Real Food on the Trail!

This past weekend we went on our second-ever family backpacking trip (our first time without a guide)! When we first did this last summer the guide handled all of the food, which definitely appeared to be a big undertaking. So knowing I had to figure it out all myself this time felt like a daunting task. And today I’m going to share all the details with you including what worked and what didn’t. :)

Real Food on the Trail on 100 Days of #RealFood

First of all though, if you have kids and you’ve never gone camping I really think it’s something everyone should consider trying at least once. We usually go with friends, and all the kids absolutely LOVE – and I mean LOVE – it. My girls seriously told me they would pick our backpacking trip over going to Disney World (if given the choice) last weekend. The uninterrupted family time (i.e. no screen time for anyone!) and ability to just sit back and watch the kids explore the wilderness together is honestly priceless. It’s also a pretty cheap family getaway too – once you own all the equipment, of course! And for those who have tried car camping, I think you’d be surprised with how much simpler backpacking is because, after all, you can only bring so much stuff, making packing a little easier in my opinion. We were inspired by the book Wild to try it and on that note, here’s how the weekend played out for us!

THE FOOD

Here is a snapshot of all the food we brought, along with my little checklist. If you haven’t caught on, I like checklists – haha. In hindsight I honestly think we could have brought even a little more dinner stuff and less snacky stuff…

Real Food on the Trail on 100 Days of #RealFood

Homemade Chili

When we went on the guided backpacking trip last summer the outfitter made almost all the dinners and breakfasts from scratch and then dehydrated them in preparation for our trip (as opposed to buying the prepackaged dehydrated stuff). On this trip of ours without a guide we decided to do a combination of both, mainly because I wasn’t sure how the homemade version would turn out, and I also wasn’t sure how “real” the store bought stuff would be. So it all started the week beforehand when I basically spent half a day making homemade chili in my slow cooker and then the next day (11 hours total!) dehydrating it in my dehydrator. Dehydrating isn’t hard to do other than being around to check on it and flip over the food on occasion, but I felt certain it couldn’t possibly turn out right when it was time to rehydrate it on the trail (i.e. add water and heat it up). As you can see though it actually turned out really well and was super close to the texture of the original chili! It hit the spot after a day of hiking.

Real Food on the Trail on 100 Days of #RealFood

“Roasted” Vegetables

Okay, maybe these veggies had been “roasted” at some point, but to be honest I was VERY skeptical about trying this stuff. My husband (who has been backpacking on his own several times) assured me almost all the dehydrated food he’s tried has been pretty good, but we did spend a lot of time trying to make the best choice possible for this trip. I wanted a pack that had nothing added other than the whole food ingredients, and I also wanted to avoid meat since it had likely been factory-farmed. Even in the land of backpacking I am not a fan of food companies flavoring my food or using sub-par ingredients! So, we bought this veggie mix – as you can see it was literally just veggies, onions and beans – and I brought my own homemade taco seasoning and fixings to go with it (including shredded cheese, which, since this was the first night, could hang with us out in the wilderness). It actually wasn’t bad at all! Everyone scarfed it down.

Real Food on the Trail on 100 Days of #RealFood

Breakfast

Breakfast brings us to the one meal that was a HUGE flop. It was so bad I don’t think I should even gross you out with the picture. My husband had told me the only dehydrated meal he didn’t like from his previous trips were the egg dishes. He said you just can’t get the consistency the way it should be and boy was he right. At the store though my girls begged me for the Huevos Rancheros pack, and I was fine with letting them experiment. I can’t even believe they ate the gloppy mess – they must have really been hungry!

My husband and I had our beloved homemade granola both mornings with those little milk boxes that don’t have to be refrigerated. I was going to buy dehydrated milk, but REI was out of stock so we just sucked it up and carried 4 of those little boxes up the mountain. I also used it to make the little oatmeal packs I prepared for the girls, which they had for breakfast the second morning. Oh and PS – We had blueberries the first morning because I just figured they would survive at least one night, and they did!

