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Budget Meals for the Backcountry

It is very easy to spend a bunch of money planning an adventure. Getting three square meals, fuel for the journey, and a few comfort items adds up quick. Dehydrated meals can run anywhere from 5-15 bucks a meal, add in a snack or two, a few drink mixes and you are up to 50 bucks a day. That can be a hard meal to swallow when you start extending trips out past a day or two. To save some cash, try to be proactive throughout the year to pick up deals on meals, stash away some freebies, learn DIY meals, and pick up a few extras on routine trips to the grocer. Below Ill share some of the ways I save some dough and field prepared meals that are simple and easy on the trail.

To start off and set the stage for budget planning, I want to go over a no brainer and a technique you are probably already doing. Start with stashing condiments, tea, and coffee. I am not advocating stealing, but simply asking your server or order taker for a few extra ketchups, mayos, and the like. The following are commonly found single serve packets that you can pick up throughout the year. I keep a bag in my Pantry and just toss in any extras I do not use with my takeout. After a few months you will have more than enough to get you through a week long hike or river trip.

Commonly found Single Serve Condiments:

  • Ketchup
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Soy Sauce
  • Honey
  • Butter
  • Jelly
  • Pickle Relish
  • Limon Juice
  • Parmesan 
  • Red Pepper
  • Salsa 
  • Salad Dressing
  • BBQ Sauce 
  • And many other Spices, sauces, and dressing

Hotels tend to leave complimentary Coffee and Tea bags in your room for that morning kick start. Ask for a few before you check out,  they always seem to accommodate me when I do. if you crunched for time and procrastinated Amazon and Pack it gourmet are great place to order individual items if your local take out is too stingy.

Now for the stuff that costs you part of that hard-earned pay check. To minimize the impact of the main courses of an outing you will need to be proactive. Too often I find myself trying to get creative and unique but 5 days into a 10-day trip home comforts often are the best thing you have in your pack. In addition, being overly creative tends to get expensive and not always the most appetizing on the trail. Stick with the basics. When I hit the Grocery store I will add 3 extras items to my basket that I set aside for my next trip. These are standard items that I can use in conjunction with my newly acquired condiments.

Grocery Items

  • Tuna Packets (I get the ones in the foil packets that come in different flavors)
  • Chicken Breast in a can (usually found next to the tuna)
  • Mash potato packets
  • Raman noodles (non flavored and flavored)
  • Lipton noodle meals
  • Instant Rice
  • Grits
  • Oatmeal
  • Meal Bars
  • Single serve mixed nuts
  • Tomato Paste tubes
  • Real Bacon Bits
  • Shelf stable Cheeses
  • Chicken, beef, or veggie Bouillon Cubes


Now that you have the staples downs you are ready to put some meals together.For breakfast, I tend to eat on the go or mix up some simple morning fuel and add a twist.


Buttery Bacon Grits

  • Grits - 2 Packets of instant
  • Two Butter packets
  • Handful of Shelf Stable Bacon Bits or Bacon Jerky

Cook Grits as specified on packet. Stir in the butter and bacon.


Blueberry Granola

  • ½ cup vanilla flavored or plain granola
  • 2-3 tbl of powdered milk

Add ¼- ½ cup water, mix and eat immediately


Unless I am at a base camp, lunches tend to turn out as more of hourly snacks that keep me fueled for the journey and I can eat on the move. Meal bars, trail mix, and tuna packets tend to dominate the course but some of my favorites are simple but effective fuel sources that don't tend to linger in the gut. These are staples for me on the trail when in motion

  • Date rolls
  • Peanut or Almond Butter (I get the Justin Single serve packets)
  • Tuna salad
  • Dried Sausage
  • Pro Bars
  • Macaroons
  • Beef Jerky
  • Mixed nuts
  • Energy gels 
  • Dried Fruit
  • Trail mix
  • Meal replacement powders


Dinner is my important meal, I try to pack the most nutrition I can before I go to sleep. After I set up camp Ill snack on some beef jerky, reup my electrolytes, and cook dinner. I am not going to lie this is where my dehydrated meals come into play. I have been using Heathers Choice as they seem to have the best health benefit, taste great, and calorie dense dehydrated food on the market in my opinion. (no we are not sponsored by Heather's Choice) But dehydrated meals get old fast if you don't have a large variety or find something that does not agree with you so I also try and bring comfort foods that I know I can always stomach. (I wrote a previous post in regards to some of the fresh cooked foods here) below are a few additional recipes that are quick, cheap, and taste great. 

Tuna or Chicken Salad

  • 2 Packages of Single serve tuna (I like hickory smoked tuna)
  • 3 single serve mayo
  • 1 single serve mustard
  • I Single serve dill relish
  • 2 salt a peppers
  • Mix contents and serve. To add additional calories, serve in a tortilla or add bacon jerky to the mix.

