This post may contain affiliate links.

Freezer Bag Cooking: A Classic Backpacking Cookbook

Freezer Bag Cooking

Freezer Bag Cooking is a great way to reduce your pack weight and helps eliminate the need to wash your cooking pots after a hot meal like breakfast or dinner. The principle behind Freezer Bag cooking is simple. You prepackage all of your hot meals for a backpacking trip in advance in quart-size Ziploc baggies. At mealtime, you simply boil water, pour it into the Ziploc, seal it up, and wait about 10 minutes. When your food has finished rehydrating and is “cooked” you open the bag and eat right out of it. No dirty dishes. And because you’re just boiling water, you can get by with an alcohol stove, saving you some weight.

I like hot meals at breakfast and dinner regardless of the temperature outside. For breakfasts, I usually bag up instant hot cereal (instant oatmeal, flax, or even instant rice) and throw in a bit of brown sugar, dehydrated strawberries, raisins, and a little salt. I normally fill my bag with the equivalent of two servings because I’ll burn it off in an hour or two of backpacking. Add coffee and you have a very nice meal. For coffee, I use instant Starbucks, which I drop into the unused boiled water and drink this while my breakfast is cooking.

For dinner, I base most of my meals around couscous, no-msg vegetarian bouillon cubes, and dehydrated vegetables which rehydrate almost instantly. Again portion size is 2 servings and I add a can of tuna or chicken, which I open at mealtime, and empty into the bag before I add my boiling water. Seal it, shake it up, let it sit for a while, and you have an easy meal. I also base meals on ramen and udon noodles, and you can even buy prepackaged noodle packs and dump them into a Ziploc to avoid having dishes to clean.

When I am packaging my meals at home, I find it useful to write some notes on the outside of the Ziploc using a sharpie pen. I write the name of the dish, the number of calories it has, how much water it requires to rehydrate, and the number of grams of protein, fat, and fiber in each bag. This helps avoid those embarrassing days when you accidentally eat 60 grams of fiber!

When it’s colder out, it helps to put the Ziploc into a pot cozy when it is cooking to prevent the loss of too much heat. It’s easy to make your own cozy out of a postal envelope that is lined with bubble wrap and it’s very lightweight.

Eating out of a Ziploc can be a little challenging because you need a long spoon to reach into the bag. To do this, I use an extra-long titanium spoon that weighs a mere 0.40 oz, but any long-handled spoon will do.

One problem with freezer bag cooking is that it can get very boring. So you need to be creative and try adding of a lot of different spices to your meals. However, be careful what you add, because prepackaged spices and flavorings can contain a lot of salt or MSG. There are also a lot of free recipes on the web that you can try out. Sarah (Svien) Kirkconnel’s book Freezer Bag Cooking: Trail Food Made Simple contains an excellent set of Freezer Bag Cooking recipes.

SectionHiker is reader-supported. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.


  1. Thank you!

    PS: A cheapie long handled spoon to take a look at is the GSI Rehydrate spoon. They run about $2 and are work horses. (1/2 ounce weight)

  2. Sarah, I should be thanking you! Your book (Freezer Bag Cooking) gave me the basic recipe building blocks to take back my menu from freeze dried commercial bondage. People don't realize what a complete rip off commercial freeze dried backpcking food is, and how easy it is to make your own **healthy** alternatives. Long live Couscous!

  3. I'm curious about the bags available. Quality ziplocs can add up in cost pretty quickly since it's not easy to find them in volume… I bet there are some good plastics manufacturers out there that could sell in bulk. Might be able to find sturdier, gusseted, resealable bags that could be used for multiple days. Who knows what's out there?

    And you're definitely right about the cost savings on the food itself vs freeze dried. A big improvement in taste, too :)

  4. Philip,

    I was wondering if I should get Sarah's book. I'm not creative enough to make my own recipes yet. But I don't have a dehydrator, and don't want to run after online stores for special dehydrated food. So is there enough recipes in the book that I can make with just food I could get at Wal-Mart or other Winco stores to justify the purchase of the book?



  5. Jeremy,

    Sarah's recipes don't require dehydrated food – you can make most of them with at hand ingredients based on stables like couscous and rice. I never follow them exactly, but they give me a good idea about what will taste good. Before you buy it though, you might want to look at her web site. She often has free recipes online and she has a bunch of videos on youtube that might give you some ideas for free.

