Beginner Backpacking Menu

Image shows a red spark.

Light My Fire Spork from Gander Mountain

If you are going on your first backpacking trip, one of your main concerns will be food, particularly if you are going with scouts or your own children.  A bad food experience may keep your group from wanting to go backpacking again.  Coming up with a good beginner backpacking menu doesn’t have to be that difficult or expensive, however, if you just keep a few things in mind.

In order to keep things simple, you should plan meals that require nothing more serious than boiling water.  If this is your first trip, you have enough new experiences to deal with that you don’t need to be ambitious about cooking.  You should also realize that lunches should almost never involve any cooking at all.  Breakfast and dinners are the two meals that need to include something hot in order to make everyone feel good.

At every meal, be sure to have a source of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber.  Generally speaking, kids don’t have to worry about calories on a camping or backpacking trip.  They will probably need at least 2000 calories to keep from melting down from hunger, although every person is different.  Adults also will need more calories than usual and now is not the time for dieting.  Sufficient food can be critical in preventing hypothermia in cold weather, for example, and no one likes being around a person who is grouchy because of low blood sugar.

Image shows a foil pouch with Mountain House beef stew in it.

Standard Backpacker Meal

Many people like using the prepared backpacking meals available at stores such as Walmart, Academy or REI, as well as online.  There are several brands that are quite good, including Mountain House, Mary Jane’s Farm, and Backpacker’s Pantry.  These meals are extremely easy because all you do is boil water and pour it into the bag to rehydrate the food.  The downside is that they tend to be very expensive and kids can be pretty picky about the texture of rehydrated food.  You should always have kids sample these meals before taking them on a backpacking trip.  That can get expensive in and of itself.  Still, you can’t beat these products for convenience.

You don’t have to buy these ready made products.  There are many good choices that are almost as easy and a lot less expensive, like Ramen noodles.  I’ve included a model backpacking menu below and a Camping Food Choices PDF you can print off for your scouts or take to the store.

Breakfast Options (hot water meals):

  • Mains:
  • Instant oatmeal (2 packets probably)
  • Breakfast Bars (2 probably)
  • Tortillas with peanut butter or other nut spread
  • Backpacker Meals such as scrambled eggs or omelette
  • Sides:
  • Dehydrated fruit like raisins, cranberries, apples or banana chips
  • Fresh apple or orange
  • Hot chocolate
  • Hot apple cider
  • Drink mix packet

Lunch Options (no cooking):

  • Mains:
  • Crackers and tuna, chicken, beef jerky or cheese
  • Sausage sticks
  • Trail Mix
  • Packets of nuts or sunflower seeds
  • Meal bars
  • Tortillas with peanut butter or other nut butter
  • Sides:
  • Drink Mix
  • Dehydrated fruit
  • Fresh apple or orange

Dinner Options (hot water meals):

  • Mains:
  • Backpacker Meals, any variety, any brand, one or two servings
  • Ramen noodles along with a protein like a pouch of chicken, jerky or some nuts or seeds
  • Sides:
  • Drink mix
  • Hot chocolate
  • Hot cider
  • Backpacker desserts like ice cream, but not that need more cooking than adding hot water
  • Dehydrated fruits
  • Fresh apple or orange

Snacks (at least one for each morning and afternoon):

  • Jerky or sausage stick
  • Meal bar
  • Trail mix
  • Sports beans or gummies
  • Peanut bar
  • Pretzels with peanut butter cup
  • Nutella and sticks
  • Nuts or seeds
  • Dehydrated fruit

Additions and exceptions:

If the weather is cool, you can take cheese sticks or hard-boiled eggs as long as you are going to eat them the first day.  You’re going to want hot chocolate or something warm to drink in the morning.  You will need fats to keep warm.

If the weather is hot, be careful of meal bars or trail mix that have a lot of chocolate which will melt.  If there are cheese sticks in the package with your sausage or jerky, they may go a bit oily, so consider that.

Read all labels if you have dietary restrictions or food allergies.  You’d be surprised what you may find.  The good thing about this beginner backpacking menu is that you can make choices that fit your needs and likes.  This flexibility can be helpful with dealing with special needs.

© 2014, Margaret. All rights reserved.

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