OUTDOOR BASICS

Backpacking Lunch Ideas: Homemade and Hassle-Free Meals for the Outdoors

Backpacking Lunch Ideas
Daniel Carraway
Written by Daniel Carraway

What’s the highlight of a backpacking trip for you? Is it the thrill of challenging seemingly insurmountable walls? The feeling of satisfaction as you reach the top of the mountain? Whichever it is, it’s clear that you wouldn’t be able to achieve anything without an energy boost from a good, nourishing meal. It can make or break your trip, so be sure to choose from only the best backpacking lunch ideas.

The best hiking lunch ideas take into account calories, nutritional balance, the freshness of the ingredients, ease of preparation and consumption, as well as the overall weight of everything combined. While today you can find plenty of instant meal packages that are lightweight, won’t take up much space in your backpack, and are easy to prepare, nothing beats the taste and quality of some good old home cooking. Best of all, it doesn’t have to be complicated.

Backpacking Lunch Ideas

This article is an accumulation of easy-to-prepare backpacking lunch ideas. We’ve categorized our recipes into three different sections. Our home-prepped recipes are designed for those who need a hassle-free, filling meal at lunchtime to complete their day trip.

The on-site cooking section is for those who are challenging a long-term trip and consider it more effective to bring a backpacking stove with them. Power-up snacks are perfect for those who just need something simple they can eat on the go.

Home-Prepped Meals

Thinking about what kind of lunch you should pack for your next weekend hiking trip? If yours is a short day trip with just two or three participants, instead of bringing along a camping stove, fuel, and fresh ingredients, it’s easier to just pre-prepare your meals at home and pack them into nice lunchboxes.

Lunch in Lunchboxes

With home-prepped meals, all you have to do once it’s time to eat is find a cool spot to lounge in the shades, open up your lunchboxes, enjoy, and clean them afterward in a way that won’t contaminate nature.

It may not be as fun or exciting as on-site cooking, but it’s a lot simpler, quicker, and lighter. You won’t have to strain under all that weight as you make the climb—wondering when you’ll finally be able to take that food off of your shoulders and pour it into your stomach just to be done with it.

Eating Lunch

No need to wake up at the crack of dawn just to prepare the meals, because following these backpacking lunch ideas won’t cost you more than 30 minutes to an hour if you have full use of your kitchen utensils at the time.

Home-Prepped Meal #1: Sandwiches

The staple, day-trip soul food; you just can’t go wrong with sandwiches. It’s easy to prepare, filling, tastes great, and best of all, you’re free to add whichever ingredients you like as long as they are not the kind that spoils quickly.

Sandwich

Your imagination is the limit when it comes to sandwiches, but just to get you started, here we will provide you with a step by step guide on how to prep a basic sandwich. Once you have mastered the basics, you can tinker with it any way you want.

  • Choose your favorite type of bread and slice it into two separate halves so you can cram the center with all sorts of food. We recommend that you use a flat type of bread such as sliced bread instead of unevenly-edged ones. The former is less messy because you can cut them to fit exactly inside the box, leaving no extra space for the contents to spill over. On the other hand, if your trip is going to be on the long side, skip sliced bread and go for bagels or tortilla wraps instead because these can stand the test of time better.
  • Next up is the condiments. You can skip this step if you prefer dry bread, but if you like your sandwich nice and moist, adding some sauce, mayonnaise, or some good old plain butter could greatly improve the overall flavor of your meal.
  • Here’s where you can exercise your creativity. Do you like sweet and salty sandwiches like PB & J? Or do you prefer those decorated with fresh ingredients like lettuce and cold cuts? Whichever is fine, but one thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to pile them up too high. While those seven-tier sandwiches served at restaurants are certainly very impressive and appealing, they don’t work well as backpacking lunches because the tower could topple over due to the turbulence as you climb. Not to mention, eating it without a plate, a fork, and a knife would be quite complicated and messy.

Home-Prepped Meal #2: Dehydrated Salad

Never thought you could eat fresh, delicious chicken salad on the trail? Well, now you can. It’s quite simple, really, and we’ve wondered many times how this recipe hasn’t gained much popularity as a staple backpacking food so far but it seems like it’s slowly circulating around the backpacking community right now.

Dehydrated Salad

Image credit: pcta.org

Sooner or later, it will gain the recognition that it deserves; we all love salads, and they taste even better when we’re up in the mountains surrounded by a wondrous view. Best of all, dehydrated salad is lightweight and is capable of lasting for a long while. It’s also quite easy to prepare.

