DIY backpacking meals: just add water

DIY backpacking meals

When setting up camp after a full day of backpacking, I’m ready to get food in my mouth as quickly and easily as possible. But I also want a hot meal, and I’m not into the price tag of dehydrated backpacking meals. Solution: DIY backpacking meals prepared with foods already in my pantry that only require boiling water and a few minutes of cooking time. Here’s my menu for an overnight backpacking trip; we made dinner and breakfast at camp, and brought plenty of snacks along to eat while hiking. Look for a bonus snack recipe at the end of the post!

Dinner is a twist on peanut noodles; since the long noodles usually used in this dish wouldn’t travel well, I substituted with couscous, which also cooks faster. I added sliced carrots to get some veggies in and a pouch of tuna for extra protein.

Breakfast is a camp standby, oatmeal. I switched it up a little by adding smoky spices to the traditional brown sugar and cinnamon. Top with pecans and butterscotch chips. I guess you could substitute dried fruit for the chips if you wanted, but trust me – if you haven’t tried butterscotch chips in oatmeal, you need to.

Oh, and if you’re looking for photos of the finished dishes…well, we were hungry. Sorry. I’ll try to remember next time.

Just add boiling water to cook these DIY backpacking meals made with common pantry ingredients. Get recipes for couscous with peanut sauce and sweet & smoky camp oatmeal.

Couscous with peanut sauce

For the peanut sauce:

  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp ginger powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp sriracha*
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1.5 tsp honey*
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter*

Other ingredients:

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 2 small carrots, sliced
  • 2 pouches tuna*

At home: Whisk all peanut sauce ingredients together and store in a portable container (I used small plastic food storage containers with tight-sealing lids). Put the couscous in a ziplock bag or other container and the sliced carrots in a separate container.

At camp: Bring ~2 cups of water to a boil. Divide the couscous between two bowls. Once water is boiling, pour roughly 3/4 cup into each bowl – water should completely cover the couscous. Cover the bowls and let stand for 5 minutes. Check that couscous is cooked, then stir half the peanut sauce and one pouch of tuna into each bowl.

Recipe notes: 

  • I prefer a drippy natural PB for the sauce. Any type will work, but if it’s not drippy you may need to melt it a bit to get it to incorporate into the sauce.
  • These amounts of sriracha and honey make for a pretty spicy sauce with just enough sweet to cut the acidity – adjust the sriracha and honey amounts to your preference.
  • Omit tuna to make vegan.


Sweet and smoky camp oatmeal

Ingredients (per serving):

  • heaping 1/2 cup regular or quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 1-2tsp brown sugar, to taste
  • 1/2tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4tsp smoked paprika
  • pinch chipotle powder (optional)
  • 2tbsp pecans
  • 1tbsp butterscotch chips

At home: If using regular rolled oats, pulse a few times in a food processor – the end result will resemble what you get in an instant oatmeal packet. No need to process if you’re using quick-cooking oats. Combine oats, brown sugar, and spices in a ziplock bag or other container. Combine pecans and butterscotch chips in another container.

At camp: Boil ~1 cup of water per serving. Add the oat mixture to a bowl and pour over ~2/3-3/4 cup water – oats should be completely covered. Cover the bowl and let stand for about 2 minutes. Check that the oatmeal is cooked to your liking, and add water if necessary for your desired texture. Stir in pecans and butterscotch chips.


Bonus! 3-ingredient trail mix recipe: Combine roughly equal amounts of roasted salted pumpkin seeds, slivered almonds, and dried cranberries. That’s it!


If you try any of these DIY backpacking meals, let me know how they turned out for you!


What’s your favorite backpacking food?

Do you snack along the trail or stop for a full lunch?