Real Food on the Trail on 100 Days of #RealFood

Lunch

I only had to prepare lunch for one day and thank goodness – because that was the hardest meal for me to figure out. Planning lunch food has always been my weakness. :) We found these wild salmon packs and served them up with whole-grain crackers and apples. One daughter didn’t like the salmon very much and ended up supplementing with snacks (trail mix I think it was), but the rest of us thought it was actually pretty tasty. It was hard for me though not to think of all the YUMMY ways I could have eaten that salmon if I had access to perishable food. I have to say that’s one of the things I probably like the least about backpacking (vs. car camping) – the food options are limited, and I am a girl who really appreciates GOOD food!

Real Food on the Trail on 100 Days of #RealFood

Snacks and Water

For snacks we basically brought the usual stuff including trail mix (both homemade and store-bought), Lara Bars, and organic beef jerky. We also brought some freeze-dried Apple Chips and homemade popcorn because it doesn’t get much “lighter weight” than that! And, since the girls REALLY wanted to, we also brought a small amount of s’mores supplies. It was worth it. :)

Now, I must say the kids thought collecting water to drink was the fun part. We used my husband’s water filter to get it straight from the creek that ran right along our campsite. The temperature was fairly cool and the outcome was SO good and refreshing. It was honestly some of the best water I’ve had with basically no taste at all – just how I like it!

THE FUN

For those that live near the Carolinas I highly recommend the park we went to, South Mountains State Park. I honestly can’t believe we’d never taken the kids there before! It was so pretty with an easy hike in to the campground and then LOTS to explore including pretty creeks and waterfalls. We went with another family (they were inspired after reading Wild as well), and I was very impressed that all the kids managed to keep up with more than 12 miles of hiking over the 3 days we were there. Gotta start them young! Here are a few snapshots that I took. And if you have any backpacking or camping tips of your own I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

Real Food on the Trail on 100 Days of #RealFood

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37 thoughts on “Real Food on the Trail!”

  1. Very late to the party here as I saw this post via Facebook today, but you don’t have to dehydrate eggs to take them backpacking. You can buy an egg holder designed for backpacking and just eat the eggs on the first morning. The egg holder does take up space but it is pretty light so you can get creative with it after you eat the eggs.

  2. Lindsay Untherbergus

    A family friend went on a 100 mile hike on the Appalachian Trail. He was on the trail for over a week. We made him a batch of your homemade granola to take with him and he loved it! It provides lots of great energy on the trail.

  3. Hi! Just adding to this great thread of backpacking food… With kids! Yeah! We have been a few times with ours- now 6 and 8-and Mac n cheese with the squishy cheese pack from Annie’s organics is always a hit with the kids. Whole carrots are great for kids to munch on. We also splurge and they look forward to the little dried drink packets of lemonade. Or we bring powdered Gatorade. Both aren’t aux natural, but it’s a motivator to help weary hikers who might be wanting to stop more often than the parents. Hard boiled eggs keep a day or two so that’s a nice addition to breakfast. We are Midwesterners who have learned that our kids tend to have smaller appetites in high altitude trips. So we keep that in mind when counting/planning portions. Taco in a bag of corn chips , but with vegan veggie crumbles is also what I am planning for next weekends adventure with our kids and my vegetarian brother. Avocado and beef jerky are a yummy combo for snack time, too. Have fun!!!!

  4. Can you share your checklist? We are going to attempt a section hike the app trail this summer with our 3 and 5 year old. Food has been our biggest struggle.

  5. When we first started backpacking we tried having actual lunches of tuna and crackers, wraps, etc. and eventually we just decided to make lunch time a snack break instead. I might try to have a “special” lunch snack like an apple and jerky or GORP and some dark chocolate, but we’ve given up on actual lunches. Even on long days as long as we snack every hour – hour and a half it seems to work fine. Might be something to consider on future trips! It’s always so exciting to see people taking their kids backpacking! I just love it!

