When it comes to backpacking food and meal planning – lunch is one of the most challenging to plan, yet surprisingly simple. Camping breakfast is always the easiest to plan. And dinners can be simpler just from having more time, cooking with a camp stove and using backpacker meals etc. That leaves us with lunch. This post is all about ideas for hiking and backpacking lunch when you’re stopping on trail for 10-30 minutes for a break, but not so involved that you’re unpacking your bag, using your camp stove, or prepping a big meal. So here are 17+ no cook backpacking lunch ideas that are NOT just snack bars.
Backpacking & Hiking Lunch Ideas:
I like to divvy these lunch ideas into two categories. The first is our more challenging one of mostly non-perishable items, lighter weight and no-cook lunches good for multi-day backpacking or bikepacking that aren’t just snacks or bars. The second category is the easier category which is basically day hike lunch ideas or your first (or second, depending) day of backpacking. Where you can bring more perishable, heavier items, or leftovers. Followed by a mix and match your own guide as a backpacking meal framework. Pick one or two items from each category of carb, protein/fat, fiber/fresh.
12 Backpacking Lunch Ideas – No Cooking Required:
While you could of course eat snacks for lunch, this post is all about those hiking and backpacking lunch ideas that are not just opening another Lara Bar or Cliff Bar. But also not full on cooked meals like dinners. So no stove required. You’re not walking down the trail eating these lunches, but you’re stopping for 10-30 min and getting stuff out of your pack! So here are backpacking lunch ideas in the 400-500 calorie range for a quick trail lunch.
1. Flatbread PBJ
The backpacker’s take on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich follows the basic formula of flatbread (naan, pita, tortilla etc), nut butter (packets like Justin’s maple almond butter or peanut butter honey), and sweetener which you can skip if you get a sweetened peanut butter packet! Upgrade: Bonne Maman Strawberry Jam packet.
Nutrition: 1 naan & Justin’s packet: 390 calories, 20g fat, 41g carbs, 12g protein. 3.8oz
2. Backpacker’s crepe
The backpacker’s crepe is just slightly less fancy than one you’d find in Paris – tortilla and Justin’s chocolate hazelnut spread packet. Upgrade: add in dried banana strips or slices or frozen dried strawberries! You could also use pita or naan bread for this.
Nutrition: 1 tortilla & Packet, 390 calories, 18g fat, 49g carbs (5g fiber, 9g sugar), 9g protein. 3.6oz
3. Backpacker’s charcuterie – meat & cheese board version
Many of our favorite backpacking lunches are really just some version of a backpacking charcuterie or meat and cheese board. Pick a carb (pita, crackers etc), meat (salami), hard cheese (Dubliner irish cheddar, parmesan etc.) Upgrade: dried apple slices. If you opt for pita instead of crackers, you can also make a backpackers pizza-dilla (tortilla, cheese, salami, and hot sauce or ketchup), which is also good heated up as a dinner.
Nutrition: 1oz crackers, 2oz salami, 1oz cheese, 410 calories, 23g fat, 30g carbs (1g fiber, 2g sugar), 25g protein. 4oz
4. Backpacker’s Mediterranean mezze
This next backpacker’s lunch appetizer combo has a Mediterranean flair. Pita or pita crackers, hummus, olives (or sun dried tomatoes). Upgrade: carrots, cheese, pine nuts, sun-dried tomato, falafel. Or make a veggie mezze wrap with pita, hummus, sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and a sprinkle of kale chips.
Nutrition: 1 pita, hummus, olives, 433 calories, 22g fat, 49g carbs (5g fiber, 9g sugar), 9g protein. 3.6oz
5. Backpacker’s vegetarian fruit and nut cheese board
This is similar to the dirtbag charcuterie above, but make it vegetarian! This time choose crackers or pita, hard cheese (Dubliner, Babybel, parmesan), and add fruit and nuts – cashews and/or dried apple slices. There are also some vegetarian jerky options for backpackers.
Nutrition: 1oz crackers, 1oz cheese, 1oz apple, 1oz cashews, 540 calories, 26g fat, 66g carbs (5g fiber, 30g sugar), 16g protein. 4oz
6. Backpacker’s pescatarian snack board
Salmon jerky also goes great with pita or crackers. Just add in some dried fruit, cheese, and/or nuts and you have your own pescatarian snack board.
