6 Trail Foods That Never Bore Me (No Matter How Much I Eat)

Spend enough time backpacking and eventually, every bar starts tasting like flavored sawdust, every rehydrated dinner like mushy sadness. Many popular trail foods are very sugary (drink mixes, bars, candy, etc.) or very salty (ramen, most dehydrated or freeze-dried dinners, jerky, chips, etc.).

Even as my hiker hunger grew, I got to a point in my thru-hike where I was sick of salt-slurry dinners and sugary, texture-free breakfasts and snacks. But after thousands of miles on trail, I’ve managed to identify a handful of foods that I never get tired of, no matter how often I eat them.

Besides tasting great (at least to me), they’re also generally cost-effective, nutritious, and easy to find in stores. These foods now form the core of my backpacking menu.

6 Trail Foods That Never Bore Me (No Matter How Much I Eat)

1. Oatmeal
120 calories/oz

OATMEAL IS MY LIFE. While I love the steel-cut variety at home, I opt for unflavored instant oats on trail. Emphasis on unflavored: I prefer oatmeal for breakfast because popular alternatives like Carnation Breakfast Essentials and Pop-tarts are too sweet for everyday consumption. Going with Maple Brown Sugar or any other flavored variety pretty much defeats the purpose. For comparison, Quaker’s plain instant oats have no sugar whatsoever, while the Maple Brown Sugar flavor has 12 grams.

One of the best things about oatmeal is that it can be eaten hot or cold. I usually eat three or four packets for a backpacking breakfast and mix either peanut butter or regular butter in for flavor and extra calories. I can usually find unsweetened instant oats in normal-sized stores, but small stores and gas stations sometimes only have flavored varieties.

2. FBOMB Real Nutty Bars
160 calories/oz

The keto diet craze offers a number of exciting culinary possibilities for backpackers: the emphasis on high-fat, low-sugar concoctions is right up my alley. My favorite premade keto discovery so far is a Flagstaff-based company called FBOMB. They make a variety of flavored macadamia nut butters, available in single-serve packets, but personally, I’m in love with their bars. (I’m not the only one, either. When I shared a few bars with a fellow thru-hiker this summer, he succinctly described them as “like crack”).

They make a chocolate peanut butter bar, which I avoid because that flavor combination is a bit overdone, but also a lemon tart bar and a maple pecan bar that I’m obsessed with. Both are almond-butter-based and have a lovely, creamy consistency studded with crunchy nuts. (There are also a few other flavors that I haven’t tried).

They’re not sugar-free, but they have about half the sugar content of most other bars (compare the five grams of sugar in an FBOMB to the 17 grams in a Clif Bar, for instance). These bars contain eggs, so they’re not vegan and do have some cholesterol.

This is one of only two items on the list that aren’t widely available in stores and is on the more expensive side. Sorry, couldn’t help myself—I’m just so passionate about them.

READ NEXT – The Best Backpacking Meals of 2021. 

3. Cheese
100 calories/oz

Cheese doesn’t provide a massive calorie-per-ounce windfall, but it’s filling, versatile, and delicious. If you bury it deep in your pack, even soft cheese will keep remarkably well. I often eat it straight-up (why dilute the magic?), but you can also pair it with crackers or tortillas or stir it into virtually any hot dinner to make it more decadent.

On hot days, I often pack out bread, butter, and romaine lettuce too and make hearty cheese sandwiches for dinner. Some backpackers prefer hard cheeses with lower moisture contents, but good ol’ pepper jack is my personal favorite.

4. Nature Valley Granola Bars
127 calories/oz

Specifically, the crunchy Oats and Honey variety. They get a bad rap because they shed shitloads of crumbs, but once you get the hang of eating them carefully it’s really no big deal. I like the crunchy texture and, although they’re on the sugary side, for whatever reason I never get sick of the flavor.

They also pair weirdly well with cheese, which is a nice way to change things up and helps to cut the sweetness if it ever bothers me. They’re available in virtually every grocery store and most gas stations, so this is a nice, reliable option that I can count on in almost every resupply.

5. Apples
15 calories/oz

Heavy, yes, but that crunchy, juicy deliciousness is so worth it. As backpackers, we don’t get to eat much fresh produce on a day-to-day basis. A little fresh fruit serves to break up the monotony and provides some much-needed water and fiber.

An apple at the bottom of your food bag can also function as emergency water: if you underestimate the distance to the next stream and run low on water, a juicy apple can feel heaven-sent. It’s often just enough to tide you over to the next water source. (By the same token, I often keep a small bag of potato chips on hand for emergency salt based on the advice of a very wise trail angel).

If apples don’t do it for you, oranges are a great alternative. Plenty of anti-scurvy Vitamin C, plus the peel gives the fruit extra protection inside your pack.

6. Outdoor Herbivore Instant Hummus
138 calories/oz

Outdoor Herbivore photo.

Eat it with crackers, veggies, tortillas, or straight off the spoon. I picked up a packet of this hummus at PCT Days on a whim and haven’t looked back since. All you have to do is mix in water and the provided olive oil packet and you’re golden. It’s nourishing and absolutely packed with calories too.

