mashed in your pack. See also: Combos.
Chips are a crowd-pleaser: crunchy, fatty, and full of much-needed salt. You can get snack-size bags, but many thru-hikers strap a full or family-size bag on top of their pack and munch from it for days. Pringles are also popular: the can fits in your side water bottle pocket and keeps the chips intact within.
43. Energy Gels and Chews
Energy gels are mini packs of sweetened caffeine goo, while chews are the gummy candy version of the same. Both great for an afternoon pick-me-up.
44. Summer Sausage
A classic, bordering on stereotypical, hiker food that has stood the test of time.
45. Beef Jerky
Ditto what I said above. You can find jerky in any grocery store or gas station. Just don’t overestimate how much of this stuff you’ll want to gnaw on every day. Chewing is hard work!
A popular trailside tortilla topping.
47. Pork Rinds
Crunchier and less chewy than jerky and widely available in grocery stores and gas stations, especially in the south.
48. Trail Mix
We all love to pick out our favorite components of the trail mix and leave the rest, but try to pick a mix that only contains ingredients you want to eat. Why waste any weight on vestigial raisins you’ll never eat?
READ NEXT – AT Resupply FAQs: Shopping Strategies, Nutrition Tips, and More
Available basically everywhere food is sold, bars are one of the hikers four main food groups, along with Knorr Pasta Sides, tortillas, and Slim Jims. Between protein bars and traditional granola bars, there are dozens of different brands. I won’t belabor the point by listing every possibility, but here are a few popular brands:
- Nature Valley
50. Dehydrated Hummus
Put it on a tortilla or eat it off the spoon—either way, this stuff is so good. Outdoor Herbivore makes a nice mix.
51. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts provide excellent healthy protein and fat, plenty of calories, and (often) a dose of much-needed salt. You can usually find a good selection of nuts and seeds even during a gas station resupply.
- Macadamias (best calorie density but expensive/hard to find)
- Mixed nuts
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
52. Dried Fruit
With the water removed, dried fruit has a better calorie density than fresh, though obviously still not up to the standards of dried meats, cheeses, or grains. But sometimes you just need something sweet that hasn’t been processed all to hell.
- Banana chips (great calorie density, especially when prepared with coconut oil)
- Raspberries (often freeze-dried rather than dehydrated)
- Coconut flakes (better as a mix-in than a standalone snack)
53. Fruit Leather
Another way to get some fruit in you, albeit in a more processed form. PSA: Fruit Roll-Ups are like fruit leather but don’t contain much actual fruit.
54. Toasted Seaweed
You can often find seaweed snacks in the Asian foods aisle of large supermarkets. They actually have a decent calorie density since they’re roasted with oil, but they’re featherlight so you have to eat a lot of them to get much of a calorie boost.
Good as a crunchy bite-sized snack or a mix-in with other foods.
Olives are full of fatty calories. The brand Oloves sells convenient snack-size packets of olives that are ideal for hiking. They’re a bit pricy and not always available in stores, although I’ve found them in the snack section of some larger groceries and even a handful of gas stations. You can also buy less expensive olives in a can or from an olive bar and repackage them in ziplocks.
57. Roasted Chickpeas
Crunchy, shelf-stable, and available in the snack section of most larger grocery stores. Crunchy roasted edamame is also a great snack if you can find it.
58. Fresh Produce
Fresh produce is heavy and doesn’t provide many calories, but many hikers still choose to pack some out with each resupply. On-trail nutrition is pretty sorry, so it’s valuable to have a few foods that are more nourishing, even if it’s just a treat for the first day or two out of town.
Some fresh fruits and veggies that work well for backpcking:
- Bagged leafy greens (spinach, salad mix, etc.)
- Avocados (decent calories, make sure they don’t get squashed)
- Baby carrots
- Broccoli florets
- Cauliflower florets
59. Subway Sandwich
It’s a time-honored thru-hiker tradition to pack out a fresh sandwich for your first meal out of town. A sub isn’t exactly ultralight trail food, but it makes a wonderful break in the monotony of rehydrated mush, candy, and protein bars. Pizza also works here (but let it cool completely and wrap it carefully to avoid leaking grease on your gear).
60. Tuna and Salmon Packets
Available in most grocery stores. Look for flavors that are packed in oil for the biggest caloric impact. Remember that fish contains mercury, so don’t plan for tuna or salmon packets to be a daily treat.
61. Chicken Packets
Usually found right next to the tuna packets and can be used the same way.
62. Spam Singles
High-calorie and oddly satisfying, Spam Singles are a thru-hiking staple.
63. Slim Jims
You can find them in every gas station in America, probably.