Nutrition: 1 pita, jerky, 1oz apple, 1oz cheese. 560 calories, 18g fat, 71g carbs (7g fiber, 34g sugar), 26g protein. 5.8oz
7. Tuna pita
The backpacking version of a tuna salad sandwich or wrap. Pick your bread (pita, crackers or tortilla), tuna packet (flavored options as well), and add a mayo. Upgrade: add relish or mustard. (Super upgrade: hard boiled egg if it’s your first or 2nd day on trail!)
Nutrition: 1 pita, tuna packet, mayo. 400 calories, 16g fat, 33g carbs (4g fiber, 1g sugar), 30g protein. 6.2oz
8. Backpacking burrito
Sometimes you just want a burrito! This backpacking lunch is best used when you have someone to split the ingredients with, as the rice and beans packet is 8oz. You can also dehydrate rice and beans and then re-hydrate, however I consider that kind of effort more in line with dinner. Upgrade: hot sauce packet
Nutrition: 1 tortilla, 1/2 packet of rice/beans, cheese. 515 calories, 50g fat, 62g carbs (4g fiber, 1g sugar), 30g protein.
10. Ready to eat curry & rice packets
If you feel like mixing it up for something different than the typical flatbread + protein/fat backpacking lunch, ready to eat meals can be an option. Tasty Bites has precooked meal options if you’re interested in cold or lukewarm curry and rice. And these packets are best split with someone else as they’re 2 servings. Upgrade: dried coconut. You could also mix one of their rice or quinoa packets up as cold “pasta” salad with olive oil, chickpeas, and seasoning.
Nutrition: 1/2 rice pouch, 1/2 curry pouch. 435 calories, 10g fat, 50g carbs (6g fiber, 1g sugar), 8g protein. 9.4oz
11. Cold soak backpacker meal, noodles, couscous, mashed potatoes etc.
Another slightly more unconventional lunch idea is to cold soak something that you would typically reserve as a backpacking dinner option (ramen noodles, rice noodles, couscous, instant mashed potatoes) or just an off the shelf backpacking meal packet. So you could either add water in the morning, and give it a bit of time to cold soak while you hike, or you could even add hot water (just make extra when you are making your morning coffee and oatmeal) to a backpacker meal and then carry it until lunch time. The cons to this approach are 1. food safety of what you’re rehydrating and for how long it will be safe to eat. 2. where you can store the package of food in your bag that won’t accidentally bust open or make a mess. YMMV. Note: I have not tried this approach, but cold soaking is growing in popularity, especially those that backpack without a stove!
12. Meal bar
Last but not least, the meal bar. Personally, I classify these as a snack! But what’s nice about these bars is they have so many calories they can act as a meal if needed. They definitely feel like too much of same same to eat the entire bar for one meal though. So these are nice item to split with a hiking partner, or save for later. Handy as a back up calories for when things don’t go as planned and you need to eat quick.
Nutrition: 1 bar. 400 calories, 20g fat, 46g carbs (6g fiber, 18g sugar), 9g protein. 3oz
Day Hike Lunch Ideas & 1st Day(s) on Trail Backpacking Lunch Ideas:
What’s great about day hike lunches or the first day of backpacking, is that almost anything goes. You can bring heavier or more perishable food. And it’s more about how much space it takes up, if you can keep it cold for a few hours, and it not get too squished. So leftover, sandwiches, salad bowls, cold pasta salads. Game on!
1. Leftovers! Pizza! Quesadilla! Whatever you got!
If you’re a fan of cold pizza (raises hand), then you might enjoy a giant slice of pizza for your first day of backpacking lunch. Or a quesadilla! Guac and chips? It’s almost like a challenge to see what the most non-backpacking food you can bring for the first day’s lunch. Don’t worry, the rest of this lists is more useful than look in your fridge for leftovers! ;)
2. Frozen Uncrustables sandwiches or regular PBJ
These frozen mini sandwiches are a convenient way to have a pbj while hiking. According to Smucker’s “Unrefrigerated Uncrustables Sandwiches should be eaten within 6-8 hours of thawing”. So file this under the general food awareness, weather, etc of what you’re comfortable with similar to cheese and this one could also be an option for the first day or two of a multi-day backpacking trip, depending on where you can keep it in your pack.
