How to Meal Plan and Pack Your Food Like a Pro: Backcountry Edition
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When it comes to planning meals for the backcountry, it requires a bit more thought and consideration compared to frontcountry adventures. Space is limited and you can’t pack foods that spoil easily. But don’t worry, with a little bit of planning, it becomes easier each time.
This guide is packed with helpful tips, so you can create a meal plan that’s as delicious as it is easy to pack. Plus, we’ve got some sneaky space-saving hacks that will leave plenty of room in your backpack for all your other must-haves. So, whether you’re a seasoned pro or a newbie explorer, our post will have you meal planning – and packing – like a boss and ready to conquer the wilderness.
Write out a meal plan and pack it in your food bag
In addition to ensuring you’ve packed enough food for your trip, keeping a copy of your meal plan in your food bag helps keep you organized and on track with your food supply each day. Don’t know where to start with meal planning? No worries, we’ve got your back with a meal planning template and guide. Also, if you’re interested in nerding out about nutrition, check out these other blog posts that are definitely worth a read:
Plan lunches that don't require any cooking
You’ve got things to do – and places to be! The last thing you want to have to do is set up kitchen and take the time to cook a meal in the middle of your trek.
Pack lunches that don’t require any cooking – or if you’re set on a hot lunch, prep it at camp during breakfast and pack it in a thermos (if carrying some extra weight isn’s a big concern).
Perishable items: To pack or not to pack
It’s possible to pack perishable items (foods that spoil quickly and/or are typically stored in a fridge) such as bread, fresh fruits and veggies, cheese, eggs – but:
- Be mindful of their shelf life and plan to eat them within the first couple of days (or within their expiration window).
- Be mindful of the risks associated with items that should be refrigerated not being stored in a fridge for extended periods of time. Some are safer – or can last longer out of the fridge – than others.
- You can keep these foods cooler by storing them away from the outermost layer of your backpack (where heat may be elevated from the environment and the sun)
- The temperature outside can work with or against you. If it’s hot out, there’s an increased risk of your food spoiling faster; if it’s quite cold, it can work as a natural fridge!
Keep in mind that perishable items typically take up more space and add extra weight to your pack too – so they may not be worth the hassle. Certain fruits also leave you with peels or pits that you have to carry for the remainder of your trip… which can get nasty after a few days.
Avoid packing canned foods
Although canned foods are non-perishable, it may be best to avoid packing them because they:
- Are heavy
- Are not compact (takes extra space in bag)
- Create extra waste and garbage for you to carry out
- Often require an opener (adds an extra tool & weight)
Note: this might not be such a concern for certain activities and trips where weight and super compact packing isn’t such a necessity (ex. canoe or kayak trips)
Pack your fuel below your food
Why is it important to pack your fuel below your food? Incase your fuel leaks! It doesn’t happen often – but if it does happen!
If fuel gets onto your food, it’s poisonous and no longer safe for consumption. Not a good scenario.
Other posts you may want to check out:
Remove unnecessary packaging (including air!)
Take snacks out of boxes (and only pack the amount you need), remove any unnecessary packaging, and remove any air from bags (reseal with tape or a clip after if needed).
This makes your food more compact to pack. It also reduces the amount of garbage you have to carry back out with you!
Condiment Packets for the Win
Make use of condiment packets you may have collected from dining out or on the go.
Better yet – invest in refillable condiment packets/containers so you can bring your favourite condiments and sauces (and to be nicer to the environment)
Spices are your best friend
Spices can really amp up a meal or help add some new flavours to repetitive meals you may be having.
Tip: Fill and label a compact BPA-free pill organizer with your favourite spices – or mini sealable baggies -and store in your stove.
Keep snacks easily accessible
Pack your snacks for the day in an easy access spot such as a zippered pocket on your pack or waist belt. BUT avoid packing them in places where they can easily fall out.
Losing a snack sucks for one, but can also attract wildlife to the trail (and creates litter… no one wants that!)
(Making your lunch relatively easy to access is a good practice as well!)
Be creative to reduce pack weight
Although investing in lighter gear is certainly helpful, there’s sneaky and simple ways to reduce your pack weight:
- Do you even need a coffee percolator? Ground coffee in steeping bags do the trick!
- Do you actually need a bowl? Could you eat straight out of the pot?
- Do you need every utensil? (Hence the greatness of a Spork)
Keep your food organized together
- Use a stuff sac or waterproof bag to store all of your food and garbage together in your pack. This makes finding your food, as well as transporting and storing your food in a bear locker easy. Using a stuff sac is also great because it can be used to make a bear hang if a locker isn’t available
- On that note, remember to bring a garbage bag! Nothing excessive in size. Something like a ziploc should do.
Do an inventory check & split kitchen gear amongst your group
If you’re travelling with others, split the gear amongst the group to:
- Best distribute the carrying weight amongst members
- Avoid bringing unnecessary duplicates of equipment (ex. you may only need 1 stove for 4 people)
Opt for hot meals that only require hot water
Packing meals that can be made with just boiled water, such as dehydrated and freeze-dried meals, is well worth it. In addition to reducing the amount of cooking equipment you need, these types of meals:
- Cook quickly
- Require less prep and clean up
- Typically have a very long shelf-life
Dehydrated and freeze-dried meals are available at most outdoor stores. You can also get creative and make your own. Looking for inspiration? Check out our dehydrated recipes.
Well, that’s it for now folks. You’ve successfully armed yourself with some amazing tips and tricks that will enable you to plan your meals like a pro while embarking on your unforgettable backcountry adventures. The best part? You will not only be exploring some of the most beautiful and breathtaking landscapes out there, but you will also be doing so with a happy and content tummy. So get out there, brace yourself for adventure, and enjoy every single bite knowing that you’ve got everything under control when it comes to planning your backcountry meals!
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The Foodie Behind the Screen
Hi there! I'm Bri. I'm sharing my love for cooking - and the outdoors - one recipe at a time.