Best Backpacking Food - Alpen Fuel Favorites
We get asked the question "what do you recommend for backpacking food" so often that we decided to write an article about it. Don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter at the bottom of the page and save 15% on your first order!
- Shaun, owner of Alpen Fuel
We are living in the golden age of backpacking food. Never before has there been so many options! This is both a blessing and a curse for the consumer. But at the end of the day, it's pretty simple. Backpackers need food that is heavy on nutrition and calories, and light on bulk and weight. An Army marches on it's stomach, and a backpacker is no different.
Why trust a review by the Alpen Fuel team? Well for starters, we run a backpacking food company and stock many incredible and tasty brands in our store. How do we pick our brands and food products? By tasting them! We have sorted through dozens of options over the years to bring you our favorite backpacking foods. Many of the items listed are found in the Alpen Fuel store, while others can be sourced from Amazon, or from your local stores.
How Much Food Do I Need Each Day?
You should expect to consume between 2,500 and 4,500 calories per day. That being said, the amount of calories you need depends specifically upon the intensity and duration of your activity, your size and weight, your pack weight, and your elevation gain. Note that for most people, they will be burning more calories than they are taking in. This is sustainable for most backcountry trips as long as the calorie deficit is not too great.
Most people carry between 1.5 and 2.0 pounds of food per person per day. If you are carrying calorie dense foods, you may be able to get by with less. If you are on an intense trip with lots of pack weight, miles, and elevation - you might need 2.0+ pounds per day to keep your performance at a high level.
For example: a person who is targeting 3,500 calories of food per day and is carrying food that is moderately calorically dense (125 calories/oz on average) would need 1.75 pounds (28oz) of food per day. For a seven day trip, this equates to over 12 pounds of food! Since food will be a major portion of your pack weight, it pays to pack food that is calorically dense. A good rule of thumb is to try and carry foods that average 120 calories/ounce or more. How do you increase your calorie content? Consider foods that are higher in fat. For example, olive oil is pure fat and is extremely energy dense at 251 calories/oz. On the other end of the spectrum, vegetables like broccoli are very low in calories (8.5 calories/oz). Somewhere in the middle is the backpacking staple Top Ramen (126.7 calories/oz).
Should I Take a Stove Or Do No-Cook?
BRS-3000T - Super cheap and durable ultralight stove
No cook meal planning simply means you are leaving your stove at home and are relying on meals that don't need cooked or reconstituted with boiling water. This means eating things like meal bars, energy bars, tortillas and peanut butter, or freeze dried meals with cold water added (cold soaking). The considerations below will help you decide which method is right for you.
- Bringing a stove will enable you to enjoy hot coffee and hot meals. Sometimes a hot meal goes a long ways towards lifting your morale, not to mention warming you up on a cold trip.
- Using cooked meals provides more variety than just using no-cook options.
- Bringing a stove adds weight to your backpack! Some cooking equipment can range from 1 to 2.5 pounds depending on the stove type, weight of the fuel, and the cookpot.
- Cooking can take time away from other activities like hiking, fishing, or just relaxing.
- Cooking prep and cleanup can be a hassle.
- Use no-cook when you want to simplify!
- No-cook is a method that can be used everywhere in all conditions. This may not be the case with stoves as not all areas allow stoves or fires.
- You don't have to set up and tear down cooking equipment. This is especially important if the weather is bad and you are confined to a tent.
- No-cook food can be eaten anytime, including while you are hiking!
- Eating no-cook for long periods of time may leave you burned out on the limited food choices available.
- No-cook food requires that you drink a lot more water to help with digestion.
What does Alpen Fuel recommend? We use a mixture of cook and no-cook products when in the backcountry. Having a stove along makes it nice when you have time to cook and want a nice cooked meal or hot beverage. On the flip side, carrying along some no-cook options is convenient for mornings when you want to get a quick start, or for times when the weather is so bad you don't want to hassle with cooking equipment. Bringing both types of products allows you to be flexible. Also, remember that even if you have dehydrated meals along doesn't mean you always have to use your stove! Experiment with cold soaking (adding cold water to your meals) in the event of bad weather or to help stretch your fuel supplies. If you are cold soaking, a good rule of thumb is to allow 2x the time for rehydration of your meal.
Try experimenting with your meal planning on short trips to develop and refine your strategy!
Best Backpacking Breakfast Meals
We may be biased, but we feel like our high octant granola breakfasts are the best meals out there to start your day! They can be prepared in just five minutes with hot or cold water, plus they average nearly 700 calories!
Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy - This meal is beloved in many circles.
