Backpacking Recipe Formula

If you’ve ever been backpacking, you know that one thing that is guaranteed – at the end of your day, you will be HUNGRY. Going gourmet for a backpacking meal involves a delicate balance between taste, weight, nutrition and time.

For our backpacking trip to the Sierras last summer, we planned most of our meals from a Sierra Club book called Simple Foods for the Pack. Most of the recipes turned out great and I remember them vividly as delicious and satisfying. When we got back, we tested the same recipes at home again to make sure they were Dirty Gourmet worthy, but somehow the results were so blah. It’s not that the recipes was bad actually, but it made us realize how contextual our experience with the food was. They just weren’t the type of meals you’d get excited about and crave at home.

We have spent the past year at Dirty Gourmet focusing on truly gourmet options for the backcountry, but we don’t discount the effectiveness of knowing how to create quick, hearty and easy backpacking meals. We recently found this formula for granola, and realized that backpacking recipes can be looked at the same way. With this formula, you should be able to put together backpacking recipes that will cost a fraction of the ready-made ones and that will be customized to your taste buds. If you’ve spent as much time outdoors as we have, you understand the need to switch it up often.


Main Ingredients:

  • Grains, Pasta or Noodles

    This is the base of your meal. These carbs will fill you up and give you energy to get going in the morning. You want to choose things that don’t need too much water and have a short cook time. Coucous, quinoa, egg noodles, angel hair pasta and bulgur are good choices.

  • Veggies & Protein

    The key here is to get some extra goods into the dish for some much needed protein and fiber (you need to keep things moving along). These ingredients will fill out your meal and give it some substance. We like to use fresh vegetables like carrots (shredded), bell peppers, broccoli, and sturdy greens like kale. When it’s getting late in the trip you’ll have to consider dehydrated or freeze-dried veggies. There are lots options but mushrooms, peas and corn are good standbys. As for protein experiment with edamame (soybeans), textured vegetable protein, canned chicken or tuna, pine nuts or even beef jerky.

  • Spices & Seasoning

    This is what is gonna give your dish it’s personality and taste. The most typical seasonings used are salt, pepper and bouillon. For something more exciting, experiment with dried basil, thyme, parsley, herbs de Provence, curry powder, garlic powder, onion flakes, red chili flakes, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, ginger or any of your favorite spices not on this list.

Ultimately, you want something that is yummy, fills your belly up and cleans up quick so you can get right to staring at the stars or into bed for an early start the next day. We’ve provided a recipe adapted from Simple Foods for the Pack as an example for quantities but go ahead and experiment, and let us know what tasty combinations you come up with. Happy trails!

Couscous with Mushrooms and Peas


2 servings

Prep Time / Cook Time


Activity Guide



  • 2/3 cups couscous
  • 1/3 cup dried mushrooms, finely chopped
  • ⅓ cup freeze dried peas (we used Mountain House)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tsp Herbes de Provence
  • 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper (don’t skimp on pepper)
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese (optional)


  • Fork
  • Medium pot
  • Stove
  • Zip-top bag


At Home

  1. Combine all ingredients in a zip-top bag

At Camp

  1. Boil the water. Stir the ingredients into the water well, remove from heat, and leave covered (without peaking) for 10 minutes.
  2. Fluff with a fork.

16 thoughts on “Backpacking Recipe Formula

  1. Great website you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any forums that cover the same topics
    talked about here? I’d really like to be a part of group where I can get opinions from other knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Bless you!

  2. I’m going on a backpacking trip soon, and iv’e been following your meal guides(there awesome, but i’m camping with a newer hiker. Any suggestions?

  3. A great lightweight source of vegan protein is Soy Curls. They are made by Butler Foods in Oregon. They are organic, non-GMA, whole soy beans. Thats it. One ingredient. Dan Butler makes them through a process of cooking, then quick drying, in shapes that resemble chicken strips. They are simple to rehydrate using just a little warm water. I use a vegetarian chicken soup powder to season them, but they will pick up what ever flavor you want: cumin, fajita, etc. Sometimes just salt and pepper is good. We add them to quinoa dishes, Pad Thai,, noodles, and chili on the trail. YUM!

    1. Do you re-hydrate these separately (per instructions for 10 mins and then squeezing out water)? or could I just add them to my couscous with a little extra water and let it all cook together?

  4. For protein, tuna pouches are great. Lightweight, single serving, and I get them for a dollar each at big lots. I think they have salmon pouches most of the time too.

    1. These tuna pouches are definitely great, Lex. Thanks for the reminder! They do have salmon, and also chicken. We’re working on doing a post of things you can find in the regular grocery store for backpacking. These will go on the list, thanks!

  5. When you say put everything into a zip lock bag, do you mean the 11/2 cups of water as well? Do we walk around with a baggy of soggy stuff? I really want to try this

    1. Hi Kris! Those chairs are made up of folded up air mattresses using a lightweight fabric contraption. These ones in particular are made by Thermarest. Not sure if they are still being made, but most important thing to check is if your air mattress if compatible with the chair design… Good luck!

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