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DIY Trail Food: Building a Better Backpacking Meal, Step Five - Spices, Toppings, And Putting it All Together

"He who controls the spice, controls the universe." ~Frank Herbert, Dune

Copyright: <a href=''>byheaven / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
Bags of Spices in a Market
Now that you have made a new trail dinner masterpiece, it's time to spice it up and top it off!  Herbs and spices can feed the senses as well as the body; changing the flavor profile of a dish in a jiffy, while also adding protective nutrients to food. Toppings can add crunch or texture to any dish that lacks that "something extra."

How to Travel the World in a Freezer Bag

Herbs add distinct Flavor Profiles to Your Meals, While Offering Healthful Benefits
Let's say you have a base of baked ramen or zucchini noodles, with a protein of chicken.  Simply add these different flavor suggestions and you can have seven different types of meals in the blink of an eye!  The vegetables you add can supplement the flavor profile.

Cajun Creole: ginger, cayenne, paprika, oregano, thyme, jerk seasoning

Chinese: garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame seeds and oil, scallions, nuts

Indian: garlic, curry, coconut, cinnamon, ginger

Italian: garlic, basil, olive oil, rosemary, lemon, parmesan cheese

Greek: garlic, oregano, rosemary, thyme, tomatoes, bay leaves, citrus

French: garlic, tarragon, marjoram, lavender, sage, capers, dijon mustard packets

TexMex: garlic, cumin, chile powder, oregano, onion, cilantro, chile peppers, lime

Did you notice how garlic is a world-wide favorite ingredient?  Garlic use is noted in history as early as the Giza Pyramids in Egypt, and in China in 2000 BC.  While garlic has little nutritional value, it has been used medicinally for centuries to lower blood pressure and to ward off illness.  My favorite garlic is the Lighthouse Brand, found in the produce section in a bottle or ordered online.

Other Ideas to Flavor Your Trail Dinners

Ramen flavor packet - these are too salty for my taste, but a little sprinkled on a dish can add some pizzazz in a jiffy

Bread Crumbs - add crunch and absorb excess liquid

Stuffing Mix - can be a meal base on it's own

Cheese, Please! 

I am so nuts about cheese that this little bit of dairy goodness deserves it's own paragraph (or two)!  Keep the packets of parmesan left over from take-out and add to italian or greek dishes, or make your own packets with grated store-bought cheese and mini ziploc pill pouches (from the pharmacy).

Hard cheeses can be wrapped in plastic and will remain good on the trail for several days, although they may "weep" a little oil, which will not effect the flavor.  I have successfully packed cheese for a few days in the summer without any problems.  Soft cheeses are not a great idea for the trail, since the risk of listeria and other bacteria may be too great for an extended trip.

Cheese-a-holics who hit the trails regularly should seriously consider purchasing some freeze-dried cheese.  Freeze-dried cheese tastes delicious right out of the can; crunchy with a concentrated cheese flavor, I liken the taste to Cheez-it crackers but without all the junk.

Freeze-Dried Cheese
One and a half Tablespoons of freeze-dried has the same calories as one ounce of cheese, so buying freeze-dried to add to meals can certainly lighten your food bag weight.  The only drawback to freeze-dried is the cost.  A #10 can of freeze-dried cheese can be purchased on sale for $29.  The caloric value of the can is the equivalent of a little more than three pounds of block cheese, so this works out to about $10 per pound.  

Keep in mind that a can of freeze-dried cheese will keep indefinitely if stored unopened. Once opened, the contents should be transferred to mason jars.   On the other hand, I have left an opened can in the pantry for over a month and the cheese still tasted great.

I buy my freeze-dried foods from Emergency Essentials, The Ready Store, and Costco Online.

Packaging Your Food

Sharp-Edged Food inside wax paper "firestarter"
  • Use Quart-sized Freezer Bags. Sandwich bags are too thin and will melt once boiling water is added to the bag

  • I like to package noodles and other sharp foods in wax paper first, to prevent puncture of the freezer bags. Keep the wax paper for a terrific fire starter.

  • Package fatty meats and cheese separately in mini ziplocs to prevent your meal from going bad.

  • Write on the outside of every ziploc with a Sharpie marker so you know what is inside.  Also note any special preparations to take the guess work out when on the trail.

  • Have a new recipe you are trying out?  Write down the ingredients and preparation on an index card and tuck into the bag. When trying out your new dish, make notes on the card so you can bring home and adjust the recipe as needed.


  1. Look for baked chow-mien noodles and crush them over the top of your meal for crunch. Fritos or tortilla chips work the same way for Mexican meals.

  2. Thanks for the suggestions, Ted. I am currently obsessing about french-fried onions for meals. I also used plantain chips recently and worked well. Will have to edit the article to include this!!