Nutrition: 2 sandwiches: 420 calories, 18g fat, 56g carbs, 12g protein. 4oz
3. Pre-made sandwich or bowl
Almost anything goes for a day hike lunch or your first day of backpacking. It’s more about how much space it takes up, if you can keep it cold for a few hours, and it not get squished. So pre-made sandwiches, salad or grain bowls, cold pasta salad etc are all fun options. And by pre-made I just mean that you’re not stopping mid-trail to prepare theses lunches. Whether or not you buy the pre-made lunch or make the pre-made lunch is up to you!
4. Bagel & cream cheese
Bagels aren’t the most ideal backpacking meal because they take up more volume-wise. But I still love them for day hike lunches or the first day of backpacking. They’re simple and satisfying. Note: for a day hike I would just make my bagel sandwich at home, but there’s also the option to get single serving cream cheese packs if you’re wanting to save the cream cheese longer. Note: like other dairy, cream cheese should be refrigerated so YMMV. Upgrade: dried fruit or smoked salmon for a backpackers diy lox bagel.
Nutrition: 1 bagel, cream cheese. 370 calories, 11g fat, 63g carbs (2g fiber, 6g sugar), 11g protein. 4oz
Build Your Own Backpacking Lunch:
If you think of your backpacking lunches 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. Backpacking lunches 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 lunch. From day hikes around Portland to backpacking the Napali coast, and Oregon bikepacking trips, this is my go-to lunch strategy!
- CARBS – Pick One: pita, pretzels or pretzel sticks, crackers (sturdy ones are best like pita crackers, Wheat Thins etc.), bagel, naan bread
- PROTEIN/FAT – Pick Two: nuts, cheese, jerky, hummus, olives packet, peanut butter packet etc.
- FRUIT/VEG/FIBER – Pick One: dried fruit, carrots, apple, frozen dried strawberries, dehydrated banana etc.
- EXTRA ADD-ONS: Condiments packets, olive oil, dairy powders, protein powder etc.
Things to consider when planning backpacking food:
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.
How to Keep Food Cold Backpacking without Cooler
A few years ago I found a hilarious insulated fanny pack at Target in a fun pattern (similar). While the pack itself won’t keep things cold for too long, since it’s lightweight (about 4 oz), combined with 2 large ice cubes (I have an ice cube tray similar to this one) in a ziploc, depending on the weather, it can keep things like cheese, hummus, and a first night beer cold. This strategy is best for day hike lunches or the first 1-2 days of a backpacking trip. But what’s nice about this, is once the ice melts, you don’t have wasted space it’s just cold water you can drink. And you can still use the insulated bag to organize food as needed!
So if you ever feel a little iffy about bringing things like string cheese, hummus or other dairy, this might be a good option for you!
Backpacking Meal Plan
Make sure you check out my backpacking gear list spreadsheet, if you’re interested in planning out your meal plan in the same way. I have a tab on that spreadsheet for backpacker meal planning. That auto-calculates meal weights and you can add in your favorite meals and fill in nutritional details like calories, fat, carbs, protein etc. if you want to be sure you’re fueling your body enough for certain backpacking trips!
I think of it as more of a sketch pad to note what I like to eat while camping. And it’s definitely helped me compare different lunch ideas and how adding or replacing an item for different combinations impacts the weight of lunches, and also the caloric and nutritional info. And price, because if every meal was a backpacking pre-packaged meal, that really adds up. Plus, I find that the backpacking meals are fun for dinners, but they really do take up a lot of space and don’t work for the kind of quick backpacking or hiking lunches that I like to have.
Backpacking Gear List Spreadsheet Download
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.
After you have all your gear listed, you might not use it in detail for every trip, but it sure makes things easier when you’re planning a big adventure and want to make sure you remember everything.
Happy hiking and enjoy your lunch! ;)