  6. That's actually why I'm asking the question. Her website is great but a lot of ingredients in the recipes she provided are using dried vegetable, or freeze dried stuff that I can't get easily at the local grocery store(I couldn't even find foil chicken)! So I was wondering if the book was a smart purchase and would allow me to makes various recipes with what I can find localy.


  7. Let me look at it tonight and check again. last year I had a lot of dried veggies that I bought in bulk from Wilderness Dining and I may have spaced on what's actually involved since it was all so close at hand.

  8. I checked – so for the most part you will be able to get by with store bought ingredients. Some of her dinner recipes do call for small quantities of dried mixed veggies, but you can order these in bulk if you can't live without them.

  9. Philip,

    Thank you so much for your prompt answers.


  10. Hey, Sarah here ;-)

    With book 1 we wanted it so you could find most of the ingredients in your well stocked grocery store.

    The website and blog is where, er, I get to be a dork and show off with what I find online :-D

    And if you can't find an ingredient, I don't mind helping you out with substitutions or how you can do a version at home!

  11. I thought it was "sarbar" from the Backpacker website…moving on over here to sell your Book and goodies are ye….Ha…Signed Nobocan aka Sherlock…By the way,,sarbar is Sarah Sevin..what a sneaky way to get you to buy her book and visit her website….just as honest as she was on Backpacker…….

  12. I found a lot of the foil pk tuna & chicken at the local Dollar stores, and WalMart. I also get the foil pk 12 oz Smoked Salmon Chowder at health food store, and the 1.5 c milk needed is water and some Sam's Club creamer (not dry milk). I use it with water for all my recipes needing milk, home and trail. This also makes Alfredo and other milk needing foods easy, just dump some Sam's creamer in.

    Health food stores have a lot of dehydrated foods & mixes. I use fine bulgar (cracked wheat) & Couscous as bases for a lot of meals.

    Hope this helps.

  13. Whoever though of this method of fixing up your trail food is a genius! I tried this the first time when I hiked out in Glendale. I mixed small macaroni shells with dehydrated bell peppers, onions and garlic, got hot water inside, strained them with a piece of cloth, poured my pasta sauce in and it's done! Trail food has never been this light, easy and delicious really. Ever since that hike, whenever me and my family camps out on parks, or other outdoor recreations that requires us to carry as little luggage as possible, we always did it FBC style.

  14. Sarah, thanks for the book and online recipes. My hiking partner is gluten intolerant, so when we did half of the AT last year we had to plan on preparing our own food since he couldn't rely on just the food available in trail towns. The recipes helped us get started on crafting our own FBC meals.

    jlaporte, check out Walmart or other big box stores for dehydrators. At $35 you will quickly recover your investment. Minute Rice, ramen noodles, angel hair pasta, and instant mashed potato flakes can be used as is, along with many of the "instant" microwaveable foods such as Instant Mac&Cheese which are precooked and then dehydrated noodles. The foil packs of chicken, tuna, and salmon are usually found in the cooking aisles with the chili beans. They used to make foil packets of shrimp, which with angel hair pasta, olive oil, and garlic made a decent shrimp scampi. One of my favorite meals is ramen noodles, olive oil, dry pesto mix, and salmon or chicken.

    I did about a hundred days worth of FBC last year and it worked great with about a dozen different recipes. Extra spices help add some variety, especially the Tobasco Chipotle sauce which can certainly liven up rice dishes. For breakfasts we discovered that you can order pint freezer bags by the case to reduce the bulk from bags, but the costs weren't much different from the quart bags.

  15. Interesting comment regarding trail partners who have Gluten problems..I have a trail partner who has Glycemic problems. We had one heck of a time trying to figure out an appropriate trail diet for her until I hit upon a website..WebMD and found a Glycemic diet listed there…They porovided a printable list of all the foods that you should choose, as well as a list of those you should not choose. It made it so easy…I joined in on her diet plan..This was back on February 27th 2010, since then I have lost 30 pounds following the Glycemic diet…

  16. Hi all–Try borrowing Sarah's book at your local library to determine if you want to by it.

    Also, dehydrating veggies is easy. Spread some frozen mixed veggies on a cookie and put them in a 200 degree oven for abut 3 hours. They really make a meal better!

