Backpacking for Beginners: Backpacking Meals Buying Advice

Backpacking for Beginners
Backpacking for Beginners

How far in advance do I need to start preparing for backpacking?

Allow yourself enough time to prepare: On average, it might take anywhere from three weeks to three months for your body to notice a major increase in its fitness level and to respond positively to a change in its daily routine. In other words, if you have already booked your vacation, you should get started right away!

How long should a beginner backpacking trip be?

Choose a doable path for you as a first-time backpacker, and that will provide you with a rewarding experience without being too demanding. Make an effort to choose a shorter trail that is closer to home. Beginner hikers should set a daily distance target of 5-6 miles, especially if they are not accustomed to carrying a lot of weight.

How long does it take to backpack 10 miles?

A 10-mile trek can take anything from 4 to 10 hours, depending on the speed, trail surface, elevation gain, and amount of gear you bring. Additional factors, such as your degree of fitness, the number of rest breaks you take, and the weather, might influence the length of time it takes to hike this distance.

How long does it take to backpack 5 miles?

5 miles takes around 2 to 2.5 hours for a novice: The quick answer is that 5 miles take approximately 2 to 2.5 hours for a beginner. Although numerous variables can influence how long your hike will take, the following are the most important: These considerations are useful not just for pre-hike preparation but also for your safety.

Read Related: Peak Refuel vs. Backpackers Pantry

There are three ways to cook them: in a pouch, pot, or pre-cooked.

Pouches, pots, and pre-cooked meals are all included in this post. In 2022, many outdoor adventurers will choose “pouch” meals like Good To-Go because of how easy they are to prepare and clean up. Fill the bag halfway with hot water and let it sit for the specified period instead of using a dish or pot. 

A lack of cleaning harms particularly vulnerable ecological regions. To prepare a “pot” supper, combine the dried ingredients with the water in a pan and warm the mixture over an open flame. Depending on the recipe, you may need to simmer the meal for 10 minutes on a backpacking stove. Finally, wash and store the pot for the next day’s walk.

Meals that have been pre-cooked and preserved in a canning-like manner can be eaten either hot or cold. For example, you can leave your stove and pot at home when you eat Complete Meals and Omeals, two pre-cooked meals. Because they only require a small quantity of water to activate, these meals are useful while traveling through arid regions such as Utah. 

Check out the calories per ounce comparison chart before you get too enthusiastic about being stove-free. Dehydrated and freeze-dried meals are much lighter than pre-cooked meals since they don’t need to be refrigerated. Also, they may be lighter than dry meals and a fuel burner, depending on the distance.

Prep Time

Preparation time for the meals ranges from 5 to 20 minutes. Leave pouch meals like Heather’s Choice in hot water for 15-20 minutes without concern. It takes 20 minutes to pitch the tent, get extra water, and work on a crossword puzzle with your hiking buddy. 

We don’t mind waiting and think the difference between 8 and 20 minutes is negligible. However, pot meals, like Cache Lake’s Beef Stroganoff, need frequent stirring while simmering, so you’ll need to be at the stove the entire time.

Calories per Serving

Depending on your mileage, elevation gain, pack weight, altitude, body weight, and metabolism, we’re not telling you how many calories you’ll burn. We’ll leave that to the professionals and your discretion. To stay healthy and energized when partaking in outdoor activities, you’ll need to ingest more calories. Every calorie you expend should be replaced by one. Calories are your friends in the wilderness, so pay attention to nutritional labels.

Remember that the calorie count on the back of your food pouch pertains to a single serving. Other pouches are single-serving, some are double-serving, and some can serve four people. Remember that serving sizes vary significantly between restaurants. A typical MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) has 1,055 calories per serving, but a Mountain House meal has just 264. 

A serious camping trip taught us that most brands require a double quantity to satisfy our appetites at supper. As a result, we advise you to focus on the calorie count rather than the serving size and eat more than one dish. As a result, food is rarely wasted in the wild.

