5 Delicious And Easy Backpacking Dinners

High quality, nutritious meals are a must while hiking in the backcountry. After a long day of burning calories on the trail, I can’t think of anything better than cooking a hot meal to replenish energy and boost morale. There are a lot of different options out there to choose from. On my backpacking trips, I like to have a few options when packing for a trip to mix up the menu a little. It is also nice to throw in a ready meal option like an MRE every now and then, but they can be on the heavy side and won’t really work so well in an ultralight situation. Let’s take a look at 5 delicious and easy backpacking dinners below.

Meal #1 – Spicy Fried Rice – Approximately 600 calories

Spicy Chicken Fried Rice

Fried rice is an excellent meal to have on the trail, and it isn’t as complicated as you might think. Here are the ingredients for this easy to make night one dinner:

  • 1 cup of [amazon_link id=”B001BGTRTW” target=”_blank” ]instant rice[/amazon_link]
  • 2 tablespoons of [amazon_link id=”B0097FOR8A” target=”_blank” ]dehydrated onions[/amazon_link]
  • ¼ cup of [amazon_link id=”B007C7D2D6″ target=”_blank” ]dehydrated peppers[/amazon_link] (of your choice, mix and match to add spice)
  • [amazon_link id=”B007JE8PMK” target=”_blank” ]Kikkoman fried rice mix[/amazon_link]
  • 1/8 tsp dried basil
    [amazon_link id=”B001QC336E” target=”_blank” ]Salt and pepper[/amazon_link] to taste
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • .5 L water

Pack all of the dry ingredients in a gallon size freezer bag, shaking them up to mix well. When you’re ready to cook and eat, boil the water and add it to the bag directly (it is recommended to have the bag in another pot or bowl). Stir and cover for 5-10 minutes until everything is re-hydrated and cooked. Mix in the olive oil and it is read to eat with trail crackers.

Meal #2 – Mountain Chicken Pasta – Approximately 500 calories

[amazon_image id=”B000EXKS1E” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Knorr Pasta Sides, Butter & Herb 4.4 oz (Pack of 12)[/amazon_image]

This is one of my favorite backcountry recipes. It is delicious and very easy to make on the trail. Here is the ingredient list:

  • [amazon_link id=”B000EXKS1E” target=”_blank” ]2 Knorr butter and herb pasta packets[/amazon_link] (8 total ounces)
  • 1 3-5 ounce packet of chicken
  • 3 ounces [amazon_link id=”B00CRL9HHM” target=”_blank” ]sun dried tomatoes[/amazon_link]
  • 5 ounces of [amazon_link id=”B001H8R00M” target=”_blank” ]grated parmesan cheese[/amazon_link]
  • 2 ounces of dehydrated onions
  • 2 ounces of dehydrated assorted peppers

Pack the tomatoes, pasta, parmesan cheese and all the other ingredients in separate bags, and keep the chicken in the pouch. When cooking, boil 1 cup of water and pour over the tomatoes. Let sit while you cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package. When 5 minutes remain, add the mixed herbs, dried veges and chicken to the pasta. Chop the tomatoes and add to the pasta. Pour in the cheese, stir, and enjoy!

Meal #3 – MRE Of Your Choice – Approximately 1250 calories

[amazon_image id=”B009ZIDU0U” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]MREs (Meals Ready-to-Eat) Genuine U.S. Military Surplus (1 Pack) Assorted Flavor[/amazon_image]

You’re probably thinking, “wait a minute, I wouldn’t count any MRE as delicious.” Maybe you’re right. But there are a few MRE options out there that I really don’t mind eating at all. You might even say I like them. But only in a certain context: the middle (or towards the end) night of a grueling backpacking trip. By this point, I’m usually expending more energy than I am taking in and in need of a surge of calories. This is what a full MRE meal offers. They aren’t lightweight (not dehydrated and full of water weight), don’t pack very well, and lack a bit of sophistication, but it’s hard to beat the per ounce caloric intake from an MRE. Throw in an MRE heater, and you don’t even need to get your stove or cooking gear out. It is the perfect mid-trip meal all around. A few that I enjoy include: beef stew, meat loaf with gravy, the beef patty, and spaghetti with meat sauce. Avoid the jambalaya, anything with ‘chicken’ in the title, and the tuna options.

