How Tos + DIY Outdoors

Backpacking Meal Planner: Ideas for Easy Packable Food

April 20, 2022

Last Updated:

Planning out backpacking meals often starts as a simple process. “What do I want to eat?!” But by the time you’re packing up, suddenly you’re looking for extra space to stuff food and wondering if you’re bringing too much or too little. I keep a backpacking meal planner spreadsheet with ideas of what I’ve brought in the past. It’s part of my Backpacking Gear List spreadsheet, and it helps plan out backpacking food ideas and nutrition. This post is all about creating a backpacking meal plan, and ideas for packable, easy meals for backpacking – including breakfast, snacks, lunch, and dinner.

Backpacking Meal Plan

Here is an example of a backpacking meal plan for a weekend trip.

Backpacking Food Example for 3 Day / 2 Night Trip

MealBreakfastSnacks (AM/PM)LunchDinner
Day 1home2 Larabars, gummiesbagel & cream cheeseramen, hard boiled egg, salmon jerky, chips, beer
Day 2oatmeal, PB packet, freeze dried strawberriesProBar Meal, gummies, Larabarpita, cheese, hummusbackpacker meal, chips, chocolate, whiskey
Day 3oatmeal, PB packet, freeze dried strawberriesHoneystinger, gummies, Sport Beanspita, cheese, salamihome

Planning backpacker food – weight vs calories:

My general rule of thumb, for a backpacking “meal” is: every half pound of food should average around 500 calories. With of course wiggle room for foods that bring you some extra joy and happiness. And while there’s no “right” way to plan backpacking food, those needing ultralight backpacking meals for thru-hiking usually need lighter weight foods. So here are some things to consider when planning your backpacking food.

  • Calories – Plan for a minimum of 2500 calories per day. With 3000-4000 (on average) for harder days. For me, that usually works out to 1500-2000 calories before dinner. 500-ish for breakfast, 200-300 morning snacking, 500-ish for lunch, and 200-300-ish for afternoon snacking. Then I make up for any extra hunger and calories with dinner, and pre/post dinner snacks, desserts, drinks.
  • Carbs (includes sugars) – this is what your body needs to fuel itself to keep going. Most sports nutritionists recommend 60g carbs max per hr (for snacking) while actively exercising so your body can process the carbs and not have to work extra time.
  • Protein – It’s good to have a nice dose of protein after you workout so your body can repair muscle tissue. So I like to make sure my lunch has protein. especially great for pre and post-workout. And protein also gives you more energy to exercise. So while your snacks don’t necessarily need to be high in protein, it’s a good idea for your meals to be!
  • Fat – most gummy or “energy” bars are low in fat. So try to make sure you’re getting enough fat at meal times.
  • Food Weight – Plan on an average of 2 pounds of food per day, per person. For me, I like to aim for a max of 8oz or half a pound per meal, which leaves 8oz for snacks. I like to balance fresh stuff and make sure that I’m not carrying low calorie high weight items. Unless it’s produce items that I’ll consume on the first day like an apple or carrot.

For example, if you weigh 130 pounds, plan to hike 3 miles to hang out for the weekend, you might need the lower end of calories range. But if you’re 180 pounds, hiking 11 miles and 5000’ elevation gain, you might want closer to 4000 calories or more.

backpacking meal planner spreadsheet
Backpacking Meal Planner Spreadsheet

Backpacking Food Ideas – Meal Planning:

If you think of your meals for backpacking as kind of a framework and choosing things from the 3 main categories of carb, protein/fat, fiber/fresh it can be easier to think of ideas that you might like to eat. For example, a breakfast of oatmeal, peanut butter, frozen dried strawberries hits all the categories of carbs, protein, fat, fiber/fresh. Backpacking lunches and dinners are basically a dirtbag charcuterie! So pick an item from each of the carbs, protein, fat, fiber/fresh categories – and it usually makes for a satisfying meal. From backpacking the Napali coast to Oregon bikepacking trips, this is my go-to meal strategy of backpacker foods!

