For me, food planning is one of the hardest parts of backpacking. Store bought dehydrated meals like Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry are quick and easy but they’re also fairly expensive and loaded with sodium. If your goal is maximum weight and space savings, even Mountain House’s smaller Pro Pak packaging takes up unnecessary room. I still use dehydrated meals for their convenience, but I like to combine them with my own homemade food.

After a lot of great advice from friends and a little experimentation, I found a handful of homemade meal ideas that work really well for me.  Most importantly, they’re easy to prep and even easier to cook! I’m a simpleton when it comes to cooking outdoors: I want fast, easy and delicious!

Below are three of my favorite recipes for the backcountry. Keep in mind that it’s a running joke amongst my friends how much I can eat. I eat a LOT so it took a few tries to find portion sizes that worked for me. You may need to experiment as well, but I hope these help give you some ideas!

Instant Oatmeal

It takes only a few minutes to make my own instant oatmeal and I guarantee it’ll taste better and be much cheaper than any of the prepackaged oatmeal you buy at the store. It has more calories and most importantly, you can create all sorts of fun flavor options! The general base of the oatmeal packet is below:

½ cup instant oats
2 tsp oat bran
1 tsp chia seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp brown sugar (or sweetener of your choice)
pinch of salt

Mixing my oatmeal base, yummy!
Mixing together the oatmeal base for a single serve breakfast: oatmeal, oat bran, chia seeds, brown sugar, and some cinnamon.

The oatmeal base is around 200 calories and adding nuts and freeze dried fruit can substantially boost your calories. Nuts add anywhere from 40-60 calories per tablespoon and freeze dried fruit another 30-50 calories depending on type and serving size. Nut butters are also a great way to boost calories and most come in convenient 1 oz squeeze packs. Easy for the outdoors! Freeze dried fruit was an amazing discovery for me because it rehydrates wonderfully. I buy mine from Trader Joe’s and they typically have a selection of anything you’d want: strawberries, blueberries, mangoes, apples, bananas, etc.


Nut and Topping Ideas:
Raw Sliced Almonds
Chopped Walnuts
Chopped Pecans
Chopped Pistachios
Shredded Coconut

Fruit Ideas:
Freeze Dried Blueberries
Freeze Dried Strawberries
Freeze Dried Bananas
Freeze Dried Apples
Freeze Dried Mangoes
Tasty strawberry and blueberry homemade oatmeal
Tasty strawberry and blueberry homemade oatmeal

I mix all of the oatmeal ingredients together and package it into a small snack-sized Ziploc bag. Voila! Pour it into a bowl, add a little hot water, and in just a few minutes you have an instant breakfast and/or snack!

Morning oatmeal on the trail, yummy! You can even add a squeeze pack of almond butter to boost your calories.

Couscous

I LOVE bringing couscous on backpacking trips. It’s light, compact, and fluffs into a hearty lunch or dinner. I keep it simple and buy Near East’s packaged couscous, which comes in a variety of flavors. I personally prefer their Toasted Pine Nut seasoning, but you’re likely to find something that works for you.

Near East Couscous. A great outdoor meal that's easy to divide into 2 portions.
Near East couscous. A great outdoor meal that’s easy to divide into 2 300-calorie portions.

I divide the couscous and the seasoning mix in half then repack each half together into two small snack-sized Ziploc bags. Each serving is roughly 300 calories. I usually pair it with packaged tuna or chicken for a little extra protein and calories. The great thing about couscous is that it takes a small amount of hot water, which means it’s quick, easy, and uses very little camp fuel.

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Preparing my couscous with some tuna
Fixing some Cous Cous and tuna on the trail. This is a quick, easy, and hearty lunch or dinner!
Pine Nut seasoned couscous with tuna: a quick, easy, and hearty lunch or dinner while on the trail!

The Thanksgiving Dinner

Just because you’re in the backcountry doesn’t mean you can’t eat like a king or queen. Earlier this year I went on a backpacking trip with some friends in the North Cascades and the best thing about the weekend was the dinner feast: mashed potatoes, gravy, chicken and cranberries! I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought about doing this before. It’s so simple and easy!

It wasn’t until this trip that I even realized you can buy packaged chicken. You can usually find it near the canned tuna at your favorite grocery store and it’s a great way to bring along some extra protein without requiring refrigeration. I typically choose Valley Fresh’s White Chicken Cuts.

Valley Fresh Chicken Cuts: a great way to pack some protein on the trail!
Valley Fresh Chicken Cuts: a great way to pack some protein on the trail!

Idahoan makes the BEST instant mashed potato packs that are easy to bring backpacking. Grab a package along with a small packet of instant turkey gravy or chicken gravy, a small package of cranberries, and of course, your bag of chicken.

Getting ready for a dinner feast! All of this fed 3 hungry people with some leftover. Disclaimer: I usually get the Valley Fresh packaged chicken above but this time we went with a different option since our hike was short and freezing cold!
Getting ready for a dinner feast! All of this fed 3 hungry people with a bit of leftovers. Disclaimer: I usually get the Valley Fresh packaged chicken above but this time we went with the Foster Farms chicken because our hike was short and freezing cold (instant refrigeration!)

Divide the chicken into bowls, then cook the mashed potatoes over a stove according to directions. Once the potatoes are ready, spoon them into the bowls over the top of the chicken. The heat from the potatoes will warm the chicken nicely while you fix the gravy. Use the same pot you just used for the potatoes and follow the gravy directions. Pour the gravy over the potatoes and chicken, add some cranberries for a topping, and enjoy a delicious dinner!

Easily one of the best dinners I've ever had in the backcountry: mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, chicken, and cranberries. Thanksgiving dinner at it's finest!
Easily one of the best dinners I’ve ever had in the backcountry: mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, chicken, and cranberries. Thanksgiving dinner at it’s finest!

My last outdoor food tip is to always pack a trail mix! There’s no better way to get maximum calories than with nuts and dried fruit. Add some chocolate, granola, coconut, and whatever else you like. It’s my go-to snack on the trail to keep hunger at bay. I hope these recipes give you some ideas for creating your own homemade backcountry meals. Have some great camping and backpacking meal ideas? Drop a comment below and share. Thanks and happy dining!

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