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Guide to backpacking cooking: Gear, recipes & more

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Every backpacker knows these three things to be true: space is tight, weight is important, and I am going to be hungry out there. Balancing the satisfaction of a good meal against the extra ounces in your pack is the real challenge.

We’ve compiled advice from seasoned backpackers to craft this essential guide to backcountry cooking, complete with gear suggestions, expert tips and three new meal ideas to try.

Essential backpacking cooking gear

Firstly, organize your cooking equipment. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Stove: Choose a backpacking stove that allows you to adjust the flame, preventing your meals from burning.
  • Pot: A pot size of 600mL-700mL per person is ideal. Opt for one with a non-stick coating for easier cleaning and suitability for two people. A pot cozy saves fuel and holds heat in the pot while your backpacking meal finishes rehydrating and cooking.
  • Utensil: Opt for two (or three) in one solutions and something that will help you scrape food off of the pot at the end of the meal. Be it a spork or a tool with a spoon on one end and a fork on the other.
  • Cleaning supplies: We’ll cover the cleaning tips later, but you’ll need biodegradable soap, a scrubber and a small towel. 

Nutrition on the trail

You’re burning a lot of calories out there so understanding how much food to bring is crucial. Aim for 25-30 calories per pound of body weight per day. Focus on caloric density and add more wherever you can. 

Snacks, snacks and more snacks 

Bite-sized fuel is so important on the trail, and as a safety precaution, it’s always wise to pack a little more than you might think should anything happen that keeps you out there. Eating 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour will help keep your energy high throughout the day. Bars, jerky, prepackaged tuna, nut butter packets etc. are all a great sources of on-the-go protein. 

Here’s a few snacks experts have in their packs:

Pre-packaged meals: 

You know, the freeze-dried astronaut food that doesn’t look appealing day to day but suddenly when you’re out on the trails tastes like mom’s Thanksgiving? Yeah that stuff. It’s easy, packs light, and frankly takes one thing off your mental load while planning out a backpacking trip. And the truth is there are brands that are making some delicious freeze dried meals out there.

Here are a few of our experts’ favorites: 

Backpacking recipes for a tastier trail experience 

If you’d rather skip the freeze-dried stuff and cook something of your own, here are a few of our favorite recipes to check out: 

1. Backpacking fried rice

It’s amazing what some egg crystals can do — enjoy a quick and comforting meal of fried rice on the trail. 


  • 1 cup dehydrated vegetables
  • 1 vegetable bouillon cube
  • Seasonings: ½ tsp brown sugar, ½ tsp ground ginger, ¼ tsp garlic powder, ¼ tsp sea salt
  • 2 soy sauce packets
  • 1 cup instant rice
  • ¼ cup egg crystals


  1. Egg Preparation: Mix egg crystals with water in a pot, scramble over low heat, then set aside.
  2. Veggies: Add water, veggies, bouillon cube, and seasonings to the pot. Simmer until veggies are soft.
  3. Rice: Stir in the rice, remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes.
  4. Combine: Mix eggs back into the pot, reheat briefly, and serve.

2. Zhuzhed-Up Ramen

Elevate simple ramen with bold flavors and added nutrients.


  • 1 ramen noodle packet (seasoning discarded)
  • ½ cup freeze-dried vegetables
  • ¼ cup dried shiitake mushrooms
  • Sauce: 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 teaspoon sriracha


  1. Sauce Preparation: Mix soy sauce, sesame oil, and sriracha in a small sealed container (expert tip: travel shampoo containers will do the trick!). 
  2. Pack Ingredients:Combine dry vegetables, mushrooms, and ramen noodles in a bag.
  3. Cooking at Camp: Cover the dry ingredients with water in a pot, simmer until cooked. Stir in the sauce before serving.

3. Mushroom Pasta Alfredo

Cap off a day of hiking with this rich, creamy mushroom pasta Alfredo. This dish is both comforting and calorie-dense, making it an ideal trail meal.


  • 4 ounces noodles
  • 1/4 ounce dehydrated mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup whole milk powder
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup bacon bits
  • 3 tablespoons butter powder
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1.5 ounces Alfredo sauce packet
  • 2 cups water


Preparation at Home: Combine noodles, mushrooms, milk powder, sun-dried tomatoes, bacon bits, butter powder, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder in a sealable bag or container. Note the cooking time of the noodles and pack along with the Alfredo sauce packet.

Preparation at Camp:

  1. Add the contents of the noodle bag and 2 cups of water in a pot.
  2. Simmer until the noodles are almost cooked.
  3. Stir in the Alfredo sauce packet, and continue cooking for about a minute or until the noodles are tender and the sauce has thickened.
  4. Remove from heat and enjoy a comforting, hearty meal.

Doing your dishes on the trail 

Yes, it’s one of the worst end-of-day tasks— but properly washing dishes while backpacking ensures minimal environmental impact. And you’ll be happy not to have last night’s alfredo sauce sneaking into tomorrow morning’s oats. 

  • Stay 200 feet away from water sources.
  • Scrape your cookpot clean with a spoon and use minimal biodegradable soap and warm water for washing.
  • Strain and responsibly dispose of dishwater by digging a 6-inch cathole or scattering the water broadly.

We hope this guide gives you baseline backcountry cooking knowledge and inspires you to explore some new recipes for your next adventure. 

Be sure to check out our selection of cooking systems and dehydrated meals on ExpertVoice to enhance your belly’s experience on your next backpacking trip. 

Shop the best prices on all your backpacking needs.

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