Trail Side spaghetti

  • 1/4 cup of macaroni noodles or Raman (Raman will cook much faster)
  • 1 Tbl of Italian seasoning 
  • 1/4 tsp of salt and pepper (4 or 5 little packets from your local take out)
  • Parmesan cheese and red pepper packets (think takeout pizza)
  • Tube of tomato paste
  • Cube of chicken bullion 
  • Dried sausage for the meat eater

Boil water. Add chicken bouillon and dissolve then add noodles. (turn off heat or lower flame so it doesn't over flow) - cook until noodles are tender. Once noodles are done pour off water until you are left with a 1/2 cup. Add in seasoning, salt & pepper, and a small bit of tomato paste stir until tomato paste is dissolved and mixed in evenly. Add cuts of dried sausage wait a few min then add red pepper and Parmesan and enjoy


But don't just stop here

Invest in a dehydrator, for the cost of a days’ worth of dehydrated meals, you can purchase one on Amazon. This allows you to make your own Beef Jerky, Dried Sausage, Dried Fruits and even take leftovers and turn them into backpacking meals. If you just put in a simple search to google you will find an abundant of recipes and how to videos that will keep you busy for months leading up to a big adventure. Don’t forget the Preparation can be just as much funs as the trip itself.


Mikes DYI Bulk Trail Mix

  • Bulk Mixed Nuts
  • Bag of Raw Almonds
  • Bag of Raisins
  • Bag Shaved Coconut
  • Peanut M&Ms (heavy on the M&Ms, you’ll thank us later)
  • DYI Dehydrated Fruit (Bananas, Apples, Cranberries etc.…)
  • Yogurt Covered Raisins

Use a giant bowl and mix it all up. Proportion it to meet your caloric needs in individual sandwich bags or vacuum seal for shelfs stability and future use. Be careful when vacuum sealing dehydrated fruits they tend to clump and stick together. Using grated coconut helps remedy this. Once it’s all mixed in just separate into Ziplocs or vacuum bags and you’re ready to roll for many trips and days ahead.


So to keep the spend down and the quality up do these tips throughout the year to plan for your next backcountry trip. Load up on freebies - save all unused single serve condiments and throw them in a designated bag in the pantry.

  • Grocery shopping - pick up one or two items each trip to the store that I save for camping trips, trail runs, and kayaking trips. 
  • Look for sells on Dehydrated meals and closeouts at your local sporting goods store
  • Think outside the box and prepare your own dried or shelf stable meals a head of time.
  • Invest in a dehydrator, this alone opens up a whole new way to planning meals with Health and wellness in the forefront
  • Be creative with what you have on had and  think about your normal everyday comfort foods.

A Step back and Much Needed Help

A Step back and Much Needed Help

December will be here before I know it and after trying on my own I know I don't  know as much as I think I do. A 100 miles is no gimme in the running world and way fitter, much faster, and far better people than I have failed at it and for me to think I can do this is alone has been humbling. In the recent weeks, I have been struggling to keep on track. My eating habits have taken a back seat, workouts have been fewer than before, and my longest run is only 11 miles.  I knew this would be tough times for my pursuit as we just welcomed a new healthy baby boy to our family.  Because of all this I enlisted some hired health, in the form of a coach. He is not the standard run of the mill nutritionist/trainer but someone that works with me daily, educates, guides me, and calls me out when i am doing something that is counter productive.  I am just a short week in to the program and already can see an improvement in my self. I think more than anything I see the little things that make big impacts. I am way more focused on my food, though he would tell you different, and most importantly I see everything I am not doing. This week has really been eye opening for me. 

- Daniel Underbrink


My Favorite DIY Backcountry Food

My Favorite DIY Backcountry Food

Just writing this makes me as overwhelmed as I feel when I begin meal prep for a backcountry adventure. Shoot, I don't even know what I want for lunch, much less what I'll be hungry for 60 miles from the nearest road two months from now. What will it be that gets me through, do I really need 4000 calories a day? Will I really be that hungry? Will I even take the time to cook that freeze dried chicken wrap when I still need to make 20 river miles by dark?  I can't even look at dried sausage anymore without thinking of the 14 links I ate 2 years ago for 7 days straight. Or even stomach a cliff bar after I thought pumpkin spice was the greatest flavor ever, just the smell alone now will have me hugging the toilet.  I now know that it is a mistake to bring identical meals for trips over 3 days. I know that food can be just as important to your mood as a stove is to cook it. I don't have the magic recipe but I do have a few that keeps my mood up and the belly full and is a hit around the camp at the end of a hard day.  So with all that said, here are a few of my all time favs.

Kayak Camper Fish Nuggets

2 Cup         Cornmeal and Cornmeal flour mixed 50/50

2 Tbls        Tony’s Cajun Seasoning 

1 -2 Tsp         Cayenne Pepper (less if you are running short on water)

Mix the above Ingredients and vacuum seal flat for packability. 