  • Prepare the chicken along with vegetables of your choice such as carrots, bell peppers, onions, and coleslaw. Lettuce is typically the star of any salad dish, but with dehydrated salad, they tend to fade into the background since you have to break them into small pieces anyway. Once everything is finely chopped, scatter them across a wide tray and dehydrate them all together.
  • While you wait, prepare the condiments. You can simply use mayonnaise or an instant salad condiment if you want. Pack the condiment into a separate Ziploc bag. Don’t coat them immediately onto the dehydrated vegetables; only do that once you’re ready to eat. Otherwise, the food would spoil quickly.
  • If the chicken and vegetables are all dehydrated, pack them into a box or another Ziploc bag. For added nutrition and taste, you can scatter some sesame or cilantro seeds on top.
  • The dehydrated salad is done. Now, as to how you should rehydrate it, around three hours before you’re supposed to take a break from hiking, take a minute to pour some water into the Ziploc bag. For every 3-ounce of salad, pour ¾ cup of water into the mixture. Shake well, close the bag carefully to make sure no water will spill out, then let it sit as you continue the climb.

Home-Prepped Meal #3: Logan Bread

Bread of all kinds are very filling, lightweight, and long-lasting, but your average bread is not nutritious enough considering all the physical exertion you would be put through on a mountain climb. That’s where Logan bread comes in.

Logan Bread

Image credit: tofucrossing.com

The main difference between Logan bread and your average bread is that the former is packed chock-full of calories thanks to the addition of dried fruits, seeds, and nuts. This recipe might take a bit longer to prepare, though—because you’ll have to bake it for 90 minutes, and even before that, you have to prep all the ingredients first—but it’s worth it.

  • Preheat the oven. Set the temperature to 275 degrees.
  • Mix 1 and ½ teaspoons of baking powder, half a cup of powdered milk, 3 cups of flour, 1 cup of yeast or wheat germ, and 1 cup of oats in a bowl. Don’t forget to add some salt—either to taste or around two teaspoons.
  • In a separate bowl, mix four eggs, half a cup of cranberries, half a cup of chopped walnuts, half a cup of cherries, half a cup of molasses, half a cup of honey, a cup of vegetable oil, half a cup of water, then add some brown sugar to taste (around half a cup or less should suffice). Remember that all of the fruits mentioned here are dried fruits, not fresh ones.
  • Combine the two separate bowls and mix well.
  • Use butter to grease the pan. You either have to use to 9 x 9-inch pans or one very large pan. Pour the mixture into the pan(s) and spread them evenly.
  • Bake for around 90 minutes. If you’re not sure about whether the bread is done or not, use the toothpick test. Stab a toothpick into the center of the bread. If it comes out clean, the bread is done.
  • Leave it out to cool. Once it’s ready, you can cut it up into smaller pieces for ease of consumption.

On-Site Cooking

On-site cooking on a trip usually takes a group effort, and it is certainly something best attempted on a camping trip. However, if your backpacking trip lasts for a lot longer than a day—a week, maybe—your home-prepped meals may not be able to last that long. Even if they could, carrying so many Ziplocs while compartmentalizing and categorizing everything based on when you should eat what can get tiresome real quick.

On Site Cooking

On the other hand, simply by packing a versatile, portable backpacking stove alongside a few pouches of instant food, you will be able to have a steaming hot, high-calorie meal on top of a mountain. If the area you’re heading to has a reliable source of water—it doesn’t even have to be clean, as you can purify the water later—this option is a good way to ensure you keep both your energy level and your morale up while on the trail.

On-Site Cooking #1: Mac & Cheese

Who doesn’t like Mac & Cheese? It’s loaded with calories, easy to make, and it’s practically everyone’s comfort food. While we’re on the trail, we often resign ourselves to consuming bland, tasteless food. Now you wouldn’t have to anymore.

Cooking Mac and Cheese

We often crave some Mac & Cheese even when we’re off the trail, in the heart of the city, where we’ve got all the food we could ever imagine from all corners of the world at our disposal. Can you imagine what it’s like to eat some while hiking? Here’s a hint: It tastes two times as good.

  • Boil two cups of water in a pot using your backpacking stove. Once the water has started to bubble, put in the box of macaroni you’ve prepared. Let it sit in the water for five minutes while stirring intermittently. Once it’s at the right consistency, let it cool for five minutes.
  • Everyone likes their Mac & Cheese served with different toppings, but for starters, you should add some powdered milk and powdered cheese into the cooled-off mixture.
  • Next, to add some more texture, you can garnish it with either smoked beef, tuna, or bonito flakes.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you’ve brought a block of Parmesan cheese and a grater with you—well, it’s just the icing on the cake that you need, isn’t it?

On-Site Cooking #2: Oatmeal

Oatmeal is synonymous with breakfast, but on a backpacking trip, it makes a great lunch as well. It’s simple to make, filling, and highly customizable—so it wouldn’t get boring. It doesn’t take up a lot of space in your backpack, but if you do decide to bring a whole pack of it, you’re pretty much set for the rest of the trip even if it lasts for more than a week.

Oatmeal

  • Boil one and a half cups of water. Once it has started to bubble, adjust the flame, so the water is perfect for a simmer.
  • While the oatmeal simmers, you can add all the dried fruits that you like. Don’t forget to add some powdered milk to lend the oatmeal that extra kick. Let it simmer for around four minutes or until it has reached the consistency that you like, then let it cool.
  • Adding some cinnamon really improves the taste.

