Backcountry meal planning

Posted by: jkozuch

Backcountry meal planning - 03/05/14 03:53 PM


I'm planning a 4 day hiking trip on the first loop (32km) of the Western Uplands trail in Algonquin.

I have a meal plan in place, but it's all Mountain House food. As such, it takes up a fair bit of space in my pack. I'd like to cut down on the weight and space it takes (and the sodium percentage!) while having something that is high in calories.

What's the best alternative here? I'm a bit new to meal planning so any pointers would be greatly appreciated!

- Justin
Posted by: BZH

Re: Backcountry meal planning - 03/05/14 04:04 PM

In terms of food volume, you can reduce the volume of mountain house meals quite a bit by repackaging them into quart freezer bags.

For alternatives all you really need to look for is low water content. Water has no calories. Fats have the most caloric density, so foods with more fats are more calorie dense.

If you want total control look into getting a dehydrator and dehydrate the meals you normally eat to bring backpacking.

For lunch I love cheese and hard sausage with crackers or pita bread. Nut butters are also good. Hummus is actually fairly calorie dense too (even more dense if you get dehydrated hummus powder).
Posted by: jkozuch

Re: Backcountry meal planning - 03/05/14 04:11 PM

Thanks BZH. I've wondered about repackaging them and if it makes the food "stale", but I suppose that's really a non-issue since there's no water there. I'll definitely give that a try.

I'll look at those other options you mentioned as well. I have considered taking with snack foods such as almonds and beef jerky, as well as Clif bars. Not yet tried those, but I imagine those are good alternatives, too.
Posted by: aimless

Re: Backcountry meal planning - 03/05/14 04:30 PM

Some kinds of food packages are either vacuum-packed or else packaged with nitrogen in place of air. What this accomplishes is the removal of (most) oxygen. Oxygen likes to form compounds (oxides) and it is famous among chemists for being one of the most volatile and corrosive of the elements. Nitrogen, on the other hand, is pretty tame, inert stuff.

If I know something is vacuum-packed or else packed in nitrogen, I wait to the last minute to repackage it. It will last better in the original package.
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Backcountry meal planning - 03/05/14 05:01 PM

We do have a bakcountry cooking/food forum here, Lite Food Talk, with lots of ideas and recipes.

A great site is "Sarbar's"

Try a Clif bar or two before buying a bunch; I personally can't stand them. Your Mileage May Vary, of course. My favorites are Kashi Bars and Odwalla Bars. Again, YMMV!

Actually, it's a good idea to taste-test every food at home before the trip. That's especially true of home-dehydrated meals. The regulars here already know my story about the home-dehydrated tuna casserole in which the peas remained the consistency of buckshot after all the other ingredients were cooked to mush.

While I now avoid dehydrating peas, I do cook one-dish meals in large batches and dehydrate them for my backpacking meals. I personally can't stomach the salt and preservatives in Mountain House. I pick items that can be reconstituted with boiling water and kept warm in a cozy for 15 minutes or so.
Posted by: bluefish

Re: Backcountry meal planning - 03/05/14 08:19 PM

Tuna or chicken in the foil pouch with some spices and small packets of mayonaise on flatbread. Summer sausage or bacon jerky and dried tomato mixed with a good brand of instant mashed potatoes (If you have the room, a package of croutons made with olive oil, garlic and italian spices is a nice addition) , Nut butter packets with some chocolate/hazelnut and some walnut halves on a flour tortilla are a few of the easy things I like besides dehydrated meals. You can buy olive oil in packets from Packit Gourmet to add to most meals that will add lots of calories and taste. We make our own oatmeal/peanut butter cookies with many things added instead of buying bars. They're made to our taste and work well as snacks. Fruit roll ups or leather make a good on trail snack. We've used them with nut butters in a tortilla to make a flat PB&J Some decent instant oatmeal with some nuts and powdered milk added for creaminess and extra fat and calories (Nido from Nestle if you can find it is a good brand). Just a few suggestions that have worked for my wife and I. We are NOT!!!!!!! trail gourmets, but we eat well.
Posted by: Commajockey7

Re: Backcountry meal planning - 03/05/14 09:30 PM

I found pre-packaged meals called Picnic to Go while browsing though my local Target. There are some with nut butters and crackers and others with hard salami and pepperoni. They come in a box but each part of the meal is packaged separately so they can be taken out of the box and take up a little less room in your pack. I haven't actually taken them out with me yet but they are a part of my meal plan for my upcoming trip.
Posted by: phat

Re: Backcountry meal planning - 03/06/14 12:46 AM

+1 on - even if you don't have a dehydrator. Lots of things you can put together there from grocery store ingredients.

I do eat a fair number of packaged dehydrated meals. usually mountain house or natural high with the odd other brand or two.