19 Comment

  1. I’m planning on backpacking by myself for two weeks next summer so this is perfect! Just a few days ago I was looking into what meals I should be packing and this helps so so much! Do you have a suggestion on what machinery to purchase? I’m new to this all so I’d love any advice!
    Julia @ Drops of Jules recently posted…Minnie Maud Questions – What Do You Want to Know?My Profile

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      For these meals all I brought was a backpacking stove and kettle to boil the water, plus bowls and mugs. (And I completely forgot utensils, don’t be like me!) But if I were doing a 2-week trip by myself I would probably buy one of those all-in-one kits where your cooking pot, utensils, etc. all pack inside each other.

      You can also buy dehydrated ingredients to put together your own backpacking meals – I haven’t tried it since we are doing weekend trips, but for a longer trip I would look into those. If you want more details or info on other gear, you’re welcome to email me!

  2. These are such clever ideas! I’ve never been backpacking or even real camping (only glamping, hahaha) but I often pack similar kind of meals when we’re traveling!
    Kristy from Southern In Law recently posted…Recent Things: Catching Pikachu in Sydney, Puppy Love and Lots of LaughsMy Profile

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      Oh yes, great for traveling too!

  3. Emily says: Reply

    Backpacking is the BEST! Last time we went we took a few MRE’s, but if I’m better prepared next time, I need to try some of these. Peanut sauce on rice or couscous sounds like a really good meal, and sweet and smoky oatmeal also sounds really heart and satisfying. 🙂 What are your favorite meals for several days of backpacking?
    Emily recently posted…Top 3 Friday: Why Living at Home Isn’t LameMy Profile

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      I actually haven’t done several days of backpacking. I think anything you cook in one pot/pan that doesn’t have bulky or perishable ingredients could be adapted pretty easily though! And I would probably buy or make some dehydrated vegetables.

  4. […] Prepare for Adventure posted up a great list of backpacking meals that you can make simply by adding water. I definitely bookmarked this for my next camping trip. | [DIY backpacking meals: just add water] […]

  5. These are great!!

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      Thank you!

  6. Yum! My husband and I are going backpacking in a couple of weeks and I’m just not into the dehydrated meal in a pouch thing, so this is very timely 🙂 Also, I’m excited to follow your blog! I’m always glad to meet another adventurer with pixie cut hair.

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      Let me know how the recipes turn out if you try them! (I’m new to the “actually writing my recipes down” thing.) And yay pixie cuts!

  7. Elissa says: Reply

    Great tips, our family enjoys camping together for holidays and it’s funny how you often feel more hungry out in the great outdoors, being active. Very useful to pack convenient and tasty food!
    Elissa recently posted…How to build a soupMy Profile

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      Definitely get more hungry in the outdoors! I’m not about the complicated camping recipes.

  8. My favorite SIMPLE backpacking meal is a pouch of loaded instant mashed potatoes + 1 pouch of chicken (tuna works too, but I’m not a big tuna fan). The mashed potatoes are ready in about 20 seconds once you pour in boiling water, and the hot potatoes warm up the chicken when you mix it all in. It’s a little light on the veggies, but it’s fairly calorie dense which is usually what I aim for.

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      I’ll have to try that, instant potatoes are great for backpacking! And I count the potatoes as veggies 😉

  9. I would add protein powder to the oatmeal so you have a little more for breakfast and don’t have have a mid morning crash. Works great for hotel rooms too so you don’t have the caloric or budget cost of an extra meal out. Another backpacking trick for single nights out it to prep cook and freeze solid a saucy meal like stir fry. It will stay frozen in your pack with a little tin foil wrap and make a quick fix dinner that is fantastic.

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      I’m just not sure I would like protein powder in oatmeal…so I didn’t want to try it for the first time on a backpacking trip. Will definitely be trying the frozen meal trick!

  10. Farrah says: Reply

    These both sound so good! I tried making my own instant oatmeal a couple months back and it was definitely a game-changer! 😛

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      Yes! I never buy quick-cooking oats, so being able to make my own in literally a minute is amazing.
      Hannah recently posted…The somewhat productive return: week in reviewMy Profile

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