On-Site Cooking #3: Donuts

Never thought you could have some donuts while hiking? Neither did we, but as it turns out, as long as you’re willing to spare some space in your backpack for a bottle of vegetable oil, enjoying fried food on top of the mountain is entirely possible.

It’s not the most lightweight option, no, but if you’re traveling in a group, having everyone pitch in—one person should carry the bag of flour, another the sugar, and the next one some milk—would make shouldering the burden a breeze.

Cooking Donuts

Think about it—it’s quite efficient because you wouldn’t need to carry much of anything else. A normal-sized bag of flour should allow you to make enough donuts to last more than a few meals, and the oil can be reused.

  • Mix one cup of flour with one tablespoon of baking powder. Season with salt and sugar to taste. Slowly stir in butter and milk until the dough is of the right consistency.
  • Work the dough, but you don’t have to do it the way you usually do when you’re at home, in the kitchen. You don’t have to let it sit for too long either.
  • Take out the backpacking stove, then heat some oil in it.
  • Fry the dough until it’s golden brown. Don’t throw away the oil. Store it for later use.
  • While the dough is still hot and glistening with oil, coat it in confectioner’s sugar and some cinnamon.

Save for the recipe for the donuts, you can use the same method we used to explain how to make Mac & Cheese as well as oatmeal using a backpacking stove to make other instant boil-and-season meals such as chili, soup, couscous, etc.

Power-Up Snacks

Some people need to have a full meal for lunch, while others are content to keep going on an energy bar or two. If you’re on an intense backpacking trip and time is of the essence, so you don’t have any to spare for prepping and eating lunch, don’t let yourself go hungry; eat some of these convenient, yet high-energy snacks to power up and continue your journey.

Eating Protein Bar

We’re aware that healthy, affordable commercial energy bars are everywhere these days, but ones designed specifically for backpackers aren’t as common, and since they pack more of a punch, they tend to cost more. If you’re on a tight budget and you have some time to spare before the trip, you can prepare some simple, high-calorie, and delicious snacks on your own.

Power-Up Snack #1: Coffee Milk Protein Bars

This one will take around an hour to make, but you can premake them well beforehand and store them in a jar or a Ziploc, ready for the taking. These energy bombs are sweet and crunchy. You can easily make a whole lot of them at once, too.

Energy Bars

The following recipe will produce more than a hundred pieces of them.

  • Preheat the oven. Set the temperature to 325 degrees.
  • Crack 3 eggs open into a mixing bowl, then beat them until they are all nice and fluffy.
  • Add half a cup of melted butter, two teaspoons of vanilla, and one cup of sugar (or one and a half, to taste).
  • After you have mixed all the above ingredients nicely, add one teaspoon of salt and two cups of flour.
  • Here’s where you add the main flavorings. Mix equal ratios of milk and coffee crystals (around a quarter to half a cup of each) evenly.
  • You can either stir all of the coffee mixture into the original batter or only into around half a cup of it, while setting aside the remaining batter so you could create layers on the protein bars.
  • You can add some pecans and chocolate chips if you want.
  • Now, all that’s left is to bake it. Around 30 minutes should do—don’t forget to grease the pan.

Power-Up Snack #2: No-Bake Protein Bars

Don’t have an oven? Don’t worry, because we’ve got a no-bake recipe for you. This one is really simple to make. All you need is some honey, peanut butter, and several cups of instant oatmeal.

No Bake Cookies

  • Turn on the stove and set it to low heat. Heat up one cup of honey in a saucepan, then stir in peanut butter of equal measure.
  • Don’t just let them simmer on their own; you’ll have to keep watch over them—stirring diligently until at last everything is evenly mixed.
  • Before it cools, quickly stir in the oatmeal. Around 2-3 cups of it should do. You can also add other ingredients such as seeds, nuts, and dried fruits for extra texture and taste.

Wrap Up

The lunch that you eat after a long day of hiking and overcoming many obstacles is very important. Any food would taste good while you’re surrounded by the beauty of nature, but taste isn’t the only thing that matters here.

Backpacking Lunch

The food should also be nutritious, simple to prepare, easy to carry, and above all, gives you a rush of energy so you would be able to continue your journey without needing to slow down your pace. All of the recipes we’ve provided for you above checked all those boxes and more. Remember—just because you’re far away from home, doesn’t mean you can’t eat some delicious, home-cooked meals.

Which one of the three options we’ve presented to you above whet your appetite the most? Do you prefer home-prepping your meals? Cooking in-situ? Or are you content with munching on some homemade granola bars? Do you have a family recipe of your own that would’ve looked great on this article? We would be glad if you could share that and your opinion with us in the comments section below!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Daniel Carraway

Daniel Carraway

Daniel Carraway joined our team last year. He is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.