You spent good money on your backpacking stove.
So, why not put it to good use by cooking a variety of delicious backpacking meals rather than the same old grub time after time again?
But wait – each style of backpacking stove is best suited to cooking different meals. Below I break down the best backpacking meals for each type of stove, including small canister, integrated canister, and liquid fuel models. I also list my favorite stoveless meals.
Once you know the best meals to cook on your backpacking stove, you can begin your backpacking meal planning with complete confidence.
Quick Meal Planning Tips
Selecting your favorite recipes and stocking up on supplies is only one part of planning the best backpacking meals.
Here are a few additional meal planning tips and considerations:
- Weight – Select lightweight, compact ingredients that don’t take much cooking gear to prepare.
- Calories & Nutrition – Outdoor Herbivore Blog recommends at least 2,000 calories a day for easy hiking and over 5,000 calories a day for difficult terrain. Make sure that the foods you select have a good weight-to-calorie ratio. Dehydrated and freeze-dried meals are lightweight, calorie-dense, and retain most of their nutrients.
- Packaging – Never bring food in its bulky original packaging. Always pack into lightweight containers like plastic freezer bags. Look for single-use condiments or put condiments into small, reusable containers.
- Make Ahead – Prepare all or most of your meals at home to reduce weight/bulk and make cooking easier. Just put the ingredients on your backpacking stove and reheat.
- Fuel Usage – Consider how much fuel each meal will use. Meals that require boiling use more fuel. An alternative option is to soak foods like pasta in cold water for 30 minutes before boiling to reduce boil time to just a minute or two.
- Water Availability – Most backpacking meals require water to cook or reheat. Consider meals that don’t use much water if you won’t have easy water access on your trip.
* Stay tuned for our backpacking meal planning guide for even more tips!
Best Backpacking Meals with No Stove
Backpacking without a stove is sometimes favored by ultralight backpackers or those going on short (one or two-night) trips.
Here are my favorite no-cook backpacking meals when bringing a stove just doesn’t make sense.
Oatmeal is my go-to backpacking breakfast.
Although I prefer it hot, most instant oatmeal tastes good cold. Mix in some dried fruit or nuts to spice things up. Or, prepare your favorite oatmeal recipe the night before your trip, pack it into plastic freezer bags, and voila – delicious no-cook oatmeal for the trail.
Check out MSR’s overnight oats recipe.
My second favorite stoveless backpacking breakfast is yogurt.
Because unrefrigerated yogurt spoils quickly, I make dehydrated yogurt for backpacking instead. Once dehydrated, use a coffee grinder to grind into a fine powder. Pack in plastic freezer bags, rehydrate with water each morning, and add your favorite dried fruits, nuts, or granola.
Another option is to make dehydrated yogurt bites. They are a delicious and lightweight backpacking snack to munch on throughout the day.
Check out Trail Recipe’s no-cook dehydrated yogurt.
Sandwich or Wrap
You can’t go wrong with a sandwich for lunch on a short backpacking trip.
Like any backpacking meal, always use only non-perishable ingredients that won’t go bad when left unrefrigerated. Foods like salami, cheese (mini Babybel cheese in the wax wrappers is my favorite), and peanut butter are a good start.
Classic peanut butter and jelly is a good go-to, although I prefer a cinnamon-raison peanut butter sandwich. Mix peanut butter, honey, and cinnamon together, slather on two slices of bread, add a few raisons, and you’re good to go.
I usually prefer to make my sandwiches with pita bread, sandwich wraps, or tortillas as they hold up better than standard sandwich bread to the bangs and bruises of backpacking. Plus, they won’t get soggy before lunchtime.
Check out Backpacker’s hearty trail sandwiches for four quick and convenient backcountry sandwich ideas.
For short backpacking trips, you can probably get away with your favorite fresh salad recipe packed in a lightweight container.
