Backpacking Meal Planning: Nutrition, Recipes, and Techniques

These are my favorite trail cooking references and cookbooks, with some explanations of why they are so good.

Trail cooking books

Nutrition and Ration Planning

The Backpacker’s Field Manual, Rick Curtis. ISBN: 1400053099

This is the best source for information on nutrition and hydration. It is the only book I’ve found that is specific about how much water to carry (page 71). The section is short, like all the sections. This is really a college text for outdoor programs and is was written for an outdoor leader training course at Princeton. It is not thrilling to read, but it sure does have the data.

Want to know how to make complete protein combinations in your meals? Check out the nutrition “N” diagram on page 68. Organize the categories in alphabetical order and choose any two neighbors. Yes, this will be on the test.

Nutrition N

NOLS Cookery 7th Edition, Claudia Pearson, editor. ISBN: 0811719812

The best reference on ration planning. You’ll learn about “ppppd”, pounds per person per day, and how to get healthy food that doesn’t weigh too much. This is the best resource on cooking fires and bear protocol (though Philmont bear protocol is different).

Most recipes use the NOLS style of cooking from scratch (with a few mixes) on the trail. Carry bulk ingredients, then combine them for meals. If you want to make bread in the backcountry, NOLS Cookery will tell you how. It is worth trying this style, if only to make Meal-in-a-Mug (page 111). Recent editions (6th and later) include some ultralight-style recipes that are made at home and rehydrated on the trail.

The Hungry Spork and The Hungry Spork Trail Recipes, Inge Aksamit. ISBN: 0997061812 and ISBN: 0997061839

The Hungry Spork: A Long Distance Hiker’s Guide to Meal Planning is the best reference for pre-planning meals for treks of a week or more, including a week-by-week schedule before the trip. The recipes are high-calorie thru-hiker food, suitable for hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail or feeding hungry teenagers. Includes excellent information on sports nutrition for hiking; which foods to eat when so you keep your energy up on the trail.

The Hungry Spork Trail Recipes: Quick Gourmet Meals for the Backcountry is a collection of 30 recipes with detailed nutrition information, options for vegetarian, vegan, or allergy-friendly meals, and helpful reviews from meal testers. It is a bit like reading a very, very good blog on trail cooking.

Recipes and Techniques

NOLS Cookery

See above, this is the top references for the “NOLS” style of cooking sort-of from scratch. Carry things like biscuit mix, potato buds, cheese, and so on.

Freezer Bag Cooking, Sarah Kirkconnell.

Freezer Bag Cooking: Trail Food Made Simple is the first of a series of books by Sarah Kirkconnell on backpacking meals made with (mostly) supermarket ingredients. Many of them are designed to be packaged and rehydrated in a quart ziplock freezer bag, thus the name of the technique. For larger groups, these can be simmered in a pot.

This is a great approach for Scouts because it is much less expensive than prepackaged freeze-dried meals, and can be adjusted for preferences in ingredients and seasonings. Measuring and prep is done in a home kitchen, with simple rehydration on the trail.

I blogged one of her recipes with her kind permission, Veggie Exotic Couscous.

You can find all of her books at the Trail Cooking store.

Recipes for Adventure, Glenn Mcallister. ISBN: 1484861345

How to dehydrate ingredients and mixes at home, then rehydrate them on the trail. More useful if you have a dehydrator, but smaller quantities can be dried in an oven. This book is especially useful if you need to carefully control ingredients because of food allergies, religious requirements, or other reasons. Also, the food tastes really good. Also go to Glen’s website Backpacking Chef.

Lipsmackin’ Backpackin’, Christine Connors and Tim Connors. ISBN: 0762781327

Most of these recipes are entirely cooked at home, dehydrated, then rehydrated on the trail. If you want to use that style, start with this book. You will probably need a dehydrator and plenty of home prep time.

The Back-Country Kitchen, Teresa Marrone. ISBN: 0965153509

My personal favorite backcountry cookbook, because it has a wide variety of techniques and it’s all delicious. It covers everything from bread on a stick to venison with cherry sauce.

I’ve blogged about two recipes from this book, Italian Stick Bread and Lentil-Bulgur Chili (with her permission, since it includes the recipe).

What’s Cooking on the PCT?, Martin “Rainman” Leghart, Jr.

This has one recipe each from 48 different people, so it is a wild ride through cooking styles. It includes vegan bean chili stew, vegan hete bliksem (spiced apples and potatoes), big shakes or super oatmeal for big breakfast hikers, a couple of ramen pseudo-Thai meals, a Roman army lentil stew, Leebe bedouin bread baked in coals, loaded mashed potatoes, Thanksgiving in a bowl, and finally quick and dirty peach cobbler (using Louisiana Fish Fry brand cobbler mix). On top of that, half the profits go to the Pacific Crest Trail Association. Not bad for $10.

Dirty Gourmet: Food for Your Outdoor Adventures by Aimee Trudeau, Emily Nielson, and Mai-Yan Kwan.

I have not (yet) cooked from this book. Every time I look at it, I start planning a trip where I can cook from it. Take a look at the Dirty Gourmet website to see some recipes and get a feel for their approach.

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