If you love the outdoors and getting far out into nature, but still like to eat well, then there are a number of useful lightweight food products to consider buying. These backpacker meals are on sale and easy to order online.
Types of Backpacker Meals
Getting the weight down is the biggest goal of creating effective backpacker meals. No backpacker wants to lug canned beans up the trail. Instead, the answer is to remove the water from the meal as completely as possible to reduce the weight. This can be done through traditional air drying, freeze-drying, or choosing foods that are naturally dry.
A second benefit of removing all the water is that dehydrated meals last longer and are less likely to spoil. Freeze dried foods, properly packaged in a metal layered bag, have a shelf life of 2 to 3 or more years. If packed in a metal can with the air evacuated same the freeze dry meals can have a 30+ year shelf life. While you are likely not planning 30 years in the woods, the ability to transport fully flavored meals without the fear of spoilage is an advantage and creature comfort worth having.
The Quality of backpacker food varies widely from packages that look home mixed and contain no freeze-dried ingredients to slick looking commercial products in bags you just fill with any temp water, stir and eat. Brands like Backpacker's Pantry and Mountain House are the premium brands that offer the fastest reconstitution and the best blend of ingredients.
Blend Before Cooking or After
On the simpler end of the scale, some companies buy the ingredients, like parboiled rice and freeze dry vegetables, then mix these with spices as the package is filled. You are getting a meal that is partially cooked and light weight but the ingredients were not cooked together.
These companies do this so they can buy standard ingredients made by others to make their formulations. The base for many of the meals is the same (rice or pasta) with the sauce being the only difference.
The taste and consistency of these "mix at mealtime" meals is not as good. There is a good reason we tend to cook all the ingredients of a dish together. The cooking process imparts flavor from the spices into the starches making the dish more interesting. By mixing at mealtime you end up with unflavored rice plus spices in the bowl or bag.
In contrast, companies like Mountain House cook most of their meals as a meal before they freeze dry the meal. When reconstituted, the meal tastes like it was cooked as a meal.
Vegetarian vs Meat based Meals
Some companies stick strictly to vegetarian meals. This can be because regulations to process human consumption meat are onerous for a small business or because the owners philosophically want to offer a vegetarian alternative. If the package is not labeled as vegetarian or the company is not strictly vegetarian then be sure to check the ingredient list if you are a vegetarian to avoid surprises.
Freeze-dried eggs make a good breakfast that is easy to prepare with a camp stove. They are easy to find a a backpacker supply store or Amazon and they taste great.
Hot fresh pancakes are awesome on the trail made from a "ready to add water" mix. You can even add some extra sugar or chocolate chips into the mix to replace syrup.
Granola, which comes in many flavors and varieties, is easy to pack and very nutritious. Mix powdered milk or soya milk with water to serve with the granola and you have a complete tasty breakfast.
Dried fruit or fruit leather is available in any grocery store and carries lots of healthy calories per serving. Dried fruit is also nice and light, and doubles as an easy to eat snack while walking along.
Pasta Based Meals
Most backpacker main dishes have some sort of starch base for energy, and for ease of reconstituting pasta based meals make a lot of sense. From pasta with vegetables to mac and cheese, there are many pasta based backpacker meals that will stick to the ribs. Just don't be fooled by the Natural High or Mountain House brand Lasagna - that contains the same ingredients but in little chunks. Backpacker's Pantry offers a really tasty Vegetarian Pad Thai. While you might be in the Rocky Mountains you can eat like you are in the Himalayas or hills of Thailand.
Rice Based Meals
The widespread availability of parboiled rice makes creating rice based dishes easy for backpacking. Add curry for some Indian flavor, go Chinese with sweet and sour, head south of the border for a Mexican rice dish or go with jambalaya for an authentic American flavor.
Potato Based Dishes
Richmoor offers dehydrated Hash Brown Potatoes. To cook them, open pouch and remove the oxygen absorber. Add 1 cup boiling water and stir thoroughly. Seal pouch and let stand for 15 minutes. Drain and fry in hot skillet with oil. The sole ingredient in the package is dehydrated potatoes so you'll want to bring seasoning to taste (even salt).
Perhaps the most interesting dessert option on the trail is freeze-dried ice cream. Yes, it actually tastes really good if you enjoy it as the unique crunchy melt in your mouth snack it is, rather then as a substitute for regular ice cream. There are a few different suppliers of freeze-dried ice cream.
Dried fruit is also an option, as is trail mix. More adventuresome cooks may like to bake a cake or muffins on the camp stove. If you are trying this, be sure to practice first at home and make appropriate adjustments for changes in elevation.
Water is Key
The means to create safe drinking water, preferably hot, in the woods opens up a whole range of possibilities for the backpacker's diet. Reconstituting regular dried foods like powdered mash potatoes becomes easy. Powdered milk or dry soya milk powder becomes feasible for eating with naturally dry and light granola. The full range of freeze-dried meals become possibilities. Hot beverages make the morning or a chilly evening more enjoyable. Getting a rock solid reliable water filter and a means to heat water is one of the first things to invest in for anyone planning to go backpacking.
Supplementing with Fresh
From just caught trout cooked over a campfire to dandelion leaf salad and pine needle tea you can enhance your backpacking experience with fresh food you collect on the hike.