Backpacking Breakfast Ideas

I consider breakfast to be the easiest backpacking meal to plan for! You can go quick and easy or more involved. And you can always add more nuts, nut butter, or protein, hemp hearts, or collagen powder to pack in extra protein and nutrients. Here are some breakfast ideas.

Backpacking Snack Ideas

Snacking is like a whole other backpacking meal category. Packing the right snacks helps you get through the day and it’s nice to have extra in case you need a little more to eat after a meal. Here are my favorite snack ideas.

Backpacking Lunch Ideas

I have a full post dedicated to backpacking lunch ideas already. Here are my favorite backpacking lunches.

  • backpacking charcutierie – pita, hard cheese, salami
  • backpacking mezze – pita flatbread, hummus, cheese
  • salmon jerky, crackers, nuts
  • PBJ flatbread

Backpacking Dinner Ideas

Dinner can feel a bit harder to plan for as you never know what you’re going to feel like after a long day of hiking. You can go easier and take ideas from lunch options, more involved with a DIY meal and dehydrating food, or just pack a ready to eat backpacking meal. The upside of packaged meals is there’s no backpacking meal prep, the downside is that they are more expensive and can feel more wasteful from a packaging perspective. Here are some dinner ideas.

Backpacker Meal Ideas: Build Your Own

The best backpacking food is the food you will actually eat! So consider your tastes and then pick some foods from the finally categories for a build your own meal approach.

  • Carbs: pita (33g), pretzels or pretzel sticks, crackers (sturdy ones are best like pita crackers, Wheat Thins etc.), bagel, naan, oatmeal packet
  • Protein/Fat: nuts, cheese (7g protein, 9g fat), jerky (10g), hummus (4g protein, 11g fat), olives packet, peanut butter packet (8g protein, 16g fat)
  • Fruit/Veg/Fiber: dried fruit, carrots (2g), apple
  • Add-ons: Condiments packets, dairy powders, proteins. Protein powder, collagen powder, hemp hearts, etc.

Carbs:

PICK ONE

Pita bread, naan, flatbread, tortillas

Whatever you call your flat bread, a whole wheat pita is a great option for backpacking. It’s sturdy, won’t get smushed, and works with a variety of other foods from making a PBJ to a charcuiterie base.

Alexis Greek Pita Flatbread, Whole Wheat (2.8oz)
Nutrition: 1 piece, 200 calories, 4.5g fat, 33g carbs (4g fiber, 1g sugar), 6g protein.

Mission Burrito Flour Tortilla, Large (2.5oz)
Nutrition: 1 tortilla, 210 calories, 4g fat, 37g carbs (2g fiber, 2g sugar), 5g protein.

Bagel (3oz)
Nutrition: 1 bagel, 270 calories, 1g fat, 53g carbs (2g fiber, 6g sugar), 9g protein.

Sturdy Crackers

Crackers are the next big carb category that work for backpacking lunches. Choose sturdy crackers that won’t get smushed.

Sea Salt Pita Crackers (1oz)
Nutrition: 11 crackers, 140 calories, 4g fat, 21g carbs (1g fiber, 0g sugar), 4g protein.

Wheat Thins Crackers (1oz)
Nutrition: 16 crackers, 140 calories, 5g fat, 22g carbs (3g fiber, 5g sugar), 2g protein.

Everything Crackers (1oz)
Nutrition: 14 crackers, 140 calories, 6g fat, 19g carbs (2g fiber, 2g sugar), 3g protein.

Nut Thins Cheddar Cheese (1oz) GF
Nutrition: 17 crackers, 130 calories, 4g fat, 22g carbs (1g fiber, 0g sugar), 3g protein.

Simple Mills Almond Flour Crackers (1oz) GF
Nutrition: 17 crackers, 150 calories, 8g fat, 18g carbs (2g fiber, 0g sugar), 3g protein.

Pretzel Crisps (1oz)
Nutrition: 11 crackers, 110 calories, 0g fat, 24g carbs (1g fiber, 2g sugar), 2g protein.