My other gotos:

instant oatmeal.
fruit bars
"egg and typhus" - half a mountain house egg and bacon, or egg ham and peppers, with half an idahoan potato packet (four cheese or something yummy) in a freezer bag - add 1.5 cups boiling water.)
pop tarts (I never eat these except when hiking)

snacks all day
pita bread
hudson's bay bread I make myself (use search here for recepie)
peanut butter!
dry pepperoni (I have elk pepperoni..)
landjaeger or other sausage
smoked almonds or cashews
granola bars
snickers bars
if really must, clif bars (don't like 'em much)
hungarian dry salami
dry fruit (dates, figs, apricots, apples, pineapple, raisins, craisins etc. etc.)

lipton chicken noodle soup
knorr soups (potato leek, minestrone, etc.)
Kraft mac and cheese (can be made with just a boil and cozy if you're careful) Add pouch of tuna and/or dehydrated onion if you like.
Knorr sidekicks shanghai noodles
Knorr sidekicks alfredo.
Spaghetti (with sauce of olive oil, tomato paste, dry basil, dry garlic, dehydrated onion)
Stove top stuffing with a retort pouch of chicken added.
grocery store "thai peanut noodles" (I then add freeze dried peas to this, but good without)

Honestly, I can do not too horrible just at the grocery store, without buying any real "backpacking" food, although I usually mix up stuff from both sources. Try at home, or on your lunch break at work, first.

Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Backcountry meal planning - 03/06/14 03:35 PM

If you want freeze-dried foods without all the additives, try Packit Gourmet. They also sell foods in bulk so you can make up your own meals. That's what I do--part dehydrated, part freeze-dried (especially the peas!).

With my moderator hat on: There's enough info here that I'm moving this thread to Lite Food Talk, so it's there for others looking at the archive.
Posted by: wandering_daisy

Re: Backcountry meal planning - 03/06/14 11:09 PM

Food is very individual. I just use dry food I can find in the grocery store (plus some freeze dried food that I find at Trader Joes or Whole Foods. A 4-day trip is really quite short. You could even go "no-cook".

I quit using trail bars (too much sugar and too bulky) -I just make my own trail mix - nuts, dried fruit, soy nuts. I take one pre-wrapped cheese stick per day for trail food and use about 1 oz. of regular cheese for cooking per day. I also take 2-4 ounces of olive oil and just put it in dinner to add calories. I like the dry Lipton "Side" dishes (I think they no longer are Lipton but some other name) and add seeds, cheese, and a few slices of summer sausage.

Rather than re-package freeze dried meals, just poke a pin hole and squeeze out the air and then put tape over the hole. This reduces the volume - put the pin prick in the top of the bag so you can still use the bag as a bowl if that is what is intended.

If you are taking more than 2 pounds per day, you probably have the wrong kind of food. With all freeze dried food you can go as low as 1 pound per day but with considerable bulk. Read labels! You would be surprised at how few calories constitute a "serving" for most freeze dried meals.

And do not forget the small pleasures. I treat myself the end of each day with a square of 80% dark chocolate! I also use high quality instant coffee. As much as I love coffee I am not willing to bother with making it from grounds.

Be aware that sweet drink powders can really add weight and have little nutritional value. I drink water, coffee and tea and get calories from real food. I also think candy bars are bad - they spike your blood sugar and then drop it fast leaving you feeling bonked and hungry.
Posted by: finallyME

Re: Backcountry meal planning - 03/11/14 10:30 AM

With the upswing of the prepper community, it is easier to find freeze-dried food. I have found it easier, and cheaper, to buy a can of individual ingredients and then combine them in a freezer bag. Of course, I also live in a state where I can walk into any major grocery store and find #10 cans of freze-dried food. OM, all the freeze-dried peas that I have tried have turned out really yummy. Not as good as frozen, but much better tasting than canned. Of course, fresh peas are like candy...except I can eat a whole bunch and not get sick.

One of the things I have tried and liked is freeze-dried chicken with instant rice, and freeze-dried vegetables. I will also throw in some seasonings.
Here is what I bought last time. freeze-dried chicken
It looks expensive, but I bought it for a group, and it came out to be about a dollar a meal for the chicken, which is about the same as a small tuna packet, and that was with the same amount of calories.
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Backcountry meal planning - 03/11/14 02:10 PM

My problem was with home-dehydated peas. Ever since the buckshot incident, I've used freeze-dried peas as an ingredient.

I also found that the freeze-dried meats in the large packages from Packit Gourmet are basically the same price per serving as home-dehydrated meats (the latter using, admittedly, high quality meat, but I didn't include the electricity cost of running the dehydrator). Of course the large packages are only suitable if you're going on enough trips to use them up in a year, or can share.
Posted by: lori

Re: Backcountry meal planning - 03/11/14 02:53 PM

You lost me at "Mountain House." I'd be just as good eating the desiccant packets as the "food" in those.

Packit Gourmet, home rolled meals ala trail, and stuff from the grocery store work better - more calories, more nutrition, shorter shelf life - but do you honestly want something in your stomach that has a shelf life of ten years?

Repackaging things into ziplocs and rolling all the air out before sealing does the trick.
Posted by: Gershon

Re: Backcountry meal planning - 03/12/14 09:25 AM

[quote=lori]You lost me at "Mountain House." I'd be just as good eating the desiccant packets as the "food" in those.

Thanks for a good laugh.
Posted by: jkozuch

Re: Backcountry meal planning - 05/27/14 06:56 PM

Sorry for the late reply on this.

Thank you all for the recommendations. I'll take a closer look at my options and rethink my approach.


- Justin