people around fire

Master Chef: Ontario Parks backcountry edition

Today’s post comes from Will Oades, Discovery Program Educator
at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.

Eating in the backcountry should be no different than eating at home!

Well-planned and prepared backcountry meals can taste amazing, satisfy your hunger, and foster conversations about your long day of hiking or paddling.

Tasty outdoor meals are a simple comfort fix that can exponentially enhance your backcountry experience.

There are many meal options available, however, there are three important things to consider when developing your meal plan: caloric content, size/weight, and taste.

Counting calories

While travelling in the backcountry, your body exerts significantly more energy than you would at home.

This needs to be reflected with an increased caloric intake, making sure your body is well fueled and prepared for the journey ahead.

people hiking

There are several factors that determine your required daily caloric intake that include (but are not limited to):

  • distance traveled
  • intensity of travel
  • pack weight
  • your base metabolic rate

Your daily minimum required calories is calculated by adding your base metabolic rate to calories burned/day.

For more information about your caloric needs in the backcountry, check out this website!

Packing light

Another important consideration when preparing backcountry meals is the weight and size of the food you bring.

Poor food choice can lead to an overstuffed, heavy pack that slows you down and overexerts your body.

Food options like instant oatmeal and instant potatoes are high in caloric content but low in weight, making them crucial to ensuring your pack remains light.

food in mug

There is also a wide variety of freeze-dried meals that require only boiling water to prepare. They are lightweight, easy to prepare, and are some of the tastiest meals you can have in the backcountry!

Another way to reduce weight is to repackage the food into less bulky containers. Be sure to check if there is a can or bottle ban at the park you plan to visit and remember to pack out all of your garbage.

Anything you can do to reduce the amount of garbage you have to carry will also reduce your pack’s weight!

Mind = blown!

people hiking

There are many factors that influence what your backcountry meal plan will look like (preference, allergies, taste, etc.), and there are several ways to enhance your meal’s taste.

Here is a simple list of seasonings that can add much needed flavour to your meals:

  • mustard
  • mayonnaise
  • ketchup
  • hot sauce
  • salt and pepper

You can find and save all of these in small packets from your takeout food orders!

So, what shall we eat?


coffee pouring

Breakfast is one of the most important meals, getting you fueled for your day ahead.

Warm breakfasts are great to wake up to and get your day started. To reduce the weight and bulk of coffee brewers in the backcountry, consider instant coffee as an alternative.

There are, however, lightweight coffee brewing options that are quite compact and weigh very little.

Here are some great backcountry breakfast options:

  • instant coffee or tea
  • instant oatmeal (add some dried fruit for extra flavour!)
  • loaded breakfast burrito:
    • cooked powdered (or fresh) eggs
    • tortilla wrap
    • cheese
    • dry cured meat

Scramble it all in a pan and load it into a tortilla with some hot sauce, salt, and pepper for a protein packed torpedo of tastiness.


The lunchtime meal is essential for your continued energy throughout the day.


My backcountry lunches are often made cold in order to reduce preparation time, as well as to avoid unpacking and repacking cooking gear during the day.

Consider these lunch options for your next backcountry trip:

  • bagel sandwich
    • bagel (or tortilla wrap)
    • dry-cured salami
    • mustard (or other sauce packet)
    • aged/hard cheese
    • salt and pepper
  • peanut butter and honey wrap
  • crackers and cheese
  • trail mix
  • fruit leather
  • granola bar


For shorter trips in the backcountry (up to five days), pre-made freeze-dried meals are excellent meal options. There are a wide range of options, my favorite being pad thai with chicken and peanut sauce!

Freeze-dried meals only require boiling water to prepare and take relatively little time to rehydrate, making them a reliable, lightweight meal option.

The drawback of these meals is their price — they can range in cost anywhere from $8/meal to $13/meal. This adds up quite quickly for longer trips and therefore, other options should be considered.

If you have access to a dehydrator, take a shot at preparing a dehydrated meal.

If not, no need to fear! There are plenty of great, calorie dense, lightweight dinner options.

Packs of soup and instant potatoes are great options that only require boiling water to prepare and comes in a lightweight packet that takes up little space in your pack.

Campin’ Ramen Recipe

  • 1 pack dry soup mix
  • 1 pack ramen
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 serving beef jerky, chopped into 1 cm squares
  • 1 tbsp crushed peanuts (optional)
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil (optional)
  • sriracha to taste

Serving size: 1

At home

Mix soy sauce, sriracha, and sesame oil in a sealable container. Consider double bagging the container in case of a leak.

Remove soup and ramen from packaging and combine in a resealable bag.

On the trail

  1. Mix water and sauce mixture in a pot and add soup mix as instructed on package.
  2. When water begins to boil, add package of ramen.
  3. Stir noodles occasionally until tender.
  4. Once cooked, remove pot from heat, stir in jerky and top with peanuts if desired.
  5. Enjoy!

While this recipe is already quite delicious, feel free to tweak it to suit your taste.

Whether you’re in the backcountry for a day or a week, the food you eat is essential to fuel your body and allow for the ultimate experience.

With a little bit of research, you can find tasty recipes that satisfy your hunger and leave you craving more.

Eventually, all the food you eat goes to the same place. However, if the journey to get there is delicious and enjoyable, then even better.

It’s not about the destination, but how you get there!