How to cook on the Appalachian Trail
Scott Janz December 22, 2016 3

Backcountry Cooking and Food

Cooking in the backcounty can be a blast if you have planned your meals accordingly. When planning your backpacking trip, the first rule of thumb is bring what you like. Why would you grab a typical freeze dried meal that you have never eaten or not even sure if you like?  Then, start looking at weight. The biggest mistake I’ve ever made while planning a long backpacking trip was to stuff my food bag with food I normally didn’t eat.

There are plenty of food items that don’t need hot water poured in a bag for me to enjoy after a long day of hiking. In fact, many foods now come pre-cooked. Which is why I run to that section of the grocery store. Pre-cooked meals mean I only have to heat them up sometimes without boiling water to do it. For example: Pre-cooked bacon is amazingly good. Nothing like a small bagel with some cheese on it that makes a tasty breakfast.

The first thing I do is make a list of what I like to eat. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Things I would eat at home, but on a smaller, lightweight scale. I like cereal in the morning, but that doesn’t mean I bring a bowl and milk. However, I would bring a breakfast bar, or some powdered milk to mix with cold water. Make an extra 2 cubs of powdered milk, then make some hot chocolate at night.

Another way to avoid cooking during a backpacking trip is to have lots of prepackaged, ready-to-eat food such as fruits, trail mix, and energy bars. Dried fruit is an even better choice than fresh fruit if you plan to stay out for a long period of time. Individual boxes of cereals or raisins are also great, both as a quick breakfast and as mid-afternoon snacks. Most of these snacks also pack a good energetic punch, so they will provide a quick pick-me-up when you’re on the go. Dehydrated fruit by the way goes great with Oatmeal and some hot water. It’s also great to eat for electrolytes.

Be creative: Lots of meals can be prepared on the spot if you just bring along the right ingredients. A good example is burritos or wraps. Just pack corn or flour tortillas, some mayo or ketchup (small, individual packs are best, like the ones you can find in restaurants). Sometimes I have made a pizza wrap with shredded cheese, one small bag of tomato sauce, small package of pepperoni, in a pita bread. You can also make some awesome burritos with Knorr Meals, and pre-cooked steak strips.

What about emergency food when storms keep you stuck in your tent. For unexpected multi-day delays, snow storms or emergencies such as getting lost, high-calorie snacks are life-savers. High-calorie food also makes good meals for ultralight hiking. Some ultralight backpackers swear by peanut butter eaten straight out of the package, using it as their main source of food for days at a time. Jiffy makes small packaged Peanut Butter that are easily packed.

Then of course we have backpacking, or hiking food that’s freeze-dried or dehydrated. This can reduce weight by sixty to ninety percent. If you’re carrying a backpack or other hiking gear with a few days worth of camping food and supplies this can make a BIG difference. This is why I mix it up. I tend to eat my creative food (or dry food) first. I reduce the weight, then it’s on to the freeze-dried food my extended days.

TIP: DO NOT throw those freeze dried bags away. Recycle them. You can buy other dehydated foods like Knorr Foods that you can’t poor hot water in. But you can poor those Knorr Foods into a recycled freeze dried bags (like Mountain House bags) and boom.

Hiking food offers trade offs. While it isn’t usually gourmet that doesn’t mean it has to be bad. After all, a gourmet meal is in the eye of the beholder…or backpacker

TIP: Good to Go Meals offer a great alternative to those who need and want a special diet out in the backcountry. More importantly, they are really good.

Some extra items that help. Ziplock baggies. I can’t tell you how many of these I have gone though. Also, a waterproof food bag. You don’t want your food water logged. I found this out the hard way one time. Just remember planning is everything. Winter food should be different than summer food, but it should all be food you like.


  • F. Andy Seidl

    I typically go 8-10 days at a time and have found a few favorites that I always make sure I carry.

    Milkman powdered milk is essential. Tastes great and has calories. Mix it with many things. Instant breakfast mix packs (like Carnation) are great to mix up into a water bottle along with Milkman to make a no-cook breakfast that you have have while hiking.

    Mountain House Pro-pack (1.5 serving) are by far the best single person freeze dried meal. Taste great, need boiled water only, very filling.

    Butter. I carry a squeeze tube of real butter. Mix it with everything to make it taste better and to add calories.

    Pop tarts–not that great really, but they’re high in calories, are edible w/ Milk, and require no cooking and the calorie to weight ratio is good.

    Mac&cheese kits; add some freeze dried peas, 2 oz of smoked salmon (in the foil pouch), butter, milkman and you’ve got a nice “seafood alfredo” that actually tastes pretty darn good, is very filling, and has lots of calories.

    • 10:18 am - March 16, 2009

  • Frank

    Interesting post with a lot of great ideas.

    We regularly do 5-8 day trips in Australia and take a variety of fresh food and meals we dehydrate ourselves. It works pretty well but you need to be organised in advance.

    There are a whole lot of posts on “Our Hiking Blog” about food.
    These ones may be of interest to you and your readers to complement your great ideas:

    Scroggin – (Trail mix) –

    Meal planning for a 9 dayer:

    Dehydrating a curry:

    No matter what you do, food is always something to look forward to each day. We always make a big effort to take nice stuff so we have something great to eat once we set up our tent and relax.


    • 6:37 pm - October 7, 2009

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