Fast Food on the Trail

November 24, 2010


I'm just going to admit up front that I think hot camp food is overrated. It’s messy, time-intensive, and often less appetizing than most people are willing to admit (Freeze-dried entrees are not tasty. They’re just not.) Yes, if you have the time, it can be fun to cook up a big elaborate meal on the trail. And yes, hot food does warm the soul after a long day in the saddle (until it’s time to do the dishes.) But sometimes it’s also nice leave the stove, fuel, and mess kit at home and save time, space and arguably weight by packing cold meals (unless you eat only freeze-dried food). Here are a few staples that can get you a long way:

Bagels: They stay fresh longer than bread, hold up better than bread, and are just as wholesome and delicious whether whole or condensed (that is, smashed into a space-saving pancake.)

Granola: It’s like oatmeal, only less gooey and much easier to prepare. It also comes with tasty add-ins such as raisins and almonds, and can double as an on-the-go snack.

Dried milk: Mix with water and add to the granola for a more “complete” breakfast. This requires a bowl and spoon so in my book straddles the line between quick food and cooking.

Tortillas: A quick and tasty form of condensed carbohydrates that can be turned into delicious wraps with the simple addition of a protein source such as tuna, some snack tidbits such as dried cranberries and almonds, and of course cheese.

Cheese: Everything tastes better with cheese. Everything.

Goldfish crackers: So delicious that they work any time of the day.

Peanut butter: One of the most energy-efficient forms of quick food available. A jar of peanut butter contains more than 2,000 calories and can double as an emergency food source. Also, it's delicious on tortillas.

Tuna: Purchase packets of tuna, not cans. Packets can be opened without a can opener and eaten right out of the bag, or spread on bagels or tortillas. For a more gourmet experience, sample flavorful varieties such as Starkist Yellowfin Tuna in Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Smoked salmon: A rich alternative for the discerning bikepacker, or at least one who is tired of tuna.

Dried hummus: This is probably the lightest form of quick protein, but also requires bowls and a spoon to mix in water.

Cookie dough: Leave out the eggs, add a few more cups of oats and chocolate chips, and you have an amazingly efficient energy source that doesn’t require refrigeration. Forty pounds of cookie dough sustained Eric Parsons and Dylan Kentch for much of their 19-day, 300-mile off-trail mountain bike adventure along Alaska’s Lost Coast.

Long bikepacking trips are one of the few times you can get away with eating cookie dough for dinner. You might as well put the stove away and enjoy.

Photo by Jill Homer: Goldfish crackers are a tasty source of energy both on and off the bike.


BIKEPACKER is written by Jill Homer, deputy editor for Adventure Cyclist magazine.



Thanks for the trail food trips and congratulations on the new Route 66 Adventure Cycling announcement. It sounds like it will be a blast.

Now bicyclists can also get our kicks on Route 66.

November 24, 2010, 1:20 PM

Oops, that last post was supposed to say, "...trail food tips..."

November 24, 2010, 1:22 PM

The credit says "Photo by Jill Homer," but what is it a photo of? I can't make it out.

November 24, 2010, 2:58 PM
Jill Homer

Anon — It's a bag of Goldfish crackers perched in a top tube bag on a mountain bike, for easy snacking access.

November 24, 2010, 9:00 PM
Adventure Monkey

Great advice! I am always looking for ways to not only save weight but also be efficient.

November 24, 2010, 11:21 PM
J Meiser

How about cured meats such as salami, pepperoni, summer sausage (random meat)? Nuts like Cashews, peanuts, shelled sunflower seeds, etc...? Then there is all the gas station goodies...Nature Valley bars, Reese's (delicious Reese's!), 2/1.00 goodies like gummi bears and worms and finally potato chips and crushed fritos. Calorie dense, dry, and oh so delicious!

For recovery nothing beats chocolate milk and a fruit smoothie (naked juice or Odwalla). I've been tempted to try Whipping Cream (3000 Calories a pint) for recovery, but I'm scared of what that might do to the body...

November 25, 2010, 12:24 AM

If you don't like doing dishes(who does?), mix that granola and dry milk(Nido is best) in a zip lock bag. No clean-up to do and packs small and light.


November 3, 2011, 9:50 PM
william buttry

that sound excellent specially when u stealth camp don't wanna cook dinner and give away your postion or start a forest fire I found dry cereal is also excellent buy the one in little boxes and take them and mix all together in a gallon Ziploc bag and eat up in morning think that is all good ideas but once in a while. I would like maybe a hot glass of tea or maybe a bowel of soup on cool nites to ....

October 25, 2013, 3:54 PM
william buttry

Well I have watched a lot of you tube videos and found that hiking and bicycle travel go hand in hand together you can just watch a few vids from hikers and use the same stuff as they do like ramen noodles tuna in the plastic bags stove stop stuffing even canned chili that is easier for cyclist to carry cause it will be in our bags hooked on our bike not on our backs and we come upon trash cans more often to throw away trash than hikers do I like the instant mashed potato's and stove top .I can not see my self paying 6 to 8 dollars for one mtn house bag 8 dollars is 2 meals or one days worth of food for me . I don't eat a lot and don't spend a lot on food when I do go on trips .

November 11, 2014, 12:18 PM
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