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DIY Trail Food: Building a better backpacking meal, Step One - Base

My first post in this "DIY" series on how to make your own trail meals introduced how making trail meals at home can be a cheaper and more nutritious alternative to store bought trail foods, and discussed why outdoorsmen or preppers should make our own dinners. This article begins the actual "how" to put your meals together, and is the second in a  series of how-to articles...

Copyright: <a href=''>robynmac / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
Start Your DIY Meal With the Right Base

Step One:  Pick your Base

Like I mentioned earlier, the primary ingredient in store-bought freeze dried meals is usually rice, pasta, or potatoes.  I call this the "base" of the meal. Fortunately for the DIY meals, the base is also usually the cheapest.

Some ideas for "traditional" backpacking meal bases:
  • Instant mashed potatoes
  • Instant white rice 
  • Ramen noodles (throw that nasty flavor packet away!)
  • Pasta (cooked then dehydrated)
The base makes up the carbohydrate portion of the meal,  and should be about one-third to one-half of the total calories.  A big problem with traditional bases like instant mashed potatoes or pasta is that while they offer a lot of calories (of which backpackers do need a lot), these "simple" carbohydrates offer very little in the way of vitamins or minerals.  So these bases are "empty" calories. Really, just eating simple carbs and taking some multi-vitamins do not make for a complete, nutritious meal :-). 

What we will explore is how to use other bases in the DIY trail meal that offers calories and taste, while also adding missing vegetables, vitamins, and other micronutrients to our meals.

Ideas for your DIY Backpacking / Trail Dinner "Base"

WARNING: rant about ramen noodles following!

One package of ramen noodles mixed with the seasoning packet has the same nutritional profile as a half stick of butter rolled in salt.  Ramen by itself fails the nutritional needs of someone who just pounded the trail for six to ten hours.  On the other hand, ramen is popular because it is super easy to cook on the trail.  Using little fuel, it rehydrates in minutes in a freezer bag.  The good news: if you can't live without ramen, healthier alternatives do exist like baked and whole wheat ramen noodles!  They cost a little more, but have half the calories, little "bad" fat, and are made from whole grains.  

So what should you substitute for the "traditional" bases?  Fortunately, lots of alternatives exist that do not significantly change the flavor of the meal.  Eating better doesn't have to be a struggle.  My family likes pasta or baked ramen, and I like Paleo foods like zucchini noodles or mashed cauliflower.

Buy local, seasonal produce, which tends to be less expensive and fresher than foods out of season.  Save time by making a little extra whenever you cook up dinner at home, then dehydrate the leftovers for a future trail dinner.  These will keep for up to a year when stored in an airtight container like a mason jar.

  • Wild rice (cook and dehydrate at home to speed trail rehydration)
  • Mashed or grated sweet potatoes
  • Julienned zucchini or yellow squash, lightly steamed then dehydrated ("zoodles")
  • Cauliflower "rice" or steamed, mashed cauliflower (great for chinese or beef dishes i.e. stroganoff)
  • Instant freeze-dried potato dices
  • Quinoa (Check out the video below for preparation)
  • Couscous (whole wheat)
  • Spaghetti squash (prep video here)
  • Baked whole wheat ramen
Feel free to comment on any other base ideas you have!

Here is a video on Quinoa from start to finish, along with a couple other trail meal ideas:

Now that we have our base, we move on to Step Two: the meat....


  1. Instant refried beans or homemade stuffing 'mix' made from dried bread cubes and seasonings also work well.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion! I have used white beans (cooked, then dried and ground) in meals. Great source of fiber, as well! I make a homemade paleo bread that I have cubed and dried that is a lot like croutons. Would work well as a base. I will have to try it...