What are your best hiking/backcountry camping recipes?
September 16, 2019 3:41 PM   Subscribe

I'm going camping with my kids and some friends in a couple of weeks. We usually go car camping but this time we'll be hiking in to our site. If it was just us adults we'd be fine with getting some dehydrated food packs and calling it a day but our kids will want tastier fare. What exactly is that?

I don't need kid-friendly recipes, the kids like a wide variety of food, just stuff that is tasty and not too much of a hassle to carry or prepare on site. Hot meals are preferred because it'll be cold at breakfast and dinner and depending on the weather might not be all that warm for lunch either.

I plan on taking my 900ml kettle, pot and frying pan (although if I could do without either the pot or frying pan I'd be happy to). Cooking will be done on one camping stove. We'll be close to water and I have a filter so we'll have all the water we need. We will have a fire at night but it'll likely be pretty small and I wouldn't count on being able to do much more than toast some marshmallows on it.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (29 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
How far are you hiking in? Is weight a concern?

If you get farmers market eggs (that haven’t been washed), they don’t need to be refrigerated. They make camping carriers with egg shaped voids to pack them in so they don’t break, but you could probably just rig something up with Tupperware and paper towels.
posted by Weeping_angel at 3:46 PM on September 16, 2019

(I’m totally assuming you’re in the US with the need for farmers market eggs. If you’re not and they don’t wash the eggs where you are, just eggs.)
posted by Weeping_angel at 3:49 PM on September 16, 2019

Response by poster: Eggs would be doable depending on what they're being used for :)

The hike is just long enough to make things like taking a cooler or firewood impractical, and discourages taking heavier food items. But this isn't a situation where we're shaving grams off of our carry weight so we can take some heavier stuff. My pie irons are staying at home though.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:00 PM on September 16, 2019

Pre-cook bacon and pack in. Reheat as needed but cold bacon tastes good, too. Instant oatmeal packets, add peanut butter to your oatmeal to up the protein. Mac’n’cheese is fairly packable. Popcorn (practice at home first).
posted by amanda at 4:04 PM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Cous cous is a magical camping food! Just boil water, add the cous cous, cover, and it's ready 5 minutes later. We used to eat ours with canned Dinty Moore beef stew, but I bet it would be great with packets of ready to eat curry like these.
posted by Knicke at 4:16 PM on September 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

Pizza and brownies (scroll down) are both fun for dinner if you have a stove that can simmer on low, though it takes some patience.

Easy classics:
Mac & cheese. Bring fixings to stir in, like cured sausage or tuna, sun dried tomatoes. Sub mayo packets for the oil.
Beans/rice box & cheese & tortillas (cheddar cheese does fine for a day or two if you wait to shred)
posted by veery at 4:17 PM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: We did Mac & Cheese this weekend and apart from me over-boiling the pasta it didn't taste as good as it does at home. I used milk powder as opposed to milk so maybe my ratios were off or just that milk powder is an inferior way to go.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:30 PM on September 16, 2019

Couscous, a bouillon cube, a can of pre-cooked chicken, and a couple of fresh vegetables (I'm partial to snap peas and tiny onions) is my most reliable camping meal that other people like. [On preview, what Knicke said. I'll have to try the curry idea.]

It's too heavy for every meal, but, when I was a kid picking out my own choices from the supermarket aisle of precooked meals-in-cans was a significant part of the camping experience. If you're lazy, you can pop the top and set them in boiling water and never dirty a dish, which almost makes up for having to carry them up the mountain.
posted by eotvos at 4:30 PM on September 16, 2019

Mountain House freeze dried meals are actually pretty tasty for what they are, and lightweight. Just add hot water and get a long spork and you can eat right out of the pouch!
posted by extramundane at 4:34 PM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

My fave hiking breakfast is pancakes with sharp cheddar and dark chocolate chips (I swear, it is delicious). I put premeasured water-only pancake mix (I use Krust-Eaze, but any brand is fine) in a water bottle along with the chocolate and cheese, so on the hike you only need to add water, mix up in the bottle, and pour out into a frying pan. You have to have room to carry a water bottle, but it's delicious and easy if you have room for a dedicated pancake water bottle.
posted by lhputtgrass at 4:52 PM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

