Wouldn’t we all love to have a fully prepared meal with several varieties of fresh foods after a long day of backpacking?  Unless we are only hiking in a few miles on a short trip, this really isn’t practical and certainly isn’t lightweight.  However, eating well on the trail can be accomplished with a variety of methods and recipes. This article will outline three cooking methods, recipes for each method, how to prepare them, and when they are best used on the trail.

Method One: Just Add (Boiling) Water

Even though you can purchase commercially prepared meals such as Mountain House that use this method, you can make meals more economically and cater them to your own taste. These recipes involve mixing ingredients such as proteins, vegetables, seasonings, and starches together in their dry state. They will then be blended together at camp when boiling water is added.  There may also be “wet” ingredients, such as packaged meats, oils, sauces or peanut butter that you carry separately and add to the pot when you are cooking the meal.


  • No pre-cooking
  • Easy to prepare at camp
  • No special equipment for preparation (though having a dehydrator will expand your palette– for your palate)
  • Lightweight
  • Add or leave out ingredients in the recipe as desired,
  • Ingredients readily available at the grocery store or as online purchase

Best Uses

  • On long distance trips where weight is a big consideration
  • On harder hikes where energies are spent at end of the day
  • When hikers don’t really like to cook

Camp Cooking Methods

  • Freezer bag cooking — just add the boiling water to the bag and let it cook/rehydrate. No clean-up but please recycle the bags.
  • Single pot rehydrating – bring water to boil, add meal, stir, and let rehydrate off heat. Using a pot cozy will help maintain heat


  • No way to know how it tastes before cooking unless you make a meal or sample
  • Textures of most meals can be similar and possibly monotonous

Shepherd’s Pie
Thanksgiving Meal
Taco Pockets
Yogurt Parfait with Granola

Method Two: Cook at Home – Quick Re-Cook at Camp

These meals are cooked and seasoned on your stove at home, dehydrated, and then reconstituted on the trail.* They tend to be tastier than dry mixed meals.  Many stews and saucy dishes that you regularly prepare for dinner, such as chili or beef stew can be made into camp meals this way with a few simple adaptations.  For example, meats need to be fully cooked and finely shredded and vegetables finely diced and cooked until tender.


  • Can be taste tested before dehydration
  • Making a big batch you can eat some for dinner and then dehydrate the rest
  • No special-order ingredients – everything comes from the grocery store
  • Mostly inexpensive ingredients
  • Many favorite recipes can be adapted for use
  • Lightweight on the trail

Best Uses

  • As a group meal that features a one-pot, hearty meal at camp
  • As a packaged individual meal  (keep additional servings frozen until your next trip)
  • At campsites that have plenty of water for preparation and clean-up

Camp Cooking Methods

  • At camp these meals are best when put into the pot with water while is it coming to a boil and then cooked for a few minutes to get the most complete rehydration.
    • for individual meal – use a small stove such as alcohol stove, JetBoil or other screw-top propane stove (i.e. Pocket Rocket). Add water to food then light stove. Let meal boil in the pan a few minutes to completely rehydrate.  Eat out of cooking pot.
    • for group meal — cook in the same manner with larger pan and either screw-top propane stove or remote canister stove (i.e MSR Windpro). Serve into individual dishes


  • Requires time for preparation before the trip, but this could be enjoyable to those who like to cook.
  • Requires a dehydrator
  • Extra equipment required, which adds weight
  • Requires extra care to avoid the food burning in the pan at camp
  • Extra clean-up and appropriate disposal of dishwater

Backcountry Butternut Mac and Cheese
Backpackers’ Goulash
Trail-Worthy Curry Chicken with Mango and Cashews
Brunswick Stew for Backpacking Meal (or Dinner)

Method Three: Fully Camp-Cooked Meals

These meals require cooking at camp similar to at-home preparation, but with lightweight versions of some ingredients.


  • Great variety of options
  • Most like home cooking
  • Variety of taste and textures
  • Most ingredients readily available from grocery store or on-line
  • Recipe can be altered to taste preference
  • Group meals may involve several people in preparation for extra socialization
  • Meals may be more anticipated and appreciated

Best Uses

  • For shorter trips where cooks will have energy reserves at the end of the day
  • For larger hiking groups where the weight of the meals and equipment can be spread through the group
  • At campsites that have plenty of water for preparation and clean-up

Camp Cooking Methods

  • Per the recipe, but often extra pots and utensils are required
  • Usually requires one or more canister fuel stoves that have good heat regulation




  • Not practical for long distance trips such as thru-hiking or section hiking
  • Extra preparation at home and at camp
  • Extra equipment and fuel need to be carried
  • Extra clean-up and appropriate disposal of dishwater

Hiker’s Hashbrown Scramble
Croissant French Toast with Fruit — Backpackers’ Style
Individual Tamale Pies
Campsite Chicken Pot Pie

*a dehydrator is a great investment if you plan to make your own meals for the trail.  For under $50 you can get a decent appliance.  I started with a Ronco 5 tray and got good results. You could check EBay and other reselling sites for used equipment.


HowardHag · April 16, 2019 at 10:59 am

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HowardHag · April 16, 2019 at 6:02 pm

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