To start, let me say that this is NOT neckbeard discussion about calories, macro counting, and pack weight on the trail. This is about throwing out some simple ideas for food that you can carry on a one or two night backpacking trip.
First things first - How long is the trip? Obvious right? I sure hope so. How long I plan to be on the trail weighs heavily into how disciplined my planning is. The longer the hike, the more critical I am of weight and extras. The shorter the hike the more forgiving I am. If everything I take will be consumed within a day or two, then I can take things that don’t need to have special treatment for longer periods to maintain freshness (cheese, meat, and bread for example)
Once I’ve settled on the number days i’ll be on the trial, it's time to consider what meals I’ll be eating (and drinking) - Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks, and Drinks. For example, I will not eat breakfast on the trail on day one and depending on how late I’m leaving I may or may not eat lunch or snacks. The last day on the trail will not require dinner and again, depending on how long i’ll be hiking I may or may not stop for lunch.
Of course, off the shelf freeze dried meals such as those made by Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry are great easy choices that offer a fair amount of variety; however, your choices aren’t limited to just those. There are many other options that can be put together from the typical supermarket and there is no shortage of online resources around the topic of backpacking meals.
With all that said, here’s how I approach each subject:
Fuel up! Oatmeal and Coffee is my go-to breakfast. Oatmeal packets are easy because you can pour hot water into the packets and eat straight out of them minimizing clean up. Coffee usually comes in the form of instant coffee packets such as Starbucks Via.
Other popular choices are things like instant grits, dry cereal, dehydrated eggs, pop tarts, and dried hash browns.
If I’m pressed for time or feeling lazy, then I may opt for an energy bar (or 2).
I rarely break out my stove while on the trail. If I do I’ll likely just be cooking ramen. Instead I will often eat energy bars, tortillas with nut butter, trail mix or dried fruits to keep the energy levels up. Single serving SPAM or tuna packets are easy grabs as well.
The last thing I want to do once I finally get around to dinner is cook an elaborate meal but this is where I will mix it up the most.
Instant rice, instant mashed potatoes, couscous, and rice noodles all make great choices for carbs. Notice that ALL of these items are things that cook very quickly and/or are cooked by simply adding hot water and allowed to sit. Don’t waste your fuel by trying to boil regular rice or pasta. Knorr soup and sauce packets are popular choices for adding flavor to these items and packets of tuna, salmon, or chicken can be added for easy protein. Freeze dried veggies can also be added to make it even more interesting.
A bit of advice, if you intend to mix up your own meals then I recommend trying them out BEFORE you hit the trail. The last thing you want is to get on the trail with something that turns out you don’t like or worse, your stomach doesn’t like!
Snacks and other options
In addition to the meals (or often times in place of the meals all together) I carry a few snacks. How much variety I carry depends on how long the trip will be.
Energy bars, trail mix, and jerkies are familiar staples but bagels and individually wrapped cheese sticks are great ‘fresh’ alternatives for short trips. Snack sized cookies and Little Debbie type cakes are great treats to bring along as well.
Country Time Lemonade in single serving packets makes is great alternative to water. Much easier to find are single serving mixes of diet drinks if you don’t mind artificial sweeteners.
Tea bags are also a great option for the trail as is coffee. I recently learned that instant coffee in a water bottle makes a nice faux cold brew if that’s something you enjoy.
NOTE: If you mix these in your water bottle you’ll need to hang your bottle with your food bag! For that reason, I often carry a bottled water bottle solely for flavored drinks and keep my nalgene just for clean water.
For me personally, food on the trail is less about enjoyment and more about practicality; however, I do enjoy a bit of variety and even the process of preparing it before I go. This is by no means a comprehensive list of options and I strongly encourage you to do your own research and experimenting to find what works best for you.