By: Tommy Alexander


For their authentic wilderness experience, Chris Prendergast and Vicki Alexander sourced meal ideas from Linda Frederick Yaffe’s Backpack Gourmet cookbook, which contains recipes for “good hot grub you can make at home, dehydrate, and pack for quick, easy, and healthy eating on the trail.” Yaffe and others like her provide an appealing counterpoint to the commercially-freeze-dried meal packets that dominate the market, like the brands Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry. These pre-packed meals are convenient—just add boiling water to rehydrate—but they are expensive, bulky, and waste-intensive. The rigid bags do not fit easily into bear canisters, and the packet-per-meal model means that conscientious backpackers must pack out a serious stack of plastic. Furthermore, most commercial meal packs are designed to require hungry hikers to pour boiling water into the bag itself to cook the food.

“It’s a lot of packaging,” said Chris. “I suppose you can wash them out, but you’ve got all these dirty packets that smell and attract bears. You never get them totally clean, as far as the bear’s concerned.”chris backpacking

Those who choose to prepare their own backpacking meals can exercise much wider control over the cost, the variety, the portions, and the amount of waste produced—particularly if they source their ingredients from the garden.

“It was tastier than the stuff you buy at REI,” said Chris, “and obviously you get to choose what you put in it. It was very easy, in the past, to just go and buy those [commercially-dried meals] and go on a trip. But, that’s quite expensive, and they’ve got a lot of salt in them. This way, we could make ourselves bigger portions, because sometimes those freeze-dried things aren’t very satisfying.”

Not all backpackers will have the energy or the inclination to prepare a full menu of meals for their next excursion into the wilderness, but anyone with a garden or a fruit tree can at least begin the process. For those with greener wallets than thumbs, most Whole Foods locations sell grains, beans, and trail mix in bulk at low prices. It is a small step of the imagination to combine these things into simple, easy meals. Commercially-freeze-dried backpacking meals may be convenient and readily available, but they are by no means the only option.