Mt. Rainier from the Wonderland Trail

5 Essential Backpacking Foods

There’s something really special about going deep into nature. For me, I find that it takes me three days to decompress fully into what nature has to offer. Because of this, I’m a big fan of multi-day treks wherein you can spend days seeing more animals than people. This past summer, Annelise and I embarked on the Wonderland Trail, which traces the 93-mile circumference of spectacular Mt. Rainier in Washington. The eight day trip (although it can take anywhere between seven and 14 and we originally planned for 10) required a heck of a lot of meal planning for all we had to take with us initially and for our cache that we planned to pick up halfway through our journey.

Food Cache for the Wonderland Trail

Food Cache for the Wonderland Trail

In my experience the following are the five most essential backpacking foods for every back-country journey:

Dehydrated meals

After a day of 10+ miles meandering through forest, over creeks and through multiple temperature changes at various elevations, nothing hits the spot quite like a warm meal. And yet nothing sounds worse (to me at least) than cooking. Instead, fill up the Jetboil with the required cups of water, bring it to a boil, pour the water into the bag, let it sit for 8-15 minutes and you’ve got a nourishing meal you may forget is dehydrated. Having tried multiple brands and flavors on trips throughout the years, I, myself, prefer the  Backpacker’s Pantry meals.


There are an overwhelming number of energy bars out there nowadays and I’ve sampled my fair share over a number of years and countless trails. I can safely say my absolute favorite for long hikes are RBars. In the past I’ve suffered with trying to just get down energy bars to keep me going on the trail. I’ve found them hard to chew, and felt I was eating out of obligation. With the great flavors (peanut butter and jelly!) from RBars, all of which contain seven ingredients or less, I instead found myself looking forward to my mid-morning snack breaks.

RBar plate


Flour tortillas are also a favorite hiking food because they are incredibly versatile. You can spread some almond butter over a tortilla and you’ve got an easy, palatable and sweet snack. Or you can re-hydrate some beans, add a little foiled chicken, throw on some cheese and you’ve got savory trail burritos. Tortillas are a little heavy, but they are worth it for the amount of energy and carbs they contain and how long they last.

Smoked salmon

Smoked salmon is a true treat on the trail. It’s salty and savory, as well as protein-packed with good fats, providing a lot of tasty nutrients where it counts. It can be slightly heavy, so I try to plan the smoked salmon to be the first meal when picking up a food cache. Spread on some crackers or tossed into spaghetti, it’ll prove worth its weight when the time comes. (Pro tip: make sure you seal it well, especially in bear country!)


Anyone who, like me, has a hiking partner that can get hangry at any moment knows the importance of having easy candy on hand. Hi-Chews have become my favorite because of their great consistency and the energy they provide quick when someone’s mood, er.. blood sugar, drops suddenly. The sugar provides a quick and easy energy boost to get you up the last leg without the need for a lengthy meal break.

Mt. Rainier from the Wonderland Trail

Mt. Rainier from the Wonderland Trail

Hot Cocoa

Hot Cocoa is something I never drink at home, but, for some reason, hot cocoa absolutely melts in your mouth on the trail as an after dinner treat to warm you up or mixed with your morning instant coffee. If you’re a coffee snob like me, instant can be startlingly unsatisfying, and the cocoa adds a bit of sugar to help soften the blow and get your engine going while you pack camp.

While there are a good number of things we’ve packed not on the list, these five have been a few of our favorites hands-down. Tell us what your must-take items are, because we’re on the hunt for great snacks as often as we are great trails!

Disclosure: I was not compensated for this post, which contains affiliate links, however I did receive a sample for my review. All opinions are my own and not influenced in any way.