Healthy Backpacking Meals

March 24, 2019

Just because you’re going out on a backcountry trip doesn’t mean you must resort to freeze-dried, prepackaged, overly processed dehydrated foods.  It’s ironic actually, that we are physically exerting ourselves & relying on “low prana” foods to sustain us.

Prana means “life force” or “vital life energy.” It’s a yogic concept that refers to the manifest energy in all things.  As humans, we are full of this prana, or energy; yoga is trying to increase the prana so we feel vibrant, alive & energetic. Prana isn’t present in only humans, but all living organisms. In Ayurveda, the nutritional value, quality, and health benefits of foods are based first and foremost on the prana they contain.

Foods vary on the amount of prana they contain, so ideally, we seek to eat those that have higher prana, such as fresh fruits and vegetables- especially varieties that are grown locally and organically, without the use of chemicals. Foods that are freshly cooked, as well as whole grains, fresh dairy products, nuts & seeds, flavorful spices are rich in prana. Generally, the fresher & less processed the foods, the more prana, or energy, they contain.

Foods that are genetically modified, grown with chemicals & highly processed, contain very little prana after these processes take place. Ayurveda encourages us to minimize foods that are processed in this way, in favor of higher prana options.

Spending 100+ days every year in the field has given me plenty of time to experiment with different backcountry meal options.  Honestly, when I rely solely on prepackaged, dried & freeze-dried foods I don’t feel so great.  I’m lower energy, gassy & crave deeper nourishment.  On most backcountry trips I’m conscious of food weight and space, however, here are some menu ideas that are aren’t too heavy, won’t spoil quickly, are easy to prepare & taste great.  If I do use freeze dried foods, I am sure to spice them up (spices add not only flavor, making food easier to digest, but also increase the prana) and I also add healthy fats (like coconut oil or ghee). Recipe measurements are approximate & portions are for one person.

Healthy Backcountry Dinners

Backpackers Kitcharee


  • 1/3 c. mung dahl
  • 1/3 c. white basmati rice
  • ¼ c. dried veggies (if I’m not concerned with weight, I’ll bring fresh veggies like yam, carrot or broccoli-something hardy that can travel well)
  • 1 ½ c. water
  • 2 tsp pre mixed spices (equal parts turmeric, coriander, cumin or to taste)
  • 1 veggie bouillon cube
  • 1 tbs ghee, butter or coconut oil


  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Dried flaked coconut
  • Toasted fennel seeds

Add everything into a pot and cook on high heat until it starts bubbling.  Turn down to medium heat & stir frequently.  Cook time varies by stove & elevation, but it should be ready in 20-30 minutes.  For more of a soup consistency, add more water.  Serve with garnishes on top.

Coconut Quinoa Curry


  • 1/3 c. red lentils
  • 1/3 c. quinoa
  • ¼ c. dried veggies (if I’m not concerned with weight, I’ll bring fresh veggies like yam, carrot or broccoli-something hardy that can travel well)
  • ¼ c. powdered coconut milk
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbs green curry paste OR spice mix of choice
  • 1 veggie bouillon cube
  • 1 tbs ghee, butter or coconut oil


  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Dried flaked coconut
  • Toasted fennel seeds

I prefer to separate the quinoa from the curry, personal choice.   If you prefer to cook it all together: add 2 cups of water with lentils, quinoa, veggies & boullion.  Cook until soft, approx. 30 minutes. (fyi the meal will cook faster & use less fuel if you pre-soak the lentils; you can put them in a ziplock bag, add water & hike with them during the day…voila! Soaked beans) When it’s almost done, add the coconut milk powder, spices, curry paste & ghee.  Add garnishes as desired.

Pesto Pasta


  • 1/2 c. whole grain pasta or tortellini of choice (for more protein, I prefer noodles made with lentils…you can barely tell the difference!)
  • 1 c. water
  • Pesto (I prefer real vs dried, personal choice; if using dried bring olive oil to supplement)
  • Italian veggie sausage OR smoked salmon
  • Black or kalamata olives
  • Sundried tomatoes
  • Handful of arugula, spinach or kale (any leafy green) torn into bite size pieces

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Meanwhile, cut up olives & veggie sausage/salmon. If sundried tomatoes are dry (not soaked in oil) then add them to pasta last 2 minutes of cooking; if you’re using kale add that the final minute.  After straining cooked pasta add everything else & stir thoroughly.

Burritos for Two

  • ½ c. freeze dried black, kidney or refried beans (The brand I use: Mary Jane’s Farms)
  • ½ c. basmati rice w/turmeric, cumin & dash of salt mixed in
  • Shredded white cheddar cheese
  • Avocado OR shelf stable prepackaged guacamole
  • Dehydrated salsa
  • Corn or flour tortillas

Add boiling water to beans & let sit 10-15 minutes; do the same with salsa. Cook rice & spices (stir spices in with water at beginning)  When rice is done, assemble burritos.

Healthy Backcountry Breakfasts

Hearty Oats w/Chia


  • Oatmeal
  • 1-2 tbs powdered coconut milk or regular milk (optional)
  • Chia seeds
  • Spice mixture (cinnamon, cardamom & nutmeg)

Mix ins:

  • Raisins
  • Honey
  • Walnuts
  • Shredded coconut
  • Nut butter
  • Hemp powder/hemp seeds

Cook oats with water/milk powder if using; add chia seeds when almost done.  Use more water than you think-the chia absorbs a lot of liquid.  Spice and sweeten as desired, add mix ins before eating.

Ayurvedic Granola

Dry cereals can be hard to digest (because they are so light, dry & crunchy).  Ayurveda favors foods that are warm, moist & slightly oily over dryer colder foods.  Make breakfast granola more digestible by using warm milk, adding spices like cinnamon or cardamom, and adding some fat to it- like a handful of walnuts or dollop of sunflower butter.

Breakfast Burritos:

There are plenty of egg powders & dehydrated eggs out there…I’m personally not a big fan, but sometimes I bring a few fresh eggs with me- here’s how you keep them from breaking: cut the egg carton for the amount of eggs your using. (if I’m using 4 eggs, then I cut it in 2/3) Wrap that puppy in duct tape, and you’re good to go!  I’ll use the egg carton as fire starter that night.

Cook the eggs with oil and spices; serve with leftover rice/beans from the night before.  Add salsa & avocado.


Healthy Backcountry Snacks & Lunches

Tapas Picnic:

Ideas for things to spread on pita bread:

  • Hummus (dried or fresh)
  • Pesto or tapenade
  • Cheeses
  • Cured meats
  • Smoked salmon
  • Olives
  • Sun dried tomatoes

Sweet & Savory Sandwich:

  • Whole grain bread
  • Nut butter (I prefer sunflower or almond)
  • Honey
  • Cinnamon

If I make it at home ahead of time, I will add sliced banana.  Mmm.


Trail Mix:

I avoid too much dried fruit in my trail mixes, as they are hard to digest and can cause gas.  Instead, I favor nuts like:

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Almond butter
  • Cashews
  • Brazil nuts
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Sunflower seeds

And sweet things like:

  • Coconut chips
  • Fresh dates or raisins
  • Chocolate chips
  • Yogurt covered pretzels


Fresh fruit Tips:

They’re heavy, yes…but so delicious.  I won’t bring lots, but it’s a nice treat to have early on in the trip. Apples & oranges travel best.  I’ll sometimes bring kiwis or grapes, but pack them in my mug or pot so they don’t get squished.