Backpacking Meal Ideas: Suggestions to Make Your Planning Easier

Updated January 27, 2022
family backpacking taking a meal break

Deciding what food to take into the backcountry with you is an important aspect of getting prepared for a backpacking trip. It's important to choose lightweight, shelf-stable foods that can quickly and easily be prepped to form complete meals. Fortunately, there are some great convenience foods available that will help you simplify your meal planning. Discover some of the best foods for backpacking and get suggestions for combining them to make tasty meals.

Backpacking Breakfast Ideas

Breakfast is especially important for backpackers, as you'll need to refuel your body before a full day of backpacking. Some of these breakfast ideas require a bit of campfire cooking, while others do not. You'll also want to pack some instant coffee and tea bags for easy access to warm breakfast beverages.

  • Instant grits packets with bacon bits and/or cheese
  • Instant oatmeal packets with sugar, cinnamon, and/or raisins
  • Cold cereal mixed with a pint of shelf-stable milk (buy single-serving cereal boxes or portion into baggies)
  • Scrambled eggs made from powdered eggs and water with shelf-stable, pre-cooked bacon
  • Omelet made with scrambled egg powder and stuffed with things like bacon bits or shelf-stable bacon and cut-up string cheese
  • SPAM® and eggs, prepared by using powdered eggs to make scrambled, then stirring in chunks of SPAM
  • Apple slices dipped into a squeeze pack of peanut butter or other nut butter
  • Banana dipped in peanut butter
  • Peanut butter tortilla roll, made by spreading peanut butter from a squeeze pack onto a tortilla and roll like a jelly roll; sprinkle with cinnamon or add raisins if desired
  • Homemade granola bars, individually wrapped in wax paper and stored in a baggie
  • Homemade applesauce banana whole wheat muffins, individually wrapped in wax paper and stored in a baggie

Backpacking Lunch Ideas

friends backpacking and eating lunch

Backpackers usually stay on the go when the sun is up, so you probably won't want to stop and light your camping stove at lunchtime. With that in mind, the lunch ideas provided here don't require any cooking at all. Be sure your canteen is full before you leave base camp so you have plenty of water to drink throughout the day, including with your lunch.

  • Beef or turkey jerky with string cheese and nuts
  • Shelf-stable salami and pepperoni with string cheese and snack packs of olives
  • Pouch of salmon, tuna, or chicken mixed with squeeze packets of Italian or ranch dressing on crackers
  • Wrap sandwich made with tuna or chicken from a pouch, ranch dressing, and a flour tortilla
  • Pita pockets spread (inside) with hummus and stuffed with tuna or chicken from a pouch
  • Pita bread and cut-vegetables dipped into single-serve containers of hummus
  • Squeeze packs of peanut butter or almond butter with crackers
  • Basic peanut butter sandwich, enhanced with honey or jelly from individual packets
  • Squeeze packs of peanut butter on celery sticks, topped with raisins
  • Fresh salad prepped by combining a bag of pre-washed lettuce with chicken, salmon, or tuna from a pouch and topping with chunks of string cheese and sunflower seeds

Backpacking Dinner Ideas

You'll probably be ready to relax by a campfire by dinnertime to enjoy a hot meal, such as one of these one-pot backpacking meals. That's why the dinner ideas provided here do require a bit of cooking or heating. For any of the items below, feel free to add salt, pepper, spices, and/or any dehydrated or fresh veggies that you plan to carry along on your trip. You may also want to pack a small water flavor enhancer container so you can drink something other than plain water.

  • Slices of SPAM seared in a small pan served with macaroni and cheese prepared from a boxed mix
  • Chicken pilaf made with a pouch of chicken chunks heated in pre-cooked rice pilaf
  • Chicken fried rice prepared with chicken chunks from a pouch a mixed into pre-cooked fried rice
  • Beans and rice prepared using your favorite kind of cooked beans from a pouch mixed with prepared instant rice or any kind of rice mix
  • Bean and rice burritos made by stuffing a flour tortilla with a mixture of warm cooked rice and beans from a pouch
  • Chicken burritos made by wrapping a heated mixture of chicken chunks from a pouch and pre-cooked cilantro lime rice in a flour tortilla
  • Salmon Alfredo made using a packet of Alfredo pasta mix (omit milk and butter; add extra water to offset) and stirring in salmon from a pouch at the end
  • Chicken and bacon pasta made using a Hamburger Helper mix with chicken from a pouch and bacon bits instead of ground beef (omit milk and butter; increase water proportionally)
  • Creole rice made with a packet of jambalaya rice mix paired with cut-up SPAM and/or chunks of chicken from a pouch
  • Quesadillas prepared by sandwiching any combination of pre-cooked chicken, beans, rice, and/or cheese between two tortillas and pan-frying

