Menu Planning for a Backpacking Trip

Menu planning is hard.  Add to that the stress of planning a menu for a trip out in the wilderness (with limited water, fuel, and ability to carry all the ingredients) and you’ve suddenly multiplied that stress.

This is what we’ve had to do for our backpacking trip that my sister, David, and I are taking.  We are really looking forward to the trip, but we are backpacking novices, and I want to make sure this trip runs as smoothly as it can!

My own inefficient use of a backpacking stove.

Luckily, there are some excellent resources online.  In particular, I found The Backpacking Chef to be incredibly helpful (if only I had a food dehydrator*).  There are some key things to keep in mind while menu planning for backpacking that you don’t normally have to think about when you’re planning for a meal at home:

  1. You are going to be active, so you need lots of carbohydrates and protein
  2. You can’t refrigerate anything (so no fresh meats, and for longer trips no fresh vegetables)
  3. You are going to be lugging every ingredient on your back for several hours before you consume it (sometimes for days), so it has to be as light as possible
  4. You have to be able to cook it as quickly as possible to use up as little fuel as possible (again, that carrying weight issue)
  5. You still want it to taste good (nobody wants to eat cardboard, especially not several meals in a row)

Evening at Sandy Neck Campground on Cape Cod

With that in mind, for the three of us for two days, I’ve come up with a very luxurious backpacking menu.  We have less than a mile to hike into our base camp, so weight is much less of an issue than more intense backpacking outings (such as thru-hikes etc.). On The Backpacking Chef, I found the following recommendation for ratios for main meals, which I’m loosely going to base my recipes off of:

1/4 cup dried meat or beans
1/4 cup dried vegetables
1/2 cup starch base
1 cup water

Since I don’t have a dehydrator, I’m not planning on meat other than beef jerky and chicken bouillon cubes.  The starch base is any instant pasta (ramen), rice, couscous, quinoa (bonus carb and protein), flaked potatoes, etc. I’m not sure I can get dried vegetables, but for the first night at least I’m not too worried and will bring fresh vegetables from our farm share.   Given all that, here’s the menu I’ve come up with:

Day 1 Dinner

  1. Ramen noodles with zucchini, onions, sun-dried tomatoes, beef jerky, garlic, and herbs
  2. “Apple Pie”

Day 2 Breakfast

  1. Bagels and peanut butter
  2. Dried Fruit and Nuts

Day 2 Lunch

  1. Sandwiches – summer sausage and hard cheese
  2. Crackers
  3. Chocolate

Day 2 Dinner

  1. Vegetable Soup with quinoa
  2. Vanilla Pudding with chocolate mint crackers and peanuts

Day 3 Breakfast

  1. Bagels and peanut butter
  2. Dried Fruit and Nuts

Sunset on Steen Mountain, Oregon

If all goes to plan, we should be covered in the food department.  Now, to make sure we have all the right gear…

* I try to keep to my self-imposed rule that I can only buy a new item if I’ve proven I can keep up whatever new habit I’ve developed over a period of time in order to justify the purchase.  David’s added rule is that if it is a kitchen purchase it has to have more than one purpose (so no ice cream or yogurt maker in my future…)

2 Comments to “Menu Planning for a Backpacking Trip”

  1. Can’t you make frozen yogurt in an ice cream maker? That makes it two purposes. And in the yogurt maker you make the yogurt that will be frozen, so there’s another two.

    Let me know if you need more justifications for gadgets. ;) And happy camping!

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