Overnight Oatmeal - We make this all the time at home, and it can be adapted to the trail as well. Premake all of your oatmeal mixtures in ziplock bags. Make sure to add just water at night to your oatmeal container (Nalgene, protein shaker bottle, etc.), then add instant milk powder in the morning right before you eat it.
Peak Refuel Breakfast Skillet - We are always sold out of this meal because its so popular. Don't bother trying it unless you have a big appetite or can share it with a friend. Bring tortillas along for easy breakfast burritos.
Best Backpacking Dinner Meals
Most backpacking meals run 500-700 calories. Back in 2018 we came across Peak Refuel out of Utah. They are focused on putting loads of nutrition, calories, and protein into their meals. We were shocked to see that their Beef Pasta Marinara contains a staggering 990 calories! Yes you read that right. It is super tasty as well - probably because it contains ingredients you can pronounce including garlic, basil, onion, and Parmesan cheese. All those calories and it still only weights 6.35oz! If you want high calories, take a look at Peak Refuel Chicken Pesto Pasta as well.
Fishski Chile Mac and Cheese - Our favorite mac and cheese of all time, this meal does require a pot to cook it in. It's inexpensive and we keep it on hand for home and the trail.
Peak Refuel Chicken Alfredo - The best selling meal in the Alpen Fuel store hands down. This meal is awesome!
Stowaway Gourmet Jambalaya with Shrimp - A great gourmet meal if you don't mind spending a little more to eat in style. We don't love Jambalaya as a rule but this one is a keeper.
Buska's Kitchen Hearty Harvest with Boar - Tons of flavor and huge chunks of veggies make this an outstanding meal.
Buska's Kitchen Cranberry Rice Pudding - If you are still hungry after dinner, this pudding is awesome. My kids couldn't get enough of it.
Starkist Chicken, Salmon, and Tuna Packets - Combine single serve cream cheese (make sure to eat it on day 1 or 2 of your trip) with the meat packets, and eat with multigrain crackers or Fritos.
Idahoan Instant Mashed Potatoes - Mashed potatoes have lots of calories and taste great on the trail.
Buska's Kitchen Sweet Potato Mash - Our favorite backpacking mashed potatoes. Bring a buddy to help eating this one.
Olive Oil Packets - Use these to add calories and fat to any existing meal.
Best Backpacking No-Cook Meal Bars
No cook backpacking is a popular and practical approach. Even if you don't commit 100% to this approach, it is nice to have a few no cook options on hand for convenience and for times when you are too tired to fire up the stove (or the weather prohibits cooking). When we want a no cook meal for breakfast or need something quick for an on-trail boost, we most often reach for a Pro Bar. Our personal favorite is the chocolate coconut. Pro Bars generally contain around 350 calories and only weigh in at 3oz. With great taste and texture, Pro Bars are easy on your stomach and can be eaten for many days in a row on the trail with no ill effects.
Another meal bar brand worth looking into is Greenbelly Meals. Each Greenbelly meal contains two bars for a whopping 645 calories total. If you don't want both bars at once, eat half and stash the other bar back into the resealable package for later. Borne on the Appalachian Trail, Greenbelly Meals are a legitimate replacement for any dehydrated or freeze dried meal on the market. Our favorite is the Chocolate Banana.
Protein Pucks - When you want something larger than a ProBar but not quite as big as a Greenbelly. Coming in around 450 calories, Protein Pucks are one of our best selling products.
Big Sur Bars - These bars baked fresh in small batches in Big Sur, CA. The only downside is you need to keep them refrigerated to keep them fresh before you head out on the trail.
Best Keto/Paleo Backpacking Dinners
Low carbohydrate diets (keto, paleo, etc.) have come on strong in the past few years. However, trail food options have lagged behind the trend. There are a few options if you are on a paleo diet, but really only one packaged meal option if you are eating keto. That option is Next Mile Meals. All of their meals get great reviews but our favorite is the Italian Meatball. This meal weighs only 3.54oz yet somehow has 570 calories and 7 net carbs! Next Mile Meals are likely the most calories per ounce of any meal on the market currently.
Wild Zora Meals - Great tasting meals that are generally low on carbs and taste great.
If you eat low carb, you will definitely be interested in reading below about nut butters...
Best Backpacking Nut Butters
If you are new to backpacking, you may not be familiar with nut butters. Think peanut butter in a convenience pouch. Typically nut butters are made from higher quality nuts than peanuts, which allow them to pack more calories into a small package. They are high in fat, which means you get long lasting energy and no crashes like you would with snacks that are high in sugar or carbs. Many people use them with meal bars for a more diverse no-cook meal plan.