Grain or Rice packets

Couscous, rice, and quinoa all make nice base or add-ons for backpacking meals. While you can cold soak or cook many of these grains, you can also go the quicker, yet heavier route of buying ready to eat pre-cooked pouches – which are best split with another person for the large serving size. And many of these taste better with a bit of olive oil added.

Tasty Bites Organic Jasmine Rice (4.4oz is half a pouch)
Nutrition: 1/2 pouch, 250 calories, 2.5g fat, 25g carbs (0g fiber, 0g sugar), 2.5g protein.

Quinoa
Nutrition: 4oz, 190 calories, 3g fat, 33g carbs (4g fiber, 0g sugar), 7g protein.

Couscous
Nutrition: 2oz, 200 calories, 1g fat, 43g carbs (2g fiber, 1g sugar), 6g protein.

Protein / Fat:

PICK ONE

Jerky

While jerky has always been a popular backcountry food, it’s come along way in recent years! EPIC Provisions is my favorite brand and as a mostly Pescatarian, I love their Smoked Salmon Maple Strip. It’s flavorful, high in protein, and not too fishy tasting like some smoked salmon. Also tasty in a ramen bowl for dinner. They also have: wagyu beef, venison beef, turkey, bison bacon, and chicken sriracha flavors.
EPIC Maple Smoked Salmon Jerky (.8oz)
Nutrition: 1 strip, 80 calories, 4g fat, 5g carbs (0g fiber, 5g sugar), 7g protein.

Salami or summer sausage

Dry cured whole salami can be left unrefrigerated, but sliced doesn’t last as long, (once it’s open to the air)
Italian Dry Sausage (1oz)
Nutrition: 1 ounce, 80 calories, 5g fat, 2g carbs (0g fiber, 1g sugar), 7g protein.

Tuna, salmon or chicken pouch packets

The newer way of packaging tuna (and other fish and meats) is great for backpacking meals. They are sold “ready to eat” in a vacuum-sealed tearable pouch. And unlike canned tuna, they are almost liquid-free, and some are even oil-packed for extra fat. You’ll find pouches from brands like Starkist Creations, Wild Planet, Safe Catch, Patagonia Provisions and more. And flavors range from plain to BBQ to Thai. And for meats you’ll find tuna, salmon, chicken and more. These are handy for backpacking lunches with crackers and cheese, as chicken salad or tuna salad with pita.

Safe Catch Pure Wild Tuna (3oz)
Nutrition: 1 pack, 110 calories, 1g fat, 0g carbs (0g fiber, 0g sugar), 24g protein.

Cheese

Cheese always feels like a luxury backpacking item. While you do have to be careful with cheese (current food safety guidelines are to only leave cheese at room temperature for two hours.), it is possible to take cheese camping! Hard cheeses like a chunk of Parmesan or Pecorino, Kerrygold Irish cheddar are your best bet. Followed by Babybell, string cheese, and individually packed cheese servings can last a day or two depending on conditions.* Jump below to see how I keep cheese cold for the first day or two of a trip. Your cheese will last longer if you don’t pre-slice it, and I’ve also had success wrapping it in a Bee’s Wrap beeswax reusable wrap.

Kerrygold Dubliner Irish Cheddar (1oz)
Nutrition: 1 ounce, 110 calories, 9g fat, 5g carbs (0g fiber, 0g sugar), 7g protein.

Parmesan Cheese (1oz)
Nutrition: 1 ounce, 110 calories, 7g fat, 1g carbs (0g fiber, 0g sugar), 9g protein.

Babybel White Cheddar (.7oz)
Nutrition: 1 round, 70 calories, 6g fat, 0g carbs (0g fiber, 0g sugar), 4g protein.

Cream Cheese (1oz)
Nutrition: 1 ounce, 100 calories, 10g fat, 0g carbs (0g fiber, 0g sugar), 2g protein.

