Our Current Backpacking Food Picks
The variety of options for backcountry food is mind boggling. With so much to choose from, hikers could fuel with a different diet, brand, or strategy every week of a thru-hike. Maybe. We haven’t actually tested this theory. If someone wants to, let us know.
While ramen and Pasta Sides have gotten many a long-distance hiker from one terminus to the other—yes, while saving money—sometimes it’s nice to switch it up, or test out more nutrient-dense options. Whether you’re eating paleo, need your daily fix of caffeine, or want to spice up your granola bar selection, these are our picks for foods you might not have heard of, or haven’t thought to try out.
Here they are, in no particular order besides the time of day…maybe. Hikers have odd eating habits.
MSRP: $20 for a box of 10
0 calories per serving, but we’re here for the caffeine
This is good coffee. An easy, single-serve pour-over roast that is perfect for those trips when you’re not concerned about pack weight. Each package weighs in at 0.42 ounces and is handcrafted from small batches that are globally sourced (the beans we tried were from Ecuador and Colombia). One bag brews a small mug of coffee in about two minutes. I like my coffee a little weaker, so I used a bigger cup but had trouble keeping the little legs propped up on the side.
The pourover process is simple: you open a package, tear off the top of the filter bag, set it up on top of your cup, and pour water through 3-6 times (depending on your preference). While the grinds could be left in nature to feed the nearest plant, the filter, the package and the grinds should be carried out for best LNT practices.
We loved the packaging and the ease of making a good cup of coffee in the outdoors. Don’t limit this coffee to just camping trips though – these are perfect for road trips or on Saturday mornings when you don’t have time to swing by your local shop before heading out on an adventure. If you know good coffee and can’t imagine starting a day of travel without it, this $2 cup of mobile pour-over java is perfect for you.
580 calories per serving
Good To-Go’s Granola is fine dining in the backcountry. I recently had the opportunity to devour a package of this while backpacking through Pedernales Falls State Park in Texas. Like other Good To-Go meals, their granola features an array of nutrient dense foods including figs, almonds, blueberries, pumpkin seeds, pecans, and flax seeds. Just pour a bit of water into the package (which includes whole milk powder) and start devouring a hearty, delicious, bowl of granola- the ultimate way to kick start your day.
– Zach Davis
MSRP: $7.50 for a 12-ounce bag
100-150 calories per 1/3-cup serving. You’ll probably eat at least three servings at once.
Whether you are on the move or looking for some morning fuel by the campsite, Small Batch Granola delivers the perfect fuel for the trails with their simple and scrumptious granola offerings. Small Batch collaborates with organic farms, small producers, and food artisans out of Manchester, Vermont to produce their line of Certified Vermont Organic, Gluten Free and USDA Organic Granola. When I’m on the trail, I love quick and easy options with quality ingredients to keep me going. The Cherry Vanilla Bean was my favorite, and I am also a big fan of the resealable bag feature. Just be prepared to exercise some self-control to keep from eating it all at once.
MSRP: $25 for 12-pack
Around 100 calories, depending on flavor
I had seen Huma Nutrition before at various races, but had never put them to the test. I had the opportunity to test the Chia Plus Energy Gel and the Chia Energy Gel and have good things to say about both of them.
I was pleasantly surprised by the ingredients list: naturally-derived ingredients and a solid amount of nutrition per packet. If I’m using nutrition on a long run or hike, it’s important to me to carry items that are as nutrient-dense as possible so I don’t have to carry a ton of them. Huma gels have a standard amount of calories per serving, at around 100 per packet depending on variety. I noted that the Chia Plus contains 240 mg of sodium per serving compared to the 105 for the standard Chia Energy Gel. I’m someone who is at a higher risk for hyponatremia (aka low blood salt), so I like that I can get that much sodium from one Chia Plus packet. It helps me get salt fast and is especially beneficial for hot days. The serving size of potassium is lower than I would like to see at a range of 30-60 grams, but it’s enough for fueling during a hike.
The texture takes a little getting used to if you’ve previously used an athletic gel like Gu or Honey Stinger. It’s not liquid-y, which I actually ended up liking because it’s like eating a snack instead of slurping down some hyper-sweet artificially flavored goo. I ran and hiked on a few hot days with them and felt a noticeable boost within 15 minutes of consuming. I didn’t experience cramps nor did I feel weird in my belly, two hazards of consuming traditional gels. I also liked that there were some gels with caffeine and some without. I’m not someone who likes caffeine with her nutrition, but I didn’t feel jittery or anxious after the caffeinated variety of Huma Gels.
Fueling can be unhealthy and/or unpleasant, but Huma Nutrition changes that with naturally-derived and great-tasting gels. I plan on purchasing more of these to take with me as I continue training and hiking. All products found here.
