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It goes without saying that the best backpacking lunches don’t need to be refrigerated. Life gets even easier if no cooking is required either. When you choose the right ingredients, you can eat just as well on the trail as you do at home. Here’s a sampling of my favorite backpacking lunch ideas.
About Meal Planning For Backpacking
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you understand the importance of keeping fit and healthy. Packing the right food for your trail adventures will help you maintain your strength and keep you feeling satisfied every step of the way.
Of course, you want to try and stick with non-perishable food items if you’re planning on a long multi-day journey. Consuming spoiled food will ruin your hike in less time than it took you to lace up. Shorter hikes offer more flexibility, but it’s still a good idea to consume any fresh fruits or vegetables within a day or two. For more advice regarding the best ingredients for backpacking lunches, see What Kind of Food Should I Take Backpacking?, below.
Nutritional concerns aren’t the only issues to consider. When you’re hiking, you want to enjoy the journey and your surroundings, not waste a bunch of time fussing with complicated food preparation. That’s why easy backpacking lunches are the way to go. In our backpacking meals section, we’ll provide you with recipes for meals that are ready to eat before you’ve even left home.
How Much Food Should I Take Backpacking?
The answer to this one depends on the length of your trip, as well as the intensity of the hike itself. You won’t expend as much energy on a short jaunt through the woods as you will on a strenuous mountain hike. Always take your itinerary into account before packing trail lunches.
First, think about how long you’ll be hiking. As a rule of thumb, plan on about 2,500 to 4,500 calories per day for moderate to strenuous hikes. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and bring more food than you think you’ll need. As long as you follow the basic nutritional guidelines, you should burn off whatever you consume.
Also, factor in the size of your group. Solo hikers should plan on packing light whenever possible. However, if there are a lot of you, the extra weight can be distributed evenly among the group.
Once you’ve mapped out the basics, make a more detailed plan based on the terrain you plan to cover on any given day. For the days when you’ll be covering more challenging terrain, go heavy on the snacks and plan something low-key for the evening.
What Kind of Food Should I Take Backpacking?
Choose ingredients that contain complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and protein. This combination will provide you with an enduring boost of energy—unlike sugary foods and simple carbs, which will cause a temporary lift but leave you feeling drained soon afterward.
That said, you should also keep things lively when it comes to flavor and texture. If you only pack crunchy, salty foods, you’re bound to get tired of them before too long. Instead, shake it up by packing savory ingredients like roasted nuts alongside sweet, chewy bites, such as dried fruit. In addition to providing you with more variety, the interplay will leave you feeling more satisfied overall.
If you want to include fresh ingredients in your backpacking lunches, choose carefully. Hearty vegetables and fruits like carrots, onions, bell peppers, and apples will keep for up to two days in your pack, but they’ll lose a great deal of their integrity if they’re left without refrigeration for any longer than that.
Similarly, hard cheeses such as cheddar and parmesan are suitable choices, but they should also be consumed as soon as possible. Avoid soft cheeses like havarti and Brie—the high moisture content will cause them to spoil too quickly.
Finally, remember to stick with foods that will entice you. While you might be tempted to match new flavors with your wilderness adventures, it’s best to restrict the menu to ingredients that you know and love.
Tips & Tricks
Here’s a list of basic supplies to consider when you’re shopping for backpacking meals without cooking. If you’re looking for more specific backpacking lunch ideas, we’ve provided you with a few menu items in the section below.
- Canned meat or fish products, such as Spam, deviled ham, chicken, salmon, or tuna
- Nut butters (almond, cashew, peanut)
- Whole-wheat crackers
- Hard cheeses
- Nuts, seeds, or roasted chickpeas
- Beef or turkey jerky
- Flour tortillas
- Dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, mango slices, apricots, prunes)
How to Plan Food for Backpacking
Start by making a grocery list, including any of the above items that appeal to you. Set this list aside—you may need to return to it later.
Next, take a look at your hiking itinerary—how many days you’ll be on the trail, who will be joining you, what type of terrain you’ll be facing, and the weather forecast. Sketch out a meal plan, taking all of the relevant information into account. If you’re strapped for ideas, check out our Best and Easy to Prepare No Cook Backpacking Meals segment, below.
Once you have your menu in place, make any necessary adjustments to your grocery list.
Prep Meals in Advance
A day or two before setting out, review your meal plan. Are there any components that can be put together early, like sandwiches or grain bowls? Will you be making your own hummus and trail mix, or are you relying on the prepackaged variety? The more work you’re able to do in the kitchen, the less stress you’ll have on the trail.
