S.Spend enough time backpacking and at some point every bar will start tasting like spiced sawdust, every rehydrated dinner like mushy sadness. Many popular trail foods are very sugary (drink mixes, bars, candies, etc.) or very salty (ramen, most dehydrated or freeze-dried dinners, jerky, chips, etc.).
Even as my hunger for hiking grew, I came to a point on my hike where I had had enough of salty dinners and sugary, texture-free breakfasts and snacks. But after thousands of miles on the trail, I’ve managed to identify a handful of foods that I never get tired of, no matter how often I eat them.
Aside from tasting great (to me at least), they are also generally inexpensive, nutritious, and easy to find in stores. These foods now form the core of my backpacking menu.
6 trail foods that will never bore me (no matter how much I eat)
120 calories / ounce
OATMEAL IS MY LIFE. While I love the steel-cut variant at home, I opt for flavorless instant oatmeal on the trail. Unflavoured emphasis: 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 misses the point. For comparison: Quakers instant oatmeal does not contain any sugar, while the Maple Brown Sugar flavor contains 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 backpack breakfast and mix in either peanut butter or regular butter for flavor and extra calories. I usually find unsweetened instant oatmeal in regular stores, but small shops and gas stations sometimes only have flavored varieties.
2. FBOMB real nut bars
160 calories / ounce
The keto diet craze offers a number of exciting culinary options for backpackers: The emphasis on high-fat, low-sugar preparations is just right for me. My favorite pre-made keto discovery to date has been a Flagstaff-based company called FBOMB. They make a variety of flavored macadamia nut butters that come in single-serving packs, but personally I’m in love with their bars. (I’m not the only one either. When I shared a couple of bars with another 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 over the top, but also a lemon tart bar and maple pecan bar that I’m obsessed with. Both are based on almond butter and have a nice, creamy consistency that is peppered with crunchy nuts. (There are also a couple of other flavors that I haven’t tried).
They’re not sugar-free, but they have about half the sugar content of most other bars (for example, compare the five grams of sugar in an FBOMB to the 17 grams in a Clif bar). These bars contain eggs, so they are not vegan and have some cholesterol.
This is one of only two items on the list that aren’t widely available in stores and are on the more expensive side. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself – I’m just so passionate about them.
CONTINUE READING – The best backpacking meals in 2021.
100 calories / ounce
Cheese doesn’t provide massive calorie consumption per ounce, but it’s filling, versatile, and tasty. If you bury it deep in your backpack, even soft cheese will hold up remarkably well. I often eat it neat (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 unpack bread, butter and romaine lettuce and make hearty cheese rolls for dinner. Some backpackers prefer hard cheeses with a lower moisture content, but good ol ‘Pepper Jack is my personal favorite.
4. Nature Valley granola bars
127 calories / ounce
Especially the crispy variety of oats and honey. They get a bad rap for throwing off a ton of crumbs, but once you get the hang of eating them carefully, it’s really no big deal. I like the crispy texture and while they are rather sugary, for some reason I never get bored of the taste.
They also pair weirdly well with cheese, which is a nice way to change things up and reduce the sweetness if it ever bothers me. They are available at virtually every grocery store and most gas stations, so this is a nice, reliable option that I can rely on for almost any replenishment.
15 calories / ounce
Hard, yes, but this crispy, juicy delicacy is well worth it. As backpackers, we don’t get a lot of fresh food in everyday life. Some fresh fruit will help break up the monotony and provide some much-needed water and fiber.
An apple at the bottom of your feed bag can also act as emergency water: if you underestimate the distance to the nearest stream and water is running out, a juicy apple can feel like heaven. Often it is just enough to take you to the nearest water source. (For the same reason, I often have a small bag of potato chips on hand for emergency salt, based on the advice of a very wise trail angel).
If apples aren’t doing it for you, oranges are a great alternative. A lot of vitamin C against scurvy and the peel give the fruits additional protection in your pack.
6. Instant hummus for outdoor herbivores
138 calories / ounce
Eat it with crackers, vegetables, tortillas, or straight from the spoon. I picked up a pack of this hummus at PCT Days on a whim and haven’t looked back since. All you have to do is mix the water and the provided olive oil packet together and you are spot on. It’s nutritious and absolutely high in calories.
The disadvantage: a bit too expensive for everyday consumption – otherwise I would serve it at parties. Due to the cost and the fact that it is not commercially available (you have to order it online), I can’t eat this hummus nearly as often as I want. It’s nice to take hummus with you for short backpacking trips or tossing a few packets in storage boxes for longer trips, but that’s definitely more of a special treat than a staple.
What about dinner?
You may notice that I didn’t include any freeze dried or dehydrated dinners on the list. While I love a hot meal at camp and had some very tasty dinners on the trail, I honestly can’t say I have ever experienced a rehydrated backpack dinner that I can eat over and over again without ever being full, what was a key criterion for this list. My solution to the boredom while eating is three things:
- Reserve hot dinners for cooler weather when I really need the extra warmth so they don’t lose their shine anytime soon.
- Keep a constant variety of meals, including mashed potatoes from Idahoan, Knorr side dishes, and freeze-dried backpack meals (if I feel like it). In the freeze-dried section, Mountain House Mac and Cheese is a staple for a vegetarian like me: it tastes great when spiced up with extra cheese and butter (see below), has a decent number of calories, and is relatively common in outfitters and some Grocery stores along the way.
- Refine your rehydrated gruel with olive oil, butter, cheese, and mixes like dried vegetables, pieces of bacon, or tuna.
What are your favorite trail foods? I am always eager to expand my pathetically limited menu, so feel free to share them in the comments below.
Featured image: Graphic design by Stephanie Ausfresser.
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