Save Money on Backpacking Food

Don't buy overpriced specialty goods that seldom live up to their advertising. With a bit of flexibility and imagination, a wide range of foods you never thought of as backpacking food can keep you nourished on the trail.

| May/June 1985

"Nothing helps scenery like ham and eggs." — Mark Twain

Although some of this author's suggestions may go "against the grain" of our more nutrition-conscious readers, his article contains information that should help anyone plan and prepare better and less expensive camp meals ... even if Mr. Coburn does hint at a fondness for — heaven help us! — fruit-flavored "chocolate" chips.

The main thing I ask of backpacking food is that it taste good. I don't object to sound nutrition, but flavor comes first after a day of hiking. I'll admit I'm opinionated, but there's no room around my campfire for folks who think textured vegetable protein tastes "almost like beef," or that carob bears any more resemblance to Tobler's chocolate than I do to Burt Reynolds.

Personal preference aside, there are many factors that have to be taken into consideration when deciding which foods to pack along on a hike. In addition to palatability, you must think about heft and bulk, ease of preparation, and — the Big One — cost. In an effort to weigh all those variables and come up with the best backpacking meals for the least expense, let's begin by surveying the different products offered by the purveyors of specialty camp foods.

Trail Food Survey

Freeze-dried foods — let's admit it — aren't all bad. Orange and grapefruit juice crystals, for example, are usually tastier than Tang. And some of these packaged dinners even taste sort of like food. Furthermore, there are times when freeze-dried meals offer some real advantages: For winter treks, preparation speed alone is reason enough to opt for this sort of grub; and on hikes lasting more than, say, ten nights, every ounce of weight you can save will likely be considered cheap at any price.

Of course, most of the average backpacker's outings don't last ten nights. And it's extravagant to eat expedition-style when the trip could be provisioned better, and less expensively, from your pantry and the supermarket.

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