Backpacking vacations mean leaving most luxuries, and some necessities behind. Every year we choose to spend seven days of vacation time hiking the mountain wilderness areas of Colorado. Our backpacks hold a limited amount of gear. Our bodies can only take a limited amount of weight. Every year we get older and wiser when it comes to packing for our trip.
There is some gear we never want to be without. A good closed cell mattress means restful sleep no matter the terrain. Headlamps and a good flashlight so we do not miss anything in the dark. Bear canister to keep critters out of our food. Sleeping bag, tent, ponchos (it always rains at least one day), notebook and cameras are necessary. And there is one other thing, delicious, nutritious food.
The food we pack must deliver nutritional energy, be easy to fix with minimal clean up, and be meals we can look forward to after a hard day on the trail. Years of being our own best guinea pigs resulted in a menu for two people, for six days that fits inside a standard bear canister.
You will not find any freeze-dried backpacking foods on our menu. Frankly, we have found that the taste does not justify the high cost of those meals. We eat well, pack light, have easy clean up, and save money that can be spent at the closest restaurant after we get off the trail.
BREAKFAST — The most important meal of the day. Time to get powered up for the day with something warm. All you need to do is boil water. Easy to do even if you are half-asleep.
Instant oatmeal — Pick the flavor you like. Generally three packets for two people per day is enough. Put loose oatmeal in a zippered plastic bag. It packs real tight after squeezing the air out.
Dried fruit — Figure a tablespoon per person. We love dried tart cherries or blueberries. Zippered plastic bag again.
Protein Powder — Go to your local health food or nutrition stores and get some. It is mostly tasteless and your muscles will thank you for it. Put a teaspoons worth for each person per day in a small screw top plastic bottle.
Coffee — Do not leave home without it. Take sugar and creamer in small screw top plastic bottles if you need it.
LUNCH — The sun is overhead and you are ready to take a break. Your body needs some fuel. Lunch is in your pocket.
Gorp — Good old raisins, peanuts is a long time staple on the trail. Make it the way you like it and pack it in snack size zippered plastic bags. A bag per day per person works for us. Nibble a little on the trail and finish it for lunch.
Meat Nuggets — They are like jerky except more tender and come in a variety of flavors including BBQ and teriyaki. Package them in snack size bags, too. A couple will hold enough for two people for six days.
Cereal Bars — These are great lunch treats and they supply high levels of nutrition. Cost is about a third of what youêll pay for trail bars. You will smile when you take a bite of a favorite cereal and milk at lunch. One per person per day, but take a few extra for after dinner treats.
DINNER — You want something delicious to end the day with. It should be easy to prepare because you sure do not want to have to scrub out pots.
Noodle dishes — There is an astounding variety of easy-to-prepare meals on grocery store shelves. We look for ones that need only water, a little olive oil, and the dried noodles and seasonings in the box. Take a few home and try them because you do not want to pack foods you do not enjoy. We made the mistake of taking tabouli once. It was a culinary disaster. Going hungry at night is not conducive to a relaxing night at base camp. The oriental style dishes seem to have the best flavors and bringing water to a boil, then simmering for three minutes is simple. Pick the ones you like and repack them in zippered bags. Use an indelible marker to write the cooking instructions on the bag.
Noodles and spices are not enough to satisfy a hungry backpacker. Look for pre-cooked meats packaged in foil pouches. We have tried chicken, ground beef, shrimp and tuna. Try shrimp or chicken with oriental flavors, ground beef is great with cheese-based dishes, and tuna works well with creamy herb noodles. The foil packaging is a little heavy but well worth it for the flavor and ease of preparation.
To add vegetables, or for the vegetarian there are excellent dried mixed vegetables in some stores. Put them in the boiling water and let them rehydrate as the noodles are cooking. Dried carrot, yam, jicama and green beans make great munchies, too.
DRINKS — Water, and plenty of it is essential to good health and energy on the trail. Take along packets of powdered sport drink, lemonade, fruit drink, or whatever you like best. Consider taking ones with sugar for an extra boost of energy on the trail.
Hot chocolate is great to add to morning coffee or to sip by itself.
Being on the trail for days should not mean giving up on flavorful meals. Taking the time to put together your own menu will save packing weight and give you something to look forward to when hungry strikes. Less time spent cleaning up is just a bonus.