64. Meal Replacement Bars
Greenbelly Meals makes heavier-than-average bars that are intended to be complete meal replacements.
65. Keto Food
Followers of the ketogenic, or “keto” diet eat foods high in fat and low in sugar. Many keto foods are very calorie-dense, making them perfect for backpackers. Bigger grocery stores often have small sections devoted to ketogenic snacks catering to the diet sensation that’s currently sweeping the nation, including bars, smoothies, nut butter concoctions, and cured meats. So basically the same stuff we’ve already talked about, but the keto section often has unique offerings that are worth checking out.
66. Hard-Boiled Eggs
Not the most calorie dense, but popular all the same. You can get them pre-peeled in many gas stations (and at the continental breakfast in some hotels), or you can make your own at the hostel (but chill them before leaving to maximize their lifespan). Leaving the shell on will make them less squish-prone, though then you have to pack out the messy shell trash. Pack ’em deep and they’ll last a few days.
Condiments and Mix-Ins
67. Olive Oil
The healthiest fat also has the best calorie-to-weight ratio. Go with individual condiment packets or decant some into a small, leak-proof bottle like a mini Nalgene. Either way, keep it in a ziplock since olive oil is prone to leakage.
Butter will keep in your pack for days if you pack it deep away from the sun’s heat.
69. Powdered Butter
Yes, dehydrated butter is a thing—I’ve even found it in Walmart before. Powdered butter has about the same calorie ratio as fresh, somehow, and doesn’t much resemble its original form when reconstituted with water. It works well as a calorie boost stirred into your meals. Its one advantage over fresh butter is that there’s no risk of it melting.
70. Sauce Powders
Most grocery stores stock a selection of instant powdered sauce mixes, such as gravy, tomato sauce, vegetable dip, and alfredo. Note that many (not all) of these sauces call for added ingredients like tomato paste, milk, or butter during the cooking process, but they’re still good for a boost of flavor and calories in your dinner even if all you have to reconstitute them with is water.
71. Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast adds a nutty, earthy, sort of cheesy flavor to foods. It’s also a perfect protein and a good source of iron, potassium, zinc, and B-complex vitamins. You can find it in most grocery stores in a plastic shaker jar.
Very few hikers carry any spices. But a small plastic shaker jar or ziplock bag containing one of your favorites can be a good way to add flavor at mealtimes without adding too much weight or complexity to your food plan. Pick something generic that will go with a wide variety of foods, like garlic powder or black pepper.
Spirulina powder is available in many large groceries and health-food stores, though you may have to mail it to yourself in small trail towns. This blue green algae is a so-called superfood loaded with protein and nutrients, making it a great mix-in for hikesr looking to maintain a somewhat balanced diet.
74. Single-Serving Condiment Packets
Save them from your take-out and keep a few in your food bag to improve your meal’s flavor, texture, or calorie count (or all of the above).
- Soy Sauce
- Duck Sauce
75. Mini Sriracha / Chili Sauce Bottles
Some outfitters sell mini squeeze bottles of sriracha sauce. They’re sort of a novelty item, but if you’re a chili sauce lover, one of these bad boys may be worth the weight.
Great for mixing into breakfast cereal, hot drinks, or even some dinner recipes. It is obviously also delicious when eaten straight. Look for single-serving tubs or packets of honey for your food bag.
Look for the single-serve tubs you sometimes get at diners.
78. Dehydrated Mixed Veggies
Various vegetable combinations can be found online (or sometimes in stores sold as “vegetable soup mix.” You can also buy dried vegetables individually. Harmony House is a good online source for dehydrated vegetables (and other ingredients).
79. Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Most dehydrated veggies have to be ordered online, but most grocery stores sell little bags of sundried tomatoes in the produce section.
80. Crispy Fried Onions
I think they’re delicious on their own as a snack, but they’re also great as a crisp, flavorful mix-in.
81. Bacon Bits
Shelf-stable bacon bits make a decent mix-in for many backpacking dinners, especially potatoes.
82. Textured Vegetable Protein
TVP is basically dried soy protein crumbles. It doesn’t have much flavor on its own but will readily absorb the flavors of anything it’s cooked with.
READ NEXT –
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Most of the dinners below assume you have a stove. If you don’t have one, most (with the exception of some freeze-dried offerings; check with each manufacturer) can be cold-soaked instead. Stoveless hikers can also eat any of the foods in the lunch section for dinner too. There are no rules, really.
83. Knorr Pasta and Rice Sides
Every grocery store has ’em, as do many gas stations. They cook up quickly, are way cheaper than freeze-dried, and may even have a few veggies to boot. A wide variety of flavors helps to keep things interesting night-to-night.
