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Backpacking recipes: Ingredient information & sourcing

A fraction of the food purchased prior to the Alaska-Yukon Expedition

A fraction of the food purchased prior to the Alaska-Yukon Expedition

This page is intended to provide a single source of information about ingredients that I use in my backpacking breakfast and dinner meal ideas, which I will be posting over the next few months. Many of them are used in more than one recipe, so this page will prevent redundant information and allow for easy updating.

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Bacon crumbles

  • 120 calories/ounce
  • Real bacon
  • Available in 20-oz bags at Costco for about $12
  • They are supposed to be refrigerated after opened, but my experience is that they will keep for a few weeks if they’re not exposed to excessive heat or sunlight.
  • Bacon-flavored textured vegetable protein (TVP) bits are much more shelf-stable and are a good substitute for vegetarians. Available at supermarkets (Bacon Bits) and perhaps in bulk at specialty grocers.

Basil

  • 66 calories/ounce
  • Widely available
  • Per weight, it goes a long way
  • Okay if mixed with other “Italian” spices like oregano and dried onions

Beans

  • 115 calories/ounce
  • I have seen them in bulk sections before, but no where locally for me.
  • Dehydrated black beans and pinto beans are available from Harmony House
  • Refried beans from Santa Fe Bean Co and Honeyeville require less cook time but their texture is lacking versus Harmony’s whole beans
  • Avoid fat-free beans. Fat is a good thing when backpacking.
  • Another potential source is from , though I have not tried it

Butter

  • 200 calories/ounce
  • Dairy product
  • In very cold temps, can be packed in its box with other food. Otherwise, store in plastic food storage containers, e.g. Tupperware.
  • Can be substituted with coconut oil, which has a higher melting temperature and which is lactose-free.

Cashews

  • 150 calories/ounce
  • Slightly sweet flavor
  • Relatively inexpensive versus other nuts
  • Available at any grocery store, in packaging or in bulk
  • A tree nut, which is an allergen for some people

Cheese

  • 110 calories/ounce
  • Dairy product
  • Harder cheeses keep longer, e.g. solid blocks of Parmesan, high quality cheddar
  • I have packed cheese for over a week with no problem. The exterior gets greasy but it keeps fine.
  • Tips from Rusty: To reduce mold on the cheese, try not to get your fingerprints on it. Wrapping the cheese in plastic wrap helps reduce mold/air interaction. If you buy too much cheese, it can be frozen for future use.

Cheese powder

  • 130 calories/ounce
  • Dairy product
  • Never seen it available as a standalone product in a grocery store.
  • I buy 1-lb tubs from Hoosier Hill Farm, direct or through its Amazon.com storefront.
  • For very small needs, it’s possible to use the packet included with boxes of mac & cheese.

Chicken, freeze-dried

  • 130 calories/ounce
  • Available from Honeyville and other online vendors
  • As a vegetarian and less expensive option, purchase chicken-flavored textured vegetable protein from Harmony House

Cinnamon

  • Very powerful taste, don’t need much
  • Available in the spice section of grocery stores and in larger quantities at Costco

Coconut flakes

  • 200 calories/ounce
  • Find in the baking section of grocery stores

Coconut oil

  • 245 calories/ounce
  • Higher melting temperature than butter, and cleaner transport than olive oil
  • Has distinct coconut flavor and not a perfect substitute for other fats
  • Small quantities available from specialty grocers and some super markets
  • Huge jars available at Costco

Couscous

  • 96 calories/ounce
  • Fast-cooking pasta kernels
  • Significant volume enhancement when cooked, versus dry state
  • Available at any grocery store, in the pasta or bulk sections

Craisins

  • 90 calories/ounce
  • Dried cranberries
  • Common brand, Ocean Spray
  • Available at grocery stores and Costco
  • Can be substituted with raisins (dried grapes) and other types of dried fruit, a good source of which is Harmony House.

Curry

  • 90 calories/ounce
  • A mixture of spices characteristic of Indian cuisine, like “Italian seasoning”
  • Available at any grocery store, in bulk spice sections, and in large quantities from Costco

Fritos

  • 160 calories/ounce
  • Have an undeserved bad reputation. Yes, they are super high in fat, at 160 cal/ounce, but that’s a good thing when backpacking. And the Original variety has just three ingredients: corn, corn oil, and salt. The flavored varieties are another story — stay away from them.
  • Available at any convenience store and grocery store
  • Can be substituted with corn nuts, though they can be pretty hard, even when soaked in hot water.

