Hiker Hunger: The Most Important Meal of the Day

A lot of my friends and family wonder what I’m going to eat out there on the trail and how I plan/prepare my meals. This post will begin to explain my process, and might be really helpful for any backpackers out there who struggle with this aspect of their trip. Keep reading to see how I created over 80 DIFFERENT BREAKFASTS in one weekend!

A few posts ago I mentioned that I needed to prepare 4 meals EVERY DAY until the start of my trip in order to have enough food. That really freaked me out, so that weekend I proceeded to set up an assembly line of breakfast production.  I am most definitely a breakfast person. A lot of backpackers complain about a lack of breakfast options, and often say they “will never eat oatmeal again” after a thru-hike. I eat oatmeal all the time anyway, so I doubt that I will have this problem, but I do my oatmeal a little differently…

dining room 2
My assembly line. I think I could have also titled this post “How to Destroy your Dining Room”- this is actually looking quite organized compared to how it looks right now!

Those little packets of flavored instant oatmeal are fine every now and then, but I think that I would hate oatmeal after about a week if that was my entire experience with it! I understand that they are very lightweight and easy to pack, but they just don’t measure up in other ways for me. Often these packets are full of artificial ingredients, added sugars and preservatives. Also, to make it “instant”, the oats are ground up so it really does turn to mush when you add water- not the best texture. On top of all that, the nutritional content isn’t that great either. Two packets of Quaker Apple Cinnamon Instant Oatmeal have 260 calories, 6 grams of protein, 18 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of fat. For long distance backpacking, you want a gagillion calories (ok, not that much but close, see my post about caloric needs here) and generally a lot of protein and fat since you’re burning so much energy every day. Those little packets just aren’t going to cut it.

Making my own oatmeal packets allows me to customize the nutritional content of each meal, along with getting my oats and many other items at a reduced price by buying in bulk. I decided that although I am perfectly ok with eating oatmeal every day for 5 months straight, I would be just that: ok. I want to be excited each day to stuff my face full of calories and fuel my body for another 20+ miles of trekking, and I wouldn’t be excited to eat the same brown sugar and cinnamon mush for 150 days. After doing some research, I got a ton of ideas for different combinations of calorie-dense breakfast mush.

breakfasts

I wanted to make sure every breakfast could be made by adding hot water in the morning or by cold-soaking overnight (overnight oats!), so there were a few ingredients I avoided, but pretty much anything can be made using one of these two methods. First of all, oats aren’t the only base you can use. Oats are just another grain, and other countries and cultures eat all kinds of things for breakfast so I wanted to step outside of the box a bit. I actually learned a lot about what people in other parts of the world eat for breakfast!! My bases include old-fashioned oats (none of that textureless instant junk), steel-cut oats, cream of wheat, Ralston cracked wheat, bulgur, grits, white or yellow cornmeal, chia seeds, white or brown rice (instant), couscous, quinoa, red lentils and sweet potatoes. I cooked and dehydrated the quinoa, lentils and sweet potatoes before using them, but all of the others can be added to a homemade breakfast packet as-is.

Instead of focusing on a volume or weight for each meal, I focused on caloric density. I aimed for a minimum of 250 calories in just my base for each breakfast, and added “extras” on top of that. I have a plethora of additives purely for nutrition, including vegan protein powder, beet root powder (great for muscle recovery & oxygen transport), wheatgrass powder (gotta get my greens somehow), wheat germ (lots of calories, vitamins, fiber and healthy fats), nutritional yeast (high in B12 which can be hard for vegans to get, also adds a savory/nutty flavor), and ground flax seed (high in calories, omega-3s and fiber).

“Flavor” ingredients are where things start getting a bit crazy. I had to first think of what flavor combinations I could create, and realized that although most Americans think of breakfast (especially oatmeal) as being an inherently sweet meal, it certainly doesn’t need to be. Other cultures create savory breakfasts, including many types of porridge, even breakfast broths and stews. This got my creative juices flowing and I began thinking of this task differently: instead of trying to create a meal with things in it that taste good, why not try to create specific flavors or combinations?  Ice cream/sundae flavors? Candy bars? Cultural specialties or stereotypes (southwestern sunrise quinoa, sesame soy oats, morning masala couscous)?