[amazon_image id=”B00AB63708″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]MRE (Meals, Ready to Eat) – Two Course Fresh MREs with Heaters – 5 Year Shelf Life (Pack of 6)[/amazon_image]

[amazon_image id=”B007RZ804E” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Case of 12 MRE Entrees from Meals Ready to Eat[/amazon_image]


Meal #4 – Cheesy Potatoes – Approximately 500 calories

[amazon_image id=”B00I4KUDDW” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”large” ]Idahoan Real Mashed Gable Carton, Premium, 52 Ounce[/amazon_image]

Instant potatoes are a common staple for backpacking because they cook ‘instantly’ and are filling and hearty. My cheesy potatoes recipe is easy and requires the following ingredients:

  • 2 ¼ cups of [amazon_link id=”B00I4KUDDW” target=”_blank” ]instant mashed potatoes[/amazon_link]
  • ½ cup of [amazon_link id=”B004VITI0K” target=”_blank” ]instant dry milk[/amazon_link]
  • 1 cup of [amazon_link id=”B001EQ5AU4″ target=”_blank” ]crumbled bacon[/amazon_link]
  • 1 package of [amazon_link id=”B000F9ZM7M” target=”_blank” ]powdered cheese spread[/amazon_link]
  • 2 tbsp dried onions
  • 2 tbsp dried parsley
  • 2 tsp of [amazon_link id=”B00DC5ZKQE” target=”_blank” ]butter powder[/amazon_link]
  • 4 ½ cups of water

Mix all of the ingredients in a quart sized Ziploc bag. Boil 4 ½ cups of water and add to the bag (place bag in another bowl for easy mixing and eating) and stir well. Wait for about 5 minutes, and add additional water if necessary. Enjoy your cheesy potatoes with camp crackers.

Meal #5 – Sweet Chicken and Rice – Approximately 500 calories

Chicken And Rice

Because I’m such a rice fan, there are two recipes with rice on this list. It is easy to make, and perfect for the last night on a five day excursion. Here is what you need:

  • The seasoning packet from 1 box of instant wild rice (my favorite is the [amazon_link id=”B000GZSBZ0″ target=”_blank” ]toasted almond flavor[/amazon_link])
  • 1 cup of [amazon_link id=”B00OAEVSTY” target=”_blank” ]dried cranberries[/amazon_link]
  • 1 7-ounce [amazon_link id=”B000V1LXU4″ target=”_blank” ]packet of chicken[/amazon_link]
  • 2 cups [amazon_link id=”B001BGTRTW” target=”_blank” ]instant rice[/amazon_link]
  • 3 cups of water

Boil 3 cups of water and add the instant rice with the seasoning packet. Stir in the chicken and cranberries. Let stand for 5 minutes and that’s all she wrote!

Final Thoughts

Nutritious meals are essential for backpacking success, but it isn’t as easy as grilling up a burger or cooking with refrigerated ingredients in your spacious kitchen. It takes a little more planning to pack lightweight, easy to cook meals. The five meals listed above are easy to make, packed full of calories and flavor, and did I mention delicious?

What are your favorite easy backpacking dinners? Have you tried one of the recipes (or a variation on one) above? Let us know the recipes in the comment section below. Thanks for reading and happy trails!


What Food To Bring On An Extended Backpacking Trip

Any time you spend more than a weekend in the backcountry, carrying enough food is an important consideration. You can always supplement your packed meals by catching native fish or picking wild berries, but you definitely shouldn’t count on these sources of food to survive. What should you pack for a week-long or longer trek? Below, we will go over the basics of planning your backcountry meals for an extended stay backpacking trip.

The Building Blocks Of Life

Food and water are essential for human survival. Most humans can’t live longer than three days without water. Hiking rough terrain with a heavy backpack requires constant water consumption. Depending on activity and body mass, humans can live as long as two weeks without food. But surviving more than a day or two without food limits your ability to find more or get to safety. Since you won’t be able to carry a weeks worth of water on your back, you will need to purify water along the way. This is easy enough to do with a filter (MSR Sweetwater, Katadyn Vario) or by boiling the water, as long as you are hiking near a water source.

Food is a different story. Unless you are Bear Grylls, foraging for food on the trail won’t be an option. You will need to plan on bringing all the food you will need along, and that means packing it all in your bag.

What You Need

The typical caloric intake for an average adult per day is 2000. This will more or less result in no net gain or loss of weight, under regular day to day activity. Backpacking on even flat terrain can be a strenuous physical exercise, let alone on rugged mountain terrain. You should plan on consuming somewhere between 2500 and 3000 calories per day or more, including at least 30-50 grams of protein. This will sustain your frame during the trip and will keep you fueled for the oncoming miles.

Portability Vs Palatability

The argument of portability versus palatability has raged on for decades among the backpacking community. A hot meal after a long hike can seem very refreshing for many hikers, yet a hot meal means you will probably need to pack a camp stove, pot, and hot meal ingredients, which will add extra ounces to your pack. Ultralight minimalist backpackers go to the other extreme of eating trail mix for three meals a day. A healthy balance is necessary here, because some hikers lose their appetite during hot days or at higher altitudes. A hot meal might not seem appealing on those days, and a more light meal might suffice. On the other hand, a hot meal on a cold or wet day might be the morale boost that you need, where cheese and crackers might come up short.

A food item might also be super portable and palatable, yet it just doesn’t work on the trail. For example, peanut butter is a high protein, high energy food that is light and easy to transport. But try to find a good way to get the peanut butter out of whatever you have transported it in. It just makes a mess. If you’re a peanut butter lover, it might be worth the hassle. If not, the dispensability is a nightmare.