Calories per Ounce

Weight is an issue for all outdoor travelers, including thru-hikers. Because food is so essential, the goal is to acquire the maximum flavor and calories from the least amount of food. Using our “calories per ounce” chart can assist.

We arrived at this value by calculating the calorie count by the meal’s weight. 

  • Packit Gourmet meals provide 558 calories per 4.88 ounce portion (558/4.88 = 114). The higher the calorie content per ounce, the better. 
  • For example, an Omeals meal provides 27 calories per ounce, but a Peak Refuel meal has 155. 
  • So, a 700-calorie supper is 4.5 ounces of Peak Refuel and 26 ounces of Omeals. Over a week, you’re either on a death march with a heavy knapsack or a starving march with Omeals.

Restrictions and Ingredients

To the delight of health-conscious hikers, more and more natural backcountry meal alternatives are becoming available. Like Good To-Go and Patagonia Provisions, some companies use only natural ingredients. Others, like AlpineAire, provide a choice of natural options and try to use only natural ingredients.

Processed foods are used to improve shelf life and preserve food from germs like mold, bacteria, and yeast. Some use natural preservatives like salt, garlic, and spices, but the bulk is synthetic. As Mountain House guarantees, it takes a lot of synthetic chemicals and salt to keep food fresh for 30 years. But, if you can read an ingredient label and locate each item at the grocery store, they’re probably natural.

Read Related: Backpackers Pantry vs. Mountain House: Which Is Better?

Dietary Limits

An increasing market for vegan, vegetarian, paleo, ketogenic, gluten, dairy, and soy-free foods has prompted several wilderness food producers to change their menus. Generally, finding meals that fit your nutritional needs, like Good To-Go pouches, should be easy. 

Next Mile Meals is ketogenic, but MaryJanesFarm is organic. All proteins are ethically sourced. There’s also a filter on AlpineAire’s website that lets you look for meals that meet certain dietary requirements. We added “special diets” to better highlight the options in our table above.


The AHA recommends no more than 2,300 mg of salt per day for adults and, ideally, no more than 1,500 mg. Most healthy, active people who spend their days sweating in the blazing sun will need—and crave—high-sodium meals to replenish their losses. Unfortunately, most backcountry meals are high in salt, ranging from 400 to 800 mg per serving. Focus on nutritional facts to limit sodium consumption. These meals are also lower in sodium than most.

Freeze-Dried vs. Dehydrated

Dehydrating and freeze-drying foods are two methods. 

  • First, the meal is kept below freezing and progressively warmed, causing the water in the food to turn from solid to gaseous. For dehydration, the food is exposed to hot, dry air for several hours. 
  • Finally, freeze-drying removes 98–99% of food moisture, whereas dehydration removes 95%. Both methods yield dried food that you must rehydrate to gain size, texture, and edibility, but the outcomes are vastly different.

Due to the lower water content, freeze-dried food is lighter and lasts longer than dehydrated food. It rehydrates approximately twice as fast as dehydrated Frozen Mountain House meals, cooking in 9 minutes vs. 20 minutes when dehydrated. In contrast, dehydrated foods shrink more and take up less room. They also keep their original texture better than freeze-dried foods. In terms of taste, the two approaches are equal.

Others use simply dehydrated or freeze-dried ingredients, but most use both. Manufacturers weigh the pros and downsides of flavor, size, and price when selecting how to prepare a component. A consumer does not care if a product is frozen or dehydrated. So, after a long day on the trek, the firms undertake research to figure out the best way to dry food.

Coffee vs. Breakfast?

Most travelers prefer to stock up on breakfast, coffee, and snacks to complete their meal kit. Breakfast is often lighter, quicker, and simpler than supper, with bulk oatmeal or a bar with dried fruit sufficing. However, those who want a more substantial or sophisticated start to the day have several possibilities. 

