Hey hikers, it’s Cheer! And here we go – our very first food post. Something that hikers talk about a lot on trail is food. Town food, on-trail food, the next great restaurant or bakery everyone’s been mentioning, and more. This post will cover some common foods seen on trail – which are also pretty cost effective. According to what I’ve seen and experienced on trail, premade backpacking meals aren’t exactly commonplace (or cheap to have on a continuous basis). But if you’re into that, great! You know what they say on trail: Hike Your Own Hike (“HYOH”). Here we will be going over the more common foods seen on trail for lunches and dinners, which can be found at most grocery stores and resupply locations.
Ramen – The item that’s in many hikers packs at any given time! Easy access, the price is right, and there are many flavors to choose from. Thai Kitchen has some gluten free options as well. Ramen can also be used for cold soaking.
Knorr Sides – Another backpacker staple, these offerings come in many different varieties such as rice sides and pasta sides. For those hikers who are gluten free beware, even the rice sides have pasta in them (great for gluten-eating individuals, however!).
Cous Cous – A wonderful vegan and vegetarian option, cous cous is easy to prepare, and is also cold soak friendly.
Flavored Idahoan Mashed Potatoes – Fun with different flavors, easy to pack, quick to cook, and lightweight. When I was hiking through the Sierra section of the PCT and the Colorado portion of the CDT, I opted for lots of potato dishes to save on weight (and space!). You can fit a lot into a bear can with lots of extra room to spare. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of potatoes because you can mix in so many things and choose different flavors to keep things interesting. Also cold soak compatible.
StarKist Tuna & Chicken Packets – Also labeled “Tuna Creations” and “Chicken Creations,” these packets come in many flavors to keep things interesting. Light and easy to pack – they can be eaten straight out of the bag with chips or crackers, can be piled onto a tortilla, shoveled into ramen…the possibilities are endless.
Tortillas – Calorie heavy and easy to pack, tortillas are a (hiker-trash) cult classic. They are a great base for essentially anything – sweet or savory. Also a mainstay for hikers who aren’t into cooking, and a great option for quicker lunches or breakfasts when you want to hit the trail fast. Gluten free options (that aren’t corn based) are now also available in most larger grocery stores.
Peanut Butter – One of the most calorie dense foods you can eat, most hikers have peanut butter in their pack at some point on their trek. Other nut butters work great too if you prefer almond, cashew, etc.
Dried Vegetables – If you can find dried veggies in town, they are light and easy to pack. They also add in a health kick to your diet. This Knorr Vegetable Mix is the easiest to find in most common stores, and the mix is potent enough to last many meals. I’d normally bring one or two packets per stretch because a couple of sprinkles are all that’s needed for great flavor.
Cheese – I love to take cheese on trail with me. Blocks, baby bells/single serving, string, or shredded works. It’s a little heavy but has lots of calories and fat…and it’s great to have in a tortilla wrap, or in a hot meal because it melts into gooey goodness. If I can get my hands on some cheesecloth, I wrap it around a block which prolongs the life of the cheese. Without cheesecloth and in hotter conditions, my cheese starts to get slimy around day 4. Wrapped in cheesecloth, it’s more like 6 days.
Bacon Bits – Great little packets to add flavor and texture if you eat meat, I’ve found vegan versions while resupplying as well.
Packed Out Fresh Food – Fresh food lasts for about 3 days on trail, give or take depending on what it is. I love to pack out arugula because I like the peppery flavor, and it stands up to heat pretty well. Diced peppers and chives are a treat. I dice them in town (with the little knife that I carry) and plop the veggies in a ziplock. Many hikers also pack out spinach and avocado.
Mix It Up!:
Ramen Bomb (“Ram Bomb”) – Cook (or cold soak) ramen. Add a bit of mashed potatoes to make the mixture creamy (but not too dense) and add in any options above if desired (fresh food, cheese, bacon bits, tuna, etc.).
Loaded Mashed Potatoes – Cook the mashed potatoes and add any of the options above as desired. I love adding Buffalo Style Chicken Creations, cheese, and arugula.
Tortilla Wrap-Up – The possibilities are endless with this one. You could go for a classic PB&J (you can get small jelly packs in town at fast food joints), a tuna wrap with cheese, a cous cous wrap with fresh foods, cheese and salami, and so much more.
Cous Cous Extravaganza – Yes, I made this name up! Cous cous is nice as a cold-soaked lunch. You can add water to hydrate during an early break in an empty Talenti or peanut butter jar, and it’ll be ready shortly after (prep about an hour before eating at least). Cooking is also an option if you prefer a hot cous cous meal. Add in a sprinkle or two of the dried vegetable mix if it’s not flavored already, or add in any of the options above as desired.
Pad Thai – This is a favorite of so many hikers I’ve talked to! Recently I’ve been interviewing experienced hikers on the THRU-r Podcast and three have mentioned this as being their favorite on-trail “recipe.” Heat (or cold soak) some ramen, add a scoop (or three!) of peanut butter, add some dried veggies or fresh food, nuts, and plain chicken or tuna if desired.
I hope this helps give you some ideas regarding foods to take on trail! Do you have any favorite on-trail foods?
Until next time, happy hiking!