However, dehydrated backpacking salad is the way to go on longer trips to limit the risk of spoiling and lower overall weight. Luckily, your salad options are nearly limitless as you can dehydrate and rehydrate just about any vegetables you want (although shredded veggies are best). I almost always add in beans (usually garbanzo) into all my camping salads.
Check out the Pacific Crest Trail Association’s best trail salad recipes for more ideas.
Jerky, Trail Mix, Fruit Leather, Energy Bars
Jerky, trail mix (also known as GORP), fruit leather, and energy bars are some of the best backpacking snacks around.
Instead of preparing an actual lunch, I often just consistently snack between lunch and dinner instead.
Jerky is notable as an excellent source of protein. It has a good calories/nutrients-to-weight ratio which makes it an energy-boosting trail snack. Check out Backpacker’s beef jerky taste test for their top picks.
Energy bars are another extremely popular trail snack for backpacking. My favorite is still Clif Bar, although ProBar Meal Bar is also hard to beat for a nutritious and calorie dense meal. You can even make your own energy bars for a delicious homemade backpacking meal.
Best Backpacking Meals with a Small Canister Stove
Thanks to their quick boiling time and excellent simmering ability, you’re able to cook a wide variety of different backpacking meals, although the small size of the single burner slightly limits your options.
Here are my favorite backpacking meals to make with a small canister stove.
Potatoes are a simple, high-calorie meal for backpacking.
Although instant potatoes (Bob’s Red Mill Potato Flakes are my favorite) are lightweight and compact, you can’t go wrong with the real thing. For short trips, I bring a few small russet potatoes (boiled and wrapped in foil ahead of time).
Potatoes are easy to reheat with your small canister stove for a quick trail dinner. You can even prepare over a backcountry campfire if allowed (always double check local fire bans and practice leave no trace principles).
Another benefit of potatoes is their versatility. Add in your favorite toppings (I’m a fan of avocado, salsa, and cheese). To really kick this backpacking dinner into high gear, add bacon bits and powdered eggs for a calorie-dense meal that tastes like home cooking.
Nothing beats crawling out of your sleeping bag to a warm breakfast of scrambled eggs.
Many backpackers prefer powdered eggs because they’re lightweight, don’t break, and don’t spoil. You can even dehydrate eggs at home, although I find that store bought powdered eggs do the job well.
Dehydrated eggs are just as versatile as instant potatoes. Make a veggie scramble, add in bacon bits and cheese, or throw everything in a tortilla for a filling breakfast burrito. Or add eggs to just about any dinnertime dish (my favorites are pasta and rice) for an extra boost of flavor and protein.
But the options don’t end there. If you’re not a fan of dehydrated eggs, make a scramble at home, seal it in a plastic freezer bag, freeze overnight, and then cook on the first morning of your trip (or for dinner the first night).
It’s even possible to bring fresh eggs backpacking. Hard-boiled eggs are a good option or you can bring fresh, uncooked eggs in an egg holder (like Coghlan’s Two-Egg Holder).
Just remember that fresh eggs are perishable (even when hard-boiled) so it’s important to be wary of potential spoilage on the trail. That said, I’ve found that fresh eggs last for at least a week with no refrigeration. They’re more long-lasting than you might think (Outside Magazine agrees).
Fresh Off the Grid has an excellent trail recipe to make a backpacking breakfast with spinach and sun-dried peppers.
Quesadillas are one of my favorite backpacking recipes to cook with a small canister stove.
Like many of the meal ideas on this list, quesadillas are incredibly versatile. Make them with just tortillas and cheese, add in black beans or refried beans, slice half an avocado, throw on a dash of salsa or hot sauce – and you’re good to go.
Adding meat to a backcountry quesadilla is a little more difficult. Of course, you can go with dehydrated chicken, but this takes extra fuel to rehydrate. I recommend salami, beef jerky, or even bacon bits if you just don’t want to go with a meatless quesadilla.
Best Backpacking Meals with an Integrated Canister Stove
An integrated canister stove, like our top-rated Jetboil MiniMo, is ideal for making simple backpacking meals.
These stoves are notable for their quick boiling time and built-in cooking pot which makes them an excellent choice for preparing dehydrated backpacking meals. Some models do have the ability to simmer, although you can typically only use the built-in pot (not your own cookware).
Here are some of the best one-pot backpacking meals to prepare with an integrated canister stove.
A hot bowl of hearty soup is one of my go-to backpacking lunches when I’m camping with my integrated canister stove.
Buy a pre-made soup kit, like the Harmony House Backpacking Soup and Chili Kit, or make your own soup from scratch. Like most backpacking meals, it’s best to prepare your soup at home so all you need to do is reheat it back up once you hit the trail.
Chicken noodle soup is always popular, especially when camping in the winter, because it’s easy to make, healthy, and fills you up. This chicken noodle soup for the backpacker’s soul recipe from Thru Eat is hard to beat!
You can even buy a can or box of soup from the grocery store (try Bear Creek Country Kitchens if you can find it) and repackage it in a plastic freezer bag. However, I almost always prefer to make my own soups from scratch to keep the weight down and calories high.
The Yummy Life has an excellent list of 8 instant dry soup mixes that you can make ahead at home to use as a cup-of-soup for your backpacking excursions.
Pasta and noodle dishes have always been a staple among backpackers.
This cheap backpacking meal is not only affordable and easy to prepare, but the options for what to bring and what to make are honestly nearly endless.
For me, ramen is the way to go. Instant ramen noodles always work well. I add in corn, green peas, onions, and beans almost every time. Other tasty additions include dehydrated meat or tuna.
And, if you do prefer instant ramen noodles, I recommend throwing the included seasoning packet away. It has way too much salt.
Instead of the seasoning packet, make your own seasoning. I like to flavor my ramen noodles with garlic, ginger, and miso paste. Soy sauce, bouillon cubes, or plain old salt and pepper also work well.
Because of their light weight, I often use ramen noodles for other pasta dishes – including ramen noodle spaghetti. Bring along some spaghetti sauce, your favorite pre-cooked veggies, and some parmesan. It might sound a little gross at first but it actually tastes pretty darn good!
Check out Fresh Off The Grid’s revamped backpacking ramen for another fantastic trail recipe.
Mac and Cheese
Of course, ramen is just the tip of the iceberg as far as pasta for backpacking goes. Instant mac and cheese is another favorite.
Mac and cheese, like all pasta, is loaded with carbohydrates which will give you plenty of energy for hiking the next day. For a gourmet and high-calorie take, add your favorite grated cheese, a little powdered milk or powdered butter (Nido Whole Milk Powder is my favorite), a tiny sprinkle of flour for texture, and your favorite veggies and dried meats.
The Soda Can Stove gives an excellent breakdown on preparing backcountry mac n’ cheese for the trail.
Not a fan of mac and cheese? Pretty much any pasta works well for backpacking. The key is to look for a type that cooks fast. The longer you boil the water, the more fuel you’ll use. To further reduce fuel use, pre-soak the noodles in cold water for up to an hour before boiling. This greatly shortens boil time to conserve fuel.
If you’re looking for something healthy and filling that doesn’t break the bank, then couscous is for you.
This cheap backpacking meal makes the perfect trail lunch or dinner. Heck, you can even cook it up for a protein-packed breakfast.
As far as specific couscous recipes for camping, I often go with Andrew Skurka’s always appetizing curry couscous. Prepare it at home, pack it in your favorite lightweight container, and heat it up on your integrated canister stove for a warm meal.
One of my favorite things about this backpacking meal is that couscous doesn’t require constant boiling. Bring the water to a boil, stir in the couscous, turn the stove off, and let sit for five or so minutes with the lid on.
DIY backpacking meals aren’t for everyone. Luckily, there are a huge range of pre-made meals available.