Cheese Crisps

Cheese crisps are a miracle invention for cheese lovers. While they look like crackers, they’re actually just cheese! Add them to your backpacking food when you want a cheese taste, without needing refrigeration! Parmesan, cheddar, asiago, pepper jack. You can even make your own!
Whisps Parmesan Cheese Crisps (1oz)
Nutrition: 23 crackers, 150 calories, 10g fat, 1g carbs (0g fiber, 0g sugar), 13g protein.

Hummus

There a couple ways to have hummus on-trail. You can bring your own in a container, pack an individual serving (single use plastic fyi), or make dehydrated hummus which you’ll need to add water and olive oil to make. While these need to be refrigerated, this falls into the dairy category for me. Depending on where you are backpacking, if you can find a cool place in your pack out of the sun, they should be fine for the first day or two. *Note: Pacific Northwest camping conditions may vary greatly from where you are so please use your own judgement as no one wants backcountry food poisoning.

Sabra Classic Hummus (2oz)
Nutrition: 1 container, 150 calories, 11g fat, 9g carbs (3g fiber, 0g sugar), 4g protein.

Nut butters

Nut butters like almond butter, peanut butter, cashew and more*, are an easy way to quickly add calories to your backpacking meals. And the small packets of nut butters are an easy way to bring peanut butter camping. Justin’s, TrailButter, and Rx are the most popular. There are tons of flavors to choose from, my favorite is the Justin’s Almond Maple. Great addition to breakfast oatmeal and lunch to pita, crackers, or apples.

Justin’s Maple Almond Butter (1.1oz)
Nutrition: 1 packet, 210 calories, 17g fat, 8g carbs (2g fiber, 5g sugar), 5g protein.

*If you’re allergic to nuts, there are also seed butters like pumpkin and sunflower seed butter from 88Acres.

Nuts

Nuts are a great addition to a backpacking “charcuterie” lunch or extra ingredient for a wrap or pita. Pine nuts, cashews, almonds – whatever nuts you choose, are great as a snack, for some extra crunch, and rounding out some calories, protein and fat to your meal. You’ll find the best deals and least wasteful packaging options in the bulk section of your grocery store! Target also sells 30oz containers, 9oz packs, and some individually wrapped nuts and trail mixes. I buy the large sizes and then put them in ReZip reusable snack bags.

Cashews (1oz)
Nutrition: 30 cashews, 160 calories, 13g fat, 8g carbs (1g fiber, 2g sugar), 5g protein.

Olives or sun-dried tomatoes

Oloves brand is an option if you’d like to add on some different flavors to your lunch smorgbrod.

Oloves single pack of olives (1.1oz)
Nutrition: 1 pack, 43 calories, 4.4g fat, 0g carbs, 0g protein.

Tasty Bites Ready to Eat Rice, Beans, or Curry

Tasty Bites is a popular brand for pre-cooked ready to eat meal additions. Most of these packets are best with something else. For example adding rice to your curry or a tortilla to your rice and beans. And while they taste better warmed up, they can be eaten cold. If you are backpacking with another person, these can be nice split in half, like for burrito fixings etc.

Tasty Bite Cuban Rice & Beans (8oz pouch)
Nutrition: 1 pack, 390 calories, 8g fat, 39g carbs, 6g protein.

Tasty Bite Coconut Squash Dal (10oz pouch)
Nutrition: 1 pack, 370 calories, 15g fat, 49g carbs, 11g protein.

Fiber / Fresh:

PICK ONE

Dehydrated & Freeze Dried Fruit – banana, apple, strawberries etc.

Dehydrated fruit makes a great snack while backpacking, but can also be added to backpacking meals. This is also one of the easiest categories of food to start with for dehydrating your own food. My favorite are dried banana strips and dried strawberry slices. Think of these a your kind of fresh, fiber and carb sources. There are also a lot of freeze dried fruit options – mango, strawberry, and more.

Dried Apple slices (1.4 oz)
Nutrition: 1.4oz, 130 calories, 0g fat, 32g carbs (3g fiber, 28g sugar), 0g protein.

Frozen Dried Strawberries (.5 oz)
Nutrition: .5oz, 50 calories, 0g fat, 11g carbs (2g fiber, 8g sugar), 1g protein.