Blueberry Mango Jamaican Porridge
Testing out some foreign cuisine- this Jamaican Cornmeal Porridge was amazing with fresh blueberries and mango and a dash of nutmeg

I collected all the toppings and flavor-adding ingredients I could think of. Nuts, seeds, chocolate chips (Trader Joes has vegan ones), dried fruits, shredded coconut, spices, powdered peanut butter, powdered soy and coconut milk, instant pudding mixes (many are vegan but not all), cookies (oreos, nutter butters, thin mints), dried beans and vegetables, nutritional yeast (nooch), matcha and chai powders, instant coffee crystals, sugars (brown, white, coconut, stevia, all used minimally)… I also found packets of things that couldn’t be dehydrated, like peanut and almond butter (way more calories than the powdered stuff), olive oil, coconut oil, maple syrup, soy sauce and hot sauce. I also used mini zip-top bags to keep certain things separate during rehydration, like crumbled cookies, chocolate chips or rainbow sprinkles so that they will create a different flavor or texture rather than blending in with the rest of the meal.

So how do I portion and pack these? I start with a “snack” size Ziploc bag, add any packets first, add my base, add any nutritional ingredients, then add my flavor ingredients, careful to make sure the bag can still close (this is often a problem). I then label the bag with the contents and note if it requires cold soaking or any other special instructions.

Here’s a partial list of flavors (so far!) with more in progress…

SWEET:

  • Chocolate covered strawberry
  • Chocolate covered raspberry
  • Neapolitan
  • Strawberries and cream
  • Raspberries and cream
  • Blueberries and cream
  • Peaches and cream
  • Blueberry peach
  • Apple cran-raisin
  • Blueberry banana walnut
  • PB & Jelly
  • Banana bread
  • Banana walnut
  • Cherry almond
  • PB & banana
  • Chunky monkey (PB, banana & chocolate chips)
  • Banana split (with rainbow sprinkles!)
  • Hot fudge sundae (with salted cashews and rainbow sprinkles!)
  • Rum raisin with salted pecans
  • Blueberry coconut
  • Coconut latte
  • Pumpkin pie
  • Apple chai
  • Banana chai
  • Chai latte
  • Mocha latte
  • Pumpkin spice latte
  • Coconut latte
  • Matcha latte
  • Gingerbread latte
  • Apple walnut
  • Apple cinnamon
  • Brown sugar and cinnamon
  • Samoas
  • Almond Joy
  • Snickers
  • Pistachio
  • Pistachio coconut
  • Pistachio cranberry (with orange!)
  • Chocolate pistachio
  • Key lime pie
  • Blueberry lime
  • Coconut lime
  • Coconut mango
  • Peanut butter cookie
  • Cherry cheesecake
  • Three berry cheesecake
  • Apricot & honey
  • Blueberry zucchini
  • Blueberry apricot
  • Cranberry apricot
  • Apricot cardamom with sesame seeds
  • Coconut cashew banana
  • Blueberry hazelnut
  • Chocolate chip hazelnut
  • Pear, cranberry and hazelnut
  • Blueberry mango
  • Pina colada
  • Tropical
  • Coconut, plantain and golden raisin
  • Oatmeal raisin cookie
  • Carrot cake
  • Ginger apple fig almond pear
  • Cranberry cardamom walnut
  • Cardamom, protein powder, pistachios, blueberries, bananas
  • Cinnamon roll with creamy topping
  • Raisin bran
  • Peanut butter and Oreo
  • Mocha mint with Thin Mints
  • Cookies & cream
  • Rocky Road
  • Honey Almond
  • Maple walnut
  • Maple and brown sugar
  • S’mores
  • Sweet potato casserole
  • Rice pudding

Savory:

  • Sesame & soy with scallions
  • Balsamic fig
  • Khichdi
  • Savory Tomato based (spicy)
  • Spiced Savory with veggies
  • Southwest Sunrise
  • Morning Masala
  • Jamaican porridge
  • Sweet potato mash
  • Spicy veggie upma
  • Pongal
  • African pap

Honestly, I am thinking about using this method to make more than just breakfasts… I remember how “breakfast for dinner” was always AWESOME as a kid, and with some of these crazy combinations, I think I would be just fine with having breakfast for dinner on the trail as well, especially since I have enough options to eat something different every morning for nearly 3 months straight- way more than that if you change up the bases with each flavor. If you would like any of my “recipes”, comment below! And I would love to hear any suggestions you may have!!

3 comments

  1. If this is a daunting task don’t send me them, but I’m interested in doing the sweet bags. If you can summarize for each base you put blank. Then extras, then flavorings. Just tell me the easiest way that works for you besides what you wrote up. Kathy

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    • It’s a little daunting but I’m happy to write up some kind of summary for you before I leave. These are really great to stockpile and then just grab and go for breakfast (or lunch!) at work!

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      • Yes thanks. I’ll also get creative if you just write down a few. I’m looking for something I can plan for during work or days off that is nutritious besides.

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