MSRP: $22-34 per bulk pack
140 calories for waffle, 190 for protein bar, 160 for chews
If you want to fuel up on the trail and still eat nutritious food, Honey Stinger is an excellent choice. Their bars, waffles, and chews use organic ingredients and are sweetened with honey produced on the farms of the Steamboat Springs, Colorado company. Easily packable and ready-to-eat, their variety of energy foods deliver a balanced mix of carbs, glucose, protein, and vitamins.
Best known for their organic waffles, Honey Stinger now offers a gluten-free option of organic rice and tapioca flour, with a layer of chewy honey sandwiched in the middle. The Chocolate Mint is really tasty, offering a combination of crunch and chewiness that’s easy to snack on while on the move.
To replenish at the end of your day on the trail, try the Honey Stinger Protein Bar. Packed with 10g of organic protein and 17g of carbs, their ingredients eliminate the chalky texture that is sometimes found in comparable protein bars. The Dark Chocolate Coconut Almond – one of several new flavors introduced this year – is delicious and satisfying. For quick bursts, you can’t beat their Organic Energy Chews. I used the Strawberry flavor on a long trail run, and found them to be just right for delivering the energy I needed in easily digestible nuggets that tasted great. A word of advice: Bring along an extra package for your friends – they will surely want some of yours. Shop the the waffle here, the chews here, and the protein bars here.
MSRP: $28 for 12, can be found individually at most major grocery stores
200-240 calories per bar
Started by two friends with a five quart mixer looking for a more nutritious protein bar, RXBAR began as a product aimed at the CrossFit/workout crowd. I believe it’s also the prescription for the hiker looking for a simple, tasty, filling, yet nutritious snack for the trail. There are several flavors, but each bar weighs in at just under two ounces while providing 210 calories (115 calories per ounce) of energy along with 12 grams of protein.
RXBARs come in straightforward packaging that lists the flavor, main ingredients and promises no B.S. They deliver on that promise. The different flavors (Mixed Berry, Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter) don’t overpromise, but provide the taste I expected without being overly sweet. (Note to big-name bar brands: don’t name a bar Apple Pie and expect me to be happy with something that tastes more like ground-up tree bark than Grandma’s apple pie.) You will not mistake an RXBAR for a Snicker Bar, but they are moist, enjoyable, and satisfying without being loaded with sugar, salt, or preservatives.
For those that are packing their trail food into a bear canister, RXBARS can be formed into the nooks and crannies left around your other food without damage. High calories per ounce, significant protein, simple ingredients, and good taste add up to a great choice for the trail. They are available at various retailers as well as online. My favorite is the Mixed Berry. All varieties found here.
– Jim Rahtz
MSRP: $3.25 per bar, or $28.50 for 10 pack here
100 calories per bar
Wild Zora is another awesome family owned and Colorado based company. They make tasty bars that are a combination of 100% grass fed beef and organic veggies. I tried the BBQ flavored snack. It was very tomatoey and had a little spicy kick due to the Ancho Chile Pepper and Chipotle Pepper. The texture was thick without being tough and it wasn’t greasy. It was a far cry from the many other beef jerky products on the market. I definitely felt like I was eating something delicious and clean. It comes with a warning to keep out of direct sunlight, but I don’t think you’ll be able to leave it out for that long, they’re so tasty!
MSRP: $3 each
200 calories per bar
Recently, on a lovely end-of-summer day hike along the Appalachian Trail, I ran into a group of day hikers who were taking a break at the Groundhog Creek shelter in North Carolina. This seemed as good a time as any to test out a new brand of energy bars called Picky Bars. The group began to giggle at the catchy, Ben & Jerry-esque names, like, Need for Seed, Chai and Catch me, and Moroccan Your World. Soon everyone chose a flavor that suited their taste.
Once I passed the bars around, a few hikers zeroed in on the information labels on the back and were impressed with the balance of carbs to protein to fat ratios as well as the fact that many of the ingredients were non-GMO and certified organic; lacking in the sugars, flavorings and preservatives that are used in so many other so-called health bars. The bars are nutrient dense, rather than just calorie dense.
Everyone was hungry, having spent a lot of energy on their hike, and said the Picky Bars were tasty, filling, and nutritious. Tim Brooks, a trail runner from Colorado said, “ I’d definitely buy these. They’re small and light, and won’t take up much space in my pack.” All varieties, plus options for 10-pack here.
Campsite Dinner & Dessert
MSRP: $13 per meal
310-640 calories per pouch
Paleo Meals to Go was formulated by a mother/son team out in Colorado determined to bring the Paleo diet to backpacking. That means gluten free, grain free, milk free, soy free, and protein rich. Each meal heated up easily and quickly, and I used the recommended ½ to ¾ cup of hot water to get the consistencies I liked. You can eat right out of the pouches too, if you’re someone who doesn’t want to carry around a bowl.
Palisade Pineapple Mango was heavy on the coconut and light on the mango. Still, the combo of nuts (walnut and pecan), fruit (banana, pineapple, mango) and vanilla was a delicious one. The flaxseed and coconut shavings gave it the consistency of oatmeal. Overall, it’s a great option for a quick breakfast on those mornings when you don’t really want to get out of your sleeping bag. At first, the Caldera Chicken Curry was very chalky, probably due to how the veggies rehydrate, but with a little more water it was just right. The citrus bursts from pineapple slices balanced out the spice of the curry and the drier texture of the chicken and veggies. Variety is the spice of life, especially on the trail, making this a great dinner option.
If you’re missing the beef stew you’d get during dinners at home, Mountain Beef Stew is pretty good substitute. It’s a classic combination of beef, carrots, onions, mushrooms, and celery that will stick to your ribs after a long day of hiking. Plus, it’s another great way to get protein (41g) from meat aside from jerkies.
MSRP: $7 – 8 each
225-310 calories per serving. Two servings per pouch, but a hungry hiker will eat the whole pouch for 450-620 calories.
I’ve somehow managed to go my entire backpacking life without trying a freeze-dried meal. In compiling this post, it was astonishing just how many different brands are out there. I decided to try one of the OG options, from the original purveyors of pour-boiling-water-into-food-in-a-pouch brands, so I tested two ProPak options from Mountain House: The Teriyaki Chicken and Chili Mac with Beef (pictured). I liked the regular “pouch” meals as well, but the ProPak options come with two servings per pouch, which is better suited for thru-hiker’s appetites. Plus, these are vacuum-sealed, which A) takes up less space, and B) doesn’t expand at higher altitudes. The food itself is delicious, and not getting the cookset dirty is a blessing after a long day.
We boiled water in three minutes, poured it into the foil pouch, and zipped it shut while we set up camp. I stirred it after four minutes, and it was ready a few minutes later. For someone who abhors cooking at camp, this is a low-maintenance way to get hot food. The recipes are trail versions of classic meals, with a good balance of protein and carbs to replenish after a day of hiking. The single-servings left me wanting more, but the ProPak was the perfect amount of food, and it was delicious to boot, especially the Chili Mac. I couldn’t believe I had just rehydrated it in a bag in the middle of the woods. Each ProPak weighs around 4.5 ounces, which is roughly the same weight as the Pop-Tarts I was eating for dinner before.
MSRP: $16-22 for a variety of backpacking sampler packs
400-700 calories per entrée
As someone who has struggled with on-trail nutrition in the past, I was really excited to first try Outdoor Herbivore. Not only is the company on a mission to make backpacking meals that taste great, but they use organic and whole food ingredients which make this food actually good for you. Their food is seasoned with dried herbs instead of dumping on loads of sodium like other brands, and the meal options are sure to have you craving them at the end of a really long day. The best part? Their packaging isn’t incredibly bulky, which helps prevent your food bag from taking up so much room in your pack.
Outdoor Herbivore offers options ranging from snack foods, full entrees (the Switchback Stuffer is guaranteed to satisfy your never-ending hiker hunger), or no-cook meals for those who go stoveless (making hummus on the trail is a game changer). They also have gluten free and vegan options available on their website! Entrees typically cost around $5-$6 + shipping, making them about average, if not slightly cheaper, than other brands of dehydrated foods. However, as with most brands, the amount of calories in each meal depends on the food. Certain meals by Outdoor Herbivore are unusually low in calories, while others are able to pack a pretty good amount into the small package. Just be mindful when planning your trip and choose meals based on how many calories you will realistically need to refuel your body.
Whether you’re a vegetarian or not, the food tastes fantastic, takes up little room in your pack, and makes you feel great while out in the backcountry—what more could you ask for!
MSRP: $7-8 per meal
~290-350 calories per serving
MaryJanesFarm has introduced a game-changing twist to the world of backcountry food. Similar to other brands, their line of instant meals, which includes favorites like chili-mac, spuds with spinach and cheese, curried lentil bisque and cheddar herb pasta, involves little more than boiling water and stirring.
Unlike other brands, whose aluminum pouches contribute to landfills and create trash for the weight-conscious thru-hiker, MaryJanesFarm’s meals are packaged in its trademarked Ecopouch. Made from paper, these packages not only are able to perfectly rehydrate your organic meal, but they can be disposed of in hot fire. Additionally, unlike other pouch-rehydrated meals, because it is paper, the pouch can be torn open to improve access and keep your knuckles clean!
On top of that, the meals are tasty. The chili-mac replaces meat with lentils and the spuds with spinach and cheese feature strong notes of garlic, cheddar and onion.