    I use tuna and salmon and chicken when I can find it. My boyfriend hike the Long Trail in Vermont last summer–270 miles in 24 days, and lived on the freezer-bag meals we prepared at home.

  17. I love the idea of freezer bag cooking with all the convenience but I’m concerned about possible health effects. I mean, they’re ‘freezer’ bags, not ‘cooking’ bags. Wouldn’t the plastic melt to some degree into the food. I did only a little digging and immediately came up with two warnings; one from a university study and another from the makers of Ziploc. I think till I know more, I’ll just stick with the norm.

  18. I dehydrate my own vegetarian meals and mix up freezer bag recipes to use. But I use a plastic bowl that hold two cups, made it from a storage container with no BPA that I cut the treads off of. It weighs 21 grams. I also have one from Chinese take out that weighs 17g but it probably is not BPA free. They fit in my kettle with my stove, which all fits in a cozy made from reflectix.

    The weight of the baggies add up your doing more than a night or two, so I remove my meals from the vacuum paks I store them in and put in regular sandwich baggies, weigh almost nothing… Plus the plastic bowl is easy to clean with a little water than you can drink afterwards, no soap needed…

  19. What about BPA? I would think there are some nasty chemicals that would creep out from the hot water hitting the plastic. What are your thoughts on that?

  20. As far as BPA, Ziploc brand bags dont have any( per their website)
    Also if concerned, perhaps use bags that are designed to be boiled such as foodsaver vac. sealer bags.

    We are moving from Orlando to Roanoke soon, and I cant wait to get back on the trail with some of these ideas!

    • Thanks for looking that up lunchboxx.

    • Thanks “lunchboxx” for the link. I guess I would use the microwave bags. Although like so many other things in a couple of years we’ll be hearing horrifying stories about the chemicals leaking from them.

    • Has anybody used FoodSaver vacuum seal bags? I have not, but from what I see on their Web site, they are not self-sealing and it looks like you need to buy their vacuum sealer machine to use them. They are intended for immersion in boiling water though.

  21. hey there,

    I am getting ready for a 2 1/2 week backpacking trip to the tetons and the wind river range. does anyone have any great vegan recipes and tips on what to bring for food. I hate to cook so it needs to be very

  22. My doctor just advised me against using the “boil in Freezer Zip Lock Bags” method. Is this really a good idea? Thanks.

  23. I love the idea of bag cooking and understand the convenience and if done occasionally, may not cause any significant problems. OTOH, recent research is rapidly compiling over the reach of “micro-plastics” in the body. These (and nanoparticles) have been discovered in the heart, arterial walls and plaque, have breached the blood-brain barrier in mice and as of articles released today in the UK, are now high on the suspect list for men’s ED with polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polypropylene (PP) being the most prevalent. What’s not clear at this time is the long-term effects they may have on the body. What is apparently known is 1 liter of bottled water contains an average of 240,000 particles. I will say microscopic pics of this stuff in tissue is scary.

    Back in the 80’s, my practice was in a very old Atlanta neighborhood and THE place to buy and renovate. I had a group of patients who had diffused symptoms including headaches and fatigue which remained a mystery until I started digging deeper and doing tests. The common denominator was all lived in old houses with lead in the plumbing and many folks, upon arising, went to the sink, filled a full glass and drank it down. As they all tested positive for lead accumulated insidiously over a long period of time, I concluded that overnight a higher concentration of pipe lead leached into the water just waiting for that first full glass. I then had them flush the line for at least 1 minute before drinking it which stopped most of their problems over time. As a result of this I tested others and Blue Cross called me one day and said, “Why are you finding so many patients with high lead levels?’ My answer was “Because I’m looking for it.” I believe this will also happen with this matter as more data comes in due to researchers now becoming more aware and actively looking for it.

    What currently seems agreed upon is it’s a better to store things in glass than plastic when you get home from shopping which I decided to do last year. More relevant to backpacking, it’s known heating food in plastic containers (such as baby bottles in the microwave) does seem to liberate more plastic particles. As such, by extension I would think that would apply to pouring boiling water in baggies. But again, if it is occasional and sporadic, percentage wise it’s probably no more of a problem given all the other forms of daily exposure we have to plastics. (It does appear Zip-locs are safe for “sous vide” cooking, but that is food inside a bag that is immersed in hot water as opposed to pouring hot water inside the bag with the food. I confess I don’t know if there’s any difference in the effect of either!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *