So, you’re going on a long ultralight backpacking, bikepacking, or bike touring trip. Yeah, you can try to convince yourself that inspiring landscapes, motivational quotes, and endless stoke are all the fuel you need. But the truth is that, after a few hours on the trail, all you’re really going to want is a huge bowl of macaroni and cheese and a jumbo bag of chocolate chip cookies.
When bikepacking, there’s no getting around the fact that you’re going to crave some calorie-heavy foods. And not just any food. You’re going to need real food for all that bikepacking effort. With that in mind, here is a comprehensive guide to food for bikepacking and ultralight backpacking.
What we’ll cover (click on links to jump to section):
- Dehydrated Food for Bikepacking and Ultralight Backpacking
- Best Breakfasts and Coffee Maker for Bikepacking and Ultralight Backpacking
- Best Snacks and Lunch for Bikepacking and Ultralight Backpacking
- Best Dinners for Bikepacking and Ultralight Backpacking
- DIY Bikepacking Food Ideas
What is the Best Food for Bikepacking and Ultralight Backpacking?
It’s tempting to think that you can eat whatever you want with no consequences when you’re burning anywhere from 3,000 to 8,000 calories per day. You may hear about ultrarunners, bikepacking racers, and other endurance athletes powering through endless junk food purely for their caloric value. These are tend to be high sugar, high salt, high fat, low nutrient foods.
What you don’t hear is about how unsustainable it is to keep going on this diet day after day. Your body needs the vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and proteins that are found in fresh foods. Without these, your mood will drop and your performance will decrease. You will start to feel worse than if you had balanced out your diet with some healthy foods.
It’s a good idea to eat low-fat, high-protein, lean foods in the morning and during the day when you know you still have more riding or bikepacking to do. Keep fatty and greasy foods for the end of the day. They are tougher on your guts and generally don’t sit well in your stomach. Save the ultra-high calorie and greasy foods like macaroni and cheese or fettuccini alfredo for dinner time. That way your body can focus on digestion and recovery while you sleep.
What to Look for in Bikepacking and Ultralight Backpacking Food
- High Protein – Nut butters, cheese, energy bars, dried meats. You need protein to rebuild the muscles that accumulate micro tears during exercise.
- Sugar – Natural sugars like fructose (found in fruits) are the best type of sugar. They are used by your body at a much more predictable rate, so you avoid big spikes and drops in energy. Compare this to the added sugars contained in candy (glucose) which result in the dreaded sugar rush.
- Healthy Fats – Again, nut butters are great. Avocados are awesome for healthy fat if you can score some at a resupply point. Tuna in olive oil is also a great option.
- Salt – You do need to replace the salts that are lost while sweating. Often in great quantity. However, be aware of just how much sodium there is in some of the typical freeze-dried meals. It is often far more than you actually need.
- Vitamins – This is the hard one. You need to find foods that contain these for a well-balanced bikepacking trip. Many vitamins are lost in the processing that happens in the manufacturing of packaged foods. To solve this, dehydrated fruits and vegetables are the way to go.
Dehydrated Food for Bikepacking and Ultralight Backpacking
This is one of the best ways anyone can save money when food planning for your bikepacking trip. Dried fruits can be pretty expensive. They are often loaded up with tons of added sugars too. They also include chemical preservatives to make them shelf-stable. We like to avoid things like that because we believe in simplicity, and that includes the ingredients we put in our bodies.
Using a dehydrator to prepare your bikepacking snacks allows you to control what is in your food and what goes into your body. It is also usually less expensive than buying dried fruits. The main cost comes in the form of time. But really, it’s the dehydrator doing most of the work, not you.
All you have to worry about is cutting the fruit up (and we’ve made that easier with the mandoline – see below). After that, all there is left to do is lay the fruit out on the dehydrator plates, plug it in, and press start. Using a dehydrator is much less work than people think.
What You Need to Dehydrate Your Bikepacking Food
Step 1: Get Yourself a Dehydrator.
Keep it simple. You don’t need the best dehydrator on the market, so don’t obsess over specs. However, if you’re going to be doing meat, get one that goes to 160°F (for safety reasons). These will pay for themselves many times over by the end of their lifetimes. Here are two models that we think are the best dehydrators for what we need. They have good reviews, are both rated for meat, are time tested, and will do the job nicely. Done.