The classic, cheap backpacking food. Mix with instant mashed potatoes for a carb-loaded “ram-bomb.”
85. Instant Mashed Potatoes
Fast and easy, instant mashed potatoes reconstitute almost as soon as you add hot water. They work with cold water too, making them a great backup if you’re not sure you have enough fuel to last the whole time between resupplies. Heavenly when doctored up with cheese and butter.
Takes a little longer to cook than some options here but has a lovely texture. Can be reconstituted with hot or cold water (just avoid the pearled variety if cold-soaking).
87. Macaroni and Cheese
Kraft, Annie’s, and Velveeta are the most common brands. Presoak the noodles for 30 minutes to an hour before turning on your stove to reduce the cooking time, or get the microwavable cups (which soften faster and repackage them.
88. Minute Rice
Minute Rice is a bit on the heavy side at 100 calories per ounce, but it’s quick and nutritious. Eat it alone or with toppings, or mix it into a mushy rehydrated dinner to give it more body.
89. Dehydrated Refried Beans
You can sometimes find these in stores in the west, though AT hikers will probably have to mail them to themselves. Dehydrated refried beans can be reconstituted with hot or cold water.
90. Instant Stuffing
It’s basically just spiced coarse breadcrumbs, but it makes a great Thanksgiving-esque meal if you add in Craisins, a chicken pack, and some gravy mix.
91. Homemade Dehydrated Dinners
Whatever you eat at home, you can eat on-trail with a dehydrator, a willingness to mail yourself resupply boxes, and a little know-how. Cheese and meat are tricky to dehydrate at home, but you can buy dried or freeze-dried versions of these ingredients separately and mix them in. You’ll have to add fats (oil, etc.) on-trail.
Even if you don’t have a dehydrator, you can buy dehydrated ingredients in bulk and mix and match them to create your own recipes.
92. Freeze Dried (and Dehydrated) Dinners
Freeze-dried backpacking dinners are expensive, so most people don’t eat them every night of a thru-hike. But they have loads more variety than most grocery store offerings, so they’re nice for a treat every now and then if nothing else. Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry are the most common brands, found in almost all outfitters and Walmarts, and even grocery stores in some trail towns.
- Mountain House
- Backpacker’s Pantry
- Peak Refuel
- Patagonia Provisions
- Fernweh Foods
- Bushka’s Kitchen
- Outdoor Herbivore
- Heather’s Choice
- Next Mile Meals
- Good To-Go
- Wild Zora
- PackIt Gourmet
- Right On Trek
- Gastro Gnome
- Nomad Nutrition
- Pinnacle Foods
- Farm to Summit
- Alt Route Meals
93. Miso Soup
Many stores sell miso soup powder in the Asian food aisle. It’s a little low on calorie density (not too far off the mark), but it’s full of flavor. The broth makes a nice appetizer, if not a standalone meal.
94. Mung Bean Pasta
I’m probably the only one who packs this stuff, but hear me out: it’s packed with protein and fiber and softens very quickly. The flavor and texture are good, too—even though it’s gluten-free pasta. Loaded up with condiments and mix-ins, you won’t even notice the difference.
95. Vermicelli Noodles
These ultra-thin rice noodles soften quickly, even in cold water.
READ NEXT – Is Freezer Bag Cooking Actually Safe?
96. Cookies, Cakes, and Donuts
Oreos and Hostess to the rescue!
- Chocolate candy
- Hard candy
- Gummy candy
Spread it on something or eat it off the spoon out of the can. It’s not very healthy, but it provides a decent calorie payload.
Jell-O needs refrigeration to set up properly; I read a hack online that suggested leaving the rehydrated Jell-O in a cold stream to cool it, but you can also drink it in its hot liquidy form.
100. Instant Pudding
Will set up within a few minutes of adding the water.
101. Instant Sweet Potatoes
Betty Crocker makes instant sweet potatoes that you can often find at larger grocery stores, especially Walmart. They’re full of sugar, so I’m putting them in the Dessert section.
102. Freeze Dried Desserts
If you’re in the mood for something fancier than a sleeve of gas station mini donuts, most freeze-dried backpacking food brands have a few dessert offerings. Cheesecake, anyone?
Also in the category of freeze-dried desserts is so-called astronaut ice cream.
103. Little Debbie Brownie Mix
Our contributor says it’s “kind of” possible to cold soak Little Debbie brownie mix into something resembling a delicious dessert.
What are your favorite backpacking foods? Let us know what we missed in the comments!
Featured image: Graphic design by Zack Goldmann.
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