  6. Fun! We just went backpacking a couple weekends ago. We’re planning a trip out to Yellowstone and Glacier national parks this fall with a few day hikes and a few overnighters as well. Based on the comment that you dehydrated most of your food, are you cooking with a JetBoil? We packed some dehydrated organic pasta meals which worked out really well. And then fruit leathers for dessert. :)

    The best water I have ever tasted was pumped from the top of Yosemite Falls. Maybe I was just really thirsty, but it really did taste so pure.

      1. Very late to the party here as I saw this post via Facebook today, but you don’t have to dehydrate eggs to take them backpacking. You can buy an egg holder designed for backpacking and just eat the eggs on the first morning. The egg holder does take up space but it is pretty light so you can get creative with it after you eat the eggs.

  7. Thanks so much for the post! Excited to try these foods once my kids are old enough for backpacking. If you get a chance you should visit Havasupai in Arizona – an amazing backpacking trip! And I’d also love a marshmallow recipe :)

  8. We love backpacking, we car camp as well and I do like the simplicity of backpacking! I dehydrate most of our meals, it is the healthiest way to go. I have done chili, chili mac, chicken curry, mashed potatoes, sweet mashed potatoes (add dried apples and granola and it is an incredible dessert!), and veggies.

    I admit, we usually do “dinner” meals for both lunch and dinner. It is just easier to me to have dehydrated meals to warm up. Most of our backpacking has been to hike in one day and then stay in the same spot several days, so we can do a bigger lunch. When we do eventually do a multi-day hike, I will have to use some of the other suggestions!

  9. We love to go car camping but I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to try backpacking (mostly because I’m a bit terrified of the lack of bathrooms). You’ve made the food sound way more manageable than I thought though!

  10. THANK YOU for this article! My husband and I love backpacking, and I’ve read your article on tips for car camping many times trying to get ideas for our trips. We’ve eaten Mountain House food on our previous trips, but I’m always so unsure of the quality. This post definitely gives me better ideas for future trips! How exactly did you do the chili on the dehydrator? How much did you have to watch it throughout the day?

    Something else we’ve done is dehydrate our own apples! We just cut them up into 1/4″ thick pieces or so, and then sprinkle them with cinnamon. They we put them on the dehydrator for 6-12 hours, until they’re as crispy as you like!

    We live in SC, and have done hiked a lot of trails in the area! If you’re looking for good options, we’ve found some great trails is Pisgah National Park :)

    1. I’m so glad this post was helpful! Dehydrating the chili literally took an entire day and I did check on it so I could rotate and flip the food to ensure even drying. Also, thanks for the trail suggestion – I will definitely look into that for next time! :)

  11. Hi. My husband and I have taken our two kids on extended wilderness canoeing trips times, starting at ages 3 and 5. I’ve always packed my own did and the last two times, I dehydrated my own food, mostly. I weigh the food before and after dehydrating to determine how much water to add back in. Chili and soups are easy and wonderful with cornbread made in a frying pan. We dehydrated a mixture of refried black beans and Picante sauce for quesdillas with beans and cheese. Well – aged hard cheese lasts a long time! On paddling days, we eat Cliff bars and beef sticks for a no – cook breakfast. Oatmeal on stay days. Canadian bacon lasts a couple days unrefrigerated. We ate purchased dehydrated eggs for dinner once. Annie mac n cheese with fresh cheese added.

  12. That’s cool. How old are your kids? We went car camping this weekend. I must admit, I like the idea of back packing, but not sure that I’d ever actually do it. The gear, the food, the kids. Plus my youngest is not yet three. By the time he’s old enough, I’ll be really old, like 50. ;) and it would be hard to find water… We live in a desert.

    My husband grew up back packing. I admit I’m fascinated by the idea of dehydrating your food, vs the MREs I had in the military.

  13. I did a backpacking trip last summer around Mount Hood on the Timberline Trail (4 days solo). I love, love, love Mary Jane’s Farm for dehydrated breakfasts and dinners. They’re even organic! The meals are ordered online. I find that I don’t like to deal with unpacking food/utensils for lunch so I bring 3 snacks for each day, some savory and some sweeter. Backpacking rocks! Great job teaching your girls to love the outdoors so early.