Step 2: Get Yourself a Julienne Slicer
Also known as a mandoline. This makes cutting hard fruits and vegetables quick and easy. Again, don’t overthink which mandoline to get. This is our pick for the best mandoline for fruits and vegetables. It has great reviews and a few accessories to make slicing easier.
Now you’re ready to start dehydrating some food. Here are some ideas to get you going with dehydrating fruit and other food to make nutritious bikepacking snacks.
Dehydrating Fruit for Bikepacking and Ultralight Backpacking
Full of natural sugars and slow-burning energy to help you avoid those sugar crashes you get from candy. Dehydrated fruit offers many of the vitamins that bikepacking and ultralight backpacking requires and are hard to find in other food.
Fruits perfect for dehydrating include:
Tip #1 – Spices
Throw some spices, a tiny bit of sugar and salt into a bag and toss them with your dehydrated fruits. Try things like chili powder and salt with your mango slices, or ginger and sugar with your dried pear slices. This can really liven up your snacking experience…. Maybe avoid using that cayenne pepper unless you’ve got a lot of water to wash it down with. It’s not easy to hike or pedal when your throat is on fire.
Tip #2 – Lemon Juice
Sprinkle lemon juice over the fruit slices before putting them in the dehydrator. This keeps them from browning.
Tip #3 – Cutting Sizes
Cut fruits into ¼” to ½” slices. Thinner slices take less time to dehydrate.
Tip #4 – Dehydrating Times
Dehydrating times for fruit vary depending on the power of your dehydrator, how full it is, and the type of fruit. Start with 6 hours. Don’t be surprised if you have to let it run overnight though. Apples and pears can come out crisp if left in long enough, whereas strawberries, bananas, cherries, mangoes, and pineapples usually stay chewy.
Tip #5 – Dehydrating Temperatures
Dehydrating temperatures for fruit also varies, but 135°F is the standard. Set it and forget it (OK, don’t forget it…).
Dehydrating Vegetables for Bikepacking and Ultralight Backpacking
Vegetables are far less popular to dehydrate than fruit. That’s probably down to the fact that many of us associate vegetables with that nagging mom voice from our childhoods. If veggies don’t top your list as your number one food for bikepacking, we don’t blame you. But hopefully we can convince you to reconsider.
It turns out your mom was right. We should all be eating more vegetables. And with a dehydrator, there’s no reason not to get your daily serving when bikepacking or ultralight backpacking.
Maybe the biggest hurdle in dehydrating vegetables is having to cut them all up, which can be a pain. But, as we saw above, the mandoline is the perfect tool for this and makes the job way easier and faster. Use it to cut all your vegetables into julienne slices.
Vegetables Good for Dehydrating
- Potatoes – You’re essentially making healthier potato chips by dehydrating instead of frying. Note that you’re never going to get them to the same crispiness as chips no matter how long you leave them in. Season as you would any potato chip.
- Bell Peppers – Rehydrate really quickly and full of flavor.
- Onions – You can get dehydrated onions at many Asian supermarkets, but they’re usually loaded with salt.
- Carrots – Cutting these with the mandoline is way easier than using a knife.
- Zucchini – Also great for making zucchini chips with some salt and black pepper.
- Cucumbers – These are mainly water, so they dehydrate into nothing. Also note that much of the vitamin content in cucumbers is found in the peel. Something to keep in mind before taking that peel off.
- Tomatoes – A little harder to cut since they can be soft. Use harder and bigger varieties like heirloom or roma.
Some vegetables are harder to cut on a mandoline, but are still great for dehydrated bikepacking food:
- Mushrooms – Rehydrate quickly. Throw some into your soup in camp.
- Spinach – Crumbles well and very rich in vitamins.
- Kale – Make kale chips by adding some salt and little bit of garlic powder.
- Broccoli – Break off the florets and slice the stems in half.
- Cauliflower – Do the same as with broccoli.
- Green Beans – Yes, even these can be dehydrated and are delicious with a little seasoning.
Tip #1 – Potatoes
Dehydrated potatoes remain pretty chewy, so don’t expect store bought potato chips. They are however, excellent to throw into a soup and rehydrate quickly. Still, cut these as thinly as possible.
Tip #2 – Dehydrating Times for Vegetables
Dehydrating times also vary, but start with 6 hours and don’t be afraid to leave overnight, especially for things like potatoes, zucchini, broccoli and cauliflower.
Tip #3 – Dehydrating Temperatures for Vegetables
Dehydrating temperature can be left at 135°F just like fruit.
