While those pouches of freeze-dried backpacking food do make meal planning easier, I personally never buy them. Why? Because there are already so many backpacking foods that you can find in the supermarket.
With just a little bit of planning, you can get meals which are tastier, healthier, and a heck of a lot cheaper.
This guide will give you lists of backpacking foods you can find in the supermarket, plus tons of ideas about how to use the “assemble method” to create your own backpacking meals from supermarket finds.
***If you really want to improve your backpacking food, consider dehydrating. I’ve written all about how to do it in my ebook. Learn more here.***
Ready-Made Backpacking Meals from the Supermarket
There is no shortage of instant or “ready-made” meals that you can find in the supermarket. I’m talking about the meals which come in boxes, bags, or pouches. You just add water and boil in order to make a meal.
Not all ready-made meals work well for backpacking though. You’ll need to pay careful attention to:
- Cooking time: In general, I won’t bring any food backpacking which needs to cook for longer than 10 minutes. It simply uses too much fuel.
- Calorie density: Divide the number of calories by the weight in ounces. You want to get at least 120 calories per ounce. More on calorie density here.
- Packaging: Some instant meals (like microwavable meals) need to remain in their packaging. The packaging might be full of air and bulky, which isn’t practical if you don’t have much room in your pack.
Ready-Made Backpacking Breakfasts
- Oatmeal pouches
- Cereal with powdered milk (coconut milk is especially calorie dense)
- Bagels with mini containers of peanut butter, nutella, jam, honey, etc.
- Cereal bars
- Pop Tarts
- Instant breakfast powders
- Instant buckwheat porridge mixes (or other gluten-free instant porridges)
- Pancake mixes (though I personally would never bother making pancakes on the trail; they are better suited for camping trips)
Ready-Made Backpacking Dinners
- Mac n’ Cheese
- Near East brand boxes of couscous, pilaf, and tabouleh, and quinoa mixes
- Annie Chung’s noodle bowls
- Suddenly Salad Pasta
- Marie Callender Easy Pasta meals
- Prego Ready Meals
- Hamburger Helper Macaroni
- Stove Top Stuffing Mix
- Instant soups, bagged
Cooking Microwavable Meals while Backpacking
Instant meals which were designed to be microwaved can still be used while backpacking. You’ll just have to cook them IN THE POUCH.
Boil a pot of water. Put the pouch in the water. Then cover the pot. It usually takes about 5 minutes of boiling to prepare the meal. For example, Prego Ready Meals say “microwave for 1 minute” but will require 5 minutes with the boil method.
Assembling Backpacking Meals from Supermarket Foods
If you want to step your backpacking meals up a notch, go with the “assemble method.” This basically means that you combine a bunch of different foods you found in the supermarket into one meal.
The assemble method means you can avoid all of the sodium in instant meals (which will help if you’ve got issues with your feet swelling while backpacking). You will also get a lot more variety. My assembled backpacking meals are damn near gourmet!
To use the assemble method, you just choose a carb, protein, and some add-ins for flavor and nutrition. Below are lists of some options you can choose from.
These will form the base of your backpacking meal. Look for ones that will cook quickly or don’t require any cooking.
- Instant mashed potatoes
- Instant rice
- Tortellini (Barilla makes one that has 3 types of cheese; it’s 102 calories/oz)
- Gnocchi – not the refrigerated kind, obviously
Proteins and Cheeses:
- Tuna pouches
- Chicken pouches
- String cheese
- Hard cheese
- Veggie jerky
- Refried beans in pouches
- TVP (textured vegetable protein)
- Instant hummus mixes
- Instant falafel mix (can’t use it to make falafel on the trail easily, but you can put the mix on top of pasta)
When it comes to sauces, look for ones in powdered form. Then you just add water to make the sauce. You might need two pots to make the meal. For example, one pot for your instant mashed potatoes and another pot for your instant gravy. You can try to just put the sauce powder on top of the pasta, but you’ll end up with some chunks.
- Instant pasta sauce
- Instant dip mixes
- Spice mixes
- Ranch dressing/dip powdered mix
- Taco seasoning mix
- Bacon bits
These will give your backpacking meals a nutritional boost. Your body will thank you, especially after a grueling day on the trail!
- Freeze dried veggies and fruits
- Dehydrated veggies and fruits
- Chia or flax seeds
- Green powders
- Nuts and seeds
- Other backpacking superfoods
Sample Backpacking Meals from Supermarket Foods
All of these meals are made with the assemble method. It’s really not that much work and certainly gives you more options than just buying pouches of freeze-dried backpacking meals.
- Oatmeal with dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and powdered milk (this can be done a zillion different ways depending on which fruits you add)
- Granola with milk (from powdered)
- Bagels with peanut butter and honey
- Belgium waffle cookie with Nutella and dried bananas
- Tortillas with pouch of refried beans, string cheese, and pouch of taco sauce
- Peanut butter and crackers
- Instant soup with croutons and freeze-dried veggies added
- Instant soup with tortillas added
- Bagels with instant hummus mix
- Dense bread with salami and hard cheese
- Couscous dinner with a pouch of tuna
- Boxed Mac n’ Cheese with jerky added
- Pasta with TVP and instant tomato sauce
- Pasta with sunflower seeds and instant cheese sauce
- Pasta with pouch of chicken and instant pesto sauce
- Pasta with TVP and instant Bolognese sauce mix
- Instant mashed potatoes with instant gravy mix
- Instant mashed potatoes with bacon bits and hard cheese
- Instant rice with TVP, freeze-dried veggies and taco seasoning
- Instant rice with instant paneer in curry sauce (such as Ashoka Matar Paneer)
- Tortellini with instant tomato sauce
- Ramen noodle bowl with a pouch of chicken added
Expert Tip: Repackage Meals
Instead of leaving the supermarket backpacking foods in their original packaging, repackage them (I use strong zip baggies). Put foods that get cooked together (like soup powder and freeze-dried veggies) in the same baggie.
Remember that some parts of the meal might have to be cooked separately/second. For example, first you cook pasta. Once it is done, you add the instant sauce powder. So, the pasta and sauce need to be packaged separately.
Repackaging meals will cut down on the amount of trash you have to carry out. It also makes organizing your backpacking meals much easier.
Dehydrating Backpacking Meals
If you dehydrate your own foods, you will have a LOT more variety in your backpacking meals. For example, I love to dehydrate veggie sausages to add to instant mashed potatoes. It’s delicious!
You can even dehydrate entire meals. Just add water on the trail and presto! You’ve got a delicious, healthy meal.
Learn more about making your own backpacking food in my eBook. It’s got over 50 recipes plus lots of info on nutrition and meal planning for backpacking trips. I’ll even give you a price break off since you read this entire post. 😀
Get the book at 50% off here.
What backpacking meals do you make out of supermarket finds? Let us know in the comments below!
“Hiker Food for 4 days” (CC BY 2.0) by Gronkca,
“Dinner” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by gutshot45_70,
“Camping” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by O.Taillon