Garlic

  • The stinking rose
  • Adds great flavor to many meals
  • Available in the spice section of any grocery store, and in larger quantities at Costco

Green chilies

  • 10 calories/ounce
  • In a group setting, carrying a 4-oz can of green chilies (and a can opener) is not unreasonable. Available in the Hispanic section of most grocery stores, and in 12-pack cases at Costco.
  • A lighter (per calories), more versatile, and shelf-stable option are air-dried green chili peppers from North Bay Trading Company.

Green onions

Lime juice

  • 8 calories/ounce
  • Available at any grocery store

Mashed potatoes

  • 100 calories/ounce
  • Available at any grocery store, even small ones
  • For my recipes, I’d recommend using plain/unflavored

Olive oil

  • 250 calories/ounce
  • Dramatically increases the caloric density of any meal, and improves the taste and texture
  • 1 oz = 250 calories, versus just 100 calories for a pure carbohydrate or protein
  • Carry small quantities in a 1-, 2-, or 4-oz Nalgene Polyethylene Bottle
  • Carry group-worthy volumes in a 1-liter Platypus Soft Bottle
  • Keep containers of olive oil in a plastic freezer-bag to protect other items in your pack and food bag. These containers will not leak, but a small amount of oil that gets caught in the threads during use will spread.

Parmesan

  • 140 calories/ounce
  • Available in blocks or grated at grocery stores and Costco
  • Even if not refrigerated, it’s very shelf-stable, plenty stable for perhaps all but multi-month thru-hikes. In that case, buy it along the way, or ship out original unopened containers of it.

Peanut butter

  • 164 calories/ounce
  • No sugar added “natural” varieties recommended
  • Check with members of your group — peanuts can be a catastrophic allergen

Peanuts

  • 161 calories/ounce
  • Available at any grocery store, Costco, and in most bulk sections
  • Check with members of your group — peanuts can be a catastrophic allergen

Peppers

  • 90 calories/ounce
  • Add great taste and nutrition to many meals
  • I have been very happy with dehydrated green and red peppers from Harmony House.
  • For a short trip when weight is not a paramount concern, consider packing fresh peppers into the field.

Polenta, aka grits

  • 100 calories/ounce
  • Technically, polenta and grits are meals made of coarse-ground cornmeal
  • Can be substituted for fine- or medium-ground corn meal, though the texture will be slightly different
  • I get polenta from a local bulk grocer. At my local super market, I can only get fine-ground cornmeal.

Raisins

  • 85 calories/ounce
  • Dried grapes
  • Widely available

Ramen noodles

  • 127 calories/ounce
  • On their own, the fried wheat noodles are nutritionally acceptable. But the “flavor” packet should be discarded, unless you need its sodium.
  • Available at any grocery store, Costco, and even many convenience stores
  • Gluten-free noodles are available

Rice

  • 100 calories/ounce
  • Common brand, Minute Rice
  • Avoid “regular” rice. “Instant” or “5 minute” rice only.
  • Available at any grocery store and at Costco

Rolled oats, aka oatmeal

  • 105 calories/ounce
  • Contains gluten
  • Brand name, Quaker Oats
  • Available at any grocery store, in bulk sections, and at Costco
  • Bob’s Red Mill, and perhaps other merchants too, has a gluten-free version
  • Can be substituted with cream of wheat or cream of rice, the latter of which is gluten-free

Soy sauce

  • 15 calories/ounce
  • Fermented soybeans in a salty brine
  • Available in any grocery store, probably in the Asian aisle
  • Contains gluten and soy
  • Gluten-free varieties are available

Sriracha chili sauce

  • 28 calories/ounce
  • Adds hot spice and flavor, and can be added to many food items (e.g. eggs, fish tacos, baked potatoes, etc.)
  • Not recommended for those who are very sensitive to hot spices

