Backcountry Meal Planning & Kitchen Packing Tips

Backcountry meal planning – and cooking – requires a little more thought and consideration than the average frontcountry adventure: you’re a lot more limited on space, and less able to pack foods that can spoil. This can make deciding what to pack tricky  – but I promise – it becomes easier and easier each time. These are a few tips, tricks and considerations that make planning your meals relatively easy breezy. 

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Lunches = no cooking required.

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. 

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 for lightweight trips.

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 (and not in your food bag).

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. 

Remove any unnecessary or excessive 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. 

Make 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 (i.e. water bottle pocket)

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.

  • 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)

Organize & label your food bag(s).

  • Write or print out a copy of your meal plan to keep in your food bag – makes organizing your food each day a breeze
  • Pack a stuff sac or waterproof bag to store all of your food in in your pack and at camp (also makes transporting your food and smellies to a bear locker easy – and can also be used to make a bear hang if a locker isn’t available)
  • As previously mentioned, keep your lunch and snacks easily accessible during the day to avoid the need to dig through your pack

Do and inventory check & split kitchen gear amongst your group.

If you’re travelling with others, split the gear amongst the group to:

  1. Best distribute the carrying weight amongst members
  2. Avoid bringing unnecessary duplicates of equipment (ex. you may only need 1 stove for 4 people)

Opt for hot meals that only require water to be added.

Although it can be a bit trickier – or more expensive – to pack dehydrated or freeze-dried meals that only require boiled water (or add water and bring to a boil), it can certainly be worth it. Aside from keeping the kitchen equipment you need to a bare minimum, these types of meals:

  • Are quick to cook 
  • Require less prep and clean up
  • Have a very long shelf-life
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Do you have any other tips and tricks up your sleeve?

We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below. 

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The Foodie Behind the Screen

Hi there! I'm Bri.
I create and share nutritious and flavourful recipes for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers.

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