MSRP: $13-20 for 12-pack online. Individual packs available at retail
80 calories per serving for pouches, 220 for snack kits
The first month on the trail I’m pretty sure I ate tuna every single day and lived out my childhood food cravings. Looking back, I wish I ate tuna 2-3 times a week. Turns out eating the same thing every day can get boring and I had to take a break from it. But, thanks to Bumble Bee Tuna seasoned packets, I was able make my return to tuna on the trail after a month hiatus.
Lemon Sesame & Ginger Seasoned Pouch is packed with flavor and nutrients with 11 g of protein and 70 calories per pack, weighing in at 71 g. The package includes an ultralight, small and compact spoon which if you’re really looking to save ounces you could always use as your spoon and dispose of the spoon (you can cut across without breaking the seal for the tuna) while preparing food drops/resupply. I honestly like this tuna as is; but, it certainly is a great add on for lunch or dinner. I like to pair this one with crackers or minute rice for a quick and delicious trail meal. Plus, it really doesn’t have a tuna taste, so if you’re normally not a fan of tuna and are looking for more protein, this could be a viable option.
I loved making trail spicy tuna melts—aka a tortilla with the Sriracha Seasoned Pouch and cheddar cheese. Again , like the Lemon Sesame & Ginger Seasoned Tuna , this product is good enough to eat on its own and also comes with a spoon. Pre-Seasoned Tuna packets were a game changer for me on the trail. I didn’t have to carry Sriracha to spice up my tuna and had a variety of flavorful meals.
I was skeptical about eating flavored tuna out of a can (Snack on the Run), but after trying this snack pack, I was impressed with the flavor and consistency of the tuna. The Cheesy Tuna Melt flavor brought back my childhood memories of tuna melt sandwiches. The Snack On the Run has 1g of protein and weights 96 g. I’ll use this product on shorter hikes but for thru-hikes I don’t like to carry cans. Also, the included six crackers were supplemented with a roll of ritz because I’m a hangry hiker.
Rosemary, Garlic & Sea Salt Tuna Salad surprised me with the spot-on flavor. Honestly, the flavors were like I was eating primo tuna salad on the trail. With 6 g of protein, 3 g of fat and 80 calories, this tuna salad qualified as backcountry gourmet. I recommend trying this tuna salad paired with potato chips for a quick snack, lunch, or dinner. This pack comes with crackers and a spoon. Pretty solid set up and would be ideal for weekend backpacking trips. Additionally, the can could be used for a DIY alcohol stove. Shop the seasoned pouches here.
MSRP: $36 for a box of 10
~400 calories per bar. We know you’re eating the whole thing at once.
It was June at the Grand Canyon and I was making my way back up to the rim on the scorching ledge of the Bright Angel Trail. I had just about sucked my Camelbak dry when I began to feel dizzy and weak—the early stages of heat exhaustion. When I looked down, I saw that my blue shirt was streaked with white. I was sweating out salt. The salt that my body desperately needed. From then on, I started bringing salt packets with me on desert hikes and emptying them into my mouth on regular intervals. Unpleasant, yes. But it did the trick.
Fortunately, Salazon Chocolate has come up with a tastier solution. The Maryland-based company makes a 100% organic, fair-trade dark chocolate with solar-evaporated sea salt. The combination of dark chocolate and salt comes together to fuel adventures and give hikers something sweet to look forward to at the end of the trail.
Recently, I brought three Salazon bars along for a hike/chocolate binge-fest in Las Vegas’ Red Rock Canyon. Salazon chocolate bars are available in more than 10 varieties, ranging from standard flavors like dark chocolate with sea salt to unexpected flavors like dark chocolate with sea salt and porter beer. I sampled dark chocolate with sea salt and caramel, dark chocolate with sea salt and coffee and dark chocolate with sea salt and almonds. In terms of taste, the chocolates were similar to luxury brands, albeit slightly more bitter. This is to be expected with chocolate that’s 57%-72% dark chocolate. What was most interesting was how differently each flavor held up on a 90 degree day in the desert. The caramel one melted slightly, the coffee one turned into liquid that is now coating the bottom of my backpack and miraculously, the almond one didn’t melt at all.
In other words, if hiking in the desert with chocolate is your thing, go for the Salazon chocolate bar with sea salt and almonds. If melting isn’t a concern, go for whatever flavor you crave. Unlike energy bars that claim to taste like dessert but actually taste like sawdust and glue, Salazon chocolate bars actually taste like, well, fancy chocolate—which is good news, because that’s exactly what they are. Shop the Trail Series and a portion of proceeds benefit the AT, PCT, and CDT
Disclosure: Once we figured out what we wanted to include, samples were donated to our testers for purpose of review
Featured graphic courtesy Katie Bumatay
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