Sun-dried tomatoes

  • 85 calories/ounce
  • Very flavorful, yet lightweight
  • Avoid whole or half tomatoes if possible — it’s best to have more, smaller pieces, e.g. “Julienne-Cut”
  • Widely available, normally in the produce section or with other salad ingredients, e.g. croutons and dressings

Taco seasoning

  • 95 calories/ounce
  • May contain gluten — check the ingredients list
  • Like “Curry” seasoning, this is a mix of flavors associated with a specific part of the world, in this case the Southwest. Most versions include chili powder, garlic, cumin, salt, and other spices.
  • Available in the spice section of grocery stores, at in bulk at Costco

Tomato powder

  • 100 calories/ounce
  • Provides a great base for Italian-themed meals, e.g. noodles, couscous, polenta
  • Available from North Bay Trading Company and Harmony House, the latter of which is less expensive

Turbinado sugar, aka sugar in the raw

  • 105 calories/ounce
  • Like brown sugar, it has a molasses flavor, thus improving taste of oatmeal and cream of wheat-type breakfasts
  • But it doesn’t clump like brown sugar, making it easier to work with in the field.
  • Available at grocery stores and in bulk sections

Universal spice kit

Three ingredients, each stored in a 1- or 2-oz Nalgene Polyethylene Bottle depending on group size and trip duration.

  • Table salt or sea salt
  • Ground peppercorn
  • Red pepper flakes

Especially in a group setting, a spice kit is preferable to pre-seasoned meals because individuals have different spice preferences. For example, some prefer a lot of heat (red pepper flakes) while others avoid it entirely. For a solo hiker, a spice kit may be considered if you don’t necessarily know yet your preferences — you can spice to taste in the field.

Vegetables, dried

  • 100 calories/ounce
  • May be available in the bulk section of a specialty grocer
  • Purchase online from Harmony House and support this content

Whole milk

  • 130 calories/ounce
  • Dairy product
  • Whole milk is 50 percent more calorically dense than dried non-fat milk — 150 calories per ounce versus 100.
  • Dried non-fat milk is available in at most grocery stores in the baking aisle.
  • For dried whole milk, I buy a Nestle product, Nido, from Amazon.com. I hear it’s available at many Hispanic grocery stores, too, but there are none in Boulder that I know of.

17 Responses to Backpacking recipes: Ingredient information & sourcing

  1. Will March 4, 2015 at 12:34 pm #

    I have bought dehydrated refried beans in bulk at Whole Foods (28th & Pearl) but I think they were black beans. They may have other varieties there.

    • Andrew Skurka March 4, 2015 at 1:13 pm #

      Good to know, thanks. We don’t shop at that circus very often.

      I can verify that they are not available at the Sprouts on Baseline or Arapahoe, or the King Soopers on Table Mesa.

  2. Doug Wahl March 4, 2015 at 1:51 pm #

    You might want to try Harmony House for some of your bulk ingredients:
    1) Their dehydrated black beans are not fat free. I’ve used them for years and prefer their texture to dehydrated refried beans.
    2) Their tomato powder is cheaper than North Bay and I doubt there’s much difference in nutritional value between the two. 24 oz of HH Tomato powder is $17 with Prime shipping – that’s $0.7083 per ounce. You’d have to order 15 pounds from Northbay to get to the same unit price point.
    3) They sell on Amazon with Prime free shipping.

  3. Kelly McCracken March 4, 2015 at 8:26 pm #

    Some of the Walmarts in my area (Arizona) sell Augason Farms products like cheese powder, butter powder, dehydrated vegetables, beef flavored TVP, etc. in large cans for not a lot of $$. Augason Farms products are also available through their website, but if you can find them at Walmart they are cheaper. I find the quality has been very high and they are cheaper than Harmony House.

  4. Bill March 8, 2015 at 6:54 am #

    Walmart online sells a lot of things that you won’t find in many of their stores. Some can be ordered with free shipping to one of their stores, but not all. I haven’t bought any food online from them, but the service on other things has been fine.

    Barry Farm Foods has instant black beans as well as many other dehydrated foods and seasonings. I have a package of instant black beans, but haven’t tried them yet. The dried peas will not work in an instant meal, they need to be rehydrated and cooked. The dried carrot dices do seem to rehydrate and soften. I always check the ingredient list on prepared seasonings for MSG, since I appear to be sensitive to it.

