Making My Own Food for the Backcountry

I like food (response from anyone who’s met me: we know), and backpacking cuisine is a frequent topic. From the cruise ship passengers who gawk in awe when I say I’m going off-grid for three nights and ask “what do you eat?“, to big-time through-hikers who get really good at assembling weeks worth of reasonably nutritious meals at gas stations, everyone’s got questions and some people have answers. It’s a very personal topic. Most beginning backpackers pack their fears, and in no case more than food: there is a fairly irrational terror of going hungry in the woods, when really all of us are fine if we hike and fast for a day. The authorities always recommend that we pack at least a day’s worth of extra food when we’re in the woods, and even allowing for that, it’s very easy to overestimate how much we actually need.

Today we can go to any outdoor store and buy lovely prepackaged meals of dehydrated deliciousness, which most backpackers do. However, those meals are expensive and their convenience comes at a cost beyond money. I’ve taken to making my own meals at home and packing them along. When I mention this in conversation, the next logical question is “oh, you got a dehydrator?” and the answer there is no: dehydrators are expensive single-use appliances, but there are loads of good dehydrated ingredients on the market today which anybody can use to assemble meals that are cheap, nutritious, filling, and yummy.

When packing food, and everything else, you make tradeoffs. However, after all these years, I’ve hit a system that works for me. I do not hike as hard and fast as a real through-hiker, but I do pretty well and am used to packing and hiking for two weeks between resupplies.

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Top Ten Dehydrated Backpacking Dinners I’ve Eaten

I like hiking, but if there’s one thing I like even more, it’s eating. Perhaps the reason I enjoy overnight backpacking trips so much is that I can combine both these interests.

Of course when you’re car camping or carrying food for a night or two you can eat like you would at home. Spark up your two-burner Coleman stove and fry that bacon and eggs. On the West Coast Trail I met some people who’d brought in steaks… for one night, anyway. Carrying and cooling that stuff gets hard fast so if you’re backpacking, and your budget runs to CDN$13 or so per dinner, dehydrated meals are pretty universally considered the way to go. Their shelf life is years, meaning your extra food will be perfectly good next time you go out. There’s a certain sameiness of taste, given which ingredients are good dehydrated and which aren’t, but within those limits you can find food to suit any palate.

The world of backcountry cuisine is full of misinformation. Meals say “2 servings,” or even “2.5 servings,” on the package, and if you’re eating them while sedentary, rising only occasionally to tend the fire, that may be true, but on the move carrying a big ol’ backpack it ain’t. (Admittedly I am rather fat.) Then there are the “cookless” types, who try to tell you that eating pouches of peanut butter, nuts, and ghee for two weeks makes not carrying a stove seem like a reasonable idea, or on the other hand the “backcountry gourmets” whose backpacks are two-thirds spice rack and who stagger into camp, having carried more than is reasonable, only to spend four weary hours trying to perfectly sear salmon on a JetBoil. I can understand people who don’t take dehydrated backpacking meals along because they’re too expensive (and they are), but that consideration aside they are the ideal combination of convenience and tastiness.

As always I am the only one who will tell you the truth. Here are the ten best dehydrated backpacking meals, out of the ones I’ve eaten.