As you start spending more time on the trail, you’ll quickly realize that Mountain House and other commercial backpacking meals can blow your budget fast.
This led me down a path of finding great-tasting budget backpacking meals. First, I experimented with some backpacking meals of my own. I bought freeze-dried ingredients in bulk and used them to make my own recipes (using Andrew Skurka’s recipes as a starting point).
The meals were tasty, but my problem was that I couldn’t use up all the bulk ingredients in one season. With the left-over ingredients added in, the price per meal wasn’t much lower than the commercial alternatives.
So I decided to simplify things. I’m now making my meals out of things I can buy at the grocery store in small quantities. This way, I can reduce waste, and as a bonus, I can easily resupply them even if I’m on a thru-hike or a longer hike in general.
Here’s one of my favorites: mac and cheese with bacon. It’s super easy to make, tastes great, and is really cheap. The pictures below are from my recent trip to Desolation Wilderness.
Ingredients for a cheap backpacking meal
Prepping this meal is super easy and only takes a minute. The idea is to get rid of the box and any extra bulk, so you only carry what you need.
- A box of mac and cheese, I like Annie’s Aged Cheddar, but any will do
- Crumbled bacon bits
- A quart freezer Ziplock bag
- A small Ziplock for the bacon (optional)
1. Empty the box of mac and cheese into the Ziplock bag, including the packet of cheese powder.
2. Optional: Portion the bacon into a smaller Ziplock bag and place it inside the bag with the mac and cheese, keeping the ingredients separate. If you’re going on a more extended trip, you can bring the whole bag of bacon bits with you and portion it as you go.
Simple cooking instructions
Get everything ready: take out the ingredients, your cook system, and some water. Put the macaroni into your pot and add water to cover them well, 1-1.5″ (3-4cm) over the macaroni.
Bring the water to a slow boil, stirring the macaroni occasionally, so they don’t stick to the bottom.
Once the water is boiling, turn off the gas and place your pot in a cozy, so it stays warm. Here, I’m using a GSI Halulite Minimalist that comes with a cozy, but you can make your own or improvise with a beanie or some clothes (just be careful not to get them wet).
Let the noodles stand covered in the warm water for about 5-10 minutes to finish cooking. Stir a couple of times.
Once the macaroni is cooked through, pour out extra water, leaving about 1/4 cup (0.5dl) of water on the bottom. You can also make it into a soup if you want more volume, it’ll just be a bit blander.
Carefully mix in the cheese powder packet. Depending on the brand of mac and cheese, it can take some time for the powder to dissolve, you can let it soak a while in the cozy if needed.
Finally, add the bacon and stir it in. Shove the food into your face hole and enjoy it.
Calories and cost
|Item||Cost per meal||Calories|
|Mac and cheese||$1.00||675|
These may vary a bit on the specific brands you choose.
Modify the recipe to your liking
You can modify this recipe in almost endless ways. Add dried veggies for a healthy and tasty option, or substitute the bacon for some spam if you’re really hungry. You can also add milk powder if you want to make it creamier.
What do you like to put in your backcountry mac and cheese? Share your ideas below!