If there’s one thing that’s universal it is the love for ramen and instant noodles. From college students on a budget to professionals on a time crunch, there’s something about the convenience of ready-made meals that appeal to everyone. And when you’re backpacking with minimal supplies, the instant, just-add-water food option is a lifesaver.

Because the truth is that backpacking is very different from camping or going on a regular trip. You don’t have space, or more importantly the energy, to carry pots and pans. As a backpacker, the only thought in your head is “how can I make my pack even lighter?” But you also need quality food options that will give you the energy to get through your trek or trail.

This guide will help you figure out how to prepare backpacking dishes that cover all the nutritional bases without spending a fortune.

Step 1 – Select a carb option

The fastest way to get the energy you need as a backpacker is through carbs. That’s why these are the primary ingredients to consider. You need to load up your meals with quality carb options and grains or starchy veggies are a good place to start. Grits, granola, ramen noodles, and instant couscous are popular options because of how little effort you have to put in.

How To Make Instant Backpacking Meals

But these aren’t your only options. A quality basic is instant rice which you can get cooked and dehydrated. Make sure you’re purchasing from a quality brand and test it once before you take it on your trip. Instant oatmeal is also a good base ingredient for any meal. You can even try instant mashed potatoes and hash browns for some flavourful backpacking meals.

If you want to eat well on your backpacking trip you need to prep right. Preparing meals before you leave should be your primary strategy. When it comes to tasty backpacking meals you can start by looking up backpacking pasta recipes. While there’s really no way to go wrong with pasta you can make strategic decisions that make your life easier on the trail.

If you’ve cooked pasta at home you’ll know that it generally takes 10 to 15 minutes. However, when you’re backpacking you want to conserve time and fuel. Look for pasta types that cook in 7 to 10 minutes if you’re planning on cooking it on the trail. If you’re preparing your pasta beforehand try and stick to shells, spirals, penne, rigatoni, or rotini. The skinnier types of pasta will become inedible after a few days in your pack.

Step 2 – Select your vegetables and protein

Just because you’re backpacking doesn’t mean you can sacrifice important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and protein. If anything, the need for a balanced diet multiplies ten-fold. Treat yourself with some summer sausage, backpacking this year.

While animal protein is a good addition to your meal every once in a while and backpacking bacon is a tasty treat, you don’t need it every day. Don’t make this rookie mistake and focus on your plant-based proteins.

How To Make Instant Backpacking Meals

Your top three protein options are nuts, seeds, and beans. You can get these freeze-dried or dehydrated and they’ll add both taste and texture to your meals. Another good recommendation is egg-based pasta which will provide both the carbs and the proteins that you need in a meal. Cornmeal noodles can also bring minerals and potassium to the table.

Finally, cheese makes a protein-rich topping for any meal. Make sure you’re picking hard cheese options like dried parmesan. Grate your cheese beforehand, put it in a container, and sprinkle a little on your meals as you go. Of course, you should not try this if you’re lactose intolerant. The last thing you want on a trek is an upset stomach.

As a general rule stick to food options that you regularly enjoy and your body is used to. Don’t start experimenting with new or unknown products or brands on your trip. If you’re buying freeze-dried vegetables try them at home first. Also, taking a jar of peanut butter along will cover a large portion of your protein needs.

Step 3 – Make room for seasoning

Many new backpackers have a very utilitarian image of back-country meals. When you’re thinking of items to add to your food resources you have to consider multiple factors. Will it fulfill you nutritionally? Can it go bad during the trip? Is it fast and easy to make? However, there is a fourth question that is equally important. Will the food taste good?

Yes, you’re going backpacking and you don’t want to pack items that aren’t necessary. However, this doesn’t mean you need to omit seasonings and sauces from your meals. On the contrary, sauces can add some much-needed calories to your plate.

You can find dried sauce mixes next to the spice aisle in any grocery store. Many backpackers will take alfredo sauce, pesto sauce, cheese sauce, tomato sauce, or even curry powder to add some flavor to their meals. A small bottle of olive oil is also extremely handy.

Mix and match to get some quality meals

You can keep your ingredients in zip-top freezer bags until you need them. Make sure you keep your wet items separate from your dry items. Once you start cooking, start by boiling a little water in a pan. It’s easier to add more water than take it out so go slow. Then, you can mix and match to get some yummy combinations.

Some top favorites include:

  • ramen noodles with cheese and sauce
  • oatmeal in powdered milk topped with walnuts and dried bananas
  • dried vegetables in olive oil with some parmesan and nuts
  • rice noodles, nuts, and sesame seeds, sprinkled with soy sauce

And of course, a spoon of peanut butter will make most meals better. Overall, try and have fun with your food options. Make sure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs and don’t try and force yourself to eat bland meals.

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