"My favorite part of backpacking is the food," said no one ever. With limited space in your packs and only so much weight you can reasonably carry, it's easy to find yourself packing out the same few lightweight yet often flavor-lacking staples like ramen, instant potatoes, and oatmeal.
And while there are a lot of great companies providing quality dehydrated and freeze-dried backpacking meals, they aren't always cost effective for everyone, there are only so many options available, and some are just plain bad or boring.
The good news? Your meals can have a lot more variety and flavor with just a few totally doable tweaks. Read on for some of our top recommendations for what you can add to spice up your backpacking meals when you're out in the backcountry.
READ MORE: 5 Backpacking Meals That Aren't Terrible
This mouth-watering seasoning is a blend of chile pepper, lime, and salt that adds a bit of spice and fun to any meal. Add Tajín to ramen, potatoes, pasta, beans, rice, dehydrated meals—nearly anything—for a solid boost of flavor. And really, this goes for any spice blend you like, like Italian, Mediterranean, taco seasoning, or whatever tickles your fancy. (And for all the Trader Joe's lovers: TJ's has their own chile lime seasoning that's excellent as well, and we can't possibly forget to mention their elote seasoning: delicious!)
2. Peanut Butter Powder
Hikers love peanut butter, but let's be honest: unless you're allergic, who doesn't? Peanut butter powder is a lighter way to get this staple backcountry food out on your adventures, and it's great for adding to your morning oatmeal whether it's plain or classic maple and brown sugar. (Pro tip: you can also add it to your ramen for more of a pad thai taste.)
While chia can make a great pet, it also makes a great addition to oatmeal breakfasts or to a water bottle (especially for those of us who crave bubble tea out on the trail and like to chew our beverages—just me?). And as a bonus, it's a bit of extra protein for very little pack weight.
So much of backpacking food ends up being soft and mushy (noodles, mashed potatoes, rehydrated foods), so taking chips out in the backcountry for the textural variety—that crunch is so satisfying—is an excellent way to keep your outdoorsy meals from being too monotonous. It's also a nice way to get some different flavors than we see in other backpacking foods: barbecue, sour cream and onion, delicious Cool Ranch Doritos, and nearly endless other options. Heads' up: If you don't strap the bag to the outside of your pack, the chips will get crushed, but they taste great just the same as toppings!
Maybe this one seems too simple, but salt makes such a difference in so many meals. Often pre-made backpacking meals that come in a bag don't have a ton of flavor, and adding some salt can go a long way. It's also great for replacing some of the electrolytes lost from sweating.
Tuna packets are many hikers' go-to protein source for a quick and easy lunch, but before you wear out your taste for tuna, try throwing some Spam into the mix. Full of protein, fat, and salt, Spam has a lot of good in a tiny package. You can also toss some Spam in your tortillas, your ramen, on your crackers, or by itself for a tasty treat. It's precooked, so no worries about needing to cook it, and it can even be found in single-serving packages.
Citrus fruits are one of those special flavor profiles that always feel so fresh and so different from the foods we usually eat on the trail. Taking out a fresh lemon or lime when you're in the backcountry is a nice way to get some of those flavors you might be missing out there. And if you're worried about having to carry out a heavy peel, know that you can actually eat the peel of your lemon or lime for a nice healthy dose of vitamin C. (If you're not into eating the rind, you can always pack out a small bottle of lemon/lime juice instead.)
8. Dehydrated Veggies
Backpacking food is often pretty lacking in the fruits and veggies department, and while dehydrated vegetables aren't exactly fresh, they're a great way to add variety and nutrition to backpacking meals. Many dehydrated veggies (peas, corn, beans, and tons of others) rehydrate well whether cold soaking or cooking meals, and they go great in ramen to change things up. Harmony House offers a variety pack with a ton of great options.
9. Soup Powder/Flavorings
There are so many soup powders out there that can add tons of flavor to meals. A big favorite is adding instant miso soup to ramen, but there are so many other options with curry, tomato, broccoli cheddar, and other soup powders that just need water for their flavor powers to activate.
10. Trail Guac
Fresh guacamole? On trail? Indeed! Taking a luxury fresh food item—like an avocado—may be heavy, but it's well worth its weight. In one of those trusty Ziploc bags, combine your avocado with a small amount of that salt mentioned before, some garlic powder, maybe one of those fresh limes, and some chili powder or Tajín if you like your food a little spicier. Close the bag and smush it all up inside for a tasty treat to add to your tortillas, top your ramen, or add to a dehydrated meal you brought out. (Just make sure you time your avocado with the length of your backpacking trip and get one that will be ripe when you're ready for it.)