When I was a kid the freeze dried food was really novel, and I loved it. If you want to do Mac and cheese with real milk, you can get shelf stable milk boxes at most grocery stores.
posted by rockindata at 4:53 PM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Many foods can be frozen in a ziplock bag, packed ith a frozen bottle of water or 2. Bacon is high fat and keeps well, esp unopened. Cured meats keep well. How any burners? 1 burner can only do so much.
Kielbasa or ham and potatoes.
Rice is easy. I love the Indian meals in plastic pouches, or bring homemade chili.
Sliced potato and onions, oil, baked in foil packets near the fire.
Pancakes and bacon for breakfast. I save ketchup or mayo bottles to pack pancake mix.
posted by theora55 at 5:08 PM on September 16, 2019

If the Indian meals in packets appeal you can make chapatis to accompany them. I took the chapati flour in a sandwich bag, added the water at the camp and kneaded it right in the bag. Then roll bits into balls and pat them out very thin with you palms, toast in a dry skillet. It was fun and they came out great.
posted by Botanizer at 5:52 PM on September 16, 2019 [6 favorites]

I like to bring in tacos. I use the precooked chicken in foil pouches, salsa, and cheese. Bring a lime too. If you catch some fish, use that instead. You can pad this meal with rice and salsa. Minute rice or the precooked foil rice both work fine. If I’m not stressed about weight, the salsa with corn in it makes good rice, but it’s often in a can.

Like Botanizer, I also pack those Indian packets and make a “buffet” with three or four options.
posted by advicepig at 6:08 PM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

I often do a pasta with olive oil, hard salami, capers, and a ton of Parmesan cheese. Carrots diced in if we brought some for lunch snacks.
posted by advicepig at 6:13 PM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

If it’s actually cold, soup is really lovely. Use the chicken in foil pouches, a bullion cube, water, rice or pasta, carrots, freeze dried corn, salt and pepper. Sometimes I bring in mashed potato flakes to make “chowder.” Bring crackers for dunking.
posted by advicepig at 6:17 PM on September 16, 2019

Ramen with peanut butter and sriracha with peanuts on top. Regular instant ramen is good too.
posted by advicepig at 6:19 PM on September 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

BRing potatoes and frozen/pre-shredded fixin's, bake in the coals, add fixin's.

For a short trip, don't bother buying plastic crap holders to put eggs in. Just break the eggs into a jar and seal it tightly and put it in a plastic bag. I've also heard of people freezing the broken eggs and packing them frozen but haven't tried it.
posted by Miko at 6:22 PM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

I second Tacos/Burritos. You can use ground meat (freeze it, and should be good on night one, unfrozen) or Texturized Vegetable Protein (add spices for flavour). Some shredded cheese, lettuce and a tomato and it's a fun meal that packs in small. Oatmeal is a great one for camping...add basically anything for extra energy/flavour. Pasta is much improved by tasty cheese to put on top....doesn't need much but splurge on real parmesan, etc, it really improves the flavour. Banana boats are fun with kids and don't need a big fire to make (Bananas sliced in 1/2, fill with marshmallows/chocolate chips/yummy stuff, bake by side of fire, scoop out as a hot sticky sugary mess). Trick might be not smooshing the bananas too badly. Have a great trip!
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 6:40 PM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

There are lots of variations on this, but: camping tuna pasta - 1 can of tuna(drained), 1/2 stick butter, 1/2 cup parmesan, 2/3 box of pasta, salt, pepper. Now that tuna and salmon come in pouches, they are even better for camping, I guess.
posted by hiker U. at 7:43 PM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Our favorite camping meal is Tasty Bites (or Trader Joe’s brand, should you be lucky enough to be near one, we aren’t) Indian food heated in boiling water that we then use to make Minute Rice. Extremely efficient, warm, does not even dirty the pot you make it in. Two thumbs up.
posted by charmedimsure at 8:19 PM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

My strategy for camping - using a cooler, but a soft-sided one with a basic cold pack well-frozen - is to pre-cook proteins and (if not packaged) freeze it in flat units wrapped in foil. Sliced cooked chicken breast for tacos or similar, frozen franks or (not-raw) sausages, frozen cooked (yes!, already cooked - or veggie burgers) hamburger patties, frozen parcels of pasta sauce (or frozen cooked ground beef or turkey, mixed on site with a jar or two of sauce or cans of Manwich). A bag of shred cheese and one of slices, pack or two of tortillas, can of pinto of black beans, dried pasta, can of spinach. Pre-mix the dry ingredients for biscuits that only need water, for drop biscuits (or bring packets of cornbread mix). Instant mashed potatoes (it's just dehydrated potato, if you get the plain kind) with burgers (tortilla-wrapped), pasta with sauce + spinach + cheese, campfire dogs (wrap sausage + cheese in tortilla and wrap in foil to fire-roast), tacos.

Bring one can of cooking spray, for many of the above things. One roll of foil, one decently large skillet, one saucepan or several-quart pot.

Pasta tip: soak for 20 minutes, actually boil/heat-cook just a few to get it across the line to edible.

Chicken noodle soup: soak the pasta, then cook in water with dry soup mix of choice + enough cans of chicken to feel satisfying + canned or dehydrated peas & carrots + a few spoons of instant mashed potato to thicken + top with a sprinkle of cheese.

Pizza night: the pre-cooked pizza bases you can get at the grocery store (stick 'em in a kid's backpack) + jar of tomato pasta sauce + cheese + some cooked meat. All of it is technically edible without cooking, if it comes to that.

Pack dry mix for pancakes, crack eggs into a water bottle and freeze or semi-freeze, and of course treat the kids to PopTarts.

Want to blow some minds? Bring a box of cake mix, plus a skillet. Make several rounds of cake pancakes - cooks faster. You can do the same with cornbread mix, to serve with canned chili or Chunky soup.

Giant bag of tortilla chips (light, but need to not get crushed) + jar of queso + can of beans + frozen ground beef or beef substitute. Doesn't even need to be heated, though it's nicer if you can warm up the queso in the skillet.

Stacks of Oreos. They can be distributed between packs, everyone loves them, they're pretty sturdy.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:53 PM on September 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

This backpacker’s tiramisu is delicious, and probably easy enough for your kid’s to make. I’ve made it without the Kahlua and that worked out fine.
posted by tinymegalo at 9:16 PM on September 16, 2019

We had some great chili on a recent trip. You can do a ton of the prep ahead of time - spice pre-mixed in a bag, cooking the meat (in our case it was seasoned crumbled extra firm tofu, and delicious), portions of fresh veg like peppers (or bring them whole, super easy to chop), and the tomatoes and beans can be (but don't have to be) canned.

It's easy to pack, easy to prep, only uses one pot, and can sit simmering all day from lunch to dinner on a super low flame or embers, and is ready to roll when you are. Pour a little beer in to extend it and enhance flavor (after you pour a little in yourself if desired). Plus it goes great with other fun camp food - corn on the cob, cornbread, hot dogs.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:14 PM on September 16, 2019

We've had some luck with mountain hardware meals, but honestly, it's cheaper usually to make your own.

For the first day, recently our strategy has been to make a really good chili at home, and freeze it in ziplock bags. it defrosts by the time you get to the campsite, while keeping other food cool (cheese? always bring a good hard cheese), and then day 1 you have an INCREDIBLE meal that is super simple. I've done this mostly when hiking into pretty remote areas; it's sort of wild to hike 15miles into nowhere and then have real meat, if you know you're going to be living off of just add water meals for a bit.

We also like miso soup packets, tomato soup packets... we prefer the freeze dried chicken, because it tastes way better than the pouches (also it's lighter). Couscous and freeze dried veggies go in everything to bulk out meals. I, like the crazy person that I am, test drive all of my meals at home--I too have made very disappointing mac and cheese. the Knorr alfredo packets make for a better dinner, when made with just water and olive oil than mac and cheese.

For breakfast, we mix plain oatmeal packets with the fanciest artisanal instant oatmeal we can find (fine it's usually trader joes), some powdered coconut milk and then throw in extra trail mix.

For the more satisfying hot chocolate; use powdered coconut milk along side swiss miss/generic hot chocolate. it make it way better, add instant coffee for adults in the morning if you wish, and everyone starts off with a blast of sugar and caffeine. v. good on dreary mornings.

In winter, we hike with a stick of butter, because you need the extra fat, but unless you are near running water, it's probably impractical to bring butter. (submerge in the water in a sealed bag to keep cool)

A lot of these things we just find in regular supermarkets, so we're not going out of our way to shop for them, although we stock up on the chicken once a season. (and to be honest, this year we've been using last year's freeze dried chicken and it was fine.)
posted by larthegreat at 5:50 AM on September 17, 2019

A fun thing that my husband used to do as a kid was have each of the kids bring a can of something and they would put everyone's can into a big pot for dinner. The cans were usually a mix of soups, stews, chili, spaghettios/ravioli, or beans. Not the healthiest, but super fun for the kids.
posted by jraz at 7:52 AM on September 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I hate doing dishes while camping/backpacking, so I'm a big advocate of Freezer Bag Cooking. There are a TON of recipes out there for easy googling. They're as easy in the backcountry as the freeze dried meals (just add hot water), but you can customize them to your tastes.

I always make one of my meals cheesy bacon mashed potatoes. Idahoan instant potatoes, cheddar cheese grated at home, pre-cooked bacon or bacon bits. At home, dump the mashed potatotes into a quart sized ziploc freezer bag (the freezer part is important -- you may also want to double bag to contain potential leaks). You can add the cheese and bacon to that bag, or keep them separate. At camp, boil 2 cups (I think, check the directions) of water, dump it into the potatoes, mix it up. Add cheese and bacon. Eat. Yum!

Check the pasta/instant food aisle at the grocery store. Basically anything you can cook on the stove in under 5 minutes at home is suitable for FBC cooking -- Easy Mac, regular cousous, instant rice, angel haired pastas, etc. You can add foil pouches of tuna, salmon, or chicken if you want.

For extra fun, you can also steam-bake dessert. Get a just-add water baking mix - something like the mug cakes or brownies, or Jiffy corn mix. Make the mix, and put it into a smaller container that will sit inside your pot (silicone cupcake molds are great for this). Put some rocks or rolled up foil in the bottom of your pot, sit your baking container on top of those, and pour in just enough water to cover the rocks/foil. Put the lid on and boil the water for a couple of minutes (watch to make sure you don't boil your pot dry). You can also get cupcake molds with feet and skip the rocks/foil.
posted by natabat at 10:32 AM on September 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Pasta tip: soak for 20 minutes, actually boil/heat-cook just a few to get it across the line to edible.

That's good but let me really blow your mind: if you bring the water to a boil first, you can just add the pasta, turn off/put out/remove it from the flame, and let it then sit for 10-15 minutes with no heat on it and it will still come out well. Pasta doesn't actually need to be actively boiled in water. This works at home too and might just change your life!
posted by Miko at 5:32 PM on September 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

If eggs are a possibility, breakfast burritos are too!

Tortillas + scrambled eggs + instant mashed potatoes + beans + hot sauce + jalapeño = Breakfast burrito

If you can dehydrate your own beans, do so. Beans have come out well for me when I've dehydrated after pressure cooking with cumin, bay leaf, garlic, whatever other spices make sense to me at the moment. Canned beans work too, but the pack-out is probably going to be a little messier.

For pasta, I like to make a topping by sliiiightly rehydrating sun-dried tomatoes in just a little bit of water with bouillon, onions, olive oil, and spices. For whatever reason, I'm a fan of cumin in the backcountry; it seems very versatile to me. It smells super good while you're cooking it. The downside is I always find oily plates to be a labor-intensive clean-up. For some protein in the past topping you can add freeze-dried chicken if you want; I rehydrate it fully or almost fully before adding the sun-dried tomatoes. If you don't want to mess with that; canned chicken is an option. If you want to go bonkers wild, cut up some salami or Epic bars and add them to the mix instead of chicken; their wild boar bars taste really good. Don't burn/overcook them.

Date rolls usually travel well. I also like dried fruits and bulk nuts (like salty cashews) for snacks.

If you're pressed for time and want something instant but fancier than Mountain House (which is perfectly fine I think) Patagonia provisions were been surprisingly well-received the one time I tried them on a backpacking trip.

A neat hack is Thanksgiving camping dinner. Canned turkey, instant mashed potatoes, stovetop stuffing, and canned cranberry sauce. I've never tried it, but some guides working in Grand Canyon would often do that on the last night of multi-day trips.

Whatever you choose, you'll probably have the best success if you try the recipes at home before taking them outdoors. Also, you mentioned possibly having a campfire; here's how to minimize its impacts if you're in a spot where it's allowed and you choose to have one.

Pro tip: The longer you've been hiking, the better the food will taste.
posted by compartment at 1:31 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

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