Jerky is maybe the ultimate bikepacking food. But meat can be a little trickier to dehydrate than fruits and vegetables. First, there is the question of which meats and how to cut them. Second, there is the bacteria question from a safety standpoint. If you’re going to be dehydrating your own meats, make sure to get a dehydrator that goes up to 160°F minimum.
Beef is easily dehydrated, but make sure you’re choosing the lean cuts. (10% fat or less). This is especially true if dehydrating ground meat. Fatty foods do not dehydrate well. Stick to low fat ground beef and press it into thin strips or patties that can dry out completely. What you’re trying to do is remove any moisture from the food, since that’s what bacteria needs to grow.
Salting the meat before putting it in the dehydrator, which you’ll probably do anyway, is also a good way to draw out moisture. If you’re still skeptical, you can always finish the meat in an actual oven on low temperature (250°F). And, of course, the most conservative option is to buy store-bought jerky.
Tip – One way to ensure you’ve got safe ground beef to eat is to cook it as you normally would. Then run it under hot water to remove as much of the remaining fat as possible. After that, you can put it in the dehydrator and continue as you normally would.
Dehydrating Chicken, Turkey, Fish, and Pork
For some reason, these meats don’t seem to keep as long as beef and also seem to have a higher risk of contamination. It is absolutely doable to do at home, but because it is more involved, we won’t touch on how to dehydrate these. There are plenty of good alternatives anyway.
Yes, you absolutely can dehydrate sauces with a dehydrator! If you have a favorite pasta sauce, simply cook it up, let it cool, line your dehydrator trays with parchment paper, and spread your sauce over each tray. There is a lot of water content in these sauces obviously, so make sure to spread it out evenly and thinly. The standard 135°F should do. Expect it to take 8 hours minimum.
Remember that fatty substances don’t dehydrate well, so sauces with a lot of cream, butter, high-fat milk, or cheese are not going to dehydrate well. The best thing to do is to make the sauce without those ingredients. Then pack those ingredients separately and add them in when you go to rehydrate your sauce in camp. For cheese sauces, that can mean adding individually wrapped cheese blocks. For a sauce that called for cream, use dehydrated milk powder.
Maybe one of the more brilliant ideas out there. Those breakfast smoothies that you make in the morning? Those can easily be dehydrated too. Use the same method as with the sauces above. When the smoothies are ready to come out of the dehydrator, put them into a food processor or coffee grinder. You can even just put the dried smoothie into a Ziploc bag and crush it by hand. Grind or crush the smoothie into a powder. There you have it, instant smoothie mix. Just add water.
Ideas for Bikepacking and Ultralight Backpacking Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
Everyone has their preferences when it comes to how and what to eat out on the trail. We’re not about to change that. We also know that many people don’t like to lounge around in the morning and spend time cooking. They’d rather get back on the bike or strap on their backpack and get going.
So here are our picks for the best breakfast, lunch, and dinners for bikepacking and ultralight backpacking.
Coffee Maker for Bikepacking
Best Bikepacking and Ultralight Backpacking Coffee Maker: GSI Outdoors Collapsible Java Drip
OK so coffee isn’t exactly food, but somehow a bikepacking trip isn’t the same without it. Instant coffee is getting better, but it still has a ways to go. For those of us that need a well-brewed cup of coffee, and want the ultimate simplicity, we recommend the Java Drip by GSI Outdoors.
- Collapsible and very lightweight. Folds down to 1” high and can be stored into any bikepacking bag
- Food grade silicone
- Can make 2-3 cups of coffee in 3 minutes.
- Easy to set up
- Easy to clean
- Need to carry paper filters. Use #4 cone filters. Paper filters are simple to carry along thankfully.
- Slight smell of silicone right out of the box. Goes away after one or two washes. Does not affect taste
Best Breakfast for Bikepacking
Best Overall Bikepacking or Ultralight Backpacking Breakfast: Peak Refuel Breakfast Skillet
Peak Refuel is relatively new to the freeze-dried meal scene, but that hasn’t kept them from being an instant hit. Their breakfast skillet offers a needed alternative to rival companies’ breakfast options. The ingredients are simple, with less emphasis on artificial flavors. Coming in at 640 calories and 39 grams of protein per pouch, you’re looking at a great way to start the day.