  14. Another snack that I enjoy is crackers and Babybel semi-soft cheese. Since they’re individually wrapped in wax, they stay fresh and tasty for a few days, even without refrigeration (though they do soften up a bit more at room temperature). We also like peanut butter and jelly wraps (using tortillas, since they don’t get squished like bread).

  15. I second the comment about OvaEasy eggs! I’ve tried freeze dried eggs before (like Mountain House) and I find them to be gross, but OvaEasy tastes just like fresh eggs and the texture is the same too! I put the amount of egg mix in a ziplock and write on the outside how much water to add, then stir it inside the bag and pour into the skillet, then scramble (I have a small backpacking skillet that I use). I definitely recommend!

  16. We took our daughter (first baby) backpack camping at age three weeks! It even included climbing up a steep 3/4 mile hill. Kinda crazy but fun. Highly recommended with children, even toddlers and babies. Funny but I guess because we’ve done it often we never even considered the food to be that big a deal. We’ve even backpacked in fresh eggs. We’ve done canoe wilderness camping as well. Fun times!

  17. PS- I used to work at an independent outdoor shop in Charlotte. We LOVED talking to people about backpacking and everyone there has tips and tricks they’re always excited to share. Check with your local gear shop if you need more ideas of places to explore! You chose well with South Mountains, it was one of our favorites when we lived on that side of the state :)

  18. My boyfriend and I have both backpacked MANY times (I used to work as a guide) and we both currently work at a specialty outdoor retailer. We are doing our first long distance backpacking trip this fall – 2 months covering over 1000 miles. We are very limited with our food options because of my food allergies. I cannot eat soy, artificial sweeteners, or any artificial hormones. And we’re vegetarian. So we have spend a ton of time researching and experimenting with food on the trail!

    The only brand of eggs I will eat are OvaEasy. OvaEasy are egg crystals, so they are dehydrated raw eggs (versus freeze dried cooked eggs, like most major brands). I mix them with water, then boil them in bags in my pot. Throw the cooked egg log in a tortilla with hot sauce and you have the best trail breakfast ever! We also do breakfast couscous – couscous with brown sugar, cinnamon, dried fruit, and nuts.

    For lunches, our go-to is tortillas with cheddar (we carry a block of cheese and a paring knife), hummus (repackaged in a resealable squeezy tube), avocado, and hot sauce. A block of cheese will last 2-3 days in our pack in the spring or fall. We also carry peanut butter repackaged in squeezy tubes to eat with tortillas. We eat small meals/snacks about every 60-90 minutes so we stay well fueled throughout the day.

    Hope some of those ideas help!

  19. Great post! My husband and I are preparing to take our 1.5 year old and 3 year old on a fly-in backpacking trip and I have really been struggling with our menu and finding meals that don’t include a lot of junk! Thanks for the ideas!

  20. Our favorite backpacking lunch is bagels with peanut butter and jelly. The bagels hold up well to the travel, much better than sliced bread. We have these little toothpaste tube style containers that we pack the pb and j in, so it just squeezes out the end onto the bagel for a very easy lunch. (Obviously any other nut or seed butter would work, too.)

    For dinners, there are a few brands of instant organic soup mixes that are good. Some more like a chili that we serve over instant brown rice. (We don’t pack enough fuel to cook regular brown rice on the trail. I’ve found parboiled brown rice that only has that one ingredient, but not any that is organic.) Fantastic foods also makes some nice dehydrated beans and hummus that mix up nicely and have minimal ingredients, all organic. Asian markets tend to have lots of dehydrated veggies and proteins that you can mix in with brown rice or beans.

    For breakfast, I stick with oatmeal. Toss on some dried or freeze dried fruit and we are good. I’d love to see what other recipes you might come up with for backpacking. It’s always good to have more.