The drawback: it’s a little too expensive for everyday consumption—otherwise, I’d be serving this at parties. Because of the expense and the fact that it isn’t available in stores (you have to order it online), I don’t get to eat this hummus nearly as often as I’d like. It’s nice to bring hummus for short backpacking trips or throw a few packets into resupply boxes for longer journeys, but this is definitely more of a special treat than a dietary staple.

What About Dinner?

You may notice that I didn’t include any freeze-dried or dehydrated dinners in the list. While I love a hot meal at camp and have had some very tasty dinners on trail, I can’t honestly say I’ve encountered any rehydrated backpacking dinner that I can eat again and again without eventually getting sick of it, which was a key criterion for this list. My solution to mealtime boredom is threefold:

  • Reserve hot dinners for cooler weather when I really need the extra warmth so they don’t lose their luster as quickly.
  • Keep a steady rotation of meal options, including Idahoan mashed potatoes, Knorr sides, and freeze-dried backpacking meals (if I’m feeling fancy). In the freeze-dried department, Mountain House Mac and Cheese is a staple for a vegetarian like me: it tastes OK when dolled up with extra cheese and butter (see below), has a decent number of calories, and is relatively common in outfitters and some trailside grocery stores.
  • Doctor up your rehydrated mush with olive oil, butter, cheese, and mix-ins like dried veggies, bacon bits, or tuna.

What are your favorite trail foods? I’m always looking to expand my woefully limited menu, so please feel free to share in the comments below.

Featured image: Graphic design by Stephanie Ausfresser

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Comments 6

  • Vince : Aug 25th

    Definitely oatmeal. An old timer who did three NOBO hikes on the AT told me another I use. Sandwiches made with whatever lasts the longest, peanut butter and jam are always good, bagels or loaf of bread, smash it down and you eat food you like for two or three days. Meat and cheese are good as well.
    Vince, aka The Dude, SOBO, ’16-’18, and continuing.

    Reply
  • Tortoise : Aug 27th

    I’m a section hiker so don’t have the food boredom issue that thru-hikers experience. And I’m an omnivore so that leaves me a wide range of options to work with. For dinner I like to rotate through a mix of Knorr pasta & rice sides and add in 2 packets of tuna or chicken (unless I find the larger packets) to increase the protein. For variety I’ll alternate instant mashed potatoes with either real bacon bits or pulled pork (sold in foil packets like tuna at Walmart). Then for added variety I like instant sweet potatoes and add in peanut butter and chopped walnuts. Actually the chopped walnuts makes a great add-in for pretty much any of these meals to provide additional flavor, texture, good fat, and protein.

    Reply
  • Turtle Man : Aug 28th

    Personal tastes, preferences, and diet restrictions are all so varied and personal, it’s hard to really make recommendations. Plus, how long one is on the trail is going to influence what’s in the food bag.

    I don’t eat meat (except for fish) or most animal products (eggs, dairy), so it takes a little more effort to plan backpacking foods that i actually look forward to eating and which satisfy nutritional needs, but it can be done.

    Breakfasts usually alternate between granola, or a cooked grain cereal on days where there’s time to set up the stove, cook, and clean up. I can’t imagine unflavored oatmeal, though. My standard take is part oats, part quinoa flakes, dehydrated maple syrup, dehydrated molasses, some coconut-milk powder, a bit of cinnamon, plus maybe a pinch of chia or flax seeds. That’s all mixed up at home, and carried in a resealable bag so i can just scoop out what i need. I simmer some dehydrated fruit, usually apple, for a few minutes to soften it up, the add the grain mix, simmer for another couple of minutes, and done.

    Big thumbs up for powdered hummus mix! Harmony Valley also has a nice dehydrated hummus. Trader Joe’s has “just a handful” sized packet of olives, which are a nice addition. That and some crackers, and ya got a meal. I usually rotate hummus with some kind of flavored tuna wrap, and nut butters with crackers. Trail Butter brand makes a number of very tasty nut butter flavor mixes that make going back to “normal” peanut butter hard to do.

    For dinners, there are so many good cottage travel food companies making good stuff now, there’s no shortage of options. Yeah, these are kind of expensive, so for people out for very long hikes might need to change out to less pricey options as they go. But, for shorter outings, i don’t mind paying for something that looks, smells, and tastes like real food.

    Some favorite brands: Good to Go, Outdoor Herbivore, Nomad Nutrition, Food for the Sole. I also try to carry some small amounts of a few dehydrated veggies (onion, mushroom, broccoli, tomato flakes or powder, etc.), and some condiments (tamari, hot sauce, etc.) which can be added to basic soup mixes to jazz them up and make them more of a meal.

    They’re not much lower in sugar (first ingredient is brown rice syrup), but i don’t seem to get sick of the Go Macro bars as much as some others. Lara Bars aren’t bad, either.

    I don’t drink coffee, but love my tea, so i was glad to discover Cusa instant teas (they have coffee, too), which actually tastes like real tea. Other beverages include a hot cocoa/grain-beverage mocha-y mix, and packets of electrolyte replacement, a green-drink powder, and lemonade mix.

    I take a number of supplements in “real life,” so i make up little plastic bags of my daily allotments of those for the trail.

    Reply

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