Breakfast is usually available at most of the above businesses. It ranges from savory meals like Mountain House Breakfast Skillet to sweet treats like Backpacker’s Pantry Granola with Bananas, Almonds, and Milk. 

In our opinion, breakfast isn’t complete without a hot cup of coffee. Backcountry brew options range from lightweight, portable pour-over sets to throwaway drip coffee kits from companies like Kuju. But, of course, instant coffee is the lightest choice, and it’s plenty for our daily cup of java. 

There are many possibilities, from Trader Joe’s to the ubiquitous Starbucks Via. Alpine Start is a small Boulder company that specializes in trail coffee. 

Bulk Ingredients

You can’t eat all dehydrated or freeze-dried products in the backcountry, so pouch meals aren’t the sole option. On the other hand, maybe you’re trying to save money, feed a crowd, or love cooking outside. Online companies like Harmony House Foods, HQ Organics, and Packit Gourmet sell dehydrated and freeze-dried foods in bulk. And recipes are easy to find online, like this beef and barley stew.

Homemade Dehydrator Meals

Buying premade meals saves you money. You may avoid hours of meal preparation by shopping for all your backcountry needs at your local gear store or online. On the other hand, you might save a lot of money by dehydrating your meals. Alternatively, you can use a food dehydrator. Cooking your items before dehydrating them is standard. A lot of websites promote serving dishes at various temperatures and times. Food stored for a long time should be completely desiccated and wrapped before dehydrating it.

Some Meal Options

Premade meals and dried ingredients are the easiest and lightest eating methods in the woods. It’s a game of chance with no set rules. The possibilities are endless with mac and cheese, couscous with canned chicken, frozen burritos, Tasty Bites, and even fresh vegetables. 

For some, preparing food instead of waiting 10 minutes is a relaxing way to conclude the day. While dehydrated meals are perhaps the most convenient, don’t let others mislead you into thinking they’re the only choice. Have fun and be creative while you’re out there.

However, companies like RightOn Trek take the stress out of food planning and packing. They can prepare your breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for the duration of your vacation if you tell them how many people are in your party and how many days you’ll be gone. It’s like a hiking Blue Apron. This might be an excellent choice for first-timers who are intimidated by the idea of camping food packing.

Kitchenware, fuel, and stoves

Our recommended recipes are popular because they easily rehydrate in the pouch with boiling water. 

  • The Jetboil Flash is a great option for all-in-one cooking. It’s compact, fast, and cheap. 
  • An MSR PocketRocket or an MSR Dragonfly will do for “pot” dinners. 
  • Instead, carry pre-cooked meals or foods that can be rehydrated with cold water.

How much fuel you require depends on whether you’re eating “pouch” or “pot” meals. 

  • Pour the water into the pouch for pouch meals after boiling it. 
  • Boil or simmer dishes for 10 minutes for pot meals. 
  • If you’re gone for a week, this cooking time adds up. 
  • Height, temperature, and wind all affect fuel use.

You may not need to carry a pot if you eat pouches of pre-cooked meals. Choose from ultra-lightweight titanium to more robust stainless steel or aluminum pots and pans for cooking over an open flame. We recommend a lightweight bowl or mug/bowl combination when cooking for more than one person. The pot is a great way to save money when traveling alone. Consider getting a second pot or kettle for brewing hot beverages.

Emergency Planning and Storage

A meal’s shelf life refers to its flavor, nutrition, and edibility. From 1 to 30 years, depending on preservation method and preservative type/quantity, on the box or the manufacturer’s website. You should wrap your backcountry meals in a cold, dry environment with no refrigeration.

Fortunately, most backcountry enthusiasts are stockpiling up for their next adventure. Food cooked in this manner takes up less space on your shelves than canned products, lasts longer, and is easy to prepare. If you’re buying in quantity for future trips, the shelf life is a factor to consider. If food preservation is your main objective, we recommend buying in bulk. Mountain House, for example, serves its meals in cans and even buckets, saving space, money, and packaging.

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