  21. I agree that lunch is often the hardest when backpacking! We tried various things for a while – wraps the first day with avocado and a roma tomato, for example, but eventually gave up and decided to just have snacks throughout the day. Since our backpacking trips usually mean we’re covering 8 or more miles, we snack every hour on nuts, chocolate, jerky or bars like lara bars. It’s not quite the same as an actual lunch, but it works and is sometimes just the easier option.

    That’s so great that you guys took the kids already! I think it’s great to get them out and enjoying wilderness as soon as possible. Thanks for sharing!

  22. Lisa, I really love this post! Good for you and your girls. I 100% agree, there’s no time like the present and it’s never too early (or too late!) to introduce kids to the beauty of the wilderness. My husband and I love backpacking and we took our baby son on his first backpacking trip with us at 7 months old. He’s a toddler now so, although it’s more challenging, we’re still doing it and just learning and adapting to his development milestones as we go! Doing this stuff with babies and toddlers is an adventure for sure, and we’ve recently just taken the leap to start sharing our lessons and experiences online (link above). We also eat the same real food on our backpacking and camping trips that we would eat at home. We pre-season, pre-marinate, and pre-mix it all in baggies so it’s ready to go in a frying pan or pot of boiling water. We love Cous Cous because it cooks in less than five minutes, absorbs flavor well (especially when you throw in some chicken bouillon with the boiling water), and is very filling. Same goes for rice. We often pair those with pre-marinated veggies, and sometimes meat, in a baggie, then dump everything into a frying pan or pot of water at camp. Any veggies with relatively low-water content like peas, carrots, corn and broccoli are great – so we can pack less and still get full easily. Add a little smoked sausage or thinly sliced steak, and that’s a meal you can cook all in one pot. We also love taking along precooked lentils (or dhal – I’m Indian and so I cook a lot of this stuff at home!) as well, in a baggy. Lentils are cheap, pack great protein and fiber, and all you do at camp is throw it on top of your rice when it’s cooked to warm up, or eat it with naan or flatbread (both of which are easy to pack and carry on a backpacking trip!). For breakfast, oatmeal with dried fruit, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nuts all mixed in a baggy is our favorite camp breakfast…go crazy and add a little dry milk to the baggy as well! Just like home, but perfect and filling for cold mornings outdoors. To date we’ve never used any freeze-dried/backpacker’s meals. The ones we’ve sampled are just not as tasty as the food we cook ourselves, and way too high in sodium. So we’re fine just bringing our own real food to cook, at least for now!
    I would love to see more on this topic from you. Happy trails!

  23. Thanks for the update on your adventure. I LOVED reading about it. Backpacking is something I’ve been wanting to do for forever and ever, so thanks for giving me some ideas on how to enjoy delicious, real food while on the trails!

  24. Great post! Was anxiously waiting to hear how the dehydrated chili turned out. We will have to check out the South Mountains State Park, we live in Thomasville NC but havent’ been there yet! Thanks for all the tips!

  25. Sounds like you guys had a blast! I really admire your dedication to packing and eating only real food on your hiking trip. I usually fix real food at home but when it comes to going places and packing food, I tend to slip back into eating some mot so real food options just because I find it overwhelming to plan it all out and fix it. Especially making anything like dehydrated chili, I just don’t see how you find time to get it all done! I feel I’m doing good just planning regular real food meals each day at home. I guess it’s one area I need to start focusing on more.

  26. Debby Singleton

    Backpacking with kids is awesome! We’ve been taking our girls since they were fairly young. Now as teenagers (16 and 14) it is one of their favorite vacation ideas. We’re heading to the Pacific NW this summer to backpack in the Olympic National Park and the Cascades. As for food, I too try to only pack healthy options. A good resource is the NOLS Cookery book which you can adapt many of their recipes with healthier ingredients. On our last trip I made backcountry pizzas topped with olive oil, mozzarella and some spices. We also do pasta dishes, fresh veggies (peppers pack well), stir frys, and more. With a little prep time at home, it’s easy to eat well while backpacking.

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