Affordable and plant-based backpacking food: Dinner and dessert

photo of a meal outdoors
Sarah Siegel/Staff

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After a brutal day of hiking, dinner is the light of the end of the tunnel. You’ll think about it all day long, only to eat it in less than 10 minutes. Still, there’s no reason that your trail dinners should be anything short of delicious. Here’s what I recommend.

Fancy dinners

Walk into any outdoor equipment store, and you’ll find an entire aisle of dehydrated meals, offering everything from pad thai to apple pie. These options are delicious, but you’ll have to take out a loan if you want to eat them every night. Consider buying one or two of them, just so you can have a special dinner at the end of a particularly long day. If you’re plant-based, Backpacker’s Pantry will likely be your favorite brand. I can personally vouch for its pad thai, chana masala and three sisters stew. But there are a ton of other options that are just as delicious and less expensive.

Your backpacking Safeway haul

Safeway has excellent plant-based dinner options for a fraction of the cost of major outdoor food brands. Instant couscous from Safeway is my favorite backpacking dinner. It’s cheap, quick to prepare and easy on the stomach. The pine nut and olive oil flavors are both vegan, and the Parmesan flavor is vegetarian. They come in cardboard boxes, but you can easily repackage them into bags. Out in the backcountry, pour about ⅓ cup of boiled water to a cup of dry couscous, cover for five minutes and then enjoy. It doesn’t get much easier than that!

You can also find macaroni and cheese (both vegan and vegetarian) at Safeway. Repackage it from the box and into plastic bags so that it’ll fit inside your canister. Keep in mind that you’ve to conserve fuel while boiling pasta. I recommend pouring the pasta into your stove pot, bringing the pot to a boil, promptly turning the gas off once it boils and then letting the pasta sit for about 15-20 minutes in the hot water. It will take a tad longer than usual to cook, but this is necessary to conserve fuel. Once the pasta has cooked, transfer it to your cup and add the cheese powder. Most mac and cheese recipes call for milk, but obviously, that won’t be an option out on the trail. Instead, buy some coconut oil packets (available at Safeway and Trader Joe’s) and use them in place of milk. It works just as well — I promise!

Safeway also sells some instant stuffing year-round. It’s easy to make, but I recommend buying the veggie flavor. Don’t forget that you can also have ramen noodles for dinner. However, ramen tends to be less filling compared to other options, so be careful, or you might go to bed hungry.

Finally, invest in some coconut or olive oil packets. These will add some much-needed calories and flavor to your dinner.

My favorite taco recipe

Tacos are one of my favorite meals to enjoy in the backcountry. They are simple, filling and allow for a lot of personalization. First, you’ll need some tortillas. Remember, the more preservatives, the better. For the dehydrated beans, I recommend the Santa Fe bean company’s refried beans. To cook the beans, combine boiled water and the beans in a 1-to-1 ratio. Finally, you’ll need some spices and seasoning. You can bring taco seasoning powder and mix it right into the beans, or pack some hot sauce packets from your local Taco Bell. You can also purchase dehydrated cheese for your tacos.


You didn’t think I was going to forget dessert, right? You should try to have dessert every day after dinner, as long as you can spare the room and weight in your bear canister. The internet is full of elaborate dessert recipes, but I try to stay realistic. The best dessert requires no cooking or preparation. In fact, just pack some of your favorite candy from your local convenience store. Beware of candy that could easily melt, and shy away from dark chocolate if you’re sensitive to caffeine. Other than that, just bring some sweets you enjoy. Additionally, consider packing some herbal tea for a soothing night before you crawl into your sleeping bag. It’s comforting, keeps you hydrated and will help you develop a nice bedtime routine.

Backpacking is good for the soul — so is good food. Happy trails!

Contact Sarah Siegel at [email protected].