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Then and Now: Trail Food

Posted by Erika Haugen-Goodman at Aug 19, 2016 11:15 AM |
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Backpacking meals have evolved considerably from the early days of canned meats and heavy ingredients. See how they've changed in the last 50 years.

There are few things better than sitting down to a hearty meal after a long day of hiking (maybe a great view, but just barely). Bringing the right food to refuel is incredibly important when backpacking, but eating food at camp shouldn't be only about replacing calories, it should also be enjoyable.

Then: canned and bulky

Canned backpacking meats
A couple canned meat options for backpacking in the 1970's.

In the 1970's, freeze-dried canned meat and dehydrated bar products were popular choices for convenient backcountry meals. They allowed a hiker to carry in pre-cooked meat that didn't require refrigeration and provided some protein at a relatively low weight ratio for the time. The downside is these didn't have a lot of nutritional value as a full meal, and had to be supplemented with other ingredients.

Perhaps the biggest downside to canned backpacking goods of the time was the bulk of each item. Each can only contained roughly 2 ounces of food and the can itself took up valuable bag space. For multi-night trips this could pose problems. You would also still need to pack in other ingredients to create a full meal.

Now: convenient and nutritional

Mountainhouse meal by Bob Riedlinger
Modern freeze-dried and dehydrated meals have come a long way in flavor. Even goats wish they had some! Photo by Bob Riedlinger.

Freeze-dried and dehydrated meals have come a long way since their early days. Previously, it meant flavorless, but whether you purchase a pre-made meal from the store or make your own, dehydrated and freeze-dried is the way to go to keep weight down. If you walk into your local outdoor outfitter you'll probably find a large selection of freeze-dried meals to choose from with flavors and styles like lasagna, enchiladas, and even desserts like ice cream.

Many backpackers prefer the flavors of their own home cooking and make both simple and elaborate dehydrated meals to bring on the trail. These can be a great way to know exactly what you're eating and keep familiar flavors in your menu when you're in the backcountry.

Sites like Trailcooking and our recources on making your own backcountry foods are good places to get started if you're looking to enter the world of lighter and delicious meals.

What do you eat in the backcountry?

Do you have a favorite backpacking recipe to share? Leave a comment below with your tips for delicious camp meals.

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