- Simple, wholesome ingredients
- Tastes better than other breakfast skillets out there
- Great calorie and protein to weight ratio
- Not a vegetarian option
- Just a tad more expensive than other skillets
Best Cheap Bikepacking and Ultralight Backpacking Breakfast: Mountain House Breakfast Skillets
Mountain House continues to be the best value for freeze dried foods. The Breakfast Skillets are ideal because they don’t kid around when it comes to calories. Hashbrowns, scrambled eggs, sausage, onions, peppers is what’s on tap with these. If you’re doing a high output tour and want to make sure to load up on energy for the day, these are your best bet.
- Best value
- High protein
- The kit is great to have as part of your emergency kit or for preppers too.
- Could be healthier. Can be heavy on your stomach.
Best Healthy Bikepacking or Ultralight Backpacking Breakfast: Oatmeal with DIY Add-Ons
Want to have complete control over what you’re eating? Make the meal yourself. Although oatmeal gets a bad rap, you can completely revamp it to make it really tasty.
You might think that breakfast oatmeal is limited to those instant oatmeal packets. The truth is those will not hold you over. They’re packed with sugar, the oats are heavily processed and devoid of nutrients, and you get maybe half a walnut and some blueberry powder. Not good enough for a bikepacking food.
So here is what we recommend for a quick and healthy bikepacking breakfast. This recipe is for two people. Scale up the quantities for more people or if you are hungry. Premix all these ingredients in a Ziploc bag, then simply add 1 cup of boiling water when you’re ready to eat. Allow a few minutes for the mixture to soak through, then dig in!
- 1 cup quick cooking oats (not instant oatmeal packets)
- 1 tbsp dry milk powder (can use coconut milk powder too)
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 1 tbsp raisins
- 1 tbsp chocolate chips or cacao nibs
- 1 tbsp coconut flakes
- 1 tbsp crushed walnuts
- 1 tbsp dried fruit (apples, apricots, banana chips, etc)
- 1 tbsp pumpkin, sesame, or sunflower seeds
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp teaspoon ginger
- Pinch of salt
Lunch and Snacks for Bikepacking
Best Overall Bikepacking and Ultralight Backpacking Lunches and Snacks: Greenbelly Backpacking Meals
Lunch while bikepacking or ultralight backpacking is usually pretty brief. With that in mind, we love that Greenbelly has basically packed everything your body needs into one 600-calorie, ready-to-eat, non-cook meal. Each package, or “meal”, comes with two bars.
Greenbelly claims that each meal is complete with 33% of your daily nutrition of calories, carbs, protein, sodium, fat, and fiber. Of course, this will depends on the person, but the fact that all those components are packaged into one meal is impressive. Theoretically, three of these would account for all the nutrients you need in a day.
- Lightweight, very packable
- Very high nutritional value for the weight. Doesn’t need to be accompanied by anything else.
- No cooking necessary
- Resealable package
- No weird “protein bar” aftertaste
- Chocolate/Banana, Peanut/Apricot, Cranberry/Almond
- Not sticky
- The texture is about what you’d expect with a bar trying to pass for an entire meal: not exactly crunchy, but not exactly soft either.
- As with all food, taste is totally subjective. People are generally liking these though.
Best Cheap Bikepacking and Ultralight Backpacking Lunches and Snacks: Clif Bars
In our mind, snacks and lunch should be simple meals on a bikepacking trip. So we’re shying away from having to pull out a stove and fuel for our top picks. Protein bars have come a long way since PowerBar introduced its protein-packed bars decades ago. But those looked like they came out from under a steamroller and presented a hilariously high risk of cementing your jaw shut as you tried to chew through them. And let’s not mention the aftertaste.
Clif Bars are hardly the new kid on the block, but they constantly come out with new flavors. We think they’re still the best budget option for bikepacking and ultralight backpacking snacks. They’re packed with calories, protein, and healthy fats. The wide variety of flavors means there are low-sugar, low-salt, and even organic options. Our favorite Clif Bars have to be the Fruit Smoothie Filled or the Peanut Toffee Buzz.
Best Healthy DIY Bikepacking or Ultralight Backpacking Lunches and Snacks: Nut Butters and Jerky
Once again, our choice for healthy eaters is to go for the simple, nutritious foods. These can sometimes require a little bit more thinking to put together, but they’re the ones your body is going to be able to digest the easiest. In terms of nutrition, the essentials come from a good balance of healthy fats, protein, carbohydrates, natural sugars, and salts. Here’s a quick guide of those foods that would fit the bill.