Hot Meal Options


[amazon_link id=”B007HOB4FC” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]MRE (Meals, Ready to Eat) Premium case of 12 Fresh MRE with Heaters. 5 Year Shelf Life.[/amazon_link]Most of us are familiar with MREs. These military rations are packed with calories, and can be supplemented with small snacks throughout the day. Most MREs can be coupled with a one-time-use MRE heater, so you won’t need a stove or other cooking supplies. There are many different entre options available, and plenty of sides to go along. A full MRE meal can have as much as 1500 calories by itself. These are easy to prepare, and loaded with nutrients to keep you going.

MREs are bulky and heavy. You don’t need any water to cook them, which is a plus. However, that means you are carrying extra water weight within these packs. If you have tried an MRE, you might not have been impressed with the flavor. A lot of hikers are particular about what they eat, and MREs usually don’t make the cut based on flavor alone. But if you are looking for an easy hot meal, these are great options.

Freeze-Dried Meals

[amazon_link id=”B000G2TOMM” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Mountain House 72-Hour Emergency Meal Kit[/amazon_link]Mountain House used to own the freeze dried meal market. Now there are a lot of companies offering these type of backpacking rations. Freeze dried meals come in sealed mylar pouches (for a decent shelf life), and there is probably a wider variety of meal options than MREs. The nice thing about these hot meals is that they are dried – meaning there is no extra water weight inside the pouch. They are easy to prepare, and taste much better than MREs.

You will need to boil water to add to the pouch (so what you gain in not having to carry the water weight, you lose in the extra weight of a stove, fuel, and a pot), and the food takes time to reconstitute. These are also great options for hot meals on the trail.

Other Hot Meal Options

MREs and freeze dried meals might be the most convenient hot meals available, but can be a little pricey. If you get creative, you can easily create your own trail meals out of ingredients from your pantry. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Cup of Noodles
  • Pasta And meat Sauce
  • Instant Oatmeal
  • Instant Soups
  • Instant mashed potatoes
  • Tuna Helper
  • Spam, Tuna, Salami, Salmon

These meal ideas are easy to prepare, and you can create your own portions with ziplock bags.

Cold Meal Options

A lot of backpackers will plan at least one hot meal per day, and this is usually dinner (extra prep time). Breakfast could also easily incorporate a small hot meal (oatmeal with hot chocolate or coffee/tea), but is a good time to go with a quick and easy cold meal. This is where some creativity comes in.

  • Cliff bars
  • Granola bars
  • Trail mix (home made or store bought)
  • Cheese and Crackers
  • Chocolate
  • Nuts
  • Dried Fruit
  • Crackers (animal crackers, Ritz, Triscuit, etc)

The key here is to have a variety of snacks to eat. If you only plan on having one hot meal per day, the rest of the day will be cold foods. The better the variety, the more likely you will keep up with your caloric needs. Taste fatigue can occur if all you eat throughout the day is trail mix. Candy bars are a nice break, but melt easily.


Many backpackers get tired of the taste of water on long trips. Having some flavoring powder to liven up your water will do wonders for your morale. GatorAide and PowerAid both make electrolyte replenishing, water flavoring powders. Crystal Light pouches are a sugar free option. The small single serving packets are very light, and easy to add to bottles and hydration bladders.

Pack some instant hot chocolate, cider, tea or coffee for morning/evening sipping pleasure. These packets weigh next to nothing as well, and will help warm you up when it’s cold outside.

Packing It All Up

Backpacking Ziploc MealsBecause your food will take up a good portion of your backpack’s internal space on an extended backpacking trip, it is important to save as much space as possible. Remove unnecessary packaging from foods. For example, take crackers out of their boxes and pack them in single serving Ziploc bags. Remove MREs from their bulky packaging.

Organize your large meals together inside their own Ziploc bag. Label them accordingly. If you are planning group meals, besides organizing your pack, this will also make it easy to pull all the necessary ingredients together for the meal.

Remember to keep snacks within reaching distance. You don’t want to have to take your pack off to dig out some trail mix. Most backpacks have waste belt pockets, which work out perfectly for holding hiking snacks. Another reminder: if you are hiking in bear country, follow all the essential bear country food packing and hanging tips. This will prevent a potentially dangerous encounter. Below, you can click on the image to purchase the Backpacker’s Cache.[amazon_link id=”B0002ZB5Y8″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Backpackers' Cache - Bear Proof Container[/amazon_link]

Just In Case

Preparing backpacking meals can be one of the most time-consuming planning steps of trip planning. Make sure that you go over the daily menu to see that you are getting enough calories and nutrients to keep you going. It is also a good idea to pack a few days extra meals or food, just in case you get stuck in the backcountry longer than expected. Here are some menu ideas, calorie counts, and pictures to help you get started. Happy camping!