Backpacking Snacks

friends backpacking and eating a snack

You may also need to snack in-between meals when you're exploring the backcountry. Consider keeping some of these backpacking snacks in the side pocket of your pack so you can grab a treat whenever you need one. These items can also be added to meals as side dishes or for dessert.

  • Individually wrapped beef sticks
  • Individual packets of nuts (any kind you like)
  • Individual packets of sunflower or pumpkin seeds
  • Individually wrapped string cheese
  • Individual packets of store-bought or homemade trail mix
  • Gorp (mixture of equal parts dry roasted nuts, raisins, and M and M's) in a baggie
  • Dark chocolate candy bars
  • Semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips in a baggie
  • Individual packages of cheese stuffed pretzels (such as Combos)
  • Dried or freeze-dried fruit in resealable packets
  • Celery and carrot sticks to dip into a pouch of ranch dressing
  • Single-serving packets of sandwich crackers (like cream cheese & chives or peanut butter)
  • Vending machine packets of cookies, such as Oreos or Nutter Butters
  • Homemade crispy rice treats (wrapped in wax paper)
  • Homemade peanut butter cookies (or any kind of cookie that you like) in a baggie
  • Homemade chocolate chip muffins prepared in mini muffin tins, stored in a baggie
  • Mini muffins made with any healthy muffin recipe that you like, stored in a baggie

Sample 3-Day Meal Plan

When shopping for or packing food for a backpacking trip, it's important to include everything you need to eat throughout your entire trip. If you're planning to go on a three-day backpacking trip, use the meal play listed below as a guide. Please note that some meals include items from the above snack list to enhance the main courses. If you'll be in the backcountry for longer than three days, just mix and match the items above to plan your meals for additional days.

Day 1: Backpacking Meal Plan

This meal plan is a tasty first-day meal plan for any backpacking trip.

  • Breakfast - Two peanut butter tortilla rolls with raisins
  • Lunch - Tuna salad (tuna from a pouch mixed with salad dressing) on crackers and cookies
  • Dinner - Chicken pilaf with dark chocolate for dessert
  • Snack - Beef stick and nuts

Day 2: Backpacking Meal Plan

Kick off the second day of your backpacking adventure with a protein-packed hot meal, followed by other flavorful meals and snacks.

  • Breakfast - SPAM® and eggs with string cheese
  • Lunch - Beef jerky with string cheese and nuts followed by a muffin
  • Dinner - Salmon Alfredo with a crispy rice treat for dessert
  • Snack - Trail mix or gorp

Day 3: Backpacking Meal Plan

Enjoy more easy-prep meals on the third day of your backpacking adventure.

  • Breakfast - Apple slices with peanut butter and an applesauce banana whole wheat muffin (or another kind of muffin)
  • Lunch - Salami and pepperoni with string cheese and olives along with dried fruit and nuts
  • Dinner - Two quesadillas made with chicken, beans, rice, and cheese followed by cookies for dessert
  • Snack - Cheese-stuffed pretzels and pumpkin seeds

Dining in the Backcountry

There are a lot of great backpacking meal ideas that won't break the bank -- or your back! For even more inspiration, explore a collection of the easiest backpacking meals you'll love to carry. By thinking through the best foods to take camping ahead of time, you'll be able to reduce some of the stress associated with getting ready for a backcountry adventure. When you know how to easily adapt standard grocery items for backcountry eating, you're sure to have a terrific (and tasty!) time as you explore the great outdoors.

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Backpacking Meal Ideas: Suggestions to Make Your Planning Easier