These one-pot backpacking meals typically consist of dehydrated or freeze-dried ingredients assembled to resemble a normal meal. Just boil water, add it into the included packaging, wait a few minutes, and then eat your dinner straight out of the bag. Best of all, there’s no clean up afterwards!
Chief among my favorite brands are Mountain House, Packit Gourmet, Good-to-Go, Backpacker’s Pantry, and Alpineaire.
Best Backpacking Meals with a Liquid Fuel Stove
A liquid fuel stove, like our top-rated MSR WhisperLite, excels at cooking backpacking meals for large groups of people.
If you can get past their heavier weight and bulkier size, liquid fuel stoves are the best choice for preparing gourmet camping meals with a variety of ingredients. They boil quickly, simmer with ease, and work well in all weather conditions, even while winter camping.
Here are some of the best meals for backpacking to prepare with your liquid fuel stove.
Fuel up for a day of hiking with a grand breakfast of fresh pancakes.
The key is to look for a recipe without any fresh ingredients (no fresh milk or eggs). Keep it simple by just adding water to the mix (easy but not very tasty) or go big with dried eggs and dried milk.
What’s so nice about this backpacking breakfast is it’s totally customizable…bring a banana, add in a handful of chocolate chips or freeze-dried blueberries, bring a small container of maple syrup.
And why not cook up a few extra pancakes to eat as a snack or for lunch? I personally like to make peanut butter pancake sandwiches with my leftovers.
The Trek has one of my favorite trail pancakes recipes that I regularly use on my backpacking trips.
Nothing beats pizza for dinner after a long day of backpacking.
It uses a round of pita bread, tomato paste, and shredded mozzarella. Next add your favorite additional toppings like pepperoni, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, etc. Add a small splash of olive oil and water to your skillet, set to a lower simmer, and cook with the lid on for between 5 and 10 minutes.
Even better than cooking pizza on your camping stove? Cooking campfire pizza over an open campfire.
This make-ahead backpacking meal comes straight from the folks at Jetboil.
Cook up your favorite nacho toppings at home and freeze in a plastic freezer bag. They recommend diced chicken (or ground beef), taco seasoning, onion, garlic, and salsa.
Pack tortilla chips and shredded cheddar cheese in additional freezer bags. And don’t forget a small container of olive oil!
Because of the bumps and bruises of backpacking, I prefer making backcountry nachos with tortillas instead of tortilla chips (which can easily get smashed). I fry up each side of the tortilla to a crisp and tear into chip-sized wedges. Then I add in my cheese and additional toppings, cover, and simmer for a minute or two. Finally, top with sliced avocado and salsa.
For a delicious backpacking dessert, try this scrambled brownies recipe from NOLS, one of their four classic NOLS desserts.
Simply mix the pre-made brownie mix together with the suggested amount of water. Place in your well-oiled skillet and cook over low heat for around 15 minutes.
Because it’s difficult to cook brownies completely through on a backpacking stove, I go into it knowing that they will turn out gooey. After scraping the gooey goodness into a bowl, continue to mash up the finished brownies into a scrambled treat.
Need More Help?
Meal planning for backpacking isn’t exactly easy – especially if you’re a backpacking newbie.
Narrowing down the options based on stove type doesn’t only make meal planning easier, it also ensures you’ll eat well for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
If you need any help picking out the best backpacking meals for your next trip, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’m here to help!
In the meantime, here are a few of the best backpacking and food/recipes resources from Beyond The Tent:
- How to Plan a Backpacking Trip
- Complete Camp Cooking Guide
- Complete Camping Food List
- 25 Make Ahead Camping Meals
- 95 Vegan Camping Foods & Recipes
- 20 Simple & Easy Camping Recipes
- 35 Dutch Oven Camping Recipes
- 15 Camping Breakfast Ideas
These top 25+ backpacking meals are just the tip of the iceberg. That’s why we’d like to hear from you. Share your favorite meals for backpacking in the comments below!