Trail Butter - In our opinion these are the best tasting nut butters on the market. Trail Butter is essentially trail mix that is mixed long enough that it turns into butter. It gives a more interesting and thicker texture than FBOMBs. They also come in an economical 4.5oz resealable pouch.
FBOMB Nut Butters - Made from macadamia nuts, FBOMB nut butters are likely the most calorically dense nut butter available (read rocket fuel). For reference, pure olive oil is one of the most calorically dense foods and comes in at 240 calories per ounce. FBomb Nut Butter comes in at around 200 calories per ounce! If you are eating low carb or just want long-lasting lightweight fuel, give FBomb Nut Butters a hard look.
Justin's Nut Butter - An old reliable that gets the job done and doesn't cost a fortune.
Best Backpacking Snacks and Granola Bars
Backpacking snacks is a huge category of food. They can be used between meals to keep your energy high on the trail, or they can be used in place of a meal as well. We generally eat snack items or a meal bar for lunch every day while in the backcountry to keep things nice and easy, as well as keep food costs down.
If you are like most people you probably eat the same snacks every trip But what do you eat if you want something different? When we need to get out of a trail snack rut we turn to super tasty and nutrient dense products like Heather's Choice Packaroons. Coconut based, packaroons are a dehydrated treat that packs a nutritious punch. We have heard them described as 'eating a cloud'. Analogies aside, take our word for it the texture is just right and the unique flavors are all above par.
UnTapped Maple Waffles - Made from all natural maple sugar, these waffles provide low glycemic fuel that give you energy without the crash.
Adventure Athletics Everest Bars - These might be the best tasting granola bar out there.
Honey Stinger Waffles - Likely the most popular stroopwafel available, Honey Stinger waffles are a staple with runners and cyclists and work wonders in the backcountry as well.
Honey Stinger Organic Cracker N' Nut Butter Snack Bars - Honey Stinger got it right with this one. If you are tired of candy bars give these a try.
Peanut M&M's - When you just want a cheap snack that gives you quick calories, it's hard to go wrong with good old M&Ms's.
Nut Harvest Trail Mixes - Many people make there own GORP (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts) but if you are short on time try out these mixes.
Hi-Country Jerky Mixes - No backpacking trip would be complete without jerky! Make sure to check out these mixes for your jerky shooter. Jerky shooters make it super easy to make jerky - they are basically a caulk gun that you put ground meat into. Sounds nuts but it works great.
Nature Nate’s 100% Pure Raw & Unfiltered Honey - Perfect for when you need a sweetener in recipes, drinks, lunches and snacks.
Best Backpacking Shelf Stable Meat
Who would have thought you could make shelf stable pulled pork that tastes good? Use Meat Shredz pulled pork for adding flavor and nutrition to soups, noodles, and freeze-dried meals. The packages are ideal for backpacking and will take up little room in your pack. The shelf stable nature is unique, we haven't come across a product like this before! If you want meat in the backcountry your options are generally pretty limited (jerky, freeze dried meals, or foil packets of chicken or fish). Meat Shredz products are a perfect way to bring pork into the backcountry. Read full review.
Best Backpacking Coffee and Tea
Good trail coffee is hard to find. As a result, many people pack ground coffee and presses just to get their coffee fix on the trail. As self proclaimed coffee snobs, we are no different. We take Tioga Rise Coffee on all of our backpacking trips. In 2018 we found Tioga Rise on social media and quickly got our hands on some of their coffee. We were really impressed by how rich and dark the brew is - definitely not standard backpacking coffee! We keep some on hand to drink at home when we don't have time to break out the French press.
Cusa Instant Tea and Coffee - Cusa's products made using a patented dehydration process. We also keep Cusa Coffee on hand at home for when we need a quick cup of quality coffee. Our favorite coffee is the Light Roast.
Best Backpacking Utensils
In our mind the ideal backpacking spork or spoon would be super light and long enough to not get freeze dried food schmutz on your fingers every time you try and eat. It would also be metal to last during winter trips, and be durable enough to last for several years if not longer. At 0.2oz and 8.5in long, the aluminum Sea to Summit Alpha Long Spoon fits the bill. We picked one up in 2019 and haven't looked back since. It also comes in a spork variation if you are so inclined. If you really want to get fancy or don't like the anodized rougher finish of the Sea to Summit spoon, Toaks makes a titanium one with a polished bowl.
Snow Peak Titanium Spork - If you don't need a longer spoon or spork, take a look at this spoon by Snow Peak. It's lightweight and durable.
Well that should cover it! Let us know if you agree with our choices in the comments. May your stove always be full of fuel and your spork be in the first place you look for it. Happy trails!
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