8 oz         Penut oil in plastic container (the used oil can aid in fire starting)

1 dz            Mustard Packets 

1 dz            Hot Sauce Packets  

1 dz            Ketchup Packets 

Pack above ingredients and packets in a Large 1 gallon zip lock bag. Place an extra Gallon Zip Lock inside or double bag it.

Riverside Meal Preparation

Catch a few fish 1-2 per person on the river a few hours before you are hungry, on a day that you are not pressed for time, or need to meet milage goals. Filet Fish on a river rock and cut into small bite size chunks and place in the extra zip lock bag that is holding all the sauce packets. Store fish nuggets inside the hull of your kayak out of direct heat and sun (should keep for a few hours.) Once at camp and everyones tummy's are growling. Set up your camp stove and pour oil into pan and begin heating oil. (be sure the surface is flat and that the stove will not tip and pour scalding hot oil on your friends or self.) Open fish nugget Zip Lock and Squeeze all the mustard and hot sauce packets onto the nuggets. Slosh around until evenly coated. In second zip lock pour in seasoned cornmeal mix. Add a few nuggets to the cornmeal mix and shake until nuggets are fully coated. Once coated cook 4-6 nuggets at a time in oil and repeat steps until all the fish is cooked. Ketchup is use for garnish. Remember pack out what you brought and that is including the used oil.

Chicken Noodle Soup

1/4 Cup         Freeze Dried noodle Pasta broken in 3rds 

2 Tbls        Freeze Dried Diced Carrots

2 Tbls        Freeze Dried Diced Celery 

2 Tbls        Peas

1 tsp        Dried thyme 

1             Bay leaf

2-3 Tbls        Granulated Chicken Bouillon             

pinch        Black Pepper

pinch        Salt

Mix the above Ingredients and vacuum seal for packability. 

Camp Side Preparation

I Use my jet boil on this one. Bring water to a rolling Boil. Add Pre packed Ingredients to a Boiling water be careful not to over flow. Turn off heat and seal using Jet boil lid and leave set 10-20 min. Smaller Jet boils may not have enough room so utilization of bigger pot and stove may be required. Freeze Dried Ingredients can be found at online retailers like  You can substitute The freeze dried pasta with dried Angle hair pasta, the celery with a tsp of Celery Salt and Leave out the salt carrots and peas and still have a really great soup. 

Bacon Cheese Grits

2 packets         instant grits 

1/2 Bag             Real Bacon bits or Bacon Jerky

1                        Wax covered Sharp Cheddar Cheese  (this will keep a few days in cool pack)

Sunrise prep

Boil enough water according to packaged grits instructions. In your serving boil,  place grits into bowl. Cut up cheese in to small chances and place on top of grits. Once water is boiling Pour over cheer into bowl and let stand until gritty are tender stirring a few times to help melt cheese. Once gritty are fully cooked ad bacon and serve.

Elk Camp Coffee

3 tbls         Instant Coffee Granules  

1                 Hot Chocolate Mix

2 cups        Hot Water

Mix all in large coffee mug and enjoy

The above are a few of my go to recipes that i pre make at home for a fraction of the cost as the big box store type. I hope you enjoy and i will try and post up a few more in the coming weeks. 


Daniel Underbrink

Trail Treats I Dream Of

Trail Treats I Dream Of

Too many times we find ourselves wishing we had something a little extra packed up to eat, those simple comforts from the civilized world. So next time you have that special trail craving, write it in your trip journal for next time. Here is a list of treats from the last time we were days deep on an adventure.

  • Skittles
  • Paydays
  • Wasabi Peas
  • Chocolate
  • Spicy Peanuts
  • Gin-Gins
  • Snickers
  • Cheese 
  • nut butter
  • Hard candies
  • Peanut butter crackers
  • Summer Sausage 

Backcountry food the ever evolving question.

Most of us have lost the art and knowledge of foraging for seeds, fruit and roots in the places we explore. We become reliant on ready made meals to fuel our excursions that usually end up wrecking havoc on our bodies. Over the years I have utilized many different food products, brands, and whole foods. Some have been great and others not so much, with a bit of ingenuity, research, and preparation food can be just as much part of the experience as is the journey itself.  Whole fresh food is not totally out of the equation if you know how to prep and handle the food. On our most recent trip we brought steaks on a multi night trip in 100 degree weather. To do so we planned in advance, vacuum sealed, wrapped in paper towel, and foil and packed against our water bladders (we froze our water bladders too). This allowed for a slow and delayed thaw while being slightly refrigerated. Result,  fresh ribeye after a hard training hike on the trail. When your trip doesn't allow this method due to the length of stay outdoors or having to keep a minimalistic pack. Finding companies like Heathers Choice or dehydrating your home cooked favorites allow for comforting, great tasting, healthy foods not loaded with preservatives and high doses of sodium that can truly make an already uncomfortable situation worse. (Hint, stomach issues)

Daniel Underbrink

Luke Kulbeth on our WAT training hike

Luke Kulbeth on our WAT training hike