Don’t Forget Water
When you’re putting a great deal of focus into the meal planning itself, it can be easy to neglect the most important aspect of trail life: proper hydration. Whatever you do, make sure to bring along enough water to get you through the long days of hiking.
For moderate hikes in milder climates, a half-liter per hour is acceptable. If you’ll be schlepping it over rugged terrain in hot weather, you should up your intake to 1 liter per hour.
Best and Easy to Prepare No Cook Backpacking Meals
Here are a few ideas for easy backpacking lunches that will keep you feeling healthy and satisfied, whether you’re hiking for several days or just one afternoon.
Smoked Salmon, Cheese and Crackers
Salmon is a protein-rich choice, loaded with heart-healthy omega-3 fats. When the fish is smoked, it’s imbued with intense flavor that goes well with the creamy nuttiness of cheddar cheese. Try topping a hearty whole-wheat cracker (Triscuits are a great choice) with a slice of each.
For day trips, you can opt for a more moisture-rich cheese. Smoked salmon and cream cheese are a classic pairing, especially when topped with a sprinkling of capers. For this option, you might want to select a more delicate cracker that won’t interfere with the interplay of flavors. Just make sure to pack them in a sturdy container, so they don’t get crushed in your backpack.
Because the creamy chickpea spread acts as the perfect backdrop for crunchy vegetables, hummus wraps provide the prized interplay of textures that you’re looking for. It also makes for a nutritious and delicious backpacking meal.
Spread your favorite hummus on a tortilla or slice of lavash bread and add a layer of leafy spinach or romaine. Top it with cucumber slices, carrots, bell peppers, or whatever vegetables you prefer.
If you don’t want to rely on store-bought hummus, it’s easy to make your own. In a food processor, mince 2 cloves of garlic with a handful of flat-leaf parsley. Add 2 15-ounce cans of chickpeas (drained and rinsed), 1/2 cup of lemon juice, and 6 tablespoons of tahini, and puree until smooth. You may need to drizzle in a few tablespoons of olive oil, depending on the consistency of the beans. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, and 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt to taste.
When it’s stored properly, homemade granola can keep for up to a month at room temperature. That eliminates the need for store-bought granola, which is usually loaded with preservatives and added sugars.
To make your own granola, remember the 50/50 rule: Your coating should be made up of equal parts sweetener and oil. Stick with natural sweeteners like maple syrup and honey—because they’re in liquid form, they’ll provide a more even coating for the oats. Also, bake the granola at a low temperature until it smells nice and toasty.
Finally, always add the dried fruit once the mixture has had a chance to cool. If you add it when the granola is toasting, it will burn and stick to the pan.
Again, we would recommend relying on your own skills for this hiking staple. Commercially prepared trail mix tends to go heavy on the extras (chocolate candies and such) while neglecting the qualities that make it a good choice to begin with.
Your homemade trail mix should be made primarily of nuts and seeds, with a lower concentration of dried fruit for sweetness. You can make it more enticing by adding a handful of chocolate or peanut butter chips, small pretzels, or popcorn, but don’t go overboard. For best results, toast the nuts and seeds in a 350 degree oven for 7-10 minutes before making the trail mix.
Smoked Sausages and Beef or Meat Jerky
There’s a reason why beef jerky is so popular—it’s lightweight, portable, tasty, and packed with protein. Although it has a prohibitively high sodium content, that’s not usually a problem when you’re hiking because your body is losing a great deal of sodium as you sweat.
Experiment with different types of dried meat products, like elk or venison jerky. Smoked sausages offer similar benefits, but with a softer texture to keep things interesting. You can even used sliced sausages as a cracker topping, with or without your favorite cheese.
Make-Ahead Tortillas, Pita and Burrito
To save time, fill tortillas or pita bread beforehand and pack them in a sturdy container so they don’t get squashed. The aforementioned hummus is a good protein source, but you can also use nut butters or canned tuna.
Pack the sandwich with vegetables and other ingredients that complement your chosen protein. Cheese and green leaf lettuce go well with tuna, while dried fruits provide a sweet counterpoint to rich almond butter. Try stuffing a tortilla with pinto beans, diced onion and green pepper, shredded cheddar, a dash of Tabasco, and a few Doritos for a crunchy surprise.
This is a popular breakfast item, but there’s no reason why you can’t eat oatmeal at lunch. Just soak the oats in water and your chosen flavorings overnight. Cinnamon and raisins are a good match, especially if you add a handful of toasted pecans when you’re ready to eat.
When it comes to making the best backpacking meals without cooking, preparation is key. As long as you stock up on enough non-perishable ingredients, you can play around with a variety of sweet and savory combinations that will make you eager to hit the trail.