Dehydrated Veggies – kale chips, broccoli etc.

Yes, you can dehydrated or make your own veggies, but there are also ones to purchase if you’re not wanting to make your own. Trader Joes has some great options here and Rhythm Superfoods or Whole Foods.

Rhythm Organic Kale Chips (1oz)
Nutrition: 1/2 bag, 130 calories, 10g fat, 7g carbs (3g fiber, 2g sugar), 5g protein.

Fresh Fruits & Veggies

Fresh fruits and veggies are not the best backpacking foods because they’re usually heavy and take up a lot of space. But they’re also good for you and help balance out all the snacky food. These are best for the first day or two not only for freshness, but they also tend to be a bit heavier weight to carry. I like it for the trade off of something fresh though, especially if you’re sharing with something. Thing like carrots and apples that are sturdy and will add a little extra delight to your meal.

Fresh Apple (5oz)
Nutrition: 1 apple, 95 calories, 0g fat, 25g carbs (4g fiber, 20g sugar), 1g protein.

Fresh Baby Carrots (3oz)
Nutrition: 3oz, 35 calories, 0g fat, 8g carbs (2g fiber, 5g sugar), 1g protein.

Extras, Condiments, Add-ons:

PICK ONE / OPTIONAL

Condiment packets

There are a ton of options to upgrade you backpacking meals with condiment packets: olive oil, coconut oil, sriracha, hot sauce, soy sauce, mayo, mustard, ketchup, BBQ sauce, chili garlic sauce, ranch dressing, lemon or lime, honey.

Mayonnaise packet (.4oz)
Nutrition: 1 packet, 90 calories, 10g fat, 0g carbs (0g fiber, 0g sugar), 0g protein.

Olive oil packet (.4oz)
Nutrition: 1 packet, 90 calories, 11g fat, 0g carbs (0g fiber, 0g sugar), 0g protein.

Powders – butter, cream, cheese

Another “upgrade” option is to add dairy powders. You can get butter powder, heavy cream/milk powder, and cheese powder.

Cheese powder (.5oz)
Nutrition: 2TB or .5oz, 70 calories, 5g fat, 4g carbs (0g fiber, 4g sugar), 3g protein.

Extra Protein – protein powder, collagen powder, hemp hearts etc.

There are also extra ways to sneak in protein to your backpacking meals: protein powder, collagen powder, hemp hearts, etc. However, a word of warning, this is a category it really makes sense to test this out before your trip. For example, I think the taste and clumps of protein powder ruins the taste of oatmeal, so I’d rather just eat an extra protein bar. But adding collagen powder (includes protein) and hemp hearts worked fine with my oatmeal.

Protein Powder (1.6oz)
Nutrition: 1 scoop, 150 calories, 4g fat, 15g carbs (5g fiber, 0g sugar), 21g protein.

Collagen Peptides Powder (.3oz)
Nutrition: 1 scoop, 35 calories, 0g fat, 0g carbs (0g fiber, 0g sugar), 9g protein.

Hemp Hearts (1oz)
Nutrition: 3tbsp, 180 calories, 15g fat, 1g carbs (1g fiber, 1g sugar), 10g protein.

Backpacking Meal Planner

The Backpacking Meal Plan Spreadsheet is part of my backpacking gear list spreadsheet. Think of it as more of a sketch pad to remember what you like to eat while backpacking. If you’re extra ambitious, there are columns to track nutrition and weight of the meal. This is helpful for longer trips or if you have specific calorie and nutritional needs! Need more ideas? Check out my backpacking lunch ideas here.

Download the spreadsheet with example data and empty sheets to fill in your own backpacking food, gear, calculate your pack weight, and plan your next epic backpacking trip! I’ve listed the spreadsheet as a “Pay What You Want” price.

bikepacking packing list
Bikepacking flat lay

I hope you enjoyed this look at a backpacking meal planner and food ideas! Happy camping!

backpacking meal planner and packable food ideas