  5. Bill March 8, 2015 at 7:02 am #

    One other thing. Technically, grits are not cornmeal, they are ground hominy. Hominy is nixtamalized corn which has had the hull removed. Masa is hominy flour. Nixtamalized corn is supposed to be more nutritious than plain corn. I use blue corn posole to make grits, but they have to be cooked for a couple of hours. I’m not aware of any instant posole, but it would be a good addition to your menu. Blue corn posole with chorizo, mushrooms and roasted chiles is excellent.

  6. JB March 9, 2015 at 10:41 am #

    Do you think you lose any calories when dehydrating food (like beef, chicken, fruits, veggies)?

  7. Chank April 7, 2015 at 9:40 pm #

    With all the packaged processed junk that this guy eats he’s going to have so many health problems when he gets older. It’s a good thing he does so much exercise or he would already have them.

    • Andrew Skurka April 7, 2015 at 9:47 pm #

      Do you have any scientific data to support your prediction that I will have “health problems” precisely due to my backpacking diet? Doubtful. Intuitively, sure, there are healthier diets out there (though also far worse), but I suspect that the exercise makes up for it and then some. Moreover, consider that I backpack for 60-90 days per year. What I eat and how I exercise for the remaining 270-300 will make a much bigger difference in my long-term health.

  8. Jackie May 1, 2015 at 1:35 am #

    Thanks for the advice Andrew! I am looking forward to your ‘famous’ cheesy mashed potatoes recipe. Happy trails.

  9. Tim S June 30, 2015 at 7:08 am #

    Thanks for this article. I especially appreciate the cal/oz feature. I’ll add that virgin coconut oil has distinct coconut aroma and flavor, but refined does not. Well, certainly far less than virgin. Virgin is considered to be much healthier though. I don’t know if this blog will allow it but I’ll try to post a url to an explanation on Tropical Traditions site (I’m not affiliated in any way). http://www.tropicaltraditions.com/what_is_virgin_coconut_oil.htm

    Here’s another:
    http://www.livestrong.com/article/318185-refined-vs-unrefined-coconut-oil/

  10. Will Harmon July 2, 2015 at 10:43 am #

    What about protein powder or anything else to make flavored drinks with? Either hot or cold drinks. I am getting into backpacking solo and am really considering protein powder drink mixes for a protein source. Also any sports drink mixes to change up the taste of plain water or add a few quick calories. I know they aren’t significant calorie sources and might actually hurt your hydration.

    • Andrew Skurka July 2, 2015 at 12:40 pm #

      I avoid sugary drink mixes because I’d rather chew my calories and because they set you up for crash-and-burn. A better choice is Crystal Light, which will cover up the flavor of sub-par water.

      Protein powder is a good ingredient. I often put it in my breakfast cereal, but I haven’t shared those recipes.

  11. Trevor B July 11, 2015 at 9:00 am #

    I like the list, but dont understand some things. Like why would I remove the flavor packet from ramen for having too much sodium, then bring soy sauce when the flavor packet is powder and soy sauce is a liquid? much more weight.. and sugar free peanut butter? and write off the sodium and fat and sugar in other products because I need those things while backpacking anyway..

    • Andrew Skurka July 17, 2015 at 4:17 pm #

      Re the Ramen flavor packet, there are many other ingredients in it besides sodium. I would rather add my own salt back in then use the packet. Soy sauce, while salty, is a different flavor than just salt. And obviously it’s an ingredient that can be skipped if you really care to save a few grams.

      Re peanut butter, it’s mostly a sourcing issue: we prefer to have “natural” no-sugar-added peanut butter in the house, so for this particular meal it must be added back in. If you have the sugar-added stuff around, there is no reason to add more sugar.

  12. Mme.gan June 29, 2016 at 11:30 am #

    This is unbelievably helpful, thank you.

  13. Boyan January 22, 2017 at 12:58 am #

    Air dried green chiles from your list are kinda pricey, and they add $9 shipping on top of that. For those of us that are going to order $20 that is not effective. Here is an alternative source, it may or may not be as good https://www.americanspice.com/green-chile-peppers-diced/

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