There are many great backpacking food brands out there producing tasty, filling meals. But these can be both really expensive for extended trips and difficult to find in remote areas.
This post is all about foods that have already been dehydrated for you and will cost a fraction of the cost. On top of being cheap, most of these are easy to find in grocery stores, larger convenience stores or even dollar stores.
Some of these suggestions require a little out of the box thinking but for most, it can be as simple as putting a couple of ingredients together to replicate expensive freeze dried meals.
I personally love potatoes and find that dehydrated potatoes satisfy my cravings. Dehydrated potatoes can be used as a side dish, thickener, transformed in croquettes or even the main ingredient in a simple soup.
Mac and Cheese
This is a staple in the pantry of most Canadians. You can get box of cheap mac and cheese for less than a dollar from most grocery stores.
It may not be the healthiest dish to eat every night but it is definitely filling! Eating it plain is fine or you can spruce it up with a few more ingredients to make a more interesting meal.
Milk is often at the base of a lot of cooking recipes. Cereals, warm creamy oats and sauces would not be the same without milk. When cooking with milk, instant milk is fast to re-hydrate but can, in my opinion, lack in flavor. For cereals or drinking I prefer the non-instant full milk. It takes a bit more time to reconstitute but I find that it is worth the wait. Start re-hydrating the milk before dinner, perhaps when making camp.
Granola offers one of the easiest DIY backpacking breakfasts. Also great for a snack, you can buy granola cereal in the smallest of corner stores. Granola is most often eaten with milk (fresh or powdered) but powdered coconut milk tastes delicious too. I like it mixed with orange juice as well.
Oats make an easy meal (breakfast or otherwise) and can be very cheap to buy in bulk. They can be cooked or left to soak and eaten cold. When combined with fruit and seeds, oatmeal will provide you with hours of energy.
Wheat germ is one grain that is easy and quick to cook. It’s used a bit like oats, to make a porridge perfect for breakfast. Combined with fruit and nuts, wheat germ can prove to be a very filling meal.
Powdered coconut milk
Coconut milk is a very popular ingredient in Asian cuisine and the powdered version makes it easy to bring these flavours to the backcountry.
With coconut milk powder you can easily recreate curry and noodle dishes. Coconut milk powder is also a good alternative for dairy milk.
Powdered peanut butter
Peanut butter has a high fat content, perfect for extended aerobic activities like backpacking. Peanut butter powder provides a lightweight alternative to the regular kind. It is ideal for using in main meals (for satay sauce, for example) or for snacks.
Chia seeds are full of everything nutritionally good, with plenty of protein, fiber, fat, omega-3s, calcium, magnesium and more. The calorie count is high too. The humble chia seed might not be a meal in itself but can easily be added to peanut butter or granola to provide a fun texture and boost nutritional values.
Vermicelli noodles can be found inexpensively in most pasta or Asian food aisles. They are fast to make and technically do not even need cooking. I usually soak them in hot water for about 3 to 5 minutes and they are good to go. Filling and satisfying, vermicelli noodles are also lightweight.
Bulk food stores often have dehydrated vegetable flakes, usually intended for soups and stocks. A typical mix would include potatoes, carrots, onions, leeks and red peppers. Although low in calories, dehydrated veggies can help to bulk out dishes and provide essential vitamins.
Minute rice has already been parboiled and dried for you. Quick to reheat, minute rice works an ideal side dish or alternatively as the main part of the meal, perhaps in a curry or casserole with vegetables and legumes.
Quick cooking legumes
Legumes are often forgotten as a quick dehydrated food. Legumes are full of proteins and healthy minerals and vitamins but are often associated with a long cooking process like baked beans.
Lucky for us, legumes come all size and shapes. Green lentils are one of my favorites. When soaked properly, they will cook in minutes. When choosing your legumes, look for those without the husk as these will cook faster.
Nuts and trail mix
This is a basic one that most outdoor enthusiastic will know, but never forget your trail mix and nuts.
These are so common you will be able to find them in even the most basic grocery store, corner store and even gas station. Not only great for snacks, consider adding nuts (such as peanuts) to main meals.
Dried fruit are another staple food for the outdoors, being full of energy and also easy to find. You probably already know about GORP (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts) as this style of trail mix is very popular for its cheapness factor.
But you don’t have to limit yourself to raisins. Dates, mangoes, cranberries are just a few example of dried fruit available in grocery stores.
I know these are not exactly dehydrated, but kettle chips have a good calorie to weight ratio and will somehow also withstand trips crushed up in a backpack. They can be added to a sandwiches or wraps for texture or just eaten as a snack.
We often save a portion of chips for our hardest day on trail, as a reward after a long day of walking. I recommend the kettle style of chips specifically since they stay together better so you have more than crumbs to eat at the end of the day!