Justin’s Nut Butters – This has got to be the easiest way to get those healthy fat calories. Justin’s offers small squeeze packs of individual nut butters that are delicious, easy to pack, and calorie-dense. If you’ve got bagels and an apple, you’ve got an easy, quick, and healthy lunch. Their flavors include: Vanilla Almond Butter, Chocolate Hazelnut Butter, Maple Almond Butter, and Honey Peanut Butter.
Dried fruits – We’ve touched on these. Dried fruits will have the sugars your muscles need to fire properly without the crash of fast-acting sugars you find in candy (those “added sugars”). Apples, pears, strawberries, bananas, raisins.
Jerky – Not only is it delicious and lightweight, jerky is packed with protein and has all the sodium you need to replace the salts you lose from sweating. It also keeps really well in resealable bags.
Freeze Dried Dinners for Bikepacking
Best Overall Bikepacking and Ultralight Backpacking Dinner: Peak Refuel Basecamp Meal Pack
Another vote for Peak Refuel as they finally offer some decent competition against Mountain House. Their dinners include flavorful options like Beef Pasta Marinara, Sweet Pork and Rice, Chicken Alfredo, and Chicken Teriyaki with Rice. Included in the Basecamp Meal Pack are also Breakfast Skillets and Strawberry Granola breakfasts. The pack contains 12 total servings (6 packs, 2 servings each). We like the variety.
Most importantly, we like the fact that they don’t use any meat fillers like other companies do. That means that the meat you’re eating is actually 100% real meat! Real food on a bikepacking trip goes a long way to feed the body and soul. The meals also have less questionable ingredients.
- 100% real meat
- High protein
- Less sodium than comparable brands
- Uses less water than similar meal packages
- Nice variety
- Good taste
- The meal pack makes a good addition to an emergency kit or for preppers
- No vegetarian dinner options
Best Cheap Bikepacking and Ultralight Backpacking Dinner: Mountain House Essential Bucket
There’s no getting away from Mountain House when talking about freeze dried backpacking meals. And we have to hand it to them. These meals offer the best bang for your buck if you’re simply looking to replace calories after a long day of riding or backpacking.
Since we’re talking dinners, we chose the “Essential” pack (which doesn’t include any breakfasts like Granola and Blueberries). The Essential Bucket comes with 4 Rice and Chicken, 4 Chili Mac with Beef, and 4 Spaghetti with Meat Sauce.
- Great value
- Cheaper when bought in bulk.
- Filling. Each pack contains 2.5 servings at 220-250 calories per serving. That said, a hungry bikepacker or hiker could eat one of these by themselves.
- Meals actually taste pretty good
- If you need an extra sturdy bucket… well this comes with one.
- Can be too salty for some folks
Best Healthy DIY Bikepacking or Ultralight Backpacking Dinner: Dehydrator and Harmony House Backpacking Kit
The only way to have complete control over what goes into your body is to make the meals yourself. This option is not as hard as you think. All you need is a dehydrator, a mandoline, and whatever fresh veggies and fruits you feel like adding to a soup, pasta, instant rice, or ramen. See our section on Dehydrated Foods for more detail.
Now let’s say that you don’t even want to bother with dehydrating the foods yourself. Well, there’s a solution for that. Check out the Harmony House Backpacking Kit.
Quite simply, this kit is awesome if you don’t have your own dehydrator and still want to eat healthy on the trail. It includes: carrots, potatoes, green peas, tomatoes, celery, green beans, sweet corn, green and red bell peppers, onions, lentils, pinto beans, kidney beans, northern beans, black beans, and green cabbage. Your body is going to crave these foods by the end of a long bikepacking trip.
- Extremely lightweight and packable. Perfect for bikepacking and backpacking.
- Healthy! You decide how much salt, sugar, and spices to add.
- Add these to any freeze-dried meal to make it healthier.
- Vegan and vegetarian.
- High-protein (all those beans and legumes!), high nutrient.
- Non-GMO, pesticide free, no chemicals, no heavy metals.
- 10-15 minute cook time.
- Resealable bags.
- The cabbage tastes great on its own. Honorable mention for best bikepacking food? .
- Some of the veggies take longer to rehydrate, like the peas and green beans. A good way around this is to let them soak a while before starting to cook.
- Not seasoned. We actually think this is a good thing. Bring along seasoning packets of your choice to decide how salty or sweet